As a hip hop junkie I often find myself seeking the grace of God in this beautiful genre. I remember when I first fell in love with hip hop. It was the first time I heard LL Cool J’s hit single Rock the Bells (opening verse):
L.L. Cool J. is hard as hell
Battle anybody I don’t care who you tell
I excel, they all fail
I’m gonna crack shells, Double-L must rock the bells
I remember the celebration…the joy of hip hop in the old days. Why the nostalgia? I have been reading David Dark’s book “Everyday Apocalypse“. There is a quote in his book that got me thinking of the good old days of Public Enemy, Eric B. and Rakim, Africabambata, and many many countless others that represent a stream of hip hop I believe is what Darks describes as “apocalyptic”. He says:
Hip-hop, which often regards women contemptuously, romanticizes violence, and celebrates material wealth as the height of success, has largely renounced its apocalyptic birthright, but Blackalicious, Jurassic Five, Lauryn Hill, and the Beastie Boys are inspiring exceptions. (Dark, Everyday Apocalypse p. 20)
I think there are hip-hop artists today that wax apocalyptic. Such as Talib Kweli, MosDef, Common, Kanye West, and recently The Game, to some extent, waxes apocalyptic with his hit single “Hate it or Love it”. In it he describes life on the underside of the American Dream:
Used to see 5-0 throw the crack by the bench
Now i’m f!@#$% with ~5-0~ it’s all startin to make ~sense~
My moms happy she ain’t gotta pay the rent
And she got a red bow on that brand new Benz
Waitin on Sha Money to land sittin in the Range
Thinkin how they spend 30 million dollars on airplanes
When there’s kids starvin
Pac is gone and Brendas still throwin babies in the garbage
I wanna know what’s goin on like i hear Marvin
No school books they use that wood to build coffins
Whenever I’m in the booth and i get exhausted
I think what if Marie Banker got that abortion
I love ya Ma’
What does apocalyptic mean?
Apocalyptic shows us what we’re not seeing. It can’t be composed or spoken by the powers that be, because they are the sustainers of “the way things are” whose operation justifies itself by crowning itself as “the way things ought to be” and whose greatest virtue is in being “realistic”. Thinking through what we mean when we say “realistic” is where apocalyptic begins. If these powers are the boot that, to borrow Orwell’s phrase, presses down upon the human face forever, apocalyptic is the speech of that human face. Apocalyptic denies, in spite of all the appearances to the contrary, the “forever” part. (Dark, p. 10).
There is something about hip-hop when it waxes apocalyptic. Its like Flavor flav when he used to wear those large clocks around his neck. I used to do that back in the day. My friends thought I was crazy, but many didn’t catch the metaphor of wearing a clock around your neck in those days. You were basically saying you knew what time it was. What was really going on…hence the large clock around your neck.
Hip-hop told you the forever told to you by the powers was not really forever…it was a false forever. But here’s the rub. I think hip-hop is missing something when Jesus Christ is not the center of its apocalyptic or atleast in its proximity. I cannot help but interject this as a Christian. Especially when the strongest apocalyptic every thrown down in speech in America was by a short black prophet by the name of Martin Luther King Jr.. His prophetic speech to the soul of the American nation was apocalyptic. It uncovered the “forever” of Jim Crow…and offered a more imaginative vision. And at the end of his life he waxed apocalyptic about the “forever” of poverty. Which is another whole subject altogether….the forever of poverty.
But to not get off too much here…cause I am just ramblin on here. I am kind of like (as I am writing this) doing a little apocalyptic free flow. The recent craze in hip-hop is dirty south crunk music. I have often wondered if there is an apocalyptic residue in this stream of hip-hop. I think there is. There is a raw energy there…untapped but cannot be seen by Christians in close proximity to it. We are blinded by our Victorian sensibilities to not see Legion in our midst. Why was Legion Legion? Ah…the parable of hip-hop culture. I think Franz Fanon could tell us why Legion was Legion. Legion bore in his being the wounds of systemic and personal oppression. Not only was he scarred by his own self-inflicted wombs he was scarred by Roman Occupation. An Occupation of the mind…a Colonization of the mind. And in a hip-hop apocalyptic do I see the Occupation being exposed for what it is…a false tommorrow.
A true apocalyptic says, “Jesus is our peace…that world is without end.”