This artist is one that needs no introduction by most- the one, the only, TUPAC SHAKUR!
This profound lyricist who had a way with words is considered by many to be the most significant rap artist (if not artist PERIOD) to have ever lived. His integration of issues that plagued black humanity in America and the thug life with music proved to establish him as some sort of proprietor of poetic justice (which is the name of one of his movies, actually!!) While most other rappers of his time and of today (but not ALL!) flaunt their wealth and their women (but let’s be careful not to make black male rappers THE face of misogyny… ) , Tupac steadily rapped about what Scripture calls refers to as the “unseen forces”. The patterns of racism , oppression, and classism were amongst the most impactful topics to which Shakur would allude. With such songs as “Run Tha Streetz”, “Ghetto Gospel”, and “On My Block”, it becomes apparent , just from the song titles, that 2pac’s biggest thrust was his commitment to making music that reflected the community he came from and felt solidarity with. Truly, Tupac was and his legacy still lives on as a prophetic voice in an age of white supremacist imperial America.
The song I would like to share on this edition of Musical Jesus is entitled “Black Jesus”. This simplistic yet provocative title is quite telling of the contents of the song itself. In the lyrics, the various rappers ( one of which being Tupac, of course) are seemingly searching for black Jesus. A Christ figure that they can say truly walks among them, knows their struggles, and fights for their causes. While the rest of “holy” white America celebrates the reign of their messiah each Sunday morning with the ceremonious ringing of the church bells within the confines of their ivory chapels, the messiah of the hood rats, the forgotten, the dispossessed, the despised, the marginalized, the “scum of the earth” just does not seem to get quite the same fanfare. The song, then, is about the quest, the relentless search for their own Black Jesus. I could not help but see the connections between this song and much of what Dr. James Cone writes about in his incredible work, God of The Oppressed. If every book has an anthem, then Tupac’s Black Jesus is the anthem of Cone’s GOTOppressed. The idea that the Word is not limited to the sacred Scriptures, but the poetic happening in the midst of a downtrodden people, reverberates throughout Cone’s work and Tupac’s lyrics. It is as if through naming a “Black Jesus”, these people are rejecting the idea that the Divine is on the side of the oppressors and the aggressors. To be “black” means to be oppressed, humiliated, a member of the “ugly ones”. Cone’s theology of Black liberation speaks to any group of any country that is on the bottom, any individual that is on the bottom – whether it be our precious brothers and sisters living in the favelas (slums of Rio De Janeiro) , caught in the chains of drug trade and the violence that ensues; whether it be our precious brothers and sisters ( often young) in the Middle east being terrorized by America’s(and by consequence, their God – GOD BLESS AMURICA!) drone warfare; whether it be any number of the precious victims of hate crimes perpetuated by the myths of white supremacy with regards to black bodies and criminality – Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Jonathan A. Ferrell, heck let’s even go back to Emett Till (since it was criminal for him to flirt with a white woman) … this song , Black Jesus- with its hard beats and aggressive tone, is essentially asking the question “WHERE IS THEIR GOD!?”/”WHERE IS OUR GOD!?” The themes and ideas promulgated by the lyrics are reminiscent of our very own Rod Thomas’s post back in the Summer in response to the sickening verdict on Trayvon Martin’s case , “If White Supremacy is God, Count me an Atheist!” In Dr. Cornel West’s book ‘Democracy Matters’, there is a chapter entitled “The Crisis of Christian Identity in America” – in it, he essentially details two types of Christianity – Constantinian and prophetic. As its name may suggest, Constantinian Chrisitanity shares its roots with the “sanctioning” and “sanitation” of Christianity by the Constantinian empire , whereby the church, which had started out as a threat to the Roman empire, had then aligned itself with imperialistic forces- setting the stage for Christian dominionism, God-sanctioned conquest, nationalism, etc. In not so many words, this is what we see today. It is evident through the lyrics of 2pac’s Black Jesus that this is what he and many of the artists featured in his song are speaking about.
One of the things I have noticed about myself is that a recurring theme I look for in TV shows and films is the existence of gangs, gang warefare, etc. Whether it be The GodFather or Training Day , there’s something about the idea of a gang- an informal group of people who band together because they have been marginalized by the state and attempt to redefine/recreate a new civility , typically through violence and returned aggression/ creation of an underground economy. Maybe because, a gang kinda reminds me of what Church – or at least what it ought to be. A group of people assembling together in response to the ills of empire, attempting to redefine/recreate a new sort of civility – only their manner of changing things isn’t through repaying violence and usurping empire with might and money, but through neighborly love, forgiveness, and pursuit of justice. It’s like the Church a benevolent gang. It’s like the Church is a gang(Kingdom) and Christ is its gang leader(King). Was Jesus Christ a gangster? I searched this very question on Yahoo Answers, and I got a pretty interesting result:
“Think about it:
-Jesus was born in a low income society
-Jesus was always running from the law and the law was always out to get him.
-Jesus had a gang follow him everywhere he went
-Jesus spent most of His time in the Streets
-Jesus is international known and Local respected
-Jesus was hated by many and loved by few
-His gang influence is still spreading around the world.”
Submitted by username DeathProof:
^I know that’s a bit of a tongue-and-cheek response, but it has some truth to it and it’s an idea worth thinking about. Growing up, I always used to wonder the appeal of so many young black, teens wanting to become thugs and gangsters, not even just in U.S. but globally – I can’t help but think that it’s because they often desire what the Church is supposed to be – a challenge to Constantinian brands of Christianity. If being a “G” (gangster) really is about being radical and rebellious and mobilizing a group of people united in mission to dismantle and diffuse empire, than there’s no bigger “G” in history than Jesus, himself, and that’s the main thrust of 2pac’s Black Jesus – Jesus is a G and feels their pain. This motif…Jesus as a gang leader…Christianity and gangster culture is one that I may be exploring in future posts!
Here’s the final stanza of the song:
“Searchin for Black Jesus
It’s hard, it’s hard
We need help out here
So we searchins for Black Jesus
It’s like a Saint, that we pray to in the ghetto, to get us through
Somebody that understand our pain
You know maybe not too perfect, you know
Somebody that hurt like we hurt
Somebody that smoke like we smoke
Drink like we drink
That understand where we coming from
That’s who we pray to”
And finally, a particularly thought-provoking comment from a Youtube User:
“for some kids in the hood, tupac is more powerful than jesus. not to diss peoples beliefs, but this mans music got me through some of the darkest times in my life. and we all know music is therapeutic and impacts how u look at life. he was young and rich but he always made me feel like he was in the struggle with me, the pain in his voice is powerful”
ENJOY (lyrics in description)