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champion requiem: does religion & hip hop ever work well together?

08/30/12 , , , , ,

one of the better articles that i’ve read this year was about yasiin bey (fka mos def).  it showed how the rapper’s religious faith influenced not only his name change but also some of his music (read it here).  you can hear the spiritual presence on this song from his mos def days, “champion requiem”:

yasiin starts the track with “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim” (arabic for “In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate”).  he goes on to credit any goodness in him to “the Creator” and later says “Listen God did not make me a fearful person/The only fear I have, Is my fear to adhere his path.”  the emcee could have preached these things at many houses of worship.

that said, spiritual rap is like an abandoned child.  one parent (mainstream religion) shuns it for not being godly enough for holy praise, regardless of the lyrics.  the other parent (mainstream hip hop) shuns it for being too godly (or corny) to entertain or make a profit.  moreover, the music often just sounds bad to both.  sometimes that’s the fault of the artists, but also at play is a resistance to change that closes people’s ears.

while holy hip hop might never find the acceptance it yearns for, it can still have a place in both worlds if done right.  with “champion,” you see the potential on the spiritual end to deliver a message to places and minds that pastors, imams or priests might not reach (yasiin even wishes to hear his words “in the ghetto streets where y’all at…In the parties where it be so packed and the atmosphere be so black”).  for the hip hop heads, it’s another opportunity to edify people using the same medium that they love.

how do you feel about spiritual hip hop?  what would it have to do to be successful in both religious and hip hop settings?  if you know of any good songs that might fit the bill, share in the comments.

related: a documentary that address the issue

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I firmly believe spiritually has a place in hip hop so much so that I wrote a book about it. Check out Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta’s God at rapandreligion.com/excerpt.

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