The 60th Grammy Awards nominations are out, and this year’s contenders include a number of artists who frequently blend their faith with their music. Among them: Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar, each nominated for the top honors of Record of the Year and Album of the Year. Both are hip-hop/rap artists, a genre that has increasingly attracted artists of faith who are not shy about sharing their personal faith journeys in their music. This edition of ReligionLink looks at the relationship between hip-hop/rap music and religion and asks why this type of urban-based music has become such fertile ground for religious artists. Are the consumers of this music incorporating it into their own spiritual practices, and what effect, if any, is religious hip-hop/rap having on organized religion?
- Read “The Prophetic Struggle of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DAMN.’” by Rodney Carmichael for NPR, Dec. 12, 2017.
- Read “Jay-Z’s Producer No I.D. on the Grammys: ‘Urban Culture is Now Popular Culture‘” by Joe Coscarelli for The New York Times, Nov. 29, 2017.
- Read “2018 Grammy Nominations: The Snubs and Surprises” by Dee Lockett, Craig Jenkins, Sam Hockley-Smith and Tara Abell for Vulture, Nov. 28, 2017.
- Read “Jay-Z Revels in the Catharsis of Confession on ‘4:44’” by Joan Caramanica for The New York Times, July 2, 2017.
- Read “Christian Hip-Hop Still Isn’t Quite Sure What to Make of Chance the Rapper” by Imade Nibokun for LA Weekly, March 7, 2017.
- Read “What’s behind hip-hop’s religious revival?” by Zac Davis in America magazine, Feb. 13, 2017. The takeaway: Twelve years ago, Kanye West sang that he couldn’t sing about Jesus or his records wouldn’t sell. Now hip-hop artists who sing about religion — Chance the Rapper, Lecrae, Kendrick Lamar and Kanye himself — top the charts.
- Read “22 Rappers Who Are Muslim” by Sidney Madden for XXL, June 13, 2016. BET also has a list of Muslim rappers.
- Read “Bun B’s College Course Makes One Rapper Ask: Is Hip-Hop a Religion?” by Ryan Smith for the website Complex, June 3, 2015.
- Read “Beginner’s Guide to Catholic Rap Music” by Alex R. Hey for the website EpicPew, April 20, 2015.
- Listen to “Religion and Hip Hop: Grammar of the Real World,” an interview with professors Anthony B. Pinn and Monica Miller, two hip-hop and religion experts, recorded by Marginalia on Jan. 20, 2015.
- The Journal of Hip Hop Studies is an academic, peer-reviewed journal that publishes annually. Its next issue — Volume 5, Issue 1 — will focus on hip-hop, religion and spirituality.
- The Hiphop Archive and Research Institute is a project of Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. Marcyliena Morgan is the institute’s director.
- Phatmass, an online forum, maintains an archive of Catholic hip-hop and rap music.
- Foundnation Family is a group of Catholic hip-hop artists and evangelists based in Guadalupe, Calif., who work under the guidance of the Rev. Masseo Gonzales and El Padrecito Ministries, performing and evangelizing internationally. A list of its performers can be found here.
- Wikipedia has a list of Jewish hip-hop artists who are also religious.
- Mormon Hub has a list of five Mormon rap artists.
Chance the Rapper is the stage name of Chancelor Johnathan Bennett, a Christian rapper from Chicago who has had significant crossover success in the mainstream hip-hop/rap category. His 2016 release “Coloring Book,” with explicitly Christian lyrics and gospel influence, won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album. He is represented by Total Management.
Dee-1 is the stage name of David Augustine Jr., a Christian rap artist from New Orleans. Two of his mixtape releases have biblical themes — “David and Goliath” and “Psalms of David” — and he frequently talks about his Christian faith.
Kevin Gates is the stage name of hip-hop artist Kevin Jerome Gilyard. He is a convert to Islam who is originally from Baton Rouge, La. Contact via Atlantic Records’ publicity office.
Jesse Is Heavyweight is the stage name of Dallas-based rap/hip-hop artist Jesse McDaniel. He is a Southern Baptist and has taken Anthony Pinn and Bun B’s hip-hop and religion course at Rice University.
DJ Khaled is a musician and record producer. He is also a Muslim, of Palestinian descent, and many of his works reference his belief in Allah. Contact via his representatives at United Talent Agency.
Andy Mineo is a Christian rapper from New York City. He is represented by WME Management.
Sir the Baptist is the stage name of William James Stokes. He is a “preacher’s kid” from the South Side of Chicago and bills himself as the “Hip Hop Chaplain.” His first album, “Saint or Sinner,” was released in May 2017. Jay Cohen at the Tympa Agency is his manager.
Matthew Harris is a scholar of African-American religion, popular culture and religion, and black studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He wrote a paper on “self-deification” in hip-hop for 2016’s “Show and Prove” hip-hop studies conference.
Daniel White Hodge is an associate professor of intercultural communications at North Park University, a Christian school in Chicago where he is also director of the Center for Youth Ministry Studies. He is editor of The Journal of Hip Hop Studies and author of The Soul of Hip Hop: Rims, Timbs and a Cultural Theology; Heaven Has a Ghetto: The Missiological Gospel and Theology of Tupac Amaru Shakur ; and Hip Hop’s Hostile Gospel: A Post-Soul Theological Exploration.
Imani Kai Johnson is an assistant professor of dance at the University of California, Riverside, where she founded the “Show and Prove” hip-hop studies conference, held every two years.
Su’ad Abdul Khabeer describes herself as a “scholar-artist-activist.” She is an associate professor of American culture and Arab and Muslim American studies at the University of Michigan and the author of Muslim Cool: Race, Religion and Hip Hop in the United States. She wrote and performs a one-woman work called Sampled: Beats of Muslim Life.
Monica R. Miller is an associate professor of Africana studies and religious studies at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., and the author of Religion and Hip Hop.
Erik Nielson is an associate professor of liberal arts at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va. He is co-editor of The Hip Hop and Obama Reader , and beginning in spring 2018 he and hip-hop artist Mad Skillz will co-teach a class on hip-hop and politics. Nielson blogs about hip-hop and the broader culture here.
Anthony B. Pinn is a professor of humanities and religious studies at Rice University in Houston. He has been critical of the prosperity gospel preached in some black megachurches for its lack of emphasis on community service and charity. He is the author of Why, Lord?: Suffering and Evil in Black Theology and editor of Redemptive Suffering: a History of Theodicy in African-American Religious Thought. He also studies African-American religious humanism and is the author of African American Humanist Principles: Living and Thinking Like the Children of Nimrod and By These Hands: A Documentary History of African American Humanism.
Pinn co-teaches a course, archived on EdX, called “Religion and Hip Hop Culture” at Rice University.
Robert Tinajero is an associate professor of English at Paul Quinn College in Dallas. His areas of studies include rap and hip-hop culture.