“Indisputably the most acclaimed rap artist of his generation,” states Kendrick Lamar’s Spotify biography. Anyone who can appreciate the pure art of hip-hop knows Kendrick Lamar is among the top of his class, with each of his projects being received to critical acclaim and lauded for literary brilliance. Kendrick’s pen is especially noteworthy as he is the first rapper to be recognized with a Pulitzer award, receiving the honor for his 2017 album DAMN.
After the release of DAMN., Kendrick went on to release a curated project in celebration of 2018’s Marvel Studios blockbuster, Black Panther, and then began a four-year hiatus. Through this period, Kendrick could only be seen popping up for occasional features, performing at music festivals and other events, including the most recent Super Bowl, and participating in at least one peace rally in his hometown of Compton following the killing of George Floyd.
Then, on April 18, 2022, Lamar announced the release of Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, his final album in partnership with Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE). The announcement was received with great anticipation, which only built with the surprise release of “The Heart Part 5” on May 8, 2022, mere days before the release of the new album. The world was starved for Kendrick Lamar’s art, and hip-hop enthusiasts everywhere waited to see what new genius the 14-time Grammy award winner would provide.
Since its release, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers has been a divisive album. Outlets like The Rolling Stone and NPR, as well as general consumers, have not praised the project with the passion some may have expected for a follow-up to DAMN. Much of the contention comes from questions about the album’s content itself. The experiences Kendrick describes, whether it be haphazardly using derogatory terms for members of the LGBTQ+ community as a child, struggling with sexual addiction, or featuring Kodak Black, who was accused of rape in 2021 but pled guilty to assault charges, can be shocking.
However, Kodak Black is not the voice that has caused a particular stir in our community. That would be German self-help author and New York Times bestseller, Eckhart Tolle. In Spring 2011, Tolle was ranked the “most spiritually influential” person in the world by The Watkins Review, and according to his website, he sees “sees [his prescribed] awakening as the essential next step in human evolution.” While the album seems to suggest Tolle has become a therapist to Kendrick, the nature of their relationship cannot be entirely reasoned through the album. What we do know is that Tolle’s narration is featured on several tracks, Kendrick’s partner Whitney can be overheard recommending he reach out to Tolle on “Father Time,” and Tolle was featured in the introductory video for Kendrick’s pgLang. Clearly, Tolle is playing some influence in Kendrick’s life, although the specifics we are unlikely to ever be made fully aware of.
Since the album’s release, some of the most respected voices in our community, including the Trackstarz and Ruslan, have discussed the project at length and Tolle’s influence on it. While we encourage you to support them by watching their videos on the matter, the consensus these videos share is that Eckhart Tolle is problematic in the scheme of an orthodox Christian worldview. In Kendrick representing some of Tolle’s views, he, too, appears to be drifting from traditional Christianity.
This drifting has grieved the hearts of many who hoped Kendrick would embrace a fuller Christian experience and his art would move in that direction accordingly. Other believers, electing not to listen due to personal convictions about secular music, or perhaps this album specifically, elected to dismiss the project.
nobigdyl., cofounder of indie tribe. and one of the most well-respected artists in our space today, offered a different perspective on social media.
a lot of us would benefit more if instead of asking ‘IS this art Christian?’ we asked ‘AS a christian experiencing this art, what do i hear God saying?’
— dyllie (@nobigdyl) May 15, 2022
This article is not meant to portray a divide between our brothers in faith. The article does not aim to make suggestions about Kendrick’s spiritual walk. This article is not meant to comment on Eckhart Tolle’s teachings, but to speak to us, the believers.
nobigdyl. has offered us a sound biblical truth. YHWH can, and throughout the scriptures, does indeed use broken vessels and unexpected sources for His will to be made known. This does not always mean said vessel is holy, righteous, or has even received the long-lasting favor of God. Jacob stole his brother Esau’s blessing in Genesis, but God renamed Jacob “Israel,” and through his line, thousands of years later came Jesus. Even after King David committed a grave moral error in sleeping with and impregnating Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, God chose to continue blessing his line. However, it must be stated David repented for his sin. In both these examples, we start with men who clearly fit into the plans of God, but God also uses unexpected players to fulfill His will.
Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, and his forces, committed great violence against the Judeans after they had turned away repeatedly from their Creator. In response, God exacts justice upon His chosen ones, fulfilling His promise from Deuteronomy 28, particularly verses 36 and 37.
“The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone. And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you away” – Deuteronomy 28: 36-37 (ESV).
God goes as far as referring to Nebuchadnezzar as His servant in the book of Jeremiah, with chapter 27, verses six and seven stating:
“And now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant; and the beasts of the field I have also given him to serve him. So all nations shall serve him and his son and his son’s son, until the time of his land comes; and then many nations and great kings shall make him serve them.” (Jeremiah 27:6-7; NKJV).
Through Jeremiah, God tells Judah that in this particular moment, He is using Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon’s greedy, violent nature to exact His justice on them. However, He also makes it abundantly clear in verse seven that there will come a day where Babylon, too, will face the Lord’s judgment, being made subject for their ruthlessness as they were subjugating Judah. No matter who, no one escapes God’s eye.
This story may seem a far cry from Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers. Still, there is an applicable principle that we can take into Kendrick’s album and secular music as a whole. God is no less able to speak through what He deems egregious than what He has called holy. It is the job of the believer, submitting their will, perspective, hope, desire, doubt, and everything else that makes up our human condition, to use the discernment to seek “…whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise [and] think on these things” (Philippians 4:8; KJV).
This is not to say Kendrick Lamar’s latest album was meant to serve as a good benchmark for Christian doctrine or should be taken as such. This is not to say we should dismiss any questions, critiques, or concerns we may have about the album’s contents. But perhaps if we listen closely, not just to Kendrick Lamar, who confesses that he is not our savior on this very album, but for the wisdom that God may be providentially using Kendrick to share, perhaps we can reevaluate the lens we look at art outside the label of “Christian.”
Nonetheless, we also want to honor and respect those who abstain from listening because of their convictions. As we mentioned in last year’s piece considering the notion of Christian celebrity in light of Justin Bieber’s release, Freedom, “…we can part ways on the specifics of our conviction while refusing to be a stumbling block to our fellow believers.”
We must always come back together around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but whether we choose to partake in listening to music from the world is a matter of the individual conscience. May we choose to pray for and love not only our siblings in faith but people we fundamentally disagree with, like Eckhart Tolle and even Kendrick Lamar, while holding all failings to account. No matter such failure, marred human intention, or simple apathy, God will receive the glory. Where we choose to see it is for the individual to decide.