From here, Watkins frames his argument through the prism and music of various hip-hop artists; specifically, he explores, often on a track-by-track basis, the work of Gil Scott-Heron, the blues tradition on the whole, Common, Tupac Shakur, DMX, Talib Kweli, and Lauren Hill. He tends not to pull any punches in discussion of how poverty, crime, political displacement, and other social ills have plagued the inner-city life for decades, and since the Church has neglected to address this situation in any systemic fashion, hip-hop culture rose up as a (mostly) positive form of “church.”
Nevertheless, the book is not meant as an attack by any means; instead, it is presented as an exploration of how the Church and Hip-Hop can enter into constructive conversation about universal themes that they have in common: life, love, family, culture, history, present-day success, and concerns about the future. The only fault I can find with Watkins’s approach is that he often neglects to provide any specific lyrical examples when advocating for any similarities between Hip-Hop substance and Church theology. Admittedly, I’m sure that the Christian publisher of this book probably balked at including any profanities resident in the lyrics of Nas, DMX, Jay-Z, but assuming that a curious theologian who wasn’t familiar with hip-hop might go listen to the music on his/her own accord is a stretch for me.
Beyond the Four Walls comes from a very similar starting point to that of Hip-Hop Redemption, but its focus remains firmly upon displaying how the Church can implement the tenets of hip-hop into how it reaches out to and ministers to young people in inner-city neighborhoods. In Hidalgo’s experience as a Roman Catholic, graduate student, youth leader, and hip-hop aficionado, the mainline and liturgical churches in the global west ignore hip-hop as a viable form of art of expression, which means that they have chosen to ignore the communities who relate to hip-hop in any way. This frustrated Hidalgo, so he responded by enrolling in graduate school so that he could better equip himself as a leader in hope of enacting positive change in the Hip-Hop and Church worlds he loves so much.
The book itself reads like it might have been the author’s Master’s thesis converted into book form, complete with how the research for the book is annotated and displayed for the reader. Yet, this formatting proved to be visually distracting at times, especially when pictures not related to the content on the page appeared in the middle of a thought. However, what Hidalgo does well is present his ample contextual evidence – culled from trips to the smattering of viable hip-hop churches is parts of North and South America – that the Church, when it shows even the slightest interest of reaching out to disenfranchised communities on their terms, can have a positive impact and presence using the medium of hip-hop.
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