I nearly hemorrhaged when Lil’ Wayne approached the microphone at the 2008 BET Awards saying, “I am nothing without God, baby! I just want to say thank God, thank my family and thank Universal.” What god is he thanking? Does he worship some ancient god named “Misogyny?” There is a serious disconnect in the hip hop community that allows rappers to evoke the name of God in thanks while producing music that celebrates evil.
The profound disconnect may be explained, in part, by a new study released by Radio One and Yankelovich, a Chapel Hill-based research firm. The new study, the most comprehensive in decades including blacks ranging in age from 13-74, reveals that while 83 percent of blacks call themselves Christians, only 41 percent attend church at least once a week. Even worse, among black men, 47 percent say they are not as religious as their parents (36 percent of black women confess the same).
For black teens, 86 percent say that they trust God to take care of things and 46 percent believe that they are not as religious as their parents. Most black teens see God as a stop-gap measure only. This is why Lil’ Wayne receives applause, even though he raps about the sadistic treatment of women, at an audience full of deistic blacks.
Deism is a movement forged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in England proffering the idea that God created the world but has no interest in intervening in the world’s present functioning, including ethical matters. Hip Hop’s deism allows Lil’ Wayne to produce disgusting songs like “Lollipop,” receive the “Viewers Choice” award, and link his success to God.
Perhaps it would have been more accurate for Lil’ Wayne to thank the convergence of all of the forces of evil that allow lyrics like “Shawty wanna lic-lic-lic-lick me/Like a lollipop” to be praised by viewers. Universal’s sponsorship of Lil’ Wayne’s music is but one indication of the fact that hip hop has become big business. “Lollipop” recently hit number one on the “Billboard Hot 100 Top 10” list and the album, “Tha Carter III” now debuts at number one among Billboard’s “Top 40 Albums.”
It is pure evil that celebrates music that maligns the dignity of women and men. In the song, “Don’t Get It,” Lil’ Wayne, while harshly criticizing the Rev. Al Sharpton, laments being misunderstood. Lil’ Wayne is indeed hard to understand: he’s a confused deist, at best, with no desire to integrate, in his music, gratitude to God with the demands of human dignity, justice, and love.
Lil’ Wayne’s thanking God is equivalent to a strip club patron thanking God for providing women to objectify and dehumanize, or a prostitute thanking God that she has the ability to destroy her dignity to pay bills. There are some “successes” that are rightly attributed to social moral decay and the unchecked spread of evil, and cannot be purified by a passing mention of “God.” With its culture-rotting messages, much of hip hop is exemplary of the kind of enterprise that does no credit to the market that gave it birth.
We should not be too surprised by the juxtaposition of God talk with dehumanzing rap lyrics when nearly half of all black men are not as religious as their partly religious parents and most blacks no longer attend church—the black community’s historic source of moral formation.
The internet lit up in late June when rapper Ice-T attacked Soulja Boy saying that he “single-handedly killed hip hop” with his “garbage” song “Superman.” One might add that the empty God talk in hip-hop today is single-handedly perverting the relationship between God and virtue for an audience of blacks who are increasingly unchurched and uncommitted to a life in pursuit of the good.
Ice-T makes a distinction between “good hip hop” and “whack hip hop” in his warranted attack of Soulja Boy’s song, but a better distinction would separate virtue-building hip hop from virtue-destroying hip hop. The genre’s deistic language exposes just how confused and disconnected the hip hop generation is from the black church platform on which it stands, enjoying its freedom to dishonor the black experience in America.
Anthony B. Bradley is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, and assistant professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis.