Lecrae wins a 2013 Grammy for “Best Gospel Album” (Photo courtesy of Newscom).
Two men. Both Black. Both Grammy award-winning hip-hop artists. Two completely different messages. Within one week both Lil’ Wayne and Lecrae made headlines for their music, but for very different reasons.
Last week, Christian hip-hop artist, Lecrae, won a Grammy for “Best Gospel Album” at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards. The prestige of music’s highest honor is noteworthy enough, but Lecrae’s achievement as a vocally Christian rapper is rare.
Lil’ Wayne’s Lyrics
In contrast, Lil’ Wayne, one of music’s most popular secular rappers, made news for lyrics that proved too controversial even for him. Lil’ Wayne makes a featured appearance on the song “Karate Chop” by fellow hip-hop artist, Future. The offending lyrics show up in the “remix” edition which was leaked a short time ago. In the song Lil’ Wayne lyric refers to “rough sex and used an obscenity. He indicated he wanted to do as much damage as had been done to Till.”
The part of the line that has caused so much controversy is the reference to Emmett Till. In 1955, Till, just 14 years old, was brutally murdered in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at a White woman. The tragedy sent ripples across the nation as graphic images of the boy’s mutilated face (his mother had insisted on an open casket to display the brutality) were splashed across newspapers and magazines. The two White men charged in the crime were both acquitted by an all-White jury.
Wayne’s lyric serves as painful reminder of the importance of Black History month. Many will miss the offense of Wayne’s reference if they fail to understand the identity and significance of Emmet Till. The maiming of Till’s memory, however, is just the start.
Wayne’s words speak of doing violence to a woman’s reproductive organs and reveal the misogyny that has become commonplace and even celebrated in much of hip-hop. His line also reveals the distorted and grotesque picture of manhood – one that defines masculinity in terms of sexual exploits and violence – that he and other hip-hop artists often portray.
In contrast, Lecrae uses his lyrical talents to pen lines like, “Ain’t dope dealin’, ain’t Po pimpin’, talkin’ ‘bout my own folk killin’/ We on that Jesus soul healin” (from the song “Fakin‘”). Lecrae talks openly about being a Christian and makes it clear his faith drives his art. An urban evangelist, he hopes to use his talent to penetrate mainstream hip-hop with an alternative message for the listeners.
Lil’ Wayne is not the anti-Christ and Lecrae is not sinless. Each of these men, like all of us, are sinners. We all have wicked hearts and no one has lived in perfect obedience to God as we were designed to do. But there is a difference between these two artists. Redemption.
The Redemption of Culture and All Creation
I can’t make any judgments about Lil’ Wayne’s or Lecrae’s salvation. I simply see the fruits of each man’s life and art. Lil’ Wayne’s lyrics seem to be essentially human-centered. Instead of looking up, his lyrics encourage listeners to look within. By focusing only on the self, life becomes defined by personal pleasure and material prosperity. Lecrae’s music encourages people find their identity in God first, and then act in harmony with their status as God’s children.
Scripture teaches that God will make all things new. Heaven will be a complete restoration and not obliteration. All evil will be dispatched and all that remains will be remade into the new Heaven and the new earth. And it will be recognizable. Music will be part of the renewed creation. And hip-hop – like sculpture, technology, and language – is part of the human creativity God will redeem.
As believers we must begin working out redemption here and now. Christ calls His followers the light of the world, the salt of the earth, and a city on a hill (Mt. 5:13-15). So, culture-shaping cannot be left to an elite few. Whether a hip-hop artist, a hair stylist, or a health inspector, all Christians must strive to be agents of redemptive change wherever God has placed us. If we live this way then, in many respects, the contrast between the redeemed and unredeemed life should look as stark as the contrast between Lil’ Wayne’s and Lecrae’s lyrics.
ATTENTION GRABBER: On Twitter, rapper Nicki Minaj was ecstatic to have drawn the attention of President Obama with her supposed endorsement of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. (Photo: Christopher Macsurak/Wikipedia)
Well, good news: Nicki Minaj supports President Obama after all. Whew! That’s a relief.
Last week, you may recall, the twitterverse was all abuzz after the colorful rapper set off speculation that she was supporting Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Her featured track on Lil Wayne’s latest mixtape caught the rapper sharing some puzzling lyrics that indicated she was casting her lots with the GOP. On Lil Wayne and Kanye West’s song “Mercy,” Minaj raps: “I’m a Republican voting for Mitt Romney/You lazy b***es is f***ing up the economy.”
Almost immediately, the world broke into an uproar attempting to decipher the eccentric rapper’s true intentions behind the cryptic verses. Rolling Stone magazine chimed in on the discussion when it raised the question of whether or not her words were a deliberate endorsement or just a provocative lyric.
But, this week, after President Obama was asked about the song and Minaj’s apparent endorsement of Romney, he told radio station WPYO-FM in Orlando, Florida, that he wasn’t so sure it was a Romney plug. “She likes to play different characters,” he said.
Minaj immediately jumped on the moment. In a tweet, she thanked Obama for understanding: “my creative humor and sarcasm,” then noted: “the smart ones always do …”
In the past the hip-hop star has been known to produce songs filled with controversial lyrics that many felt were for publicity and self-promotion. Rapper Talib Kweli agrees. In a tweet posted last week, he said, “I doubt Nicki seriously supports Romney. Her lyrics ain’t political. She just wants y’all to talk about her & she winning cuz it’s working!”
I particularly enjoyed another tweet from Kweli that helped tease out the irony in the apparent existential crises so many were experiencing after the Minaj mystery hit:
Taking Minaj seriously, Huffington Post contributor Kia Makarechi observed that, “Minaj is hardly the first hip-hop figure to take a stance on the election.” In fact, Makarechi added that a week earlier Jay-Z had presented a video to concertgoers at his Made in America Festival that highlighted President Obama encouraging everyone to vote in the upcoming election.
One pop star that is definitely not a Romney supporter is Black Eyed Peas leader will.i.am. A couple weeks ago at the Republican National Convention, Gov. John Kasich quoted the band in his speech. Kasich said:
You know, I don’t know about you … but I’ve got a feeling. I’ve got a feeling –- and it’s not just because I like the Black Eyed Peas –- I’ve got a feeling we’re about to elect a new president of the United States of America!
Unhappy with the musical reference and his band’s indirect connection with the RNC, will.i.am tweeted, “Hey Gov Kasich #Igotafeeling that Ohio needed the auto bail out…#unitedamericanotdivided let’s educate our youth #reachforthestars.”
The following day, will.i.am continued to fight back in an emotionally charged television interview with Marlow Stern in North Carolina, to discuss his support for the President at the Democratic National Convention.
In different ways, both will.i.am and Nicki Minaj proved their influence in the culture, not to mention the way that pop music, hip-hop, and the opinions of its artists have become an important part of today’s politics.
Remember back in the day when music artists and movie stars would take time away from showbiz to go to college or serve a stint in the military? In the world of hip-hop, that ritual has been replaced by stars who take time off from entertaining their audiences to serve prison sentences.
Rapper Lil Wayne is just the latest in an ever-expanding lineup of popular rappers and hip-hop artists whose fame and riches would seem to give them every motivation to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, in hip-hop culture fame and jail time seem to go together like salt and pepper. (No offense intended to the good ladies of Salt-n-Pepa, who, as far as we know, have not been to jail.)