The Spiritual Redemption Of Rap Music Cultural Studies Essay

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Since the advent of rap music in the United States, rap had remained a popular form of music and a manifestation of young, African-American culture. It emerged in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s. It comes from a centuries-old legacy of creative language use in African-American daily life.

According to Rose (1994), some critics consider rap music to be a confusing and noisy part of contemporary American popular culture. Some attribute to it violence, sexism, and misogyny. On the other hand, culture and music critics admire rap's role as an educational resource. Tyson (2002) contends that there seems to be a consensus in most studies regarding both positive and negative kinds of rap. "Positive rap is consistently described as rap that presents self-protective concepts and skills, offers solutions, and provides inspiration to improve undesired conditions, such as motivating, inspiring, and heightening the consciousness of people" (Tyson, 2002, pp. 135).

Rap music is a product of popular culture that is derived from the African-American cultural repertoire. This rich cultural repertoire includes particular devices, ideologies, techniques, and expressions, though there are different art forms or other products of the African people that may partially influence their culture, such as text, textures, and contexts. Usually derived from folk traditions and the prevailing culture, these elements form the foundation of black aesthetics, from which popular cultural products are gradually produced. Theology, religion, and spirituality are knitted into the social fabric of rap music, as these are associated with African-American beliefs and values. Rap music also constitutes rhythm, percussiveness, and call and response within its artistic grain and cultural settings. According to Maurice (1994), he admires rap music for the following reasons, mainly because the roots of the music are seen as:

part of the African-American oral and musical tradition that encompass the hidden message of slave folktales; the call and response of the Black church; the joy and pain of the blues; the jive talk and slang of disc jockeys and jazz musicians; the boasting of street talk; the wit of comedians; the eloquence of Black activists; and this is not to mention that rap shares West Africa as a common place of origin (pp. 1).

The effect of violent rap music on its listeners is debatable. A study by Johnson, Adams, and Asburn (1995) on teen dating suggests that particular participants exposed to violent rap music have a much higher acceptance of violence as the norm. In addition, it has been found that exposure to violent rap music by young African-American men influenced the listeners to have a higher acceptance of violence toward women and in general, according to Johnson, Jackson, and Gatto. In fact, social learning theory generally advances the position that aggression is learned through a process called behavior modeling, according to Bandura. Albert Bandura and Richard Walters in their 1959 study on aggression in adolescents found that people learn aggressive behavior, in part, from the media to which they are exposed .

Statement of the Problem

In general, this study aimed to answer the question: "How does rap music show redemptive quality particularly in the area of spirituality?"

Specifically, the study was designed to answer the following questions:

1) How do rap music artists create the lyrics to their songs?

2) What motivates or provokes them to write seditious and controversial rap


3) How do their songs show the redemptive quality of rap music?

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to examine the current literature and case study research, to determine: whether rap music is essentially evil or if there is in fact a spiritually redemptive aspect of this genre of music; what inspires the rap music artists to write such music; and how rap music really shows its redemptive quality, as mentioned by Rose.

Rationale of the Study

This paper finds a lot of bias in opinions of critics of rap music. Rap music plays an important role especially in helping lower class, and undereducated Americans understand and appreciate what is happening in their environment. Rap music has a special way of speaking to certain segment of our society. Rap music connects with: the most wounded, the most oppressed, the most angry, the most violent, the most oppressed; and those in need of spiritual redemption. Rap music seeks to this specific class (Nelson, 2011).

A negative bias against rap music is built in people's mindset by five socio-political institutions, namely: the juvenile justice, the court system, the mental health system, the press and the church. Some specific groups have a greater dislike and prejudice on rap music compared to other kinds of individuals. In totality, white people see rap music more negatively than black people, who, on the other hand, are the main producers of this type of music. Thus, the prejudice is fueled by differences in both cultural heritage and ignorance.

1) Another specific group that is highly opposed to rap music is White mothers. Clearly, rap had penetrated the racial barriers and gotten into the house hold of urban white family, specifically to its youth, and this has their mothers worried about the impact that this kind of music would have on their adolescent's youth (Wass et al., 1991).

2) There are also a group of conservative black mothers who fail to identify with black music and see the whole genre as harmful (Kopano, 2002).

3) Another group against rap music includes institutions like the church, they are concerned about the graphic image and stereo type promoted by rap, and the moral value it promotes (Diamond, 1996).

4) The mental health system is another group that are highly opposed to rap music, and has gone as far as labeling young rap musician, "Juvenile delinquents' along with teenagers who act out after listening to rap music. (Iwamoto 2007)

5) The criminal justice system also fits into the population of groups against rap music. Bearing in mind that the court system are often made up of conservative groups and judges, who often blame negative attitude of young people today on their choice of entertainment, especially rap music (Perry, 2004).

6) The press also falls into this group of dissenters of rap. As we know most press media thieve on sensation and need to report the most extreme cases in order to make entertaining news headlines that would sell their papers or their forms of media. (Grier & Cobbs 1999)

The press provides the medium that allows this negative bias to reach the people; yellow journals in particular usually publish headlines that may be linked against rap music. These institutions state that rap music has a great influence on the youth, especially the troubled ones. According to them, the troubled youth gains confidence in creating and supporting violence, and this is exacerbated by their accompanying other troubled youths with the same appreciation for rap music. Black youths face the real problems as indicated to be the reasons behind the startup of the rap musical genre. (Rosenfeld 1995)

There is clearly a perception that rap music holds negative messages; however, "rappers are increasingly using their music to convey positive and socially responsible messages" (Edward, 1993, p. 3). Tricia Rose (1994) presents a compelling analysis of the development and history of hip-hop as a musical and artistic expression of African-American people. Rap music must be understood in the greater context of hip-hop culture. Rose (1994) defines rap music as "a black cultural expression that prioritizes black voices from the margins of urban American...a form of rhymed storytelling" (p. 2). Moreover, Rose (1994) examines hip-hop culture on a broader level:

...attempts to negotiate new economic and technological conditions, as well as new patterns of race, class, and gender oppression in urban America...It is in fact, the dynamic an often contentious relationship between the two larger social and political forces and black cultural priorities that centrally shape and define hip-hop. (p. 22)

There are several research studies that explore the positive effects of rap music (Keyes, 2000; Henderson, 1996; Martinez, 1997; Pressley, 1992; Woldu, 1997). Whitaker (1990) explains that, despite its popularity," rap music and culture is heavily criticized because of the liberal and passionate use of four-letter words by rappers" (p. 34). Most of the people who criticize rap music are ignorant of rap cultural origin and the environment from which it originated (Edward, 1993). Those who defend rap observe that critics of rap culture "belong to an older generation; therefore, the generation gap prevents critics from listening and understanding the real appeal of this music" (Whitaker, 1990, p. 36).

Berry (1996) appreciates Rose's analysis, described above, of rap music on the basis of complex social, cultural, and political points. Most critics offer limited observations and perspectives, which lead to "blanket assumptions" about rap music, such as assumptions that rap is violent, sexist, or racist" (p.231). Rose (1994) describes rap as

a cultural expression that is embedded within powerful and dominant ideological, technological, and industrial institutions. Rap provides business, including economic opportunities, commercial marketing, technological innovations, and cultural production. When it comes to cultural production, rappers' description of possess and neighborhoods brought the ghetto back into public consciousness. Furthermore, rap satisfies the fundamental need of black Americans to own and make their territories acknowledged, recognized, and celebrated (pp. 2).

Further, the long history of African-American leaders speaking against rap music as self-destructive and hazardous for integration has not been main stream. However, it is a history that continues in current campaigns against rap music and culture. This situation is unfortunate; like other forms of popular Black music, rap is regarded as being classically American. It is therefore important, but it comes under attack because it is different from the norms of "respectable" culture (Thurston, 2005).

While discussing the worth of rap music, Whitaker (1990) observes that rap music is all about the expression of youthful views. It is another form of social commentary, no different than cultural expressions originating from other generations of black people. Considering its cultural and social appeal and value for the young generation, it may be inferred that "learning can be enhanced by using rap music. It can help students to appreciate classic literature, politics, philosophy, ethics, and other areas of education" (Baker, as cited in Waldron, 1990, p. 16). Woldu (1997) highlights a training program that is "designed specifically to enhance and develop professors' ability to teach a rap music course to their college students" (p.65).

Rap music is not necessarily a negative kind of music, as some of its critics would have us believe. It is a music that tends to address, the most troubled as well as many injustices on the streets of America. Some of the issues raised by the lyrics of Rap affects the middle class and low income families within society. Instead of condemning the genre, perhaps, relevant structures should be adopted to assisting in addressing some of the issues which are raised by these classes of people, which-according to Diamond (1996)-includes the "pernicious evil" of "destructive violence" (pp. 57).

Scope and Limitations of the Study

Spiritually speaking, these biased populations are driven by fear. Gangster rap is a hip-hop kind of music that centers essential on the negative viewpoints of inner city existence.

The following authors had challenged these commonly help perception of black music through the idea of a transcendence. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was one of the leading American civil rights activists and the original founder of National Association for the Advancement of the Colored People (NAACP). He was a prolific writer and he used his writing prowess to advocate for the equal treatment of the African Americans in the 20th century. He wrote a book titled The Philadelphia Negro that investigates the findings of the study of the African-American who lived in Philadelphia during the 20th century. He spoke against social injustices which he ensured every one heard across the globe.

"The spiritual"- happens with the redemption of black culture-when WEB Du Bois takes us back to its roots, to the struggle of the Negro slave living in oppression. Music was a way for the oppressed slaves to exhale. According to Du Bois, music was the essence of Black life and culture. You can talk all you like about the day to day life of the black American predicament in America even today but you could never really "get it " until you go back to into the "sorrow song " of Du Bois. In order words, if you really want to learn about the spiritual longing of the black people, look to their music because that is the key.

W.E.B. Du Bois declared, on the launch of his weighty 1903 treatise The Souls of Dark People, in which he spoke about the situation of the Twentieth Century is the situation of the color-line-an insightful articulation. Embarking to indicate to the book lover what he called the bizarre of being dark here in the dawning of the Twentieth Century, Du Bois illustrates the significance of the liberation, and its impact, and his views on the part of the pioneers of his race.

The last parts of the book are given to stories of people. "Chapter XI: Of the Passing of the First-Born" tells the story of Du Bois' particular child and his awkward demise. In the afterward part, the existence of Alexander Crummell is a short account of a dark minister in the Episcopal Mass. "Chapter XIII: Of the Coming of John" is the fictional black neighborhood and the white patricians of his town. The final section is about Negro music and makes reference to the short musical sections at the starting of each of the different sections, according to Krims (2000).

Rollo May (1975), an existential psychologist, whose work is important in examining anger, violence and the creativity in all people and, could help us understand the underling emotion behind a rapper's lyrics. In the "Daimonic", the daimonic in all of us are any natural function which has the power or ability to take over the whole person. These could include sex, anger, rage, the creative power. However when the power goes wrong, or out of balance so that one element dominates control over the total personality of a person, we have what is called a daimonic possession. The traditional or historic name of what used to be called "psychosis." According to Diamond (1996), "The daimonic refers to the fundamental archetype of the human experience, an existential reality" (pp. 65).

Dr. May (1975) believes that violence is the daimonic gone awful. We live in a generation where due to many rapid transitions the channels for utilizing the daimonic, venting our anger are denied. These are times when the daimonic are expressed in its most destructive form. Thus, senseless violence is a sign of the daimonic gone wrong or having spun out of control. As an existentialist, May challenges us to live with the truth of the situation. There is a deeper, more complex problem here. Sometimes the human personality can take over. The daimonic also means a consideration of the paradox, as opposed to the understanding of consciousness in which the opposite is repressed.

He dives into the idea of creativity and violence in his work The Courage to Create. May shows how anger can unleash "the courage to create" and lead one to their highest potential. May (1975) states that to have courage is to move forward "in spite of despair" (pp. 12). May gives us many examples of people in history of people who moved forward in spite of to become great mathematicians, artists, musicians and many situations were creative thoughts were applied. It seems that peak creativity can be a constructive outlet for violence.

According to Diamond (1996), anger is natural, and it is a dynamic "reaction to brokenness, injustice, violations, and powerlessness"; Further, when repressed, anger can grow into a "neurotic, narcissistic rage" which gets repressed until it explodes (pp. 153). Thus, according to May, you cannot banish a vital aspect of yourself without suffering consequences. Thus, rap is creativity in action, it is not a skill or a gift but a way of being which is open to everyone with the courage to make constructive use of the dark side within. This is essentially what the rap artist had discovered.

Further, I believe that the world do not consider rap violent. This perception is mostly held by people within the United States. In the 1960's young people started a tribal era of tattoos and piercing, fully knowing it was going to anger their parents-but it is a statement of the methodology of different generation's attitude. You may not like it or rap but you have to live with it. The facts that you may not like it or are in denial that it is going on, do nothing to change it.

Cobbs (1999), a psychiatrist, gives his insight on the meaning of black rage in his book Black Rage. He felt that after 400 years of oppression, if you spoke to a black person on the streets of America, what comes out of their mouth is first rage! His message is a message to all people and in essence an opening of doors to perception. Cobbs speaks of the rage of the black voice, speaking for the first time in the '60s filled with anger, blacks are enraged because they had been silenced for so long. The '60s was such an important landmark time with the Civil Rights movement. Black Rage by Cobbs dealt with improving communication among black folks, the rage that still exist in the hearts of some black people living in contemporary America; it speaks of the ongoing impact of race relations. These race relations work with the dynamics that were created by slavery. The subject that the book sort to address was how to help promote the communications between blacks and the rest of society? Yes, rap is violent, but it goes beyond violence.


Three case studies of the lives of rappers like Tupac Shakur, Christopher "The Notorious B.I.G." Wallace, and Nicki Minaj-along with works of authors in this field of psychology, most notably Du Bois, Rollo May, and Cobb-are what will be focused upon in order to analyze the influence of rap music and its spiritually redemptive qualities.


People most afraid of rap music are not necessarily 'spiritually' open to the idea of the music itself and are driven by a fear-based motivation. I am trying to show a part that relieves them of this fear of rap music. Because there is a stereotype out there that that is embedded in the minds and thoughts of people, claiming that every aspect of rap music-all the way up to and including the mental health system- that rap is evil.

The transcendence of rap music happens mostly to the most wounded, the most oppressed, the angriest, the most violent, the most oppressed, and those in need of spiritual redemption. There is a call for a certain mindset needed to interpret rap, and see its spiritual redemptive quality. Once we understand that these people most afraid of rap music are not spiritually open and are driven by fear and hatred even, believing that the groups that promote rap are the most damaged, the most violent, the most oppressed, and the angriest. Then the next step will be uncovering the spiritual nature of rap music. To reach this height of understanding one will need to have an open mind, not motivated by fear.

How do you define the wounded, the most oppressed? Is it only the wounded who are most in need of spiritual redemption, or are they actually the ones whose life experiences had lead them to a tolerance of honesty, and be able to absorb the undiluted nature of rap music. To understand the language and truly appreciate the appeal of rap, one must be willing to hear the truth as it is told in the raw simplicity, without the refinement of conventional language. This is the path to connecting with rap. Within the genre of rap music, thus, listeners promote the interest of the most damaged, most violent, and most oppressed because it serves their agenda. The message of Du Bois et al (1997) is that something has been robbed from the Black man and woman, in his mind. Thus, this concept must be far most in the mind, of any one, who wishes to know the truth.

Herman Melville (1851) in Moby Dick states that great men and women are made so through a certain morbidity "all mortal greatness is but a disease" (pp. 261)

As we all know, rap combines beat and poetry, in the proposed lines it's clear that the mindset of the rappers is operating along with poetry. So what harm can poetry possibly do? There are people who like rap music, perform rap music and those that treasure it, and to these people who listen to it, rap speaks to them in a special way, and remains a spiritual and redemptive kind of music.

In the early 2000's, a large number of rappers in the Roman Catholic confidence started incorporating religious verses in their melodies, and in addition making lifeworks out of Christian hip hop. Today, various engaged Catholic rappers and DJs are included in what is regarded as the "Catholic hip hop scene". Different well-known craftsmen in the Catholic hip hop scene incorporate Akalyte, Massmatics, Sammy Burst, Zealous, Move Shippers, Flip Francis, Catch 22, Manuel 3, M.A.S., Indicate 5 Pledge, Paul Jisung Kim, Father Pontifex, Isaac Nolte, Uncut Diamondz, and Fr. Stan Fortuna. Catholic hip hop exists in the underground hip hop scene, and is yet to be recognized by mainstream hip hop names.

Definition of Terms

Transcendence - the movement of consciousness from a lower state to a higher one, through insights, which is closer to personal experiencing. When consciousness goes into the area of unconsciousness there is a danger that demands that a higher spiritual dimension be sort.

Rapping - spoken or chanted rhyming lyrics. It is a primary ingredient in hip hop music and reggae, but the phenomenon predates hip hop culture by centuries.

"We must always stand in the light of our greatest understanding so that our lesser

would not take it from us." - Chuang Tzu