Tag Archives: hip-hop

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If You Still Haven’t Heard Hamilton Yet, We Might Not Be Friends Anymore

I wasn’t going to blog about it, but seeing the White House recently host a live performance by the Hamilton cast, I decided this couldn’t wait any further. But I want to be clear about something from the outset. This is not a post to convince you of how great Hamilton is and why you need to see or hear it.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly want more people to know about it, but if after reading this you decide to listen to the official cast recording, I claim no responsibility for the ensuing addiction that will follow.

On the contrary, this post is simply about what a profound effect Hamilton has had on me, and why. It’s about how Hamilton relates to what’s going on with me in my life (plenty of big changes!) and what’s going in America in general (also, plenty of big changes!). There are lessons to be learned that go way beyond the aesthetic pleasure of enjoying good music and watching a compelling stage performance. Indeed, I suspect that what makes Hamilton resonate so deeply inside me and so many others is its incredible sense of timeliness. It is, to crib a line from the Dark Knight trilogy, not the play that America deserves, but the play America needs, and needs greatly.

But alas, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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We Are The Iccsters. Yes, This Is Happening.

Today, October 1st, I updated my Facebook status thusly:

Sometime around 1988, an enterprising urban pastor asked his youngest son to put together a rap for an outreach event. He dutifully complied, and although it was kind of awkward and he didn’t have any beats so he had to use his favorite EPMD instrumental, the twelve-year-old rocked his first mic. Mission accomplished.
Twelve years later, that young man was fresh out of college, living back at home again, and that same pastor asked his now aspiring rap artist son to grab a few friends and put together a rap group to perform for a mens’ conference at the church.
He did, and they did. And they kept performing, not a lot, but a few times a year, here and there. Even after they left the church where they started, they kept at it. Through their twenties and well into their thirties, when it felt like, “maybe we’re a little too old for this…?” … they kept at it.
Fifteen years after their first performance, they are finally ready to release an album of their greatest hits. And that album drops on Sunday.
Comment below if you want more details.

 

So these are the basic details:

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The One Where Jelani Introduces Himself.

I recently started writing for a publication called Off the Page, from the creators of the popular Our Daily Bread devotional series. It’s a new forum for me to start talking about my favorite examples from pop culture and to show how the Bible can be relevant to everyday life. Anyway, I thought it might be important for any new readers to get a sense of who I am if they’re new to my writing, so I wrote this piece as an introduction.

 

You know how sitcoms always have that one episode full of flashbacks?

Growing up, I always loved those to watch those episodes, mostly because they always included scenes I hadn’t seen yet. I didn’t grow up with DVRs or video on demand, so the only way I could ensure that I saw every episode of my favorite series was to make sure I was in front of the TV at the same time every week — which rarely happened. (And that was assuming my behavior was good enough to warrant TV-watching-privileges that day.)

So yeah, those clip shows were always showing me what I’d missed along the way.

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If You Love American Music, You Have Andraé Crouch to Thank

(Editor’s Note: Yes, the title is a bit clickbaitey, but hang with me. I’ll back it up.)

 

Yesterday, Andraé Crouch slipped into eternity, present in full with the Lord, in perfect peace.

I’ve been half suspecting, half dreading that this day would come for a while now, and yet now that it has, I still feel completely unprepared — probably because it’s hard for me to imagine a musical landscape where Andraé Crouch was not still creating such soul-stirring, inventive, revolutionary music.

Part of the reason why it’s always profoundly bothered me when I hear someone make the blanket declaration that “Christian music sucks” is that it never tracked with my reality.

Because how could it? Sure, my parents played Earth Wind & Fire like any self-respecting Black people did, but my childhood musical diet consisted mostly of Christian music, from luminaries like The Winans, Walter, Edwin & Tramaine Hawkins, The Imperials, and then much later, Commissioned (then eventually as a teen and college student, Fred Hammond). But towering above them all was Andraé Crouch, a man who I would later come to realize was a musician’s musician — that is, the kind of musician that other great musicians consulted, collaborated with, and gathered around.

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Stop Columbusing. Lecrae Didn’t Invent Christian Rap.

Okay, so this piece may sound like I’m trying to criticize Lecrae, so before I go any further, let me offer a few disclaimers.

 

I like Lecrae.

 

I really, really like Lecrae.

 

As an artist, as a person — as far as I can tell — he seems to be the real deal.

 

I have defended him in my writing plenty of times, most recently for collaborating with — *** GASP *** — secular artists, mostly because the sacred vs. secular dichotomy is generally unhelpful and really no longer exists, anyway.

But generally, I like his music, and I think he’s taking a great approach to his music career in general, which, by all accounts is growing to incredible heights. It is not at all an exaggeration to say that Lecrae appears to be enjoying a level of critical acclaim and professional exposure that most Christian rappers can only dream about. He’s appearing in a feature film, his new album Anomaly just shot to the top of the Billboard charts, and just this very evening (it’s probably airing as I type this), Lecrae is making an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, performing his new single “All I Need Is You” with The Roots.

This is all a Really Big Deal.

However, there is a shadow side to all of this attention.

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This Song Is What’s Right With America

(Editor’s Note: with all the talk about the polarizing SCOTUS ruling on Hobby Lobby and birth control, I thought it might be good to talk about something that brings people together.)

 

So I’ve thought a lot about it, and I’ve decided that this song by bluegrass hip-hop band Gangstagrass, is more than just a fun, infectious tune. It is the antonym of the common hyperbolic lament about our fair nation; “All For One” is, for once, what’s right with America.

Read no further before watching and listening:

The only way this song could be more thoroughly American would be a cameo appearance by a flag-draped America Ferrera. 

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What It’s Like Being Black In Portland

So it seems that a series of circumstances have all led me to reminisce, Pete-Rock-&-CL-Smooth-style, about my upbringing here in Portland Oregon, the undisputed whitest major city in America. Reconnecting with old friends from high school, being a little less homebound and a little more out-and-about in the city (which is a typical, if subconscious spring ritual), and responding to people emailing me about Mitchell S. Jackson’s March essay in Salon, about his experiences growing up here.

I’ve written about this issue before, but usually only tangentially. It’s not something I feel the need to discuss all that often, not because my experiences aren’t novel or interesting, but because there are so few genuine opportunities to talk frankly about racial issues without the issues being sidetracked or hijacked by local or national politics. I actually have several compelling interests that could incentivize my sharing what it’s like growing up here (at or near the top would be to promote my creative works). But in practice, it’s hard to do so without being burdened by the advancement of a particular agenda – as in, talking about diversity in the context of Why We Need To Do Such & Such About The Problem – or, more honestly, without bumming white people out.

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Hey Baby What’s Your Sign? Your Church Sign, I Mean.

So in the last five to ten years, as hip-hop culture has continued the march from being simply popular from becoming a downright universal lingua franca — and if you think I’m overstating that at all, consider that right now, at this second, The Roots are now the house band on The Tonight Show — there have been so many terrible hip-hop parodies by Christians aimed at Christian audiences.

So, so many.

Most of them were content to simply ape a few hip-hop mannerisms and call it funny because of the obvious contextual and cultural disconnect — look, it’s that violent ghetto music being performed by non-stereotypical hip-hop people! Normal people, like us!  It got to the point that even a bunch of guys rockin’ mics in an ode to Christian side hugs could get 100K views, just because the rest of the competition was so lame.

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The Sentient Song Fallacy — Why Christian Music Sucks

If you’ve ever wondered why it is that Christian music sucks, I have a hypothesis.

But first, I just have to say —  “The Sentient Song Fallacy” — doesn’t that sound like an episode of The Big Bang Theory? Get at me, Chuck Lorre! I’m a budding screenwriter, I do some stand-up, and I can even act a little bit. I promise I won’t go on any drunken tirades about tiger’s blood.

Anyway, here’s my definition:

The Sentient Song Fallacy is the erroneous idea that a song can be Christian.

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3 Steps to Fix the N-Word Issue

Gwyneth-paltrow-glee-giftsjay-z-kanye-west-watch-the-throneidea

Racial incidents involving the N-word are still common. But here’s a three-part strategy for preventing them from happening.

At first, I was simply annoyed by the latest dust-up involving Gwyneth Paltrow quoting Kanye West and Jay-Z‘s tune, “Niggas In Paris.”

But after awhile, my heart sank a little. Regardless of the particulars of this story (was she at the concert? Did someone use her phone? Did it matter that she didn’t say the whole word?) stories like this persist because of a confluence of complicated factors and for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Black people are not monolithic.

But I think I have a way to clear all this up. At the risk of oversimplification, I offer an analogy.