What Christian Hip-Hop Can Teach Kendrick Lamar
Written by Shai Linne
A few months back, I read an article on Rapzilla entitled “What Kendrick Lamar Can Teach Christian Hip-Hop”. I have many thoughts about the article and the mindset it represents. I’m thankful for Rapzilla’s willingness to allow me to respond. While I’m sure the author was well-intentioned there were a number of things that troubled me about the article. The first thing I noticed was the unqualified praise for the album. The author of the article began by saying, “Kendrick Lamar’s new album, ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City’, is brilliant, period.” He then went on to extol what he saw as the virtues of the album.
I listened to GKMC all the way through. I’ve also read articles and interviews about the making of the album. There are good things that can be said about KL and GKMC. I can agree that KL is a good storyteller. He obviously has some good songwriters on his team. He’s unique in the way he layers his vocals. The album is structured creatively and the mixes on the songs are impeccable (Of course it always helps when Dr. Dre is doing your mixes lol). Whether the album is brilliant or not is a matter of opinion, but even if you think it’s brilliant, it’s not brilliant period. There should be a “but” or “however” there, not “period”. The album is laced with profanity and is at times extremely graphic in its sexual imagery. These things should at least be mentioned (especially to a Christian audience), but was missing from the article. The author went on to say
“And he’s clearly not glorifying what he’s doing,”
I disagree with that assessment. While I understand the progression of the album and KL speaking of his teenage years prior to his coming of age and his “awakening” toward the end of the album, none of that changes the fact that on the first single from the album, “The Recipe” ft. Dr. Dre, you get lyrics like:
“You might catch me in Atlanta looking like a boss
New Orleans and then Miami
Party in New York
Texas I be screwed up, Chi town I be really pimpin’
But nothing like my hometown I’m forever living
Women, weed and weather
They come for women, weed and weather
For the women, weed and weather
From all around the world for the
Women, weed and weather
Got that women, weed and weather
Yo it sound clever, come and play
Wh-what more can I say
Welcome to LA”
If this isn’t glorification of a lifestyle that is offensive to a Holy God, we must have different definitions of what it means to glorify something. The fact that it was the first single is really interesting because it doesn’t actually fit into the narrative on the album. It only appears on the deluxe version. But knowing how the industry works, I’m sure the folks at Interscope wanted KL to push the “typical” subject matter for the first single because that’s what sells, despite KL’s desire to have a positive message. Either way, Christians are commanded in this way in Philippians 4:8:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
GKMC asks the listener to dive into a deep pool of profanity, lust, drugs and violence for most of the album. But it’s supposed to be ok because, after all, it’s a narrative and KL is not necessarily for these things. First, I don’t think that the masses who hear the singles out of context actually get that. I think the masses embrace the song because it resonates with their godless worldview. Interscope knows this. Second, with that logic, you could justify someone sharing their life story before a crowd and describing their prior relationships by showing old sex tapes. I don’t think KL is a Christian so I don’t expect him to act like one. However, in light of passages like Romans 13:14, Eph. 5:3, etc., I also don’t expect Christians to praise an album like GKMC without giving qualifiers about the content.
In offering his critique of CHH, the author of the article went on to say:
“All I hoped for was a few artists who would convey the reality of trying to be a Christian, not HOW to be a Christian, or how awesome God is.”
We’re all entitled to our preferences. If the author wants to hear music from Christian artists who focus on their struggles and trying to be relatable, that’s fine. But why make that opposed to music that talks about how awesome God is? After all, the Psalms are about how awesome God is (Ps. 8:1). The Bible as a whole is about how awesome God is (Ps. 138:2). Heaven is about how awesome God is (Rev. 5:9-14). The entire universe is about how awesome God is (Rom. 11:36). So why shouldn’t Christians who have been transformed by this God respond by writing songs that talk about how awesome God is?
While the author of the original article hasn’t been impressed by “most of what (he’s) heard from CHH this year”, I think Beautiful Eulogy, Stephen the Levite, Eshon Burgundy, Dre Murray and Propaganda, etc. could all teach KL a few things. In fact, here are 3 things prevalent in Christ-centered CHH that I believe Kendrick Lamar would benefit from if he listened to it.
1. Who Jesus Really Is
GKMC presents a Jesus who can be asked into the heart but who doesn’t actually permeate the everyday lives of those who profess Him. GKMC presents a tame Jesus. A Jesus who’s doing nothing but sitting there ready to say “Uhh…OK” when He’s dishonored by all the things that go on in Compton everyday. That’s a false view of Jesus. KL would know this if he listened to Flame on “We Preach Christ”:
“We preach Christ
In His fullness, dog
In His fury and endless love
Seek Him now you can know Him as Savior
Seek Him later you’ll know Him as Judge”
The Jesus of GKMC is all lamb, no Lion. CHH can teach KL about the conquering Lion of Judah who will return at the end of the age to unleash a fury on His enemies that will make all the gang violence and police brutality ever committed in L.A. look like child’s play by comparison (Rev. 6:16, 19:15).
2. Who We Really Are
GKMC is built on the premise of a dude who’s a pretty good kid trying to cope with the evil that surrounds him. I understand what he’s saying. Growing up, I would have considered myself one of those “good kids”. But biblically, before God, there are no “good kids” (Rom. 3:10-12). All of us are born into this world with hearts that are wicked and at odds with God (Jer. 17:9). It just finds expression in different ways. The good kid and the m.a.a.d. city are one and the same. Both are corrupt and subject to the wrath of God. KL would do well to listen to Timothy Brindle on “Glorious”:
“What’s the deal with all these racist people?
All sinners are created equal
We got the same disease, there’s only one medicine
(We) Can’t change our steez, so the Son deaded sin”
3. What It Really Means To Be a Christian
On GKMC, we hear a number of references to Jesus and a few “sinner’s prayers”- one at the beginning of the album and another towards the end. After the last one, I listened closely to what would follow, to see what the transformed version of KL would sound like. The very next song was “Compton” ft. Dr. Dre, which sounded like a person boasting in the same things he did before his “conversion”. Of course this is what people think of as Christianity in America today. A Christianity as comfortable in a strip club as in a church. A Christianity without genuine repentance. A Christianity that causes a person to repeat the words to a prayer but doesn’t actually change their lives. Though it’s popular, this is a false view of what it means to be saved. If KL listened to Eshon Burgundy on “I Don’t Want You”, he would hear this:
“Happily married to the Universal Engineer
Designer of that refining fire, let’s make it clear
Alpha comma Omega comma- the Pioneer
So Lucifer, ay bruh, I’m stepping out the crew
You keep trying to make me murder, God is tryna take me further
He can redefine a man, I understand- I’m living proof
So now I (don’t want you)”
That’s what a real Christian sounds like. God has redefined us. That what the new birth is all about. We’ve been convicted of sin and righteousness and judgement (John 16:8). We don’t call good evil and evil good or boast in wickedness, like you hear on “Compton” or “The Recipe”. We’ve switched teams. We used to side with our sin against God. Now we side with God against our sin (Rom. 6:16-18). Not perfectly of course. Not without the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit that every believer experiences (Rom. 5:17). But it’s a genuine transformation nevertheless.
It’s my contention that Kendrick Lamar needs to learn from CHH far more than CHH needs to learn from him. What CHH can learn from KL might make for better artistry. What KL can learn from CHH can save his soul from the eternal wrath of God that will fall on all the good kids and the m.a.a.d. cities that don’t turn from their sin and place their trust in Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation (Acts 4:12).