Hip Hop and Black Churches?
(ThyBlackMan.com) Hip-Hop titans Jay-Z and Kanye West interestingly decided on “No Church in the Wild” as the first track on their long-anticipated album, Watch the Throne. I want to explore this understanding of “the wild” within two critical realms of African American life, Black churches and Hip-Hop culture. It’s not my desire to exclude or diminish other religious traditions; I want to speak directly to the context I know best, my own.
As a young scholar, ordained Christian minister and avid Hip-Hop head, I once found myself in a very interesting conversation about my doctoral work in religion and Hip-Hop culture with a middle-aged, African-American pastor of a large congregation. He says to me: “I don’t allow that type of stuff in our church, especially in the pulpit. I don’t see what value Hip-Hop adds to me or the church. People don’t come to hear about Kanye but to hear about Christ.” His approach, an either/or understanding, is a clear example of why Christian ministry is often classified as culturally and socially irrelevant. It ignores the critical fact that “the wild” is not only located outside the walls of Black churches but actually inside as well.
While the church has often housed the vitality and prophetic witness of our communities by speaking truth to power and pursuing justice, the streets, the metaphorical and literal ones, are pushing forth issues that churches (and for the sake of this article – Black churches) are often slow to respond to. The opulent and massive churches that are being built in the middle of urban spaces or on ample acreage in the suburbs are at risk of being increasingly disconnected from the streets and the day-to-day concerns of the underserved.
Black Christian preaching continues to struggle to grasp and articulate the harshness of urban realities and, subsequently, misses the beautiful opportunity to consistently breathe life into “the wild.” Messages from far too many churches are often limited to preaching hope by ignoring crippling social realities, using Hip-Hop as a hook to catch people’s attention or using young people as the whipping boy and scapegoat for societal ills.
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