In Latest ‘gOD-Talk’, Black Millennials Discuss Hip-Hop and Faith

(RNS) — Big Freedia, a hip-hop artist sampled on the track “Break My Soul” from Beyoncé’s new album “Renaissance,” says she usually prays with her team before going on stage.

Neelam Hakeem, another exponent of the genre, thinks hip-hop is “the rebel” at a time when more and more people are leaving religion.

And Brandan “BMike” Odums, a visual artist who grew up not allowed to listen to rap music in his preacher father’s house, said hip-hop “reminds me that hope never ends.” was not exclusive to a religious practice”.

The three artists were part of a dinner and dessert panel examining the intersection of hip-hop music and black faith posted online Sunday, August 14. Filmed in New Orleans for “gOD-Talk 2.0: Hip-Hop and #BlackFaith,” the panel was the seventh installment in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture’s “gOD-Talk” series. He continued a series of in-person and online discussions about black millennial spirituality, black religion and technology, and African-American belief and sexuality.

Big Freedia is filmed for a Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture “gOD-Talk”, recorded in New Orleans. Photo by Ashley Lorraine

“As a very powerful spiritual and musical modality, hip-hop raises serious questions about the sacred and the secular,” said Eric Williams, co-director of the museum’s Center for the Study of African-American Religious Life. “This raises serious questions about black suffering and black hope. But it also raises questions for us around the issue of protest and praise.

The gOD-Talk series began in 2018 after the museum partnered with the Pew Research Center, which found that black millennials tend to be more religious and spiritual than their peers, but less spiritual and less religious than older generations of African Americans.


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Flyer for

Poster for “gOD-Talk 2.0: Hip-Hop and #BlackFaith”. Courtesy Image

Panelists discussed how reaction to hip-hop music also reflected generational differences – and their inherent religious tensions – noting how some religious leaders viewed the genre as offensive even as hip-hop artists criticized churches. for their resistance to women leaders and LGBTQ people. in their congregations.

“Hip-hop was the only form of music where the old-timers didn’t lead,” said Emmett Price III, dean of African studies at Berklee College of Music in Boston. “It was the young people because the elders were offering solutions that, in our young minds: they weren’t working for all of you. They will not work for us.

Through “several generations of hip-hoppers,” the lyrics of songs such as DMX’s 2003 “Thank you” (“I thank the Lord for my wife”) recount the trauma of the time as well as a hope for the future. future, Price said.

“From ‘broken glass everywhere’ to your most current rhyme, there’s always this definitive notion,” he said, “there’s always this interlude that’s a faith-driven thing.”

A genre known for its DJs, breakdancers and graffiti, hip-hop originated in the Bronx in the late 1970s and quickly spread across the United States, particularly in the South and West. , and its stars are now very popular in the world.

Interviewed by moderator Teddy Reeves, the museum’s other co-director of the center on black religious life, the panelists discussed whether the musical genre is a religion in itself or a way to orient people to faith.

Dee-1, left, and Brandon

Dee-1, left, and Brandan “BMike” Odums pose during the filming of “gOD-Talk 2.0: Hip-Hop and #BlackFaith” in New Orleans. Photo by Ashley Lorraine

Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, author of “Muslim Cool: Race, Religion and Hip Hop in the United States,” said that although the hip-hop movement was led by young people, it was influenced early on by people like as the leader of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X, whose voice was featured in “Malcolm X – No Sell Out”, a 1983 track by Keith LeBlanc.

“Those kinds of things, like Islam, are integral to how they began to articulate, interpret and understand what it is – what do we live with and what are we now going to rhyme or dance or write about. ,” she says.

Khabeer noted that gender can create a pathway to self-awareness, resistance, and even adoption of one or more religions such as Islam, Rastafarianism, or Five Percenters, a black nationalist movement that broke away. of the Nation of Islam in 1963.

“It kind of takes you down that path of self-knowledge,” she said.

Hip-hop artist Dee-1 added that while he doesn’t view hip-hop as a religion per se, artists in the genre can successfully reach listeners in ways that some clergy cannot. can’t reach.

Sa-Roc participates in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture “gOD-Talk 2.0: Hip-Hop and #BlackFaith”, recorded in New Orleans, in May 2022. Photo by Ashley Lorraine

The artist Sa-Roc participates in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture “gOD-Talk 2.0: Hip-Hop and #BlackFaith”, recorded in New Orleans. Photo by Ashley Lorraine

“Hip-hop delivers messages that pastors can’t just preach,” he said. “So hip-hop is definitely effective as a train, as a carrier of messages. But I think it leads people to things like God, to religion, instead of it being a religion.

Hip-hop artist Sa-Roc has said that when she writes, she feels like “the ancestors are whispering this to me or the angels are whispering this to me”, and compares her work and that of other artists to prophets, given what they hear from the followers. on how their music is performed: “‘That song or those words saved my life’ or ‘I felt like I was in church listening to that.'”

Big Freedia, who grew up in a black Baptist church in New Orleans, is known as the “queen of bouncy music”, a subgenre of hip-hop, and added, “A lot of people tell me when they come to a Freedia show, they felt like they were coming to a bounce alarm clock or they felt some type of spirit enter the room.

Besheer Mohamed, senior researcher for Pew, said his research found that many black Americans said standing up to racism is part of what it means to be a good Christian or a good Muslim. Increasingly, black people, especially younger people, feel the same way about opposing sexism and gender discrimination, but they hear less about these issues in sermons, so they may seek out these messages somewhere else.

“To some people it’s traditional gospel music, but to others it’s hip-hop,” he said. “And it’s going to feed that same soul, feed that same need to hear their pain recognized to see a way forward and be able to keep moving forward, even in the face of these difficulties, in the face of this hurt.”


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