Y'all Don't Hear Me: Reconciling Religion With Rap


Rapper bbymutha reminded me of a sound I had forgotten about - “cool gospel.” Her tweet mentioned Winans Phase II and Trinitee 5:7, two groups from the early 2000s who many believed were meant to channel secular collectives like Jagged Edge and Destiny’s Child. As a child I wasn’t allowed to listen to Rap/R&B, and groups like Winans Phase II and Trinitee 5:7 were the alternative. Yet although I was discouraged from listening to secular music, the music I was able to listen to was so obviously influenced by it. 

In 2003, when I was 8 or 9, my mother was ordained as a minister. And she was not the only family member to be heavily involved in church. My Great Aunt was our pastor, two of my aunts were licensed as ministers as well and our immediate family went to church whenever the doors opened. Jesus was life. 

Consequently my exposure to certain sounds was limited and I’d get chastised for listening to rap at home. I vividly remember the ‘Romeo Must Die Soundtrack’ and a Chingy CD being thrown in the trash. Tragic.

The availability of MP3 players during my middle school years provided me with more freedom to listen to what I wanted. I enjoyed the sounds of Hip-Hop musicians, particularly Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, and a slew of old school artists. This didn’t sit well with my mom - she freaked out when she saw “Gangsta Bitch” by Apache on the family computer. For years I had to balance faith with my passion for music. 

For over 200 years, religion has aimed to comfort Black people in America. It was and is the outlet through which many of us express ourselves, interact with people like us and our source of hope. When Hip-Hop came onto the scene in the 1970s it functioned in a similar way. The music became an outlet for expression, with artists discussing social issues and bonding - a move reminiscent of the activism and fortitude present in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and the church. 

However, this reality doesn’t remove Hip-Hop from criticisms of imcompatibility with the Christian Gospel. That’s not to say Hip-Hop is perfect, far from it. From new school rappers like 6ix9ine pleading guilty to one felony count of Use of a Child in a Sexual Performance in October 2015 to the violence that led to the deaths of 2Pac and Biggie, Hip-Hop is not exempt from abusive and inherently problematic figures. 

But while the genre is frowned upon for its references to sex, drugs and violence, these very things happen in the church and are met with silence. The late Reverend C.L Franklin, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church and father of Aretha Franklin, allegedly impregnated a 12 year old girl. A musician at my former church smoked weed regularly. A Detroit based pastor shot and killed a man after a heated altercation.

Neither is perfect. And although Christians have come up with their take on rap, supporting artists like Da T.R.U.T.H.– some still can’t exactly tolerate the “purified” version of hip hop. For them, the music is still viewed as the antithesis of the inspiriation and holiness that the religion represents. Yet as a child who was interested in Black culture, I wanted to listen to the music that brought us together and uplifted us as well. Isn’t that what Christianity is all about?