Some may say the ‘Gods’ don’t exist without our belief in them. In the same breath, rappers fizzle out without acknowledgement. If we’re gonna run with this statement: ‘Today’s HipHop is tomorrow’s religion’, let’s give it a Rap Genius-ish breakdown.
In the beginning was the rhyming word. Reasonable Doubt, Illmatic, Boy in the Corner, Life after Death and soo many more albums are like holy books on wax. These God MCs don’t turn water to wine — Ciroc, Rose or Ace of Spades — but they do turn words into numbers with pound signs in front — a miracle on par with the rest if you ask me.
We listeners that believe in these rappers quote lines from every verse of their lyrical testimony like a preacher quotes the New Testament. We pay our tithes and offerings in the form of ticket purchases, go to concerts and lift our hands to praise the legends that bless us with parables to navigate life with.
When Biggie gave us ‘Ten Crack Commandments’’ I knew it would be hell if I didn’t listen closely. When God’s Son – Nas – told me ‘I Can’ I believed him…I’m still waiting on Tupac’s second coming! Walk down the streets of the Bronx or Brixton — you’ll see murals of hip hop legends painted on walls in colours larger than life, covered in baggy clothes, gold chains and eyes from everyone who looks up to them. These rappers, usually gone before their time, live in our psyche as divine entities who return every time we press play. The booth is like a portal, — you step inside as a regular human and something divine happens. Jay‑Z, the one we call Hova, once said: “They say you put the right artist with the right track in the studio, leave the door cracked, and let God in.” These bars we write free the minds of those trapped behind them, hearing braggadocious lyrics give us a glimpse of heaven that screams hope when our life is a living hell.
Why is this important? As a lyricist, storyteller, griot and a young black male that’s from the same place that most of these listeners who look like me are from, these verses I spit are all I have. Every time I pick up a pen, or step on stage in front of a mic it gives me a pulpit kinda vibe and I take it soo seriously. The people want to hear parables to navigate life with.
When people say hip hop isn’t what is once was, I get it. They mean the sacred golden era has been secularised. What was once food for thought has now become fast food, a monetised soulless commodity from rappers who stopped speaking to the people, for the people, preaching to the choir and now speak at the people. A bunch of rappers who traded in the ability to give us believers a glimpse of heaven; for the opportunity to live in a ‘pearly-gated’ community away from us. With that being said, I question, is this the real gift of the genre? Something that actually changes people’s lives rather than just preaching street tales of pain to the choir. I guess the real issue is, if these God MCs and their verses are all we have, and they don’t cherish their words as closely as we do. What does that turn us into, the listeners…atheists maybe. If so, then what? Do the Gods cease to exist? Does the genre die? Maybe we’re putting too much pressure on rappers who are literally just happy to be able to turn words into numbers with pound signs in front and make it out a hell hole for a glimpse of heaven.
The real question is, if today’s hip hop is tomorrow’s religion, do you have faith in it?
Abstract Benna is a South London-born Spoken Word performer. He will be holding his EP launch at ‘Certain Blacks presents Shipbuilding’ on February 25th at Rich Mix at 8pm. More info here
Check out his latest video below ‘What Does It Mean to Be Famous?’
Benna said of his video: “This was written at a time in my life when I was doing loads of back to back corporate performances and commissions for household names as a spoken word artist, my account was growing but my passion was disappearing. I felt like I was only a stone throw away from the lifestyle described in the track. I had to remind myself why I started writing and get back to that space. It’s also a note to self, if I’m ever on the path described in the track, I can refer to it and use it to keep me grounded”.
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