Noise and Spirit

Noise and Spirit: The Religious and Spiritual Sensibilities of Rap Music

EDITED BY Anthony B. Pinn
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 222
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  • Book Info
    Noise and Spirit
    Book Description:

    Rap music is often seen as a Black secular response to pressing issues of our time. Yet, like spirituals, the blues, and gospel music, rap has deep connections to African American religious traditions.Noise and Spirit explores the diverse religious dimensions of rap stemming from Islam (including the Nation of Islam and Five Percent Nation), Rastafarianism, and Humanism, as well as Christianity. The volume examines rap's dialogue with religious traditions, from the ways in which Islamic rap music is used as a method of religious and political instruction to the uses of both the blues and Black women's rap for considering the distinction between God and the Devil.The first section explores rap's association with more easily recognizable religious traditions and communities such as Christianity and Islam. The next presents discussions of rap and important spiritual considerations, including on the topic of death. The final unit wrestles with ways to theologize about the relationship between the sacred and the profane in rap.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6859-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction Making a World with a Beat: Musical Expression’s Relationship to Religious Identity and Experience
    (pp. 1-26)

    Recently, Reverend Paul Scott of Durham, North Carolina, renewed the attack on rap music initiated by Reverend Calvin Butts and C. Delores Tucker.

    Butts and Tucker argued that groups such as 2 Live Crew promote a culture of disrespect and immorality that is not in keeping with the best American values and principles of life. Reverend Butts thought some rap music so foul that only a steamroller could adequately deal with the “music.” Presenting a mild version of the perspective held by Tucker and Butts, Reverend Scott urged “black people to put black power back into hip-hop … to counter...

  5. PART I Rap and Religious Traditions
    • 1 African American Christian Rap: Facing “Truth” and Resisting It
      (pp. 29-48)
      Garth Kasimu Baker-Fletcher

      African American Christian rap has not received much critical analysis. One may find many descriptions of the artists—Lil’ Raskull, L. G. Wise, Tru to Society, B. B. Jay, Knowdaverbs, E-Roc, and Tonex (pronounced “Toe-nay”), and so forth—with not so much as a mention of to what religious depth the rappers have plunged. Perhaps this is because music journalists feel that they must simply “report” what they have “seen” and “heard.” The task of the scholar of religion is more telling, and more difficult, because she or he must call upon the resources available to make the best kinds...

    • 2 A Jihad of Words: The Evolution of African American Islam and Contemporary Hip-Hop
      (pp. 49-70)
      Juan M. Floyd-Thomas

      Malcolm X gained international prominence through his role as the controversial spokesperson for the Nation of Islam (NOI). Malcolm’s notoriety was largely driven by his relentless attack on the causes and consequences of racism as the nation’s civil rights struggle gradually reached its apex. Coupled with his fiery invectives against the cruel injustices of Jim Crow in America, Malcolm’s ascendancy in public life was also fueled by his representation of a growing Islamic presence in the United States. In a postwar America struggling to come to terms with its racial and religious transformations, Malcolm emerged as an enigmatic celebrity for...

    • 3 Rap, Reggae, and Religion: Sounds of Cultural Dissonance
      (pp. 71-84)
      Noel Leo Erskine

      In both the United States of America and Jamaica, rap and reggae create a conduit for African-American and Afro-Caribbean culture. Addressing issues of identity and location that are relevant for both rap and reggae, Tricia Rose explains: “Rappers’ emphasis on posses and neighborhoods has brought the ghetto back into the public consciousness. It satisfies poor young black people’s profound need to have their territories acknowledged, recognized and celebrated. These are the street corners and neighborhoods that usually serve as lurid backdrops for street crimes on the nightly news.”¹ Addressing a similar social context, in which Bob Marley and the Wailers...

    • 4 “Handlin’ My Business”: Exploring Rap’s Humanist Sensibilities
      (pp. 85-104)
      Anthony B. Pinn

      There is a strong and persistent link between religion as a response to the absurdity and terrors of life and forms of cultural production such as music. The arts—or cultural production in more general terms—are shaped by a concern with “thick” issues that have ontological and existential weight, thereby providing commentary on religion and religious expression.¹ Put another way, “pictures, poems, and music” are significant with respect to the study of religion in that they express “some aspects of that which concerns us ultimately, in and through their aesthetic form.”²

      Not every form of cultural production undertakes this...

  6. PART II Rap and Issues of “Spirit” and “Spirituality”
    • 5 Bringing Noise, Conjuring Spirit: Rap as Spiritual Practice
      (pp. 107-130)
      Mark Lewis Taylor

      Bringing together rap and religion may seem to some a dubious undertaking. When hearing of a book on rap and religion, a young devotee of hip-hop in Philadelphia said to me, “That’s so weird.”

      People may suspect, understandably, that the freestyles and pleasures of rap will be overly burdened by the seriousness associated with religion. Religion and spirit are often seen as dealing with weighty matters that are not easily adaptable to popular-culture phenomena like rap music.

      Nevertheless, the intersections between rap and religion are many. They are historical, cultural, and they exist in many forms. In this chapter I...

    • 6 Rap as Wrap and Rapture: North American Popular Culture and the Denial of Death
      (pp. 131-153)
      James W. Perkinson

      In this chapter, I examine the performative effects of rap music in the context of postindustrial metropolitan social structure, racialization, and the denial of death. I argue that rap can be read as a peculiarly postmodern form of shamanistic communication, a ritualized refiguration of the actuality of mortality in the public sphere. I claim that twentieth-century America witnessed a sustained expulsion of the reality of mortality from public life in an uncompromising attempt to manage some of the more obvious “rearrangements and enforcements” of mortality (i.e., social structures that concentrate wealth, power, and life chances for some at the expense...

    • 7 The Spirit Is Willing and So Is the Flesh: The Queen in Hip-Hop Culture
      (pp. 154-170)
      Leola A. Johnson

      In this chapter, I build on the work of a new group of black feminist critics who look at hip-hop culture as a site of feminist struggle. These women, many of whom are young, have refused to follow an earlier generation of black feminists in denouncing hip-hop as a space of patriarchal domination.¹ These new young critics view the denunciations as too simplistic. They argue that hip-hop can also be seen as a place where black women oppose and take power away from men. One result of this new school of black feminist thought has been a growing body of...

  7. PART III Rap and the Art of “Theologizing”
    • 8 The Rub: Markets, Morals, and the “Theologizing” of Popular Music
      (pp. 173-183)
      William C. Banfield

      Reinventing of self through artistic expressions, marking existence and all the while selling records is a complex formula. There is an intricate relationship between artistic desire and goals, communal expectations, and the larger market demand.

      At the opening of a segment special celebrating twenty years of hip-hop on MTV, a long list of hip-hop artists presented a litany of their beliefs and hopes for what hip-hop is: a dance, a way of talking, freedom, a form of poetry, my culture, my womb, the mothership, the voice of America. Hip hop artists, Dr. Dre, L.L. Cool J, Missy Elliot, Ice Cube,...

    • 9 Rap, Religion, and New Realities: The Emergence of a Religious Discourse in Rap Music
      (pp. 184-192)
      Ralph C. Watkins

      Rap music is experiencing an emerging religious discourse founded on the rhymes of artists who claim to speak on behalf of God. This chapter looks at a few of the archetypes and prototypes of these God-conscious rap artists and their work. They create a dialogue among the faithful who listen to, and repeat, the rhymes in their daily lives, allowing the lyrics to influence their religious worldview and how they understand God.

      Tupac Shakur in many ways serves as the precursor or prototype of this genre. Rappers like Tupac are fast becoming defined as preachers/theologians by a generation who listens...

  8. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 193-200)
  9. About the Contributors
    (pp. 201-202)
  10. Index
    (pp. 203-214)