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Jesus Is Hip Hop!

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"Jesus is Hip Hop!" chuckles our guest, Professor Daniel White Hodge of North Park University in Chicago. In this interview, the ever-engaging author of The Soul of Hip Hop: Rims, Timbs and a Cultural Theology, discusses the work of Nelly, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, among others as he ponders the distinction between commercial and socially conscious Hip Hop.

As for the latter, Dr. Hodge calls attention to its "element of spiritual and theological awareness." Essential Christian themes of salvation, redemption, and suffering, he argues, speak vividly to the genre's artists and fans. When queried about the specific connection between the Black Church and Hip Hop, he cites research pointing to an epic disconnect: this music impassioned precisely those young African-Americans who in previous generations would have channeled their energies into institutionalized religion.

No discussion of the intersection of Hip Hop and faith would be complete without reference to that most enigmatic of rhyme-busting theologians, Tupak Shakur. He was the gifted sinner who could qualify the credo "Only God can judge me" with the suggestion "all you other mother&^*&* can get out of my business." Dr. Hodge ruminates on the highly productive tension within an artist who searched earnestly for Black Jesus at the very same time that he glorified, violence, misogyny and consumerism. (This was a contradiction that also intrigued Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson on a previous episode of Faith Complex).

Consumerism, in fact, is very much on the mind of our guest. For when pressed by host Ghazi Bin Hamed about the future of Hip Hop, Professor Hodge identifies money and its adoration as an existential threat to the music's survival. "In the Hip Hop community," he remarks, "we have to challenge ourselves to say: what are we consuming . . . what are we buying?"