I’m not a religious person by any means. Still, I grew up on holy-minister cool. I loved listening to folks like Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and Madge James read poetic aphorisms and demonstrate harmonious spiritual growth from 20 feet away. Since childhood, I have always liked hip-hop. The success of artists like Lauryn Hill and Tupac Shakur awakened me to the hidden spirituality in hip-hop. When hip-hop ushered in the rap heritage, it became a byword for spiritual renewal.
Nowadays, major mainstream artists deliver the Slum Dweller choir of “I am Hip-Hop” to secular audiences through shiny idents and immersive trailers. The canon includes artists like El-P, Kid Cudi, Kendrick Lamar, Jaden Smith, Karrueche Tran, and Jay Rock. Problematic narratives and teen braggadocio reinforce hip-hop’s entrenched liberal acceptance. The most popular Muslim rapper, Travi$ Scott, expresses radical Black ideology in his videos with hate crime intentions. It’s little wonder audiences can be stuck in a numb prison of homogeny.
Astonishingly, the mostly African-American rock band Okkervil River created a country album inspired by Clint Eastwood’s “Honky Tonk Man.” Carole King, country music, hip-hop, et al, meet. Not even Sufjan Stevens, who is younger than most of the bands mentioned above, competes for the deferential romance and depth of narrative in recent artistic pop culture.
The Soul of Spirituality
My search for sacred music inspired an audio book called Notes on A Spiritual Hip-Hop Journey. I’m more of a snail mail sort of reader. A few months ago, I wrote one of the chapters of Notes on a Spiritual Hip-Hop Journey. My own reflections included “The soul of spiritualism – Buddhism.”
During the first few readings, it seems as if the reader’s soul seems to pulse in along with the audio. Afterward, I glanced down to read the text, exclaiming “Oh my Gosh, like Spiritual Hip-Hop!” I realized I do indeed have a “no confidence in science of human existence” sort of spirituality.
A spiritual jaunt through recording booths, sacred songwriting sessions, and essential conversation with Psychotic 80s hip-hop producer Mase appeared in “A Study of Religious Symbols and Creative Ritual in Music” (ESM nd). Examples included “The Swallow Back the Drummer” by The Otis Redding Band and “Dance of Death” by A Tribe Called Quest (specifically, Q-Tip’s line, “Save Your Soul for Who You Love.”)
In “Spiritual Appreciation of Nick Drake,” I admired the compiler’s references to his “quietude… to the numbing mysticism of open-ended emotions … to the layered beats of Nick Drake.”
Snoop Dogg has been an atheist for some time. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t do what he wants. The importance of this book to me is that while music and artists move vast numbers of souls, we must also accept their power to influence others.
Our author’s personal experiences as an atheist and spiritual prisoner can alter my perception of the materialist dichotomy.
Disillusioned by a cynical generation of artistic neo-conservatives, I want to foster younger souls who can see I am alive to the possibility of an indestructible spiritual life. This isn’t a new idea for me. I’ve had a hallucinatory quest for a transcendent truth from visiting Thailand, a Catholic country, to a Tibetan monastery.
The subject has made the leap into my reflections as I settle into my new year, as a new generation takes up the wheel and lets it ride.
Donna Dees is a freelance writer in Iowa. This article was originally published in The Generations Wave, a publication of The Wise Mic.