“The Church needs to pay closer attention to Hip Hop culture because rappers are asking theological questions and addressing what is going on in their world,” said the Rev. Dr. Lewis Brogdon at forum on how church leaders are integrating elements of Hip Hop culture and Rap music into their church ministries.
Brogdon, director of Black Church Studies and assistant professor of New Testament at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, along with Master of Divinity student Beau Brown and Seminary alum the Rev. Darvin Adams (MDiv ’09), led the event in response to a high level of interest in the topic among students at the Seminary. The forum, held on the campus Tuesday, November 15, was hosted by the Cultural Diversity Committee in conjunction with the Seminary’s Black Church Studies program and the Doors to Dialogue initiative.
"A major struggle people have with rap is the sexism, misogyny, and negative representations of African Americans, which causes great discomfort with Hip Hop in general. Addressing these negative influences is important, but we also should not believe that this is indicative of all forms of rap music. There are different genres and foci that address suffering, injustice, racism, and spirituality,” said Brogdon, identifying Political Rap and Holy Hip Hop, among several additional types.
“Hip Hop exposes injustice and suffering that otherwise fly under the radar in usual discourse,” said Brown, who has recorded and performed several original Hip Hop songs, including “Justice Call,” which he shared as part of the forum.
Brown also cited the song, “Misunderstood,” by well-known Hip Hop recording artist Lil Wayne. “A closer listen, past the scandalous lyrics, reveals a progressive commentary on the unjust fact that one in a hundred Americans are incarcerated compared to one in nine black men,” Brown said.
“These statements and other rap are important for the church to hear and understand,” said Brogdon, “particularly when the values of today’s youth are shaped more by culture and less by education or the Church.”
“And, this is not relegated to African American youth alone, added Brown, pointing to research that reveals 70% of all Hip Hop music is purchased by white males. “How do white males make sense or respond to Lil Wayne’s lyrics,” asked Brown, whose MDiv studies also include a concentration in Black Church Studies.
Adams, a PhD student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and a pastor for more than ten years, said the culture of Hip Hop aids him in his pulpit preaching.
“Preaching a relevant Gospel must be multi-generational,” said Adams, who designates every fourth Sunday at his church as Hip Hop Sunday. The congregation is invited to “dress down,” and with a play on the themes, words, and language of Hip Hop song titles, Adams delivers sermons entitled, “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” “Hustle, Hustle, Hard,” and “Errbody in the Church Gettin’ Tipsy.” It’s one Sunday that I know the young people are listening, he added.
“Preaching must be profoundly cultural; if culture is not taken seriously, it’s not theological,” Adams said.
Students attending the forum agreed, likening the cultural relevance in preaching to Jesus’ use of parables. Tonia Gonzalez, a first-year student in the Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy degree program, applied this to her own field of study, stating that credibility can be directly related to accessibility. “To be taken seriously we need to be genuine and real,” she said.
“For the church to have a credible voice on culture, we need to advocate for churches to teach and engage critical awareness of Hip Hop, among many of today’s iconic cultural markers,” said Brown.
Brogdon agreed, saying, “A closer listen to the pain, misery, and suffering of the people around us, through music that evokes some of the most graphic details of human experience, may wake up the Church and move people to help make a change.”
View a performance of “Justice Call,” by Beau Brown on YouTube.com. Lyrics are available on the LPTS website: Justice Call Lyrics.