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Black man's world?

"Black man's world?" Continued...

Issue: "A few good men," May 6, 2006

The appeal to suburban kids is also heightened by hip hop's movement away from the violent, anti-authoritarian gangsta rap of a decade ago. Mr. Klein notes that today's rappers deal with "the latest politics, struggles with pornography, addictions, depression, and any other issue that anyone else deals with." Mr. White never embraced the lifestyle celebrated in popular hip hop but relished the athleticism and technique of hip-hop dance.

Today, both Mr. White and Mr. Klein prefer "underground" hip hop instead of the often vulgar and vain type mainstreamed on radio stations and cable stations like MTV. Underground hip-hop artists like Glue, Timothy Brindle, Mars Ill, Atmosphere, and Deep Space Five rap about the brokenness of the human condition and the need for redemption.

For example, an emerging artist like Matisyahu-in his recently released song "Youth"-raps in a Jamaican accent about his contemporaries: ". . . some of them don't know what to be / some of them don't know where to go / some of them trust their instincts that something's missing from the show / some don't fit society, / insides are crying low / some of them teachers squash the flame before it had a chance to grow / some of them embers do glow / them charcoal, hushed and low . . ."

Mr. Klein now lives with his grandmother, works full-time for a cleaning business, and attends a local college while he considers a calling to church ministry. His own raps deal with issues in his life and attempt to show "the true reformed religion of Christ in lyrical form." In his "Inherently Infected," Mr. Klein raps about the human condition:

"It's just another blessing from / the Holy God that made you / and through whom all wisdom comes / the greatest gift to some / but still others just reject Him / reflectin' an infection for which we must be reckoned / wretched treacherous men live in deception. So when it comes to sin; / Man has NO depth perception!"

Mr. White, trying to get his hip-hop dance-instruction business off the ground, lives with his parents and works in a restaurant: He is saving money for his wedding, scheduled next month. His dance students, who range in age from 13 to 29, include both African-Americans and whites. Some drive for over an hour from neighboring Illinois to learn dance moves like the "shoulder roll" and "gliding," which gives the illusion of frictionless movement across the floor.

The two hip-hoppers, along with other young St. Louis evangelicals connected with the website Alphareason.com, visit local churches to put on hip-hop dance exhibitions that include testimonies and gospel presentations. The group has raised money for victims of Hurricane Katrina, and for kids whose parents are in prison. Fundraisers have included sales and displays of hip-hop art, group dance contests, and individual breakdance competitions.

When asked if hip hop is just a phase, Mr. Klein laughed and said, "Picture the stereotypical 50-year-old guy chillin' in his basement with his buddies drinking a Miller Lite listening to Abba: We'll probably be doing that at 45 with underground hip hop." The music that teens have found meaningful over the past decades is likely to remain as popular among them as the music of Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones has remained among their elders. Will members of the hip-hop generation find answers to their deeper questions?

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of Liberating Black Theology. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.

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