There is a striking moment on Kendrick Lamar’s “I’m Dying Of Thirst” where a family matriarch sits down a group of frustrated, wayward young men and implores them to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. After directing them to repeat after her, the impromptu conversion is complete and she says “Remember this day, the start of a new life, your real life.” It stands out against the sonic backdrop of murder and mischief, and rightfully so. It takes darkness to appreciate the light and Kendrick was very deliberate in its placement.
“We talk about hip-hop having some of the most prolific and deepest thinkers of our modern time. Kendrick Lamar is no exception,” Bun B tells WatchLOUD.com. “I don’t think a lot of people give credit to how deep hip-hop writers and practitioners really are. A lot of time the majority of what we hear from hip-hop culture tends to be a lot of party music, and people trying to get away from reality. But when hip-hop embraces reality and speaks to the real life situations that people have to deal with, that’s when it’s being performed at its highest form.”
The interlude on “Dying Of Thirst” is just the latest in a lineage of religiously inspired hip-hop songs that includes music by DMX, Kanye West and Brand Nubian, to name a few. Bun B and Dr. Anthony Pinn explore these messages in their “Hip-Hop & Religion” course at Rice University in Houston, TX, which is now being offered for free online after unprecedented demand. Dr. Pinn had been teaching the class at Rice for over twenty years and several years ago had Bun B come in as a guest lecturer. Then one of Dr. Pinn’s graduate students, Andrea Matthews, suggested that the UGK rap vet come in to co-teach the course and it has became a huge success.
“Hip-Hop does for a whole lot of folks what traditional religions like Christianity and Islam do for others,” says Dr. Pinn. “And so to the extent that hip-hop replaces those traditional religions for some folks, it’s got to have ritual, it’s got to have the equivalent of the preached moment. It’s got to have the equivalent of prayer. DMX teaches us that. So you have all of these elements being expressed in the context of hip-hop. So you don’t have to go to the mosque or the synagogue, it has its own place of worship, so to speak.”
With titles like “6 God,” “I Am A God” and “How To Kill God” populating hip-hop playlists in just the last year alone, it’s a conversation we’re sure will continue to grow.
“Anything that I feel makes a person want to do better and be better, is something they should follow,” Bun adds. “And for a lot of people those two things tend to be religion and hip-hop culture.”