Westminster has nowhere the kind of rap excitement I sensed at Southern, but it has students and graduates of Westminster associated. The apologetics faculty believes Christians rappers are, on the whole, impressively serious. Westminster is, after all, in Philadelphia, and rap is not to the best of my knowledge a rural phenomenon—though apparently Southern rap is all the rage nowadays, which may explain why it is big in the SBC. So instead of doing, for example, ballet, we had a session in our class on Christianity and the Arts on the (still, to me) inexplicably designated phenomenon of Hip Hop.
In fact, the first thing I did on seeing the French professor running our class, the member of the faculty who usually does the class and the designated rapper presenting our class that day was to ask why we were having a class on rap and not on ballet. The French professor provided the only answer: we could not talk about all the aspects of music possible since there simply isn’t time. The other two just stared at me.
Here is what I learned: apparently there are rappers who go on about the thug life, and those who aspire to something more positively didactic (yea, even prophetic). The latter are associated with the word conscience, and because they have a positive spin, they are where Christian rap can get a foot in. Here is the dilemma, however. People who listen to rap are not so interested in the conshies (my designation) as they are in the ones who brag egregiously about the thug life. If you put two rappers, one of each persuasion, in the same concert, the stadium will fill up for the thug and largely empty out for the conshy.
So obviously there is a problem with the audience.
Another thing I learned is how much of Islam went into rap’s development. The early stages of rap were useful to Black Muslim purposes (we did not learn if they still are, but that’s probably my ignorance of this field of human endeavor), so much so that rap seems to be some kind of sacred cow, comprehending many sensitive, angry stomachs. Which is why we need to have some Christian involvement, if only to balance things out and spread the dyspepsia around more evenly.
Here is a narrative we were given: African-Americans were first enslaved in the USA, then they were kept down by segregation, and after that somebody in Nixon’s administration said that Nixon said that they somehow still had to be kept down but surreptitiously, and that has been carried out by over-policing until Obama woke up to it a few months ago and Clinton (our first Black president) apologized. This narrative was set up to answer the question, why does rap sound so angry? Some skepticism was expressed to the third stage of the narrative which was dismissed with: if you were Black, you would not question it because you would have lived it.
I was honestly surprised that the narrative of victimhood is used. I should have seen it coming with the gimcrack exegesis of the tower of Babel. Do you know what went wrong at Babel? No multiculturalism. That was so wicked that God actually stepped in to give us multiculturalism. And just think of the multiculturalism of Pentecost. Anyway, returning to victimhood, do they mean that rap is the response of the thumb-sucking whiners who affect all the thug bravado, hypocritically exploiting their weak women, to a conspiracy theory? Perhaps that is an imponderable question to which we will never know the answer.
I do think nobody will be able to miss the gospel potential of this art form. One of the issues tearing the Christian rap world apart at this moment, I was given to understand, is whether there are Christian rappers, or simply rappers who happen to also be Christians. Of course, there are some problems to overcome, but there is no greatness without struggle. Once the answer to this question has been formulated, no doubt Christian rappers will own a more proportionate share of the market and will wake more of rap’s audience up to the Biblical uses of anger.
Next week we are going to do Brahms. Not ballet, alas, but what with the brothels of Hamburg and the sawed-off rocking rockers of the rocking-chair, there may be some surprising continuities.