2017: Whose Side Were You On?
As our planet recently wrapped up another revolution around the sun, many individuals found themselves in some means of self-reflection, analyzed every mistake, triumph, regret, or loss made throughout the year. Some drafted New Year’s resolutions in hopes of improving certain aspects of their lives. Others may have reminisced about the distant past, in search of answers from those before our time. I believe it’s very necessary for those of us within our beloved culture, genre, medium – what have you, to do the same. It is time to reflect.
If the year 2017 has taught us anything, it is that we – as in human beings, disagree. We subvert, we’re dysfunctional, we self-destruct. As one of my mentors so vividly and colorfully describes the unfavorable things of life, we can be ‘trash’. Nevertheless, our most obvious and visible characteristic of the year– at least here in the United States – is that we do not always click, and that’s usually okay. Last year taught us, however, that we can actually disagree on the wrong things. Let me explain.
Division, it seems, has hastily proven itself an ongoing motif of the exciting, yet turbulent year of 2017. Throughout this first complete, comprehensive year of ‘[President] Trump’s America’, tension has become as much of an American staple as sweet potato pie, Georgia football, or the Real Housewives of Atlanta. Regardless of political leaning or belief, variety and difference of thought are what keeps our republic alive and thriving, traditionally. However, this same division of thought has managed to exist and prevail even when presented with the most trifling and vile ideology. This might not be okay.
Last year, white supremacists stormed down the streets of historic Charlottesville, Virginia, approximately an hour away from my soon-to-be alma mater. People were divided on how to feel about this. Colin Kaepernick was vilified for kneeling during the National Anthem, protesting racial injustice and police brutality. People were divided about that as well. Several prominent men in Hollywood have recently been outed in a myriad of sexual harassment allegations. People were divided about this. As globalism continues to connect the world, nationalism in many countries resurged, creating hatred and often bigoted resentment towards immigrants. People were also divided. Donald Trump is still president. People are still divided.
The American Church even found itself separated, as we bickered and quarreled about who was really a Christian and who wasn’t, following the forever infamous (Rest in Peace to Prodigy) 2016 Presidential election. The Southern Baptist Convention even had difficulty deciding whether or not to denounce white supremacy, or even if it was worth it to do so. Bringing it full circle, Christian Hip Hop was not immune to the division either.
Historically, we as a culture have always had our differences. We have Christian rappers. We have rappers that are Christians. Some dig the new wave and sound of CHH, some just don’t. Should the music be more sermon or more testimony? We’ve had our differences. However, very sobering issues have transcended and infiltrated our musical haven, splitting us up and unfortunately, evoking and illuminating the worst in us.
As several notable CHH artists made the choice to become more vocal on political, racial, and social topics, reception from fans and supporters has varied. In the wake of growing racial tension and intolerance, some artists chose to embrace their racial identity and culture, oftentimes becoming the target of widespread scrutiny. As more sexual assault allegations within pop culture surfaced, a needed discussion within the CHH community took place on Twitter, describing sexism within the industry, and people were still split in view or conviction in this regard. Let’s not forget when CHH almost burst at the seams whilst debating how Christian its artists were, questioning the lyrical content, artistry, and even the ‘spiritual track record’ of both the genre’s OG’s and newcomers. Let’s be real folks, we saw some real lows last year as a culture.
Nonetheless, our culture remains a vibrant, pulsing, often lit, weird, sometimes awkward, other times inspiring, frustrating, encouraging, loving, occasionally not-so-loving, cornucopia of art and ideas- full of astounding innovation, diversity, and originality. What makes us unique, though, is that we are all that and still, ultimately unified in Christ.
This means that where morality fails in helping guide and navigate us through life’s heavy issues, like whether or not racism is bad, or sexism is okay, the grace of God is sufficient. Regardless of whether an artist explicitly mentions the Lord’s name twenty-four times in his single, or just explicitly makes loves songs, there’s still a soul underneath it all, in need of constant prayer, accountability, and encouragement; there are infinite ways to express your praise or worship to God. I say let people live.
The beauty of the Bible is in its timelessness, which is indicative of God’s nature in and of itself. When studied within the right context, Scripture provides the right direction and the correct stance on every issue. As the old folks say, there’s this person’s side, that person’s side, and then the truth. Reflecting on many of the issues that challenged the culture this year, I conclude that a lot of the division that arose, as a result, could have been avoided – though discussion and debate proved healthy and were needed to flesh out emotions for the growth of the culture as a whole.
Anyways, I don’t mean or intend to be overly spiritual. The point I’m trying to make is that whenever something suspect comes up in life or within the culture, we possess the most reliable litmus test known to man. We can easily check those receipts. I won’t tell you where to stand on issues like racism, sexism, or the whole Christian/not Christian rapper debate. Much of it, we can’t even judge as we don’t know people’s hearts.
I’m just saying, in reflection, that much of the division within CHH this year was not necessary. Though CHH is not the Church, (and it would be foolish to assume everybody in the industry was saved), many of us are the Church and should be on one accord in regard to a lot of these issues – especially on these serious matters that challenge the imago dei in people. What I’m saying is that we have the resources. We have the receipts. We do have the answers, Sway. Let’s lead the world. Let’s be that salt and that light that we were called to be in 2018. That’s the only side worth being on.