Confessions of A Hip-Hop Head
In every one of my friendships there comes that one moment. That one moment when they find out I’m a hip-hop fan. It’s actually more than fandom. It’s probably closer to obsession. Most people don’t expect it. I’m pale and have red hair. I study theology and have an intense love of all things sci-fi. I was homeschooled from first grade until I graduated high school, and I grew up in conservative evangelical churches in the Midwest and Virginia. Not exactly what people expect from a hip-hop fan.
Being a teenager in the early 2000’s meant that I was exposed to rap music on the radio from the likes of Eminem, Jay-Z, and Outkast. It was natural for my friends and I to listen to it. However, for me it went deeper. Any time a special about rap was on TV, I’d watch it. Whenever I’d hear about a rapper I was unfamiliar with, I would find their music online. Slowly I was learning more and more about hip-hop. For a variety of reasons, I did stop listening to most secular hip-hop for a time in high school, but the passion of hip-hop and hip-hop culture was still inside me. Then one fateful day in college something happened. I watched a Wu-Tang Clan music video for their song “C.R.E.A.M.”. The sound was mesmerizing; RZA’s dark beat with a catchy piano loop; Raekwon and Inspectah Deck each crafted amazing verses that tell of their childhoods in the projects; Method Man with his gruff, dusty voice laid down a chorus that tied it all together. I went out and bought Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and my life changed. I was hooked again, but this time there was no stopping it. Within a year I had become acquainted with what would eventually become my favorite album, Nas’ Illmatic. He crafted complex rhymes and metaphors that he used to paint vivid pictures of what life is like living in the biggest housing project in North America. Hip-hop introduced me to a world I’d never seen before, and my tour guides into this world were those who grew up and lived in this world.
Since College, my love of hip-hop has continued and grown. For me hip-hop has become something more than music that is fun to listen to. Yes, I enjoy its aesthetics, but to me hip-hop is more that just its aesthetics. Hip-hop is heavily tied to people and places. Hip-hop has shown me places and situations I’d probably would have never known. I’ve never experienced the pain and poverty of the ghetto. When Cormega rhymes on “the Saga (Remix),” “My sleep was interrupted by food on the stove / not gunshots we’re immune to those,” my heart breaks, and I’m shown a world I’ve never experienced.
Throughout scripture God commands his people to help the poor, and hip-hop is a music and culture that was bread out of the extreme poverty and despair of the south Bronx in the 1970s. It is a public voice for many people who would probably not be heard otherwise. As I’m finishing my master’s degree and am about to return home and go back to the working world, listening to hip-hop makes me think about how I will live my life. Am I going to let these tales of poverty affect how I live life, or are these tales going to be just a voyeuristic indulgence? That’s not to say I’m going to be some type white savior of the ghetto. If I thought that way then I’ve missed everything I should have learned from hip-hop. I do want to fight against economic inequality, but I also want to live a life where I learn from and have relationships with people of other cultures and backgrounds. To be honest I feel like my interactions with urban poverty have been more helpful to me than the other way around. I’ve seen greater representations of community in poor urban environments than I’ve ever found in the suburbs that I grew up in. I want to learn, but I also want to be generous and give what excess I have to those who are in need. It’s a give and take. It’s about relationships. It’s hard to live it out, but with God’s help I will take steps to live a life that reflects this ideal.