Hip-Hop Worship, Eschatology, and Aesthetics

Zac HicksConvergence of Old and New in Worship, Worship Style, Worship Theology & Thought1 Comment

This jazzes me on so many levels.  Check out this footage from a recent worship service at Sojourn Church in Louisville, KY. 




The rapper is Shai Linne, whose blog called “Lyrical Theology” shows that hip-hop and Christian thought/worship aren’t antithetical.  These videos conjure several stream-of-consciousness observations:

  • Check out the cool way the medium of rap allows for creative twist on a traditional “call and response”…that’s ancient future liturgy at its finest!
  • Check out how into it the whiteys are (hey, I’m a whitey…I can say it).  Hip-hop worship doesn’t have to be only for the African-Americans.
  • Check out the glimpse of the eschaton–when people of every tribe, tongue, and nation, will be gathered together worshiping around the throne.  Some people would look at that video and say that it’s appalling, even blasphemous.  I say: that worship is more heavenly than a lot of the stuff out there.
  • Check out the generous spirit of some seriously gifted artists.  In video #1, you’ve got an amazingly talented singer and artist, Brooks Ritter, on the far right on the stage.  That guy has a golden voice.  And yet, he’s open enough to clap and dance and join in an art form from a different world than his own.  In video #2, the guy in the glasses in the back is Mike Cosper.  That guy is a phenomenal guitarist…and yet, he gives it up for Shai Linne.

As I was growing up, my dad always said (probably tongue in cheek) that rap wasn’t music.  I disagreed then, and I disagree now.  Like any art form, you have to understand its rules and paradigms.  Then you discover, as is the case for a lot of things which people broad brush as “not art,” that there are expressions within the art form that excel and expressions which fail.  There’s good rock and bad rock.  There’s good hip-hop and bad hip-hop.  There’s good contrapuntal writing and bad contrapuntal writing.  Of course there are transcendent, objective aesthetic values rooted in the being of God, but we must also account for the fact that there is a “relativism” to aesthetics that bids us understand a piece of art within its context.  What are the “rules” of a given art form? And how does a given artist interact with those rules?  Those are the kinds of questions we must ask in our evaluation.  If we did, I think we might find a more generous church toward seemingly “deviant” expressions such as hip-hop in the context of worship.

One Comment on “Hip-Hop Worship, Eschatology, and Aesthetics”

  1. This is cool, Zac. Thanks for the heads up on this.

    My only point of contention: I think there's a difference between "art" and "music", but you seem to use the terms interchangeably. I've thought about this a lot in light of growing up with a lot of African-American friends in the South who loved hip-hop and taught me to do the same.

    Some rap is music, some rap is not. All rap is art. My standard for music is fairly low, but it does exist: music has melody, notes that move up and down. Notes go somewhere and come from somewhere. But some rap is monotone, it is talking, and there's no perceivable note-playing instruments. If there is a beat, if there is the use of many percussive instruments, and the chanting is just that, chanting (as opposed to singing), then it's a cool form of art but it isn't music, since there's no discernible melody.

    This isn't an important distinction, since rap can still be a vehicle of worship. And it really only depends on semantics: how are we defining "music"? I just use the idea of melody, but you may not. And in the end it doesn't really matter.

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