Hip-Hop, Music and Culture

Adventures in Missing the Point: Pusha T’s Feud with Lil’ Wayne

In this on-going series we explore how passages of the bible have been misconstrued, misinterpreted and misunderstood by musicians in various genres and restore the understanding of those biblical passages within the proper context of the gospel.

“Exodus 23:1”

Recently an obscure bible verse, Exodus 23:1, has been trending on Twitter. The verse reads: “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.” There was a lot of speculation as to why this particular bible verse was so prominently featured on Twitter but it was eventually revealed that it is the title of a new song by the rapper Pusha T. Some discussion in the music press has been about how the bible verse correlates to the lyrical content of the song but the main focus has been on the extended lyric diss about an unnamed rapper. However, most analysts have identified the diss as a reference to the rappers Drake and Lil’ Wayne.  Lil’ Wayne at least took the song in that manner, as shown in the opening line of his song Ghoulish released a few days later, “**** Pusha T and anybody dat love em, his head up his *** Imma have to head butt him.” While the feud between the two rappers and the song Exodus 23:1 have been a hot topic of discussion for the music press over the past week, there has not been a discussion about the meaning of the bible verse.

Exodus 23:1 is one of the 613 covenantal laws spoken by God to Moses at Mount Sinai and this particular law is grouped with other laws that deal with how to treat others with justice and mercy. The law’s intent was to keep a person from making up stories in favor of the person who was the guilty party in a dispute. God was telling the Israelites, justice is not served properly if a person knowingly does not tell the truth to defend a guilty person. Following this particular law are two other laws, which are instructive to the feud between the two rappers and indicate the spirit of mercifulness and justice that God is commanding his people to have.

If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it. (Ex. 23:4-5)

Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (Ex. 23:9)

In the New Testament, Jesus summarized these types of laws as “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt. 5:44, see in context 5:43-48) Exodus 23:1, within the broader context of the laws that surround it in the text as well as Jesus’ explanation of the law in his Sermon on the Mount, is not only about justice and mercy but loving your enemy. This law is meant to expose our sin in that area, not to point it out in others (Matt. 7:3-5) and have us come close to the one who has perfectly fulfilled the law for us, Jesus.

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Rock

Agnus Dei: Marc Webb’s Lamb (Part 2)

Marc Webb, director of the upcoming Spiderman relaunch, The Amazing Spiderman and the romantic comedy 500 Days of Summer, featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, is also a prolific music video director. He has directed music videos in a wide array of musical genres, with groups and artists such as, A.F.I., Pussycat Dolls, Weezer, Ashley Simpson and Switchfoot. In at least three of his music videos he has incorporated a signature stamp, an image of a lamb. The lamb functions not only as an identifier that Marc Webb directed the music video but acts as a symbol, which only appears at pivotal moments in the storyline in each of the three videos. In this three part series we will explore what the lamb symbolizes in each of the music videos and if there any kernels of truth that can be seen in this presentation of the lamb symbol as it relates to the true lamb, Jesus.

The Transforming Lamb: Yellowcard’s Ocean Ave

 

Yellowcard is a pop-punk band (with a violinist), who first gained mainstream radio airplay in the early 2000s. Unlike the band we discussed last week, Brand New, Yellowcard’s lyrics are not littered with Christian imagery and most of their songs deal with navigating relationships they have had with women. Their first mainstream hit Ocean Avenue fits nicely into this mold as the singer regrets dumping his girlfriend.

Interestingly, this music video is an homage to the 1998 German movie Run, Lola Run. In the film the main character is stuck in a time loop (a la Groundhog Day) repeating the same events over and over again until the correct outcome occurs. Particular events in the music video are very similar to the movie such as, the singer jumping out of a window, running through a group of nuns, passing by or knocking over a homeless man and then an interaction with a car. This string of events occurs three times, however, each time the singer encounters a different ending. In the first occurrence of the events, the singer runs after the car and then is dragged away by two men. In the second occurrence he is hit by the car but in the third occurrence the singer enters the car and is taken safely away from the two men chasing after him.

It is not until this third instance of the events that the viewers have an understanding of why he is running. The singer is asleep in a graffiti-filled room and on his nightstand is a briefcase with an image of a lamb embroidered on the front of it. A moment later the briefcase is gone, taken by a woman, who drives away in the same car that the singer was hit by in the last repetition of the events.  When the singer wakes up, he realizes that the briefcase is gone and he rushes out of the room. However, the path down the stairs is blocked by two men so he chooses to jump out of the window instead. As he reaches the end of the cycle of events, he remembers from the second occurrence that the car is behind him. He turns around, the car suddenly stops, barely missing him and he exchanges glances with the woman. The woman sees the two men from the staircase running after the singer, she signals him with nod of her head to get in the car and they drive away.

The word perseverance comes to mind as we watch the singer encounter the same obstacles and yet with passion and urgency he chases after the lamb, despite the obstacles in his way. This is why he sings the following lines the first two times he encounters the car.

If I could find you now things would get better 
We could leave this town and run forever
I know somewhere somehow we’ll be together
Let your waves crash down on me
And take me away, yea, yea, yea

In these words and the repeating events of the video we can see a picture of what it means to pursue Jesus. Day in and day out our lives follow mostly the same paths and the same obstacles, whether they are external or within. Some days might be victories, where we met with Jesus and others may be complete failures, as we let the obstacles overcome us and direct our path. The important thing though is that we continue to run each day and run towards Jesus. Like the singer in the video, who as he woke up in the morning chose to pursue the lamb even though he kept on failing, we also must start each day pursuing Jesus even if we failed yesterday and millions times before. The transformation the singer experiences (breaking out of the time loop) can be the same kind that we experience (breaking out of destructive cycles) as we strive to encounter Jesus on a daily basis.

In the bible, persevering in the pursuit of Jesus is often compared to running a race. For instance, in the book of Hebrews it states:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2)

Paul also uses this illustration in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, that we must “run in such a way as to get the prize (Jesus)”:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Then as Paul was nearing the end of his life he wrote:

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day —and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:6-8)

So run. Run each day despite your past, despite who you may have been. Persevere as Jesus slowly transforms you from your former failings. All in all, pursue Jesus with reckless abandon and a never ceasing passion. He will pursue you and you will not only be running towards him but you will also be running away from sin, which we will see next week in Part III of the series as we exploring the convicting lamb in Yellowcard’s Rough Landing Holly.

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Rock

Agnus Dei: Marc Webb’s Lamb (Part 1)

Marc Webb, director of the upcoming Spiderman relaunch, The Amazing Spiderman and the romantic comedy 500 Days of Summer, featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, is also a prolific music video director. He has directed music videos in a wide array of musical genres, with groups and artists such as, A.F.I., Pussycat Dolls, Weezer, Ashley Simpson and Switchfoot. In at least three of his music videos he has incorporated a signature stamp, an image of a lamb. The lamb functions not only as an identifier that Marc Webb directed the music video but acts as a symbol, which only appears at pivotal moments in the storyline in each of the three videos. In this three part series we will explore what the lamb symbolizes in each of the music videos and if there any kernels of truth that can be seen in this presentation of the lamb symbol as it relates to the true lamb, Jesus.

The Saving Lamb: Brand New’s Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades

The post-hardcore band Brand New frequently uses Christian symbols and imagery in their music. For instance, the title of their third studio album is “The Devil and God are Raging Inside of Me” and contains songs with titles that are clear references to Christianity such as Jesus Christ, Sowing Season and Millstone. However, as seen in the lyrics to Jesus Christ below, Christian imagery is used to voice the singer’s inner struggles:

Well, Jesus Christ, I’m alone again
So what did you do those three days you were dead?
’cause this problem’s gonna last more than the weekend…

I know you think that I’m someone you can trust
But I’m scared I’ll get scared and I swear I’ll try to nail you back up…

I know you’re coming for the people like me
But we all got wood and nails
And we turn out hate in factories
We all got wood and nails
And we turn out hate in factories
We all got wood and nails
And we sleep inside of this machine

With Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades, the title of the song is another reference to Christianity, containing a portion of the Latin phrase that was once used for the coronation of a new Pope in the Catholic Church, “Sancte Pater, sic transit gloria mundi!” (Holy Father, so passes worldly glory!) Additionally, one line in the lyrics of the song echoes Isaiah 53:7 (part of the suffering servant passage in Isaiah 52 and 53 about the coming messiah, Jesus), “He is the lamb, she is the slaughter.” Interestingly, this was the first Marc Webb music video to contain the image of the lamb so it could be possible that Webb was inspired to include the lamb symbol in the video because of this particular line.

The music video opens with the lead singer running away from something but the viewers are never given any idea of who he is running from. He stops as he encounters a door with a lamb on it and with a slight bit of hesitation he opens the door and enters the building. The lamb symbol provides the singer a way to escape but it is not without cost and he knows it. In a similar fashion, when a person chooses to follow Jesus it costs something and that something is the person’s life. Jesus states this in Luke 9:23-26 and Paul also states, when you follow Jesus you are baptized into his death, yet raised to life like he was (Romans 6:3-4).

After the singer takes a quick look around in what looks like a bar he sings the line, “This is so messed up,” an indication that he is second guessing his decision to walk through the door. The camera then focuses the viewer’s attention to the sign on the back of the door stating, “Watch Your Step,” and as the singer passes by a mirror, his reflection is shown in a droste effect (think of a hall of mirrors). Both of these images give the viewers a visual foreshadowing of the strange events that will occur in the rest of the video. As he sits at the bar the singer realizes that every person at the bar is mimicking his every action and out of frustration he screams the line, “It used to be the reason I breathed but now it’s choking me up. Die young and save yourself.” Here he realizes that the lamb he encountered on the front door is not going save him in the way he wanted and chooses instead to take control of this situation to save himself.

In the same way, following Jesus is often perceived as being difficult compared to relying on a person’s own ability to save themselves in any given situation. This is what was occurring when the author of the book of Hebrews addressed his recipients (Jewish Christians) about going back to the rites and rituals of the Jewish faith, instead of relying fully on the gospel of Jesus. In Hebrew 4:14-16 it states:

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are —yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

The singer now tests out on his new found power of controlling people like puppets to see how he can use it to escape.  He begins simply with tapping his foot, then knocking over a glass of ice tea, then reaching out his hand towards a woman’s lips (who oddly enough he does not have the power to control) and lastly, he turns over a table screaming once again, “It used to be the reason I breathed but now it’s choking me up. Die young and save yourself.” Lastly, he bangs on the wall in frustration but as he turns around he cracks a smile as he sees a woman.

Upon approaching the woman, the viewers see that her shirt contains the same image of a lamb, which was on the door of the bar. The singer sees this woman as his way out of this alternate reality, thinking that the image that brought him in can also provided him with the means of escape. He reaches out towards her but unlike the woman earlier in the video, he has control of the woman with the lamb shirt. He is confused by this at first but instead of continuing to reach out to her so that he can escape; he takes advantage of the situation and starts to undress her. Immediately, his hand is pulled back, he loses control over the woman and now he is the one who is the puppet. As he is forcibly turned around he sees a man whose face is obscured in the shadows. This shadowy figure lifts the singer’s hand and draws a single finger across his throat, indicating the death of the singer. A grim end to a highly symbolic music video.

Here we have a picture of what occurs when a person defiles the lamb (Jesus), they are handed over to the shadowy figure (Satan), however, in the biblical portrait this occurs to bring a person back to the gospel. We can see this handing over to Satan most notably in 1 Timothy 1:18-20, where two men are “handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” And what are these two men blaspheming? That Jesus did not come to save sinners, which is similar to the singer’s belief that the lamb was not enough to save him. Jesus is not only enough to save a person but he is also enough to transform a person, as we will see in Part II of our discussion with Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue music video next week.

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Music and Culture, Music and Worship, Pop Music

Lady Gaga, Filipino Christians and Judas

A group of Christians in Manila have been protesting Lady Gaga’s concerts since she arrived in the city on May 20th, 2012 and they will continue to protest through her two nights of concerts in the city. A pastor of Lighthouse Bible Baptist Church and secretary-general of Biblemode Youth, who is leading the protest, Reuben Abante stated, “This protest is not against Lady Gaga as a person but on her music and on how she declares distorted views about the Lord Jesus Christ.” (see http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/21/showbiz/gaga-manila/index.html) The pastor is referencing the lyrics of her song Judas where Lady Gaga sings, “Jesus is my virtue and Judas is the demon I cling to I cling to.” Additionally, the music video for Judas implies a love triangle between her, Judas and Jesus. While the video is multi-layered and filled with symbolic images, many interpreters have seen the music video as portraying the forgiveness that Gaga is seeking in the “Jesus” character despite her attraction to the “Judas” character. The mischaracterization of Jesus in this song and video is the main thrust of the protest, while the possible nudity and lewdness of the concert seem to be of secondary importance.

On the Biblemode Youth Facebook page Pastor Reuben Abante clarified why they are protesting, “For all of what Lady Gaga declares and sings about the Lord Jesus Christ, I never expect the laws of the land to go against her. Who will? And for what the law of the land provides, as freedom, Lady Gaga thinks she can declare and sing how she wants about Jesus Christ without regard to Bible-believing, God-loving, Christ-honoring Christian Filipinos.”

Abante also references three bible verses justifying why they are protesting the concert:

The Apostle Paul says to Timothy, “Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim 4:2). He further says to Titus, “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee” (Titus 2:15). Further, he says to Timothy, “Them that sin, rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (1 Tim 5:20). We don’t want a society of amoral people who do not have a sense for whatever is good or bad, or right or sin.

However, 2 Tim 4:2 and Titus 2:15 (see the broader context of Titus 2:11-3:8) both concern believers in the local church, while 1 Tim. 5:20 (see the broader context of 1 Tim. 5:19-25 ) is a reference to elders of a church who have sinned. Lady Gaga, however, does not fit into either category (believer in a local church or an elder) so the use of these verses does not apply to this specific situation in which the group is protesting. A more applicable passage would be the passage which occurs right after Titus 2:15, concerning how Christians should treat others because we too were once unredeemed.

 Titus 3:1-7

1Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

While the mischaracterization of Jesus in Lady Gaga’s song and music video Judas is something that every Christian should be against, the way we as Christians engage with artists or culture in general should be more akin to the above Titus passage than protesting a concert. Lady Gaga is not the first pop singer to use Christian imagery and symbolism in provocative ways (i.e. Madonna, Prince, Metallica, etc.) and she will not be the last but controversial art such as hers can be used as a means to start a discussion with people, who appreciate her art, about the gospel. A more effective approach would be to start a converstion with those who are attending the concert about Judas and how Jesus is represented in the song/video. After exploring how Gaga mischaracterizes Jesus this can be an entry point to move the discussion towards the true character of Jesus as shown in the New Testament accounts of his life, death and resurrection. The wrong approach would be to do nothing at all and not engage the culture with the gospel because Christians were sent to be in the world but not part of the world (John 16:14-19). An “us vs. them” or a “church vs. world” mentality (as displayed in these protests) will have a more difficult time leading to a conversation that could lead others to Christ.

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Pop Music

Donna Summer (1948-2012)

On May 17th, 2012 Donna Summer passed away at 63 losing her battle with cancer. She was considered the Queen of Disco, with songs such as Last Dance, Hot Stuff, Love to Love You Baby, and She Works Hard for the Money. What is not as well-known about her is that she became a Christian in the early 80s and she attributed all her vocal abilities and success to God. She once said, “God had to create disco music so that I could be born and be successful.” A few years after becoming a believer she produced the song I Believe In Jesus, which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Inspirational Performance in 1982. The song’s lyrics reference two Christian hymns, Onward Christian Soldiers and In the Sweet By and By, as well as turning the nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb into a reference about Jesus.

In 1984 she won the Grammy for Best Inspirational Performance for her song Forgive Me, based on the model of forgiveness outlined in the Lord’s Prayer and the example of Jesus on the cross forgiving those who put him there.

Then in 1985 she won the Grammy for Best Inspirational Performance again for the song He’s a Rebel (a reference to Jesus), which is on the same album as her biggest hit of the 1980s, She Works Hard for the Money.

Listen Here:

http://www.amazon.com/Hes-A-Rebel/dp/B0013F4FAM

In one line of the song she sings “written up in the Lamb’s book of life,” which is where Donna, as a devoted follower of Jesus, can now rest in the loving arms of the savior.

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Music and Culture, Pop Music

Musical Maturity Through Sexuality

Since the early 2000s pop artists who began their career in the music industry as children and desire to be taken seriously as artist into adulthood, will often make a move away from what are considered childish lyrical themes to more adult ones. What this typically entails are lyrics that are sexually-saturated, which put on display the artist’s new sexually “mature” nature. This also plays itself out in the visual presentation of these lyrics through music videos which are filled with sexually suggestive imagery. While this lyrical/image shift is often portrayed by those who report on the pop music world as surprising, this phenomenon is something that is often expected of younger artists so that they can still be viable in the music scene as adults.

This transformation can be seen in several pop artists from the past decade. In 2002 Christina Aguilera, at that time a 21-year-old, came out with an album titled Stripped, which not only implied a musical move away from the overproduced pop of the era but was a deliberate move on her part towards expressing her sexuality through her music. Not to be outdone by Christina, Britney Spears came out with her own album in 2003 titled In the Zone, which featured tracks such as Toxic and Me Against the Music both of which display a “new” Britney, now 21-years-old, who is no longer portraying herself as a virgin saint but one who is sexually-driven. In 2009, the then 16-year-old pop/country star Miley Cyrus gave a performance of Party in the U.S.A at the Teen Choice Awards, which included her dressing provocatively and dancing on a stripper pole. Her sexualized image continued in the lyrics and music videos of the songs on her 2010 album Can’t Be Tamed, with the music video to the title track being the most racy.

Only a few weeks ago, Justin Bieber, the pop singer and Youtube sensation, who recently turned 18, made this sexualized shift in his music with the release of the song and music video “Boyfriend”. Bieber no longer wants to be viewed as the boy of silly, childish love songs (such as Baby or Somebody to Love) but as a man who has sexual wants and desires, giving new meaning to the phrase “Bieber Fever”. As typical of pop music trying to express sexuality, Bieber sings the verse in hushed, velvety tones with a slight bit of cracking in his voice to indicate his sexual passion for his girlfriend. In the lyrics he hints at a sexual relationship between the two of them with lines such as “I can take you places you ain’t never been before,” “I can be a gentleman, anything you want,” “Tell me what you like, yeah tell me what you don’t,” and “I just want to love and treat you right.” While at face value these lines might seem innocent enough, the musical underpinnings behind the lyrics indicate to the listener that these phrases are meant to be taken with sexual overtones.

With all of these artists there is a musical progression that seems to flows logically from the simple love songs of their youth to the sexualized music of their adult years. So it is rather unsurprising as an artist grows in adulthood, in a culture where sex is treated as a “god”, that their image and lyrical content would follow this path. In a culture obsessed with sex is the only way to musical maturity through expressions of sexuality?

The Example of David

Take the example of King David second ruler of ancient Israel and a musician. As a young boy he played the harp for King Saul, creating music for Saul to “refresh” his spirit and send away an “evil spirit” that tormented Saul. (1 Sam. 16:23) But in adulthood, David’s musical creativity shifted towards creating music that glorified God, writing 73 of the 150 songs in the book of Psalms. Interestingly, David grew up in a culture that was also obsessed with sex, yet in his cultural context, sexual relations with many partners was supposedly legitimized through marriage to multiple wives or the kingly privilege of the concubine (an institutionalized form of adultery). David in growing up in Saul’s household saw this cultural sexual obsession through the relationships that Saul was involved in. Saul was only married to one wife (1 Sam. 14:50), however, he had an ongoing affair with Rizpah, the concubine, whom he fathered two children with. (2 Sam. 3:7, 21:8) David as king of Israel would marry seven wives (1 Chron. 3:1-5) and his son Solomon married 700 women and had 300 concubines. (1 Kings 11:1-3) God commanded in Deuteronomy 17:16-17 that if Israel was to appoint a king, that the king was not to “have too many wives.” But to understand what “too many wives” means we have to look elsewhere in the bible. The biblical principal of marriage can be found in Genesis 2:24 where it states that one man and one woman become one flesh. This marriage principal was also later confirmed by Jesus in Mark 10:6-9 and Matthew 19:4-6. So what Deuteronomy 17:16-17 is telling us is that the king should be a one woman man, however, none of the three kings kept this command.

In an ever increasing environment of sexualization in the Israeli royal household from one generation to the next, it might seem only logical and even a royal imperative that David would choose to write songs that explore his sexuality as the ruler of Israel with seven wives. However, a single event in David’s life can be instructive as to why David chose to write music that glorified God instead of glorifying himself and his sexual conquests.

In 2 Samuel 11-12 it recounts an affair that David had with a woman named Bathsheba, impregnating her and then sending her husband Uriah to the front lines of a battle so that Uriah would be killed. After Uriah’s death David took Bathsheba as his wife. Let’s stop right there. Do we understand that David is one messed up guy? He had an affair with a married woman, had her husband killed and then took the dead man’s wife as his own. When was the last time you heard a story like this in a pop song? The story does not end there though.

After these events, Nathan the prophet approached David about his affair with Bathsheba and then God rebuked David through Nathan. David was immediately repentant of what he had done and God took away David’s sin. When David goes to write a song about the events surrounding the affair, he does not glorify the sexual relationship he had with Bathsheba but he instead turns his focus towards repentance, hoping for salvation and glorifying God.

Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

In this Psalm we can see a musically mature David who looks not towards a glorification of sex but rather a glorification of God “my Savior” and wants to be restored to the” joy of God’s salvation”. Even in the midst of a sexually charged culture and his own sexual misdeeds, where a sexually-inclined song would have been expected and not surprising to the culture of ancient Israel, David chose instead to mature musically by moving closer to God. Here he looks forward and yearns for the day when the sacrifical system is no longer needed to cover sins but that the savior Jesus will cover them for those who accept him. Therein lies real musical maturity, music that points toward Jesus.

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Hip-Hop, Music and Culture

Pushing the Culture Forward?

Today, Jay-Z announced that he will be partnering with Budweiser and the city of Philadelphia to lead and headline a two day music festival called “Made in America”.

In his speech he tells the enthusiastic crowd, “Whenever I enter into a project, I try to hit on some touch points. The first thing: Is it great? The second one is: Is it gonna push the culture forward?” Jay-Z further explains that the culture he is referring to is the culture of hip-hop and R&B. While not expanding much beyond that simple explanation, it begs the question of what kind of culture Jay-Z is hoping to create with this music festival?

Jay-Z is an MC that first appeared in the hip-hop scene in 1996 with his album Reasonable Doubt produced by his own record label Roc-A-Fella Records. This album was filled with lyrics containing explicit references to criminal activity and came to be part of a rap style called Mafioso. Jay-Z has since then become one of rap’s greatest and richest moguls, second only to Sean “Diddy” Combs.[1] Hip-hop culture has thrived and become more prominent in mainstream American culture because of Jay-Z’s efforts, so it is rather curious when he asks the question, “Is it gonna push the culture forward?”

America=Hip Hop

Hip-hop is no longer separate from American culture but is an integral part of it and something that needs to be engaged with to understand contemporary culture. It is no longer a musical genre that is on the fringes of the American musical scene as it was in the 1980’s. In any given week on the iTunes Top Ten songs chart, several of the artists that make the top ten downloaded songs produce hip-hop music. The 2012 Superbowl halftime show, one of the most American of all events, was filled with hip-hop acts such as: M.I.A, Nicki Minaj, LMFAO and Cee Lo Green. Hip-hop is mainstream and has been for a while so when an artist is trying to “push the culture forward,” he/she is really interested in maintaining the status quo.

Guiding the Culture Toward

Jay-Z does not provide what is the end goal of his hip-hop cultural progression but MTV news commenting on his speech stated that “Forward progress is a safe bet.”[2] But is forward progress really a “safe bet”? Shortly after the flood in Genesis 7 – 8, God told Noah and his sons “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” (Gen. 9:1) However, the descendants of Noah decided not to obey God’s command to “fill the earth” but to stay where they were and use their culture to move themselves forward, progressing towards the heavens with the building of a tower. In Genesis 11:4, “they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’” In verses 5-9 God puts a stop to this cultural disobedience, however, only a few generations later we see that God sets in motion the beginnings of a new culture.

Genesis 12:1-3

1The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you. ”

God sets in motion his Israel project, which is the beginnings of his kingdom and points toward the culmination of that project in the Messiah, telling Abram that “all people on earth will be blessed through you.” One culture is pushing the world forward to an unknown goal while the Kingdom of God culture is moving the world towards Jesus. Jay-Z’s questions are actually good questions for us to decided whether or not we want to be part of God’s project of redemption, reconciliation and renewal of all of creation. “Is it great?” Yes. “Is it gonna push the culture forward?” Yes it will point the culture towards Jesus, through which not only individuals are saved and transformed but so also is all of creation.

 


[1] “Hip Hip’s Wealthiest Artists”. Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/pictures/eeel45edgm/2-shawn-jay-z-carter-450-million-2/#gallerycontent. Retrieved May 14th, 2012

[2] “Jay-Z Hopes to ‘Push The Culture Forward’ With Philly Festival”. MTV News. http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1685035/jay-z-philly-festival.jhtml.  Retrieved May 14th, 2012

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