In the Venn diagram of bloggers who listen to rap and read religious blogs, the overlap is basically zero. But we’re here, and you’ll take our hip hop from our cold, dead hands after we tell you for the nineteenth time that yes, it really is music, and not all rappers are gangsters.
For those chilling with me in the middle of that diagram, here’s a sample of songs you can’t miss. (Fair warning, there is some sexual content and cursing if that bothers you. Nothing violent or pornographic).
A Tribe Called Quest’s “Electric Relaxation”
Choosing just one ATCQ song was torture, because they’re all so good. You really should listen to all of The Low End Theory, The Love Movement, and Midnight Mauraders albums – right here, right now, on youtube. But Electric Relaxation combines the best of their talents: clever lyrics, delightful production and sampling, and “effortless” weaving between MCs Q-Tip and Phife Diggy. The effect is like listening to a good jazz jam. Keep bouncing.
OutKast’s “13th Floor (Growing Old)”
For those of you who think OutKast=shaking it like a Polaroid picture, let me educate you a little. OutKast put Atlanta on the map of hip hop, especially with their sophomore album Atliens. It’s a brilliant concept album, playing on the pun of Atlanta and alien, in both senses of the word. It shows the love/hate tension of one’s relationship with home, especially when your life is changing and making you see things differently. This song especially delivers a sweet pain.
Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s “T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You)”
Good music often tells a story. This story about a dysfunctional family still managing to love each other and keep going is one of my favorites, for deeply personal reasons.
Growing up, I felt deeply ashamed that my family didn’t meet the mix of Christian and middle class standards that were deemed appropriate at my church and school. My ghetto hood, my mom’s debilitating depression, my dad’s verbal and sometimes physical abuse, our chaotic finances, the roaches brave enough to crawl across beds – none of it matched the neat and tidy stories of what childhood is “supposed” to be. But I also have a lot of good memories of childhood and family members, with all the crazy characters involved. This song reminds me that life is complicated, and it’s OK to accept all its aspects.
Common: “The Corner”
There are many love songs to “the hood,” but none touch this one when it comes to truth and lyrical brilliance. If you grew up with “corners,” you nod and remember. If you didn’t, you learn something new.
Lupe Fiasco: “Hurt Me Soul”
The first verse explains that tension of loving hip hop but not loving the gangster culture. I laughed when I first heard these lyrics:
I used to hate hip hop, yep, because the women degraded. But Too $hort made me laugh, like a hypocrite I played it, a hypocrite I stated, though I only recited half. Omittin’ the word “bitch,” cursin’, I wouldn’t say it. Me and my dog couldn’t relate, till a bitch I dated. Forgive my favorite word for her and hers alike, but I learnt it from a song I heard and sorta liked.
As he continues, he dissects different pains in contemporary American culture, going beyond black culture and showing how “good” white culture has its own hurts. Lupe Fiasco has long been one of my favorite rappers: as someone who is religious (in his case Muslim) and loving hip hop and exploring all those incongruences.