Decoding Hip-Hop’s Controversial Lyrics

Decoding Hip-Hop’s Controversial Lyrics


NO CHURCH IN THE WILD (Excerpts)
The Lyrics: 

[Hook: Frank Ocean]
Human beings in a mob
What’s a mob to a king? What’s a king to a God?
What’s a God to a non-believer who don’t believe in anything?
Will he make it out alive? Alright, alright, no church in the wild

[Jay-Z]
Lies on the lips of priests, Thanksgiving disguised as a feast…
…Is Pious pious cause God loves pious?
Socrates asked whose bias do y’all seek?…
…Jesus was a carpenter, Yeezy he laid beats
Hova flow the Holy Ghost, get the hell up out your seats, preach

[Kanye West]
…We formed a new religion
No sins as long as there’s permission
And deception is the only felony…
…It’s something that the pastor don’t preach
It’s something that a teacher can’t teach
When we die the money we can’t keep
But we probably spend it all cause the pain ain’t cheap, preach

The Breakdown:

In the hook, Frank Ocean proposes that if you deny the highest power, you may just become the highest but you might not make it out alive.

In the first verse Jay Z paints the picture of a history of religious contradictions and challenges the listeners to reconsider their definition of piety or righteousness, similarly to the way Socrates did in the Euthyphro.  He charges listeners to free themselves by rejecting religious bias and to preach this new message.

In the 2nd verse Kanye introduces the details of this new religion, “no sins as long as there’s permission.” He suggests that this new message is new for both preachers and educators because even they do not realize that money isn’t everything and that “we probably spend it all cause the pain ain’t cheap.”

This song isn’t necessarily bashing God, but organized religion. It’s clearly coming from feelings of rejection and hypocrisy from religious institutions and each verse provides a different perspective on the theme.

The Rhetorical

What do you detest more: hypocrisy or death?

When you’ve searched for an example and didn’t find one, did you ever consider yourself?

Are you for as many things as you’re against?

The Takeaway:

When all you do is deny what you hate, you reject the real remedy, which is always God’s love.  Hate is more evil than your intentions. Need proof? When’s the last time you found yourself doing the things you hate?

POST YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK THIS SONG IS SAYING!

Decoded: ‘No Church in the Wild’ (Episode 1)

Decoded: ‘No Church in the Wild’ (Episode 1)


NO CHURCH IN THE WILD (Excerpts)
The Lyrics: 

[Hook: Frank Ocean]
Human beings in a mob
What’s a mob to a king? What’s a king to a God?
What’s a God to a non-believer who don’t believe in anything?
Will he make it out alive? Alright, alright, no church in the wild

[Jay-Z]
Lies on the lips of priests, Thanksgiving disguised as a feast…
…Is Pious pious cause God loves pious?
Socrates asked whose bias do y’all seek?…
…Jesus was a carpenter, Yeezy he laid beats
Hova flow the Holy Ghost, get the hell up out your seats, preach

[Kanye West]
…We formed a new religion
No sins as long as there’s permission
And deception is the only felony…
…It’s something that the pastor don’t preach
It’s something that a teacher can’t teach
When we die the money we can’t keep
But we probably spend it all cause the pain ain’t cheap, preach

The Breakdown:

In the hook, Frank Ocean proposes that if you deny the highest power, you may just become the highest but you might not make it out alive.

In the first verse Jay Z paints the picture of a history of religious contradictions and challenges the listeners to reconsider their definition of piety or righteousness, similarly to the way Socrates did in the Euthyphro.  He charges listeners to free themselves by rejecting religious bias and to preach this new message.

In the 2nd verse Kanye introduces the details of this new religion, “no sins as long as there’s permission.” He suggests that this new message is new for both preachers and educators because even they do not realize that money isn’t everything and that “we probably spend it all cause the pain ain’t cheap.”

This song isn’t necessarily bashing God, but organized religion. It’s clearly coming from feelings of rejection and hypocrisy from religious institutions and each verse provides a different perspective on the theme.

The Rhetorical

What do you detest more: hypocrisy or death?

When you’ve searched for an example and didn’t find one, did you ever consider yourself?

Are you for as many things as you’re against?

The Takeaway:

When all you do is deny what you hate, you reject the real remedy, which is always God’s love.  Hate is more evil than your intentions. Need proof? When’s the last time you found yourself doing the things you hate?

POST YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK THIS SONG IS SAYING!

‘Felon’ Is the New N-Word

‘Felon’ Is the New N-Word

For anyone who has read Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander’s deeply disturbing book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, the conviction yesterday of a Brooklyn detective for planting drugs on Yvelisse DeLeon and her boyfriend, Juan Figueroa, should be a welcome one.

“Before announcing the verdict, Justice [Gustin L.] Reichbach scolded the department for what he described as a widespread culture of corruption endemic in its drug units,” The New York Times reported.

“I thought I was not naïve,” Reichbach reportedly said. “But even this court was shocked, not only by the seeming pervasive scope of misconduct but even more distressingly by the seeming casualness by which such conduct is employed.”

I’ve been reading Alexander’s book at bedtime, and it’s not a comforting read. As previously reported in our interview with the author, she contends that mass incarceration of people of color like DeLeon and Figueroa represents a new “racial caste system,” and nothing short of a social revolution can dismantle it.

I heard Alexander speak at the Princeton University “Imprisonment of a Race” conference earlier this year and something she said there has been nagging at me since I picked up her book again. She said the civil rights era strategy of shining a light on model black citizens and distancing ourselves from those with criminal records was a tragic mistake and is no longer viable.

“People of color are no more likely to use or sell drugs than whites. The color blind veneer of the system has made us blind to how racial bias permeates the system. We have to deal with the shame and stigma that keeps people silent,” said Alexander. “We’ve got to make safe places in churches, schools, etc.”

WILD YOUTH: Christine A. Scheller, third from left, in 1979 at age 15.

When I was a drug-using teenager, I was arrested two or three times for nonviolent crimes that were committed when I was under the influence. I spent a couple hours in a jail cell after one arrest and a life-transforming month in a juvenile shelter after a parental conflict over my incorrigibility. Both experiences convinced me that I never wanted to be locked up again.

I’m fortunate that I surrendered my life to Jesus when I was 17, because if it had been another year or two, and I had gotten into the same kind of trouble, I, like other members of my family, would have been saddled with an arrest record that could have limited my choices for far longer than justice would demand.

One of these loved ones spent eight months in prison, and became a Christian there, after police coerced his “friend” into falsely testifying against him. He went straight to Bible College when he was released and has been, for 25 years, a Bible teacher, elder, and pastor, but still can’t work in certain industries because he has a felony conviction on his record.

Another was stopped by California police, ostensibly because of a broken tail light on the car someone else was driving, and was arrested for possession of a hash pipe. No drugs, just a pipe. Bail was set at $20,000. This young man spent two days in jail and never used drugs again, but still isn’t sure if the felony conviction was dropped or not after he completed a diversion program and probation.

Alexander said, “Felon is the new n-word” and we should stop labeling people with it. She also disavowed “repeat offender” and “career criminal,” saying these terms mask the struggle of cycling in and out of an unjust system.

The members of my family with arrest records have managed to learn from and overcome our histories, in part because of the support of our middle class families and in part because we are white.

In a CNN column today about the decline of black political conservatism, Baptist preacher and former Atlanta Journal editorial board member Frederick Johnson said that he used to tell his son that if a racist cop pulled him over because he was black, that was the cop’s fault; but if the cop found drugs in the car, that was his son’s fault.

“Unlike some conservatives, I don’t wish to let either party off the hook,” said Johnson. Amen to that.

According to Alexander, if we were to return to the days before the war on drugs, we would have to release four-out-of-five prisoners who are currently incarcerated. That’s unlikely to happen, she said, because one million people are employed by prisons.

“This system is so deeply rooted now that it’s not going down without a major fight,” Alexander said.

She advocated movement building that includes the work of artists, students, and law enforcement personnel, and said there needs to be consciousness raising within the black community and an eradication of class divisions that keep middle class blacks from advocating for poor ones.

“Activists take the risks, while advocates are professional tinkerers with the system,” she said. “What’s necessary is for those who are advocates to support those who are activists and to envision themselves as activists.”

I’ve taken a small risk here by announcing that there are drug arrests in my personal and family history. I don’t enjoy doing it, but as a Christian I’m so deeply, personally unsettled by the injustice of “mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness” that I feel compelled to confront disabling shame by admitting that I too have been a criminal.

Watch Herman Sing

Watch Herman Sing


So I’m going to say (write) what I’m not supposed to admit (at least publicly) as a black person. I have paid more attention to GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain because he is black. There I said (wrote) it! Pardon me that as a black person in this country, I still find it fascinating when black people rise to certain heights that would have been impossible not that long ago. So now that I have gotten that admission out of the way, let me proceed with the business of this commentary …

If you were to ask me to give you a blow-by-blow account of what high jinks other GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and others have been up to over recent weeks, I would pause and then hopefully distract you with my knowledge of what is becoming the spectacle of the Republican presidential campaign: Herman Cain.

Actually Cain, who lives in Atlanta as I do, has been on my radar even before he entered the presidential race. From time to time, I listened to him on his radio show because he was the lone black conservative on the local radio station, and when I looked up his bio, I must also admit that I was impressed. So when he decided to join the Republican race for the presidency, I felt that he was at least owed my attention as a hometown candidate.

And paying attention to Cain has not failed to disappoint me yet! From his admission that while he was a student at Morehouse College, he chose not to get involved in the Civil Rights Movement (even though Atlanta is arguably the capital of the movement) to his membership and ministry at the liberal megachurch Antioch Baptist Church to his 9-9-9 plan, Cain is a journalist’s dream. His life and choices yield a plethora of stories which brings me to why I’m paying attention to Cain this week.

Herman Cain

On Monday, Cain was backed into a corner, forced to defend himself before the National Press Club after Politico revealed that Cain was accused of sexually harassing two women while he was the president of the National Restaurant Association. He denied the allegations and attempted to downplay them by stating he was unaware of any settlement the women may have received. Apparently, after denying the allegations, the president of the National Press Club asked Cain, who is known as a singer as well, to bless the audience with a song. Cain agreed, choosing to belt out the gospel song “He Looked Beyond My Faults (And Saw My Need)” by Dottie Rambo.

“Amazing Grace will always be my song of praise.
For it was grace, that brought me liberty,
I do not know, just why He came to love me so.
He looked beyond my faults and saw my need.”

This incident disturbed me on so many levels. First of all, let me tackle the obvious. With his choice of song, was Cain not-so-subtlety admitting his guilt? Was the conviction of the Holy Spirit so strong that he was led to seek forgiveness through song? But then again, as a politician he wouldn’t be that obvious, would he? If that wasn’t what he was doing, was it some sort of Jedi mind trick — a ploy to mesmerize the audience, making them forget what they were there for? And, quite honestly, I also was disturbed that Cain’s singing in that particular situation reminded me of the Happy Negro singing on the plantation. It just wasn’t a good look.

Whatever his tactic, I’m still paying attention to Cain. It has been said that all publicity is good publicity, but I’m not sure as Cain is still being pressed about the sexual harassment issue. Since the press conference, Cain’s story has changed, and on Friday night his wife, Gloria Cain may be appearing on the On the Record with Greta Van Susteren on Fox to address the allegations. As I said (wrote) before, “Mr. Cain,  it’s not looking too good this week, but I’m still looking at you …”

Yes, Cain initially got my attention because he is a black man in the GOP race, but that is not why he has kept my attention. Regardless of race, he’s the man you would want to talk to at any party, Republican or otherwise. He’s accomplished, controversial, maybe even a bit “coo coo for cocoa puffs” — and a gospel singer to boot!

Herman Cain photo by Gage Skidmore.

‘Moneyball’ Ministry

‘Moneyball’ Ministry

The World Series is over, which means no more baseball until next spring. But forgive me for still having a little baseball on the brain. You see, I just recently caught the new baseball film, Moneyball. From most accounts, Moneyball is a pretty good movie. Fans of baseball, Brad Pitt, Aaron Sorkin, and underdog stories in general all have plenty to love. As a historical drama, it does play a little fast-and-loose with the facts, but it captures the emotional essence of the subject matter. And as baseball movies go, it’s decidedly less crass and more inspirational than many of its counterparts, which could make it popular among conservative, faith-based audiences.

Seems like the only people who aren’t that enthused about the film (which adapted Michael Lewis’ 2002 chronicle of the same name) are the actual baseball executives whose stories are depicted in it, primarily Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane and his stat guru assistant Paul DePodesta (fictionalized as Peter Brand, because DePodesta didn’t consent to allowing his name to be used).

Their main complaints of the film stem from what DePodesta and Beane believe to be an overly dramatized schism between the GM’s office and the rest of the scouting and management. In the film, Brad Pitt as Beane and Jonah Hill as Brand/DePodesta are continually at odds with the A’s grizzled corps of veteran scouts, most of whom have a rigid sense of orthodoxy concerning what good draft prospects look like, and who resent Beane for discarding their sage advice and picking players using advanced statistics. This conflict is a source of constant tension, especially because it pits general manager Beane against manager Art Howe, who refuses to fill his lineup with any of Beane’s recent draft picks.

If baseball were a religion, Moneyball would play out like a classic faith-versus-science debate. In this sense, the divide between traditional scouts and the proponents of advanced metrics in baseball mirror the divide between conservative Bible literalists and liberal scholars who view the Bible only as literature. In both cases, the generalizations that depict the former as backward and the latter as enlightened are just that — generalizations, more useful for establishing a dramatic narrative than for arriving at an accurate assessment of the truth.

Truth is, there are plenty articulate, enlightened Bible traditionalists, and plenty of close-minded so-called progressives whose view of the Bible is woefully ignorant. Likewise, plenty of older baseball scouts use quality stats to back up their intuitions, and plenty stat geeks are led astray by faulty or incomplete data sets. The best talent evaluators rely on both what the computers say as well as what their eyes tell them.

As a matter of fact, Billy Beane has said on the record that he never set out to revolutionize baseball’s decision-making process. He just needed to find ways to stay competitive against teams with larger payroll budgets. But the larger story of how the Oakland A’s front office changed baseball remains a compelling story, and church leaders in particular would do well to find the lessons that go beyond the typical Hollywood platitudes.

Avoiding False Choices

Despite the magnified conflict in the film, one lesson that the fictional Billy Beane manages to get right over time is avoiding the false dichotomy, or as I like to call it, the Dis-Or-Dat trap. This is the fallacy that assumes that two traits that appear dissimilar can never inhabit the same space. Getting caught in a Dis-Or-Dat trap causes people in pressure-filled situations to ignore the nuances and hastily choose between extreme contradictions in thought or behavior. So women are viewed either as virginal girl-next-door types or slutty femme fatales. Bosses are either rigid taskmasters or softy pushovers. Blacks are either the noble oppressed or immoral and degenerate.

(You get the idea.)

Over time it became clear to Billy Beane that he couldn’t simply rely on either his eyeballs or his stats; he had to do both. This is the kind of thinking that more church leaders should use. It’s not enough for pastors to either know the Bible well OR be great communicators. They need to do both. The same goes for speaking grace and truth. And the worship leader shouldn’t only have to choose between traditional or contemporary music, as if there is no one under 25 who appreciates a good hymn or no one over 40 who appreciates good hip-hop. If the church in America is to thrive, there must be room for both.

Value in the Refuse

Another kingdom value on display in Moneyball is the idea of finding value in hidden places. The main way the Oakland Athletics were able to compete with a smaller payroll was by picking up players that others had overlooked or discarded. And there’s nothing quite so Hollywood as watching a group of misfits and oddballs beat the odds together.

But it didn’t start in Hollywood. This is a theme that resonates all throughout the Scripture, from scrawny shepherd David anointed as king, to Hosea pursuing an adulterous woman, to Isaiah and the Psalmist both foreshadowing Jesus as “the stone that the builder refused.

Given this, how amazing would it be if American churches were identified primarily as places where people’s lives and contributions were valued, regardless of class, talent or achievement? Pastors and worship leaders would feel less pressure to become multimedia superstars, because in God’s economy, everyone brings something to the table. And material success would be the default standard in ministry, because defying the odds is nothing new for God.

Doing more with less? Please. He invented that with five loaves and and two fish.

Success Redefined

The most significant lesson of Moneyball is, interestingly enough, the one most up for interpretation, like that spinning top at the end of Inception.

At one point in the film Beane laments that winning 20 games in a row doesn’t matter if you lose the last game of the year. As a postscript, the film notes that Billy Beane is still searching for that final win.

However, it also says that after he turned down their offer to hire him as GM, the Boston Red Sox went on to win the World Series by adopting Beane’s statistical approach.

So the lingering question is obvious … was he successful, or not?

Well, how does one define success?

Pitt played Billy Beane as a man whose life goal was to win at baseball, yet he never really achieved that goal in a meaningful way. Walking out of the theater, I couldn’t help but notice his resemblance to another cinematic tortured soul — Richard Dreyfuss in Mr. Holland’s Opus.

Both men, flawed as they were, experienced a measure of redemption.

But it required accepting a different definition of success, one that measured influence and relationship higher than the more tangible signs they’d been waiting for — for Mr. Holland, his final musical masterpiece, and for Billy Beane, a World Series title.

This is the lesson that pastors, worship leaders, and other church ministers need to receive the most.

Our success at ministering in the church must be defined first and foremost by our ability to know God and be in right relationship with Him. There’s a reason why Matthew 6:33 doesn’t tell us to seek God’s kingdom and his achievements … because outward signs of success are included in the “all of these things will be added unto you” portion of the verse. His righteousness is the thing we are instructed to pursue first.

That doesn’t mean that outward signs shouldn’t follow. After all, James tells us that faith without works is dead. But it does mean that if we truly trust God with everything, then we’ll allow Him to set our agenda and allow Him to change our definition of success if it derails us from His.

*         *         *

The irony for Billy Beane in Moneyball is that his professional success was about maximizing output with minimal money, yet his personal success brought him the opportunity for so much money that he was in danger of losing his sense of self and relational significance … which was what drew him into baseball in the first place.

The good news for believers in Christ is that we don’t need our stories retold on the silver screen in order to have peace and prosperity. And we don’t need to collect trophies or achievements to have personal significance.

All we need to do is receive the gift of salvation,

join His team,

suit up,

and play ball.