WARNING: Some language in this article may be offensive to some readers, but isn’t that the point?
Hip-hop legend Andre Romelle Young, a.k.a. Dr. Dre, took over the halftime stage at Super Bowl 56.
Along with an entourage of Snoop Dog, 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar and Eminem, Dre and his colleagues were given the opportunity to shine on one of the world’s largest stages with over 101.1 million TV viewers.
Dre and his friends did not disappoint. Each pulled music from their individual playlists, even paying homage to hip-hop legend and martyr Tupac Shakur.
The performance was electrifying, and, for this Gen Xer, it was a lot of nostalgia for one night. However, it was disappointing and disturbing to read and hear reactions from white friends and pundits.
The Los Angeles Times noted that even among right-wing pundits, a racial divide emerged.
While Black commentator Candace Owens raved about the halftime show, white conservatives railed against it. Charlie Kirk, a white podcaster and founder of Turning Point USA, tweeted, “The NFL is now the league of sexual anarchy. This halftime show should not be allowed on television.”
As several of my colleagues pointed out this past week, it was interesting to read responses from primarily white Christian detractors, criticizing everything from Blige’s wardrobe to Eminem’s kneeling. Their criticism appeared to go far beyond simply not appreciating hip-hop as a musical genre to include a personal attack on Black culture.
This week’s criticism follows a long history of white Christians denouncing hip-hop artists, lyrics and culture.
As a teenager in the 1980s, I remember pastors and politicians convincing their followers that a culture war was at hand. From their perspective, they were on the side of righteousness, warring against those attempting to destroy Christianity.
While a lot of their ire was directed towards secular liberalism, their most visceral criticism targeted Black artists unwilling to conform to white Christian culture. Hip-hop artists, lyrics and culture were especially offensive to white evangelical Christians who did not attempt to listen to or understand the artists.
If they had stopped to listen back then – as well as today – then they would have discovered some of the most important prophetic voices crying out for justice.
Detractors often point to the vulgarity within hip-hop lyrics and culture, but prophetic words are laced with the offensive in order to impact the listener. In this way, hip-hop artists sound more like the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, calling out the faithful, demanding repentance and prescribing justice.
For example, listen to some lyrics from Amos:
Therefore, because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins — you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
If you were not listening, then read it again. Amos just offended his audience with a lyrical message, while demanding justice for the poor and marginalized.
Now, listen to whom my sons tell me is one of the greatest artists of their generation, Kendrick Lamar:
Alls my life I has to fight, n—
Alls my life I
Hard times like, yah!
Bad trips like, yah!
Nazareth, I’m f—ed up
Homie, you f—ed up
But if God got us then we gon’ be alright
Now, I do not pretend to fathom or understand the context from which Lamar raps, but I do hear his message clearly. And if you are not willing to listen to Kendrick, then you are also not willing to hear Amos.
Kendrick’s message is deeply rooted in the prophetic tradition and Black Liberation Theology, both countercultural ideas and practices that call out the powerful and inspire the oppressed.
In his masterful work The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James H. Cone wrote, “And yet the Christian gospel is more than a transcendent reality, more than ‘going to heaven when I die, to shout salvation as I fly.’ It is also an immanent reality — a powerful liberating presence among the poor right now in their midst, ‘building them up where they are torn down and propping them up on every leaning side.’ The gospel is found wherever poor people struggle for justice, fighting for their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
While we at Good Faith Media highlight Black History Month, let us remember the prophets. Let us remember Martin Luther King Jr., Howard Thurman and James Cone, but let us also remember the prophets with the names of Kendrick, Dre, Mary J. and Snoop.
While their lyrics may be unorthodox and, at times, offensive, their message needs to be heard by the world.
And for those who would dismiss their witness due to the passionate language with which they offer societal critique, consider the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book The Prophets:
“Their breathless impatience with injustice may strike us as hysteria … The prophet’s words are outbursts of violent emotions. [Their] rebuke is harsh and relentless. But if such deep sensitivity to evil is to be called hysterical, what name should be given to the abysmal indifference to evil which the prophet bewails?”
CEO of Good Faith Media.