“Toward a Constructive Conversation”
A Review of
Two New Books on the Church and Hip-Hop
Reviewed by Adam P. Newton.
I am a white male in his early 30’s. I listen to lots of hip-hop. I am a follower of Christ who is part of an Episcopal church in Houston, Texas. It might surprise you to learn that those three statements are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I’m rather proud of my seemingly contradictory stature in each of those three communities, as I feel it gives me a bit of particular insight into the arguments, cases, and claims that these two authors make in their respective books about hip-hop and the Church. Do I claim to be any sort of authority on hip-hop culture? Far from it, but I do know what it’s like to feel misunderstood and marginalized by a community because you represent the vaguely tolerated “other.
Both of these books seek to discuss why hip-hop is disdained by the greater whole of Christendom, yet present different ideas and cases for why it shouldn’t ignored any longer, especially by serious men and women of faith. With Watkins, we hear the tale of an accomplished theologian and professor (who also happens to be a DJ in his free time) speak clearly about plumbing the spiritual depths of hip-hop. And with Hidalgo, we read the story of a passionate youth minister seeking out cogent ways to integrate hip-hop culture with how the Church reaches out to urban communities.
Hip-Hop Redemption starts off by presenting a cogent, yet brief, history of hip-hop and Watkins’s relationship with the genre. He talks about being raised on rhythm and blues, along with some jazz, yet being unable to ignore rap music in the 1980s when he started working as a young minister in inner-city churches. And the more he listened to the lyrics and heard the truths being espoused about life in marginalized urban communities, the more he understood why so many young people were ignoring church and delving into hip-hop culture. Furthermore, he recognized that, when they weren’t trying to get a party going, the MC’s were asking questions about their lives and communities that their presupposed leaders (both political and clerical) did not address.
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