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Is Hip Hop the new religion?

In Uncategorized on April 26, 2011 at 11:20 am

Starting in the late 1970’s America saw the emergence of a new form of music called Hip- Hop. Few people believed it would last. However, the contrary happened: Hip-Hop became an enormous and dominant industry. “They aren’t many artists selling 250,000 albums in the opening week, and that used to happen all the time” says entertainment attorney Donald David.

It is necessary here to clarify exactly what is meant by “religion”. I do not compare Rap music to Christianity or even Judaism of course; I just hold the position that most of the time people who listen to Hip-Hop are taken over by a kind of fascination/passion/obsession for the rappers and their lyrics although there is no proper  ideology or specific message behind them . Hip-Hop can be considered as a “religion” just as much as Facebook or Sex and the City could.

As far as I am concerned, my background and music experience pushed me to be a listener of Jazz and Classical Music and to despise a bit street art and rap music. I grew up and I couldn’t avoid Hip-Hop anymore since it was on every radio, in every club … Everywhere. As I started to listen to some songs and read some lyrics I understood that Hip-Hop was a kind of “voice” for the youth of low-economic classes as the music reflected the social, economic and political realities of their lives. Indeed, the movement began in the South Bronx of New York City in the 1970s and its roots are found in African-American music. Ironically, singers who have been brought up in “ghettos neighborhood” are now becoming real business men, spending fortunes on cars, watches and houses (as everyone would). We are all aware of the income icons of Hip-Hop such as Jay-Z, P.Diddy or Kanye West earn a year. (see Forbes’s Hip Hops’ Cash Kings 2010 for more information) and one thing these rappers love rapping about is how much money they have, and how they came to acquire it. “La la la la, wait ’til I get my money right / La la la la, then you can’t tell me nothing right.”

Another element which is extremely present in any rap song is the notion of religion, god and devil.  I agree with Joseph Sorett who claims that “Hip-Hop music isn’t just about street violence, sex and drugs. It’s a God thing, too.” In my opinion, there is a close connection between hip-hop and religion. Maybe it is the fact that these singers come from very devout and pious families, or is it simply part of their culture. Let’s have a closer look at the lyrics from songs from one of the most powerful and influential rapper of the decade, the hip-hop icon and the idol of many artists: Jay Z.

Empire State of mind

City of sin, it’s a pity on the wind
Good girls gone bad, the city’s filled with them
Mami took a bus trip, now she got her bust out
Everybody ride her, just like a bus route
Hail Mary to the city, you’re a virgin
And Jesus can’t save you, life starts when the church end

Lucifer with Kanye West

And when I perish
The meek shall inherit the earth
Until that time it’s on a poppin Church
Like Don Bishop
The fifth upon cock either
Lift up your soul or give the Holly ghost please
I leave ya in somebodys Catedrial
And stuntin like Evil Kenevil

Religion is present everywhere but what is striking me the most is that Jay-Z in Lucifer does not talk about the Christian Church but about his own Church, his own lyrics, his own music, his listeners are his congregation. Kanye West once said: “Hip Hop is a religion to certain extent and rappers are the preachers and the music is the sermon. It is just like church because you go to a concert, you raise your hand in the air, you get dress up, you sing songs and you definitely pay some money. It is just like church!

What makes Kanye West interesting and feel so relevant is that despite the fact that he is a pretentious character in every aspect of his life and has the biggest ego in the whole musical world, his music is powerful but still approachable. His last album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 496,000 copies in its first week in the United States, was also named the best album of 2010 in numerous critics and received general acclaim from music critics. “He doesn’t know he’s the best, he thinks he’s the best, and the difference between that drives his furious creative output. He possesses a mixture of perfectionism and egotism that leads him to agonize and second-guess himself until he produces something he is convinced nobody can beat.” I do not believe Kanye West is a God but his songs give an empowering feeling of superiority. Lyrics such as “I’m amazing, so amazing, everybody’s fired up this evening” make you feel like you are part of a community in a way, that is going to rule over the world soon enough. What is admirable is that it takes a huge amount of self-confidence to transfer that feeling of “I am powerful” to another human being.

As I created myself a new playlist with Lupe Fiasco, Mac Miller and Kanye West, I thought it would be interesting to write a bit on Hip Hop although it is not really my area of knowledge. In conclusion: “Is Hip Hop the new religion”? I personally do not know if it is mine, I believe it depends on each one’s experience and interests. I recognize however that Hip-hop’s longevity is due to the fact that it evolves with society and that it speaks to millions of people regardless their cultures and socio-economic background. This is maybe what makes it the new religion for some.

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