Left: Dr. Ron Neal, Instructor at Wake Forest University. Right: Lecrae, Recording Artist
Although many may feel that that religion and hip hop, like religion and science, are opposites, the history of hip hop is deeply inspired by religion.
Dr. Ron Neal, instructor at Wake Forest University, has begun teaching about an interesting combination: religion and hip hop. While some may believe these are direct opposites, the connection has actually played an integral part since the inception of this unique musical genre. Neal and many other experts believe that studying black culture within American history will showcase the complex relationship with religious practices. Another key component of the new class is studying the influence the cross-section of the two cultures has had on modern living. Neal is an educated expert in the fields of religion, ethics, and culture. With such a background and his passion for music, Dr. Neal is ideal for teaching such a fascinating course.
Religion Since the Inception of Hip Hop
Many people subscribe to the belief that people are products of their environment. Considering the large role Christianity has historically played in the African American community, there is no surprise that phrases and principles taught within the Bible have been recognized in the songs of numerous hip hop artists.
Ranging from rap to dance to graffiti to fashion, the popularity of hip hop culture has exploded, and the presence of religion has been ever-present along the way. Religion and hip hop have thrived together as cultural influencers. While some people may believe the two are not compatible or that religion is only used to help sell records to the public, numerous scholars have studied the messages and terminology found within Christian beliefs in the music. Dr. Monica Miller has devoted significant efforts to studying the intersection of these two spheres by literally writing the book on the topic, Religion and Hip Hop. She argues that the academic perspective of religion and hip hop deserves to be expanded and taken more seriously.
Religion at the Forefront of the Hip Hop Mainstream
Today, religion continues to play a significant role in the creation of modern hip hop. While some references to Christianity have been considered blasphemous – Kanye West’s Yeezus album, with the track “I am a God” in particular, was criticized as such – other artists have been accepted by the mainstream society and conservative Christianity alike. Lecrae is the latest example of a hip hop artist who draws significant inspiration from his Christian beliefs. Not only has his latest album Anomaly topped download charts on Amazon and iTunes, but he has even been invited to evangelist Billy Graham’s birthday party. Although some are still trying to determine if Lecrae is a Christian rapper or a rapper who happens to be Christian, the artist cares much more about his music and faith than how others try to label him. He believes “It’s when you can link it back to God doing it, I think that’s what he loves.”