How Hip-Hop Embraces and Expresses Spirituality

Mic Drop is a recurring series featuring the thoughts and opinions of some of the biggest voices in classic Hip-Hop. Raw, uncut — and in their own words — these are the gems you've always wanted.

 

I’ve always felt like God is my best friend.

Even when I was a kid, I often felt alone. My mom and dad worked a lot, so I was often alone. God was that unseen thing that I always felt was with me. I always felt he was there. As I grew older, I did go through different versions of how I saw God; whether it be Yoruba, or whether it be the Hebrew Israelites or whether it be Nation of Islam, or, for quite a while now, whether it be Christianity. It’s been a lot of different ways of me trying to find exactly what that is, but the God part was always there.

When Arrested Development came out, especially with our first single – that single came from a lot of pain. Tennessee was the last place I saw my grandmother, who was one of the top people I’ve ever loved in my life; and my brother, who was obviously one of the top people I loved in my life. The last place I saw them was Tennessee. My grandmother died, my brother was at her funeral and that same week, my brother died. The whole song “Tennessee” ended up being just a prayer, basically. Was it a Christian song? Nah. Was it a religious song? Nah. But it was definitely an emcee pouring out his heart from his spiritual perspective.

 

That had been our journey from that point on. Even this new record.

In Hip-Hop, there’s always been the Islamic part; that spiritual side of it has been there since the days of Eric B. and Rakim. The Five Percenters and offshoots of Islam, there has always been that playing a part in Hip-Hop. To me, spirituality – the whole purpose of it – is to try and understand your purpose in being on this earth and to try and bring clarity to your direction. We’re all gonna die, so from birth to death, you’ve got to head in a certain direction. You have to determine who you’re going to be. What kind of intentions are you going to have? And a lot of times, because of the spirit and because we’re gonna die and we don’t know what that feels like or what’s directly after, we know there’s something bigger than us. Life ends, but everything doesn’t end with life. We go on. So what’s the point? I’ve always looked for that truth.

I went through a lot of different things. I knew about Christianity. My mom was in the church, my grandmother was heavy in the church. I had been to more church services than I could remember, but it wasn’t necessarily something I wanted to do; it was just part of my family culture. As I got older, I started to resent Christianity. I saw a lot of hypocrisy, I thought it was a white man’s religion. I thought it was a tool to enslave us and keep us docile and not able to see the truths about the oppression we face.

I had even auditioned a girl who used to come on tour with me to sing, and I used to dog her and go at her all the time about Christianity. She persevered, I give her props for that. And she invited me to a church service. My queen and I went and we both hated it. Then we got invited to come back and we went again, for some reason. After that second time going to that church service, somebody asked me to study the Bible. I said ‘ok, I’ll do it.’ So they set up a personal Bible study with me on that Monday. That night, I studied up on Christianity because I hadn’t really been studying lately, it wasn’t something I was really deep into. And I started reading books and I read this book called More Than Just A Carpenter. I chose it because it was small and slim! I was like "let me read up on Jesus right quick so I can be ready for these cats."

I read it and I got sick to my stomach. Because I realized by reading that book that Jesus was more than what I thought he was in my mind and more than what studies and all those things had shown me. Jesus was deeper than that. It hit me like a rock. But it also prepared me for the studies I was about to do. I had tons of questions, I had doubts and things I had to work through.

On our first album, I had a song called “Fishin' 4 Religion,” and it was basically “You ain’t doin’ nothin.’” That was my frustration when I was writing that song. At the time, I wasn’t a Christian, but I definitely believed in God. The way I believed in God wasn’t formed yet. But I was talking about that even in those days.

But what I credit those believers with is that they came to my house and studied with me three or four hours at a time. We had about twenty studies, and I got to ask anything I ever wanted to ask. We looked into Scripture. And that’s what moved me. It wasn’t some sort of light coming down from heaven and “Aaaaaaahhhh! I wanna believe in God now!” It was more studies, thoughts and deep questions about moral things I always had questions about and a lot of historical things I had questions about.

It was a great journey for me.

And for me, I've always had that element of hope in the music out of selfishness.

I tend to be a pessimistic optimist. I have optimism, but I have a lot of pessimism in me, too. I feel like I need the optimism to crawl out of my own feelings of pessimism. Way back on the first single I said 'Problems got me pessimistic." I talk about pessimism a lot because it's a real part of my character. But at the same time, I've got to flip it and give something that has some hope. Both for me – and because I hope that it will affect other people, too. 

It's easy to be cynical. There's a lot of dark. But ironically, you can see the light better in the dark. 

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