Tag Archives: Hip Hop

The Musical Jesus: From James Hal Cone to Jesus Walks

James Cone’s work The Spirituals and the Blues is a unique expression of African American political theology. In this text he seeks to examine the unique cultural foundation that has shaped both Spiritual and the genre of Blues as a form of musical expression. For Cone music can represent a cross section between political ideology and theological frameworks. Through this piece it is apparent that the distinctive experiences of African American has radically shape their view of politics and religion and that the connection between Spirituals and Blues makes sheds some light on this point. For him both are deeply connected to the point that you cannot one from the other. Furthermore, he believes that the use of Spirituals and the Blues have both been utilized by African American to subvert the oppressive forces of Western white supremacist culture. He writes: “Black music is also social and political. It is social because it is black and thus articulates the separateness of the black community. It is an artistic rebellion against the humiliating deadness of western culture.” (p5-6). Ultimately for Cone the use of Spirituality and the Blues serves as a way for African American to seek liberation from political and theological institution that is both destructive and oppressive.

Cone does great work in explicating the differences between traditional notions of Spirituals and how he believes African Americans have actually used Spirituals. This begins with his rejection of a Marxian view of Spirituals. Marx believes that the Spirituals sung by the Africans slaves’ sole purpose was to act as an opiate for them in relation to their slave masters. Marx’s ideology is marred by his concept of class consciousness. From this he believed that Spirituals allowed the slaves to passively conform to the desires of their slave masters. Cone however, vehemently disagrees with this assessment. He believes that African slaves were keenly aware of the power of musical interpretation and inherently new the dangers it posed to the authority of the slave masters. Thus, the slaves had to be subtle in the ways that they used Spirituals as theme for liberation without alarming their white slave masters. The Exodus story and Moses served as one way that the slaves could elude to liberation that did not alert their masters to their intentions.

The Exodus narrative as a slave spiritual had a profound implication on the way the slaves envisioned their lives both politically as well as theologically. Moses’ message of liberation called for divine liberation in heaven as well as earthly liberation from the slave masters. Cone points to slaves like Nat Turner who courageously learned to interpret the bible for himself. It is from his version of scripture that he saw the Christian imperative for not only a spiritual liberation heaven but its Earthly manifestation in the mist of slavery. This ultimately led to his rebellion and subsequent death. Similarly to Cone’s configuration of the Spirituals he believes that the Blues had a similar message. The Blues represent a secularized version of the socio-political message that was expunged from Spirituals. They too could equally be used as tools of liberation against dominant oppressive groups. Much like spiritual the Blues could be used to articulate a powerful socio-political message with profound theological implications. They affirmed the personhood of African Americans in the face of institutions that were created to take this very thing away from them.

While reading Cone’s work I began to think about some of the other connections that can be made with between African American experiences and how that has translated into music to have implications for theology, politics, and society in general. I preface this by stating that James Cone wrote this particular work in the 1970’s so what he wrote was indeed insightful for the context to which it was written. However, I believe that the religious insights from spiritual are reflected within the work of African American’s in other genres of music as well. In today’s context I do not see theo-political issues reflected in any particular artist or genre rather I see it in various songs by various African American artists. For example, Kanye West in his song “Gorgeous” poses a very interesting question.

West is questioning the function of hip hop music in the 21st century. Much like the Blues did for African Americans in the 20th century hip hop resonates with ideal and experience of many African American youth today. This is complicated by the secular nature of hip hop music. Hip hop music in itself could be seen as the religion of the youth today. The thought, ideas, cultural values, and even its counter cultural elements are appealing to youths. Ultimately, West is posing the question has hip- hop music replaced the socio- political elements that were once held onto by the Blues and Spirituals. Hip hop is to the soul of modern youth as what spirituals were to slaves. While admittedly this is not the case for all of hip hop music, West may be on to something, certainly there are hip hop songs that articulate a political theology the likeness of spirituals and the blues. Kanye West’s own work is an example of this. His song “Jesus Walks,” although not a gospel song has some inherently spiritual dimensions to it. From the introduction to the hook the song is laced with theo-political implications. He begins with the verse:

“We at war ” “We at war with terrorism, racism” “But most of all we at war with ourselves”(Jesus walk)” “God show me the way because the Devil tryna break me down” (Jesus walk with me)”

These lines hint at how West views some of our current socio-political struggles. Threats such as terrorism, racism, and even our inner struggles can leave us helpless. He sees they only way out is through his belief in Jesus. Jesus serves as liberation in this context in much the same way that Christian theology function as a form of liberation for the slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries. West in this particular song is making use of theology and politics to articulate freedom from systems of oppression that dominate society today. Although West’s song gives insight to current use of African American political theology, I wonder what other songs and genres have similar themes.

Recommendations:

James Cone’s The Spirituals and The Blues

Efrem Smith and Phil Jackson. The Hip Hop Church: Connecting With The Movement Shaping Our Culture

Anthony Pinn, et. al.: Noise and Spirit: The Religion and Spiritual Sensibilities of Rap Music

(A THROW BACK!): Calvinism And Holy Hip Hop

White Saviorism Cultural Appropriation in Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop”

The Cross, Predestination, and Emmit Till

MTV is for Minstrel Television: Robin Thicke, Miley Cyrus, & Race

Musical Jesus: AnaBlacktivist Sample CD Track Listing !

Every movement and empire has an anthem or anthems! From the Star Spangled Banner to Lift Every Voice and sing, music has been a key part of reinforcing and poetically contextualizing ideas and motifs. They can work to reinforce and push an agenda. A catchy rhyme here and syncopated beat there mixed with stanzas and verses of meaningful lyrics can work to burn these ideas into our memory more and more each time we hear them.

It’s no secret that worship music is no different! Are our songs we sing in the modern American church anthems of empire or are they sounds of liberation? Are they demonic discographies or melodies from heaven? With all of this recent fervor over AnaBlacktivism and Rod’s impactful series on the matter, I have thought that perhaps this theological movement could use its own anthems and musical context!

I’ve drafted a list of songs that could be on a sample track-listing for a AnaBlacktivist/BLT – inspired CD! GET YOUR COPY NOW WHILE SUPPLIES LAST!

1. My Liberty

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFyYBQRAzA4

Every great empire on the planet has its processional march – an upbeat, spirited siren of sorts to their politic! Often reserved for times of war and struggles major strongholds, these marches are to instill fear and reverence in the opponent. Heck, even the Israelites were told to make a loud, triumphant sound to see the walls of Jericho come tumbling down! For the AnaBlacktivist Church, this song could serve as this purpose with its  steady tempo, meek yet strong lead singer ( a young Yolanda Adamds), and its old black church musical aesthetic.

2. Black Jesus

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhPGo4jYmN4

Where to begin with this song? Not only did Tupac & the Outlawz construct an anthem for the Black Liberation Theology, they made one of the most fierce interrogations of the modern White American Constantinian Church in music history! No other song captures the mood of the despised/”evil” yet divine quite like this track. This song is so important to AnaBlacktivism and BLT that I’ve actually done a post on just this song that you ought to check out here: Tupac And Black Jesus

3. Melodies from Heaven

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgT-DbTdyqY

This gospel classic from Kirk Franklin and the Family has always been a favorite of mine. And when I think of its message within the context of AnaBlacktivist theology, I love it all the more! This song essentially features down-trodden , lowly voices asking for “melodies form heaven” – i.e. a “touch” of Divinity. I’m convinced however that “melodies” needn’t be musical melodies – good theology that is actually good news to the oppressed (i.e. AnaBlacktivist theology) is “music to our ears” and serve as “melodies from heaven”. Any great news of political/institutional reform for the better can be “melodies from heaven”. But one thing is clear in this song- these melodies coming from heaven represent the hope that any of these “melodies” will have to come from God –  almost invoking a pentecostal/charismatic theme

4. Changes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ay9BWM8lwOA

This song is rather self-explanatory. Another favorite by Tupac, this song serves as sort of the “lamentations” of the AnaBlacktivist movement. With its cataloguing of issues that effect the oppressed and disrupt true fraternity, the human condition is seemingly hopeless, hence ” that’s just the way it is…” Though AnaBlacktivist theology is a theology of hope in the Divine, this song is a reminder of how healthy and Christ-like it is to take time to lament and mourn over our situation

5. Scattered Sheep

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzoOKq2xusI

In the same vain as Tupac’s “Black Jesus” , this rap song is yet another swfit, hard-hitting critique of ‘modern day Babylon’. The idea of Christ gathering ‘scattered sheep’ – people from many different walks of life , who all oppose empire yet are confessing to their own trasngressions is not unlike what’s happening in the Christian blogosphere – this song is a reminder that we were/are all scattered sheep now united and organized in the collective church body – the fact that we’re even organized through the interwebz via blog networks, FB groups, etc. is itself God working in our midst! Furthermore this song tells of the personal demons that Corey Red and Precise go through ( confessing) while living in an age of empire (resisting empire!) – doesn’t get more AnaBlacktivist than this!

6. Come and Listen

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6fvSfrt6fUE

I first heard this song when I was a sophomore or so in college still involved with the campus ministry Cru. Along with my introduction to Calvinism was my intro to popular Christian rock and white Christian artists. Out of all the one’s I’ve heard, this one has always been and still is my favorite. David Crowder’s ‘Come and Listen’ is a simplistic yet soul-stirring song. In it, he states “come and listen to what He’s done” – and it comes across as a call to laying down all of our weapons, our egos/prides, our lusts, our quests and endeavors for empire to “come to the water’s edge” and simply listen to the far greater thing that Christ has done.

7. Lukewarm

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4Y7Okneb7A

I’ve recently done a post about this song and what it means to be “lukewarm” within the context of AnaBlacktivist , post-colonial theology. At risk of repeating what I’ve already stated in the post, the song is included in this soundtrack because of the impossibility of one truly calling themselves a Child of YAHWEH yet also a child of empire and White Supremacy, or *gasp* MONEY (captialism, yo?). Having these young, talented voices sing this song on a beach ( a landscape void of any signs of empire) is an aesthetic call to Christ’s anti-imperial , simply, child-like (but not childish) gospel

8. Break Every Chain

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pD2zIuiC2g

Yet another song I have done a post on before that must be included on this soundtrack. Why have I included it? – it gets no simpler than the lyric “There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain” – the vocals are passionate and the song is all-encompassing – EVERY chain, not just personal but institutional chains as well. This song is very popular in black charismatic circles.

9. Teach Me

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cbgb36NUcU

This song I decided to include because it’s a reminder of the importance of a confessing church – even while resisting empire. Spensha Baker reminds us

“Teach me how to love
Teach me how to trust 
teach me how to give even when I don’t get enough
Teach me how to pray
Tell me what to say
cause I know without your love I can’t get love so teach me love
Teach me”

Reminds of the MLK Jr’s quote “Let no man bring you so low as to hate him”

10. A Time to Love

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCGNg5qeP9M

I only recently discovered this gem a couple months ago – this soulful duet by Stevie Wonder and India Arie is a tremendous, poignant, yet gentle opposition to tendencies to empire. It is stated in Scripture that “we are but a mist” – and you’d think with our time being so limited, we’d make better use of our time than promoting empire. Their constant haunting question – “when will there be a time for love?” This song’s gentle,non-violent pre-modern aesthetic is an echoing of AnaBlacktivist theology!

 

Of course there are many songs that could be included on this list! Maybe we could end up with a whole new litany of hymns for the emerging AnaBlacktivist church – feel free to suggest more!

 

Doctor Who's Alternate New Calvinist Timeline

*The only way I could respond to this TL is with humor.

Doctor Who’s Alternative New Calvinist Timeline

To see the full timeline, download the PowerPoint here: Doctor Who’s Alternate New Calvinist Timeline

kanye-interrupts-god-w-sega-genisis

3616 B.C.: In the Beginning, The Doctor hears God say “Hip Hop Music is good.”

First written in 1175 A.D.

1175 A.D.: Joshua Harris writes “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and is placed under a sleeping spell by The Doctor (who used his Sonic Screwdriver) to wake up in the 20th century. As Harris brings back courtship, he ruins the lives of desperate Christian men everywhere.

1721 A.D.: Revivalist Jonathan Edwards tells the Doctor that he is going to bloody hell but Jesus loves you. But he really, really, really wants to destroy you. And if you’re white, God wants you to own black people as slaves!

1845 A.D.: In Augusta, Georgia, a group of slave owners decide to start their very own denomination called the Southern Baptist Convention.

nazi confederate flag

1866 A.D.: The Doctor witnesses God putting His stamp of approval on The Lost Cause.

2005 A.D.: The Doctor discovers that Paleoconfederate Doug Wilson’s rewriting “Southern Slavery As It Was” as the still White Supremacist propaganda “Black And Tan” is a fixed point in time and cannot be erased by John Piper’s 2013 declarations that Wilson “doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.”

*Several thanks a few friends who helped inspire me to write this post.