Or, An Inquiry Into The Nature Of Divinity, Based On An Understanding Of Hip-Hop Lyrics From 2012, by KasperHauser
It’s been a big year for hip-hop. Recent events like the death of Adam Yauch and resurrection of Tupac are enough to make one ponder one’s own mortality and place in the universe. Given that the average Soulja Boy or Odd Future fan is unlikely to be watching Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins debates on YouTube, what messages are they receiving from their idols?
Let’s start with the recent, much-hyped Dreamchasers 2 album from Meek Mill, a product of Rick Ross’s MMG stable. In the song ‘Amen’, he says ‘I just wanna thank God, for all the pretty women he let into my life’. Hmm, let’s try someone else. ‘Believers Never Die’ by Gerald Walker sounds like a good bet. It quickly becomes clear, though, that there’s only room for one upper-case ‘G’ in Gerald’s life, and it’s not God. On ‘Milwaukee’ he raps ‘The heart wants what it wants/Fuck the ramifications/Fuck the consequences of ’em/Fuck the times of being patient/Fuck the message God’s sending/Fuck the thing he tryin’ to teach us/If he don’t give it when we want it/Guess he ain’t tryin’ to reach us.’ Status-conscious rappers like this have a somewhat solipsistic view of the universe, where God’s purpose is to provide them with material objects and casual sexual encounters with promiscuous young women. For them, it’s all about the ‘I’. But there’s another ‘I’ word that hip-hop in 2012 is obsessed with: Illuminati.
Meek Mill – Dreamchasers 2 Intro
Meek Mill: ‘I’m getting money/Must be Illuminati/They think I signed up/Cus I just bought a new Ferrari’.
Rick Ross – Holy Ghost
Rick Ross: ‘They say I’m getting money/Must be Illuminati/Talking to the Holy Ghost/In my Bugatti’.
It’s clear these guys aren’t really Illuminati; they’ve just realised that The I Word is a perfect way to tell the listener, through rhyming-couplets, exactly which luxury sports cars they own. Even then, Rick Ross isn’t taking any chances, as there’s also a song on Rich Forever called ‘New Bugatti’, just in case people weren’t paying attention the first time. Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and Kanye West aren’t Illuminati either, despite their repeated uses of its imagery. Kanye would never be let into the club, because he’d never stop tweeting during their secret meetings: “I hate these big-ass Masonic robes. Shit is ugly.” Then there’s Cinos. Cinos are a new hip-hop collective who have, in their own words, released ‘one of the most controversial mixtapes of the decade’. Given that hardly anyone’s heard of them yet, this is a bit of a stretch. Still, that hasn’t stopped some people freaking out and declaring them ‘Illuminati puppets’ and ‘Heralds of the Antichrist’. Whatever, with the help of Clams Casino’s spacey, celestial beats, they sound great, and on songs like ‘We Are God’ and ‘Brief Challenge for God’ they certainly talk a good game:
Cinos – We Are God
The forces of light have their own champions, though, in the form of ‘Christian rappers’ like Theory Hazit and Lecrae. What makes them more Christian than other rappers? Well, from the teleological perspective, we can assume that Young Money and MMG rappers see becoming a rich and famous rapper as the ‘final cause’ or telos. As Aristotle defined it, a telos can be present without any form of deliberation, consciousness or intelligence in general. Since there is very little evidence of consciousness or intelligence in Meek Mill’s lyrics, this conclusion seems to make sense. Someone like Lecrae, however, is coming from a more deontological ethical perspective. As Kant argued, the final cause or consequence is not as important as the motive of the person who carries out the action. On ‘Church Clothes’ Lecrae raps first from the perspective of someone who has become disillusioned with the church and decides that if the church is corrupt, that gives them free rein to do whatever they want. Lecrae then switches it round and explains to this character why it’s important not to stray from God’s law, and that Jesus will recognise their moral actions, even if the church doesn’t. Other Christian rappers have called Lecrae a ‘sell-out’ though, because they don’t like the production on his album. Good for them.
Lecrae – Church Clothes
Then there are the rappers who provide the view from the streets: Big K.R.I.T., Logic, Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Ace Hood and Rittz (aka. ‘White Jesus’). These guys rap about their harsh upbringings, about drug abuse and crime and their struggles to lead a good life in spite of their surroundings. To get all pop-psychology for a second, it’s clear that they’re using God as a surrogate for their absent fathers, looking for an authority figure to guide them and help them overcome their poverty and suffering. As Big K.R.I.T. once put it, ‘My conversations with God always seem to leave him speechless’. Rittz, on the other hand, may be one of the most unlikely hip-hop stars of the year. An overweight, ginger white guy with bad hair who looks like Rowlf the Dog from The Muppets; if he can make it in the music business, maybe it’s proof of Divine Providence after all.
Logic – Dear God
Rittz – Wishin
Meanwhile, based on its title, ‘God Save America (Dying Nation)’ by C-Mill, from his recent Death & Taxes mixtape, seemed like a good candidate for mickey-taking. It turns out to be a pretty good song, however, opening with a Ron Paul sample, followed by C-Mill’s explanation that, while he may be a Christian, he recognises that organised religion, along with government and the prison-industrial complex, are all part of a system that helps maintain the status quo, keeping the poor and working classes subservient. But is his message getting through? Let’s look at the figures from popular mixtape website DatPiff.com:
Meek Mill – Dreamchasers 2 downloads: 2,725,216
C-Mill – Death & Taxes downloads: 12
Gift of Gab (of Blackalicious) also has a new album out, called The Next Logical Progression. To be honest, on songs like ‘Beyond Logic’, I’m not entirely sure what he’s on about (‘You are here to enable the divine purpose of the universe to unfold/You are that important’). Maybe he’s implying that the next evolutionary phase for humanity will see us transform into some kind of higher forms of being, similar to those suggested by Arthur C. Clarke in 2001 or Olaf Stapledon in Star Maker. He also gives a shout-out to his homies ‘in the multiverse’, which I think makes him the first omni-dimensional rapper. Although I have my suspicions that Kool Keith got there first. He usually does.
Gift of Gab – Beyond Logic
That brings us to our final subject, Lil B, aka. ‘The BasedGod’ and his recent mixtape ‘God’s Father’. Lil B divides opinion, and it’s easy to see why. Some of his songs are the dumbest, lowest-common-denominator rap imaginable, consisting of repetitive beats and Lil B repeatedly shouting ‘swag’ and ‘bitches’. His defenders say that it’s just his way of becoming successful by appealing to Soulja Boy fans, who have no idea that he’s mocking them. They point to some of his other songs, which have moments of surprising beauty; ‘The BasedGods Layer’ from ‘God’s Father’ is a good example, a surreal mix of sampled hymns, shoegazey cloud rap beats and stoned homilies delivered in the 3rd person.
Lil B – The BasedGods Layer
If that’s managed to convert you to Lil B’s movement, you might want to heed this advice and avoid his other recent mixtape, #1 Bitch. It’s brain-meltingly bad.
So, what, if anything, have we learned from all this? It seems that any kid looking for answers through hip-hop is going to be met with a multitude of mixed messages where it’s almost impossible to discern the truth. Which makes them no different to most other kids growing up, in other words. Maybe Rick Ross will have the final say on his upcoming official album God Forgives, But I Don’t. Somehow, I doubt it. So, thus ends today’s sermon. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off for a spin in my Ford Capri. Remember, that don’t mean I’m Illuminati.
Note: Most of the music discussed above is available for free and can be downloaded legally from DatPiff.com.