Word on the Street

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I love hip-hop. Some of my fondest memories growing up involve listening to and reciting rhymes from old school classics from Common, The Roots and Jay Z. Growing up in hip-hop culture and listening to the music has instilled in me certain values. The funny thing is that I didn’t think of them as values as much as “codes of the street.” These values were divorced from any spiritual implications for me until recently. As I have grown spiritually, the “code of the streets” began to make sense as guiding principles for life.

Da’ Realness.  Authenticity is one of the highest values in hip-hop.  The drive to be true to reality, one’s self, and others is paramount.  Part of the reason there tends to be such a separation between hip-hop culture and the Church is because one is real even when impolite and the other is polite even when not being authentic.  The beef hip-hop has had with the Church has been the more mundane hypocrisy, meaning many Christians struggle with being real with ourselves regarding our shortcomings. But don’t confuse an individual’s weakness with who God is. God’s invitation into relationship is an invitation to be real.

Represent.  In addition to being authentic, hip-hop teaches you to proudly claim your cause. At hip-hop concerts, emcees raise the question, “Is Brooklyn in da house?”  Now, I’m from Philly, so that’s my cue to be quiet.  But if the question goes forth, “Is Philly in da house?” that’s my signal to make some serious noise.  And it’s not just about where you are from.  In hip-hop, the expectation is that if you’re into a specific artist, or genre, or even worldview, that you represent that issue boldly and even defiantly. So even though hip-hop culture is known more for rebellion than responding to authority, it can teach us to stand behind your convictions. It’s possible to use this “code” as a guiding principle when representing God. Hip-hop has never been sheepish about the issues it stands for or stands against.  It is so easy in our society to give lip service to a belief in God.  It’s almost expected that we have a belief in some sort of Supreme Being.  But, too often, that belief falls short of real faith that is meant, not just to be believed, but also to be proclaimed verbally and through the way we live our lives.

Get Glad! Hip-hop heads love to have a good time. Though the phrase “Get Crunk” has faded, it reveals the value hip-hop places on enjoying life and having a good time.  If it isn’t already obvious, this again is an obstacle between a hip-hop perspective and that of the Church at large.  Typically, Christians are known more for what we’re against than what we enjoy.  An enthusiastic zeal for life and fun is not something that has characterized a relationship with God, but it should. To quote Level 3:16, a hip-hop group with amazing vocalists; “Get glad lift your hands to the sky/ Wave ‘em left and right, get ‘em up real high/ Get glad, praise the Lord with your heart/Soul, and mind, give him all you got…”

Hip-hop can teach us a lot about how to relate to God. Just as I learned how to cock my hat to the side through hip-hop, and nod my head to a beat, I’ve learned how to bow the knee of my heart to God. God desires to have an authentic relationship with you. You can use the same hip-hop “codes of the street” to develop that real relationship with Him.

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