Thursday, April 26, 2007

What Does It Take? (Pt. 1)

Peace and blessings,

By now, I'm sure most of us have heard about the comments Imus made a few weeks ago. The fact that civil rights leaders came at Imus for his remarks and that he got fired was not surprising. What was surprising, in my opinion, was the fall-back that mainstream hip hop has experienced as a result. Note: I use the term "mainstream" to refer only to the more popular and accessible forms of hip-hop as portrayed on radio stations and music videos. Although I did not expect mainstream hip-hop to be criticized, I believe that this criticism is warranted. In the words of Sam Cooke, "it's been a long time coming." In
  • an interview with representatives form the hip-hop sites and,

  • the SOHH representative mentioned that the issue is about personal accountability on behalf of the record companies, artists, and everyone else. She also said, in response to the AllHipHop representative's claim that rappers put out offensive language because that's what consumers want (e.g. the supply and demand argument), that it is not that people want this music as much as they have grown accustomed to it.

    If Imus would have made those comments a few years ago and mainstream hip-hop would have been under fire, I would have been in the camp of those like Russell Simmons and others who argue that people should point the finger at social inequities and not artists for the degrading lyrics within mainstream hip-hop. Although this position is a legitimate one, and in fact a true "solution" to the problem with artists' degrading lyrics does require that we correct social inequalities and opportunity structures, I no longer consider myself as solely a member of that camp. The more and more I listen to hip-hop and try to analyze their lyrics (both positive and negative), the more I realize that it is not just a social issue, but a moral issue. If society is entirely responsible for hip-hop artists' degrading lyrics, then the social and economic conditions through which these artists are (or were) apart of would shape ALL of their lyrics. However, this is is rarely the case. Most artists tend to show some awareness of the moral responsibility they have to uplift others, but this awareness is thwarted in two ways. One way is through the pursuit of money, such that an artists' album will have 90-95% of their album be about violence, materialism, and misogyny, and the other 5-10% be about something positve. While this may be influenced by social inequalities (e.g. using hip-hop as a way to get out of a severely impoversished condition), I don't think that it is the only factor. Another way that this awareness is thwarted is through distortion. Again, social inequalitities can play a signifcant role as growing up in severely harsh conditions can alter one's views on what is right and wrong. For instance, a person who did not grow up with their parents may feel that it is better to not trust anyone and only look out for oneself. Further, they may, through their music, encourage youth to do the same, and believe that by telling them to not trust others and thus to avoid serious, meaningful relationships, that they are "looking out" for the youth in a good way. Even in this case, I think that social inequalities are still only a part (although a significant part) of the problem.

    In light of the recent discussions on the role of (mainstream) hip-hop in the denigration of women, and after watching
  • part 1,

  • part 2,
  • and
  • part 3
  • of the Oprah show on this issue, I've gained a better understanding as to why I now belong in both the moral camp as well as the social camp. In my opinion, Russell Simmons, Kevin Liles, and even Common were quick to talk about the larger societal (social) issue, but danced around the issue of personal (moral) responsibility on behalf of the artists. No one will argue against the fact (at least I hope not) that the structural inequalitites that exists within our country and throughout the world play a significant role in the myriad of problems we face and will continue to face unless these inequalitites are addressed. However, I feel that while this is important, the greater issue WITH RESPECTS TO THE LYRICS THEMSELVES is what can artists do, and what are they willing to do, to put an end to these degrading lyrics. Talking about one's personal experience, and even the experiences of those in one's community is one thing. Portraying these experiences as absolute truths (e.g. "this is just how it is") to the point where the youth who are listening to this music are encouraged to seek out and glorify this experience is a different thing entirely. The solution to this problem does not lie in either the social or the moral realm, but in both. Society needs to change, but society can only change when the individuals within that society change. Society is made up of people, and because people change, then society can change as well. We determine what society should be, society does not determine who we are.

    A prime example of this point can be found in the history of people from African descent. If our actions and behavior are solely a result of our social conditions, then we would still be in slavery. In fact, we would have been complicit with the slavery system, such that we would seek out such a system if we had a choice, seeing that was all we knew. However, history clearly shows us that as a people, WE WERE NEVER defined solely by our social conditions. From the Nat Turners to the Mariah Stewarts, to the Nelson Mandela's to the Martin Luther King's, we have always acted (directly or indirectly) on our moral convictions despite society telling us to do otherwise. One of the main reasons I think that those mentioned (as well as countless others) always worked to change the social conditions that sought to confine them is because they recognized that, despite their own experiences, they had a moral obligation to make things better for those who looked up to and/or came after them. It became less about themselves and more about the welfare of others who would later inhabit this world. In King's famous "I have a dream" speech and also throughout his ministry (activism), much attention is often given to his goals for unity among the citizens of that time. Less attention is given, however, to his emphasis on the welfare and life chances of the children who would come after him. These are just a few exerpts of his 1963 speech to illustrate this point:

    "Now is thetime to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid
    rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of
    God's children."

    "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of
    former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down
    together at the table of brotherhood."

    "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation
    where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content
    of their character."

    In closing, I think that despite the complexity of the problem with and solution regarding the degrading lyrics in mainstream hip-hop, a step in the right direction requires a fundamnetal understanding: Just as those who have come before us have never been defined by their social conditions and have worked to improve the life chances of those who look up to and/or would come after them, we must also realize that societies change because people change, and that we have a personal (moral) responsibilty to work to change things for the better. Not just for us, but for those who may look up to and/or are coming up after us. Not only are hip-hop artists targeted in this understanding, but due to their influence on the youth and their visibility, they are in the optimal position to take a stand and eliminate degrading lyrics. We can point the finger at society all we want, but until we as individuals take resonsibility for what we say to people and how we treat them, we will constanly revisit this issue to little or no avail.

    What do you think? To what extent are the artists responsible for what they say? Do you think that individuals must change before society changes, or vice versa? Weigh in and speekonit...

    Monday, April 23, 2007

    Featured Artist:Soul Plasma

    Peace and blessings,

    "...From the cotton fields/to lashes on our back/and before that/we still here forever/proving that we strong black/The Sanhedrin council's been brought back/and what that means/is the end is even closer than it seems/Christ reigns supreme through the heart of a king/I pump life through these streams/of these dark streets/But salvation/is a choice not a mandate/but it will/in the end choose a man's place/So when I stand at the throne of the Almighty/All I'll have is the blood and my cause for life."

    The featured artist this week is Soul Plasma. These tracks are taken from his album, "The Soul effect." Now let's get into business...

    This is the opening track called "Intro/the rise."

    The next track is my favorite on the album and it's called "Survive" Ft. Toni Hill. It has a social critique feel with an aoura reminiscent of the Black Power movement.

    This track is called "My Freedom" and it features ft. L-Pro and Eurban Truth. The song is dope, and is accentuated by the track's opening poem.

    This is the "Outro/cause for life" and this would be my favorite track on the album, except for the fact that it's not a full song.

    What you think? Weigh in and speekonit...

    Thursday, April 19, 2007

    The Universal Importance of Unity

    Peace and Blessings,

    I'm going to start off this discussion like I do all of my "semi-important" thoughts, with a reflection on one of my favorite cartoons, lol. Even though the X-Men is my favorite contemporary (i.e. mid 1990s) cartoon, my all-time favorite cartoon is the
  • Classic Voltron Lion Force

  • This is my favorite cartoon because of its concept and its implications. I can talk about favorite cartoons and especially Voltron for days, but I'll give you the abridged version. The premise behind Voltron is the following: One cannot survive on one's own, therefore life is based upon and requires

  • Voltron Lion Force consisted of 5 people, each of which were responsible for their own lion. As a team, they were responsible for promoting and maintaining peaceful relationships among those of other nations or planets, and defended the Universe ONLY WHEN THEY HAD TO. It seems like the Bush administration could learn a lesson from Voltron's "foreign policy." During those times when they had to defend the planet, it appeared as if the lions could not defeat the enemy own their own. Once the lions came together and formed Voltron, however, the team was unstoppable. Initially, I could not understand why on every episode the individual lions would get "mopped up." The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that the individual lions' defeat is consistent with the cartoon's overall premise that one cannot survive on his or her own accord. It was only when the lions came together to form something greater than themselves that they were able to overcome all obstacles.

    During his ministry, the Apostle Paul focused a great deal on the importance of unity. In Galatians 5:13-14 he states,

    "For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self- indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

    I don't think that the word "slaves" as it is used here refers to being literally subserviant to and being treated as inferior by another. Instead, I am more than confident that it was referring to the idea that we must love each other in a way that puts their needs on par with, and sometimes before our own. Further, Paul's emphasis in 1 Corinthians 12:14-26 on individuals from different backgrounds and walks of life all being part of the Body of Christ suggests that for Christians, we cannot discriminate amongst each other based on gifts, status, or anything else. Because the body of Christ consists of a variety of different people, then it follows that an individual within the body of Christ is connected to and dependent upon everyone else in the body as well.

    Before I end, I just wanted to introduce
  • an organization that embodies this essence of Unity

  • Some of the services they provide include providing food and housing, job and computer skills training, drug recovery, and other forms of ministry.
    Not only does CityTeam Ministries represent unity with respects to its team members, their emphasis on transforming the lives of the marginalized suggests the realization that regardless of our background and position in life, we are all connected.

    What do you think? What is your meaning of unity? What would it look like for this meaning of unity to be actualized in America? Throughout the world? Weigh in and speekonit...

  • Tuesday, April 17, 2007

    New Christian Hip-Hop Gems

    Peace and blessings,

    Below are a couple of recent gems to check out. The first is the music video "Who Am I?" by DA Truth featuring Tye Tribbett. The song emphasizes the importance of having all aspects of one's identity grounded in Christ, so that the legacy one leaves behind is one of inspiration and not denigration. It raises the ever-important question that personally I know I need to reflect on more often: "What type of person am I, and how do I want to be remembered?"

    The next video is a promo for the group "Everyday Process." Some brothers put me on to them while I was in Chicago last week, and they are continuing to grow on my. They have that grimy, Philly/New York flow, which is right up my alley. The group's name represents the struggles and experiences that we as Christians go through everyday in our walk with God.

    Any thoughts? Weigh in and speekonit...

    Sunday, April 15, 2007

    Featured Artist:Tedashii

    Peace and blessings,

    The featured artist for this week is another 116 click representative (in case you forgot, the other two featured thus far have been Lecrae and Trip Lee). The following tracks are from his recent release, "Kingdom People." The first featured track is called "significance," and it is about people finding their worth in JC.

    The next track is called "Party Music," and addresses the misconceptions of Christian hip-hop and its relevance in today's society. The track also features another 116 affiliate, Flame, who drops a dope verse about his struggles with "secular" hip-hop and his discovery of Christ-cented hip-hop.

    The next track is called "Do You Feel?" and talks about the various struggles with sin that we encounter, and how through Christ, we already have victory over sin. The goal of the song is to encourage believers to accept Christ, turn away sin, and encourage others to do the same.

    The last track is the "In Ya Hood Cypha," and features the whole 116 click smashing the mics for JC. Posse cuts are my favorite types of hip-hop songs because they bring about the wide variety of MC's holding it down. For those who may be unclear as to whether or not God is relevant to and has a heart for "the hood," listen and be blessed...

    U like? Enough to cop the album? Weigh in and speekonit...

    Wednesday, April 11, 2007

    Heaven for a Gangsta

    Peace and blessings,

    I would like to start off with a quote from Lecrae’s “I did it for you,” which I think is the best song off of his album, “After the music stops”:

    “The say Mack got saved/ and (???) is a Christian/Well I don’t really know them/ but I pray they both listenin’/ it’s hard trying to grow up in a sinful land/and you don’t have an example of an godly man/well hold on!/just keep your eyes on Christ/when you’re in or in the world/man our lives are alright/they say heaven gotta ghetto/ but that ain’t true/ and if God has a standard then that ain’t you/ and that ain’t me/ that’s what I learned late one night/till a man named James White/Changed my life/he told me that Christ paid the price for sin/every lie I ever told Christ died for them/See, I never knew that I offended God/I just knew I really wasn’t trying to live for God/And my sins all cost me/yeah pretty costly/I couldn’t blame the hood for death sin brought me/All that I could do was blame myself/ and realize there was no way I could change myself/so I, trusted Christ with my lust for life/and He saved me that’s why I’m trying to touch the mic/Yeah, so if you ask me who I’m spittin’ this to/that’s right yall I did it for you/I did it for you/and if you ask who I’ve written this to/that’s right yall I did it for you/I did it for you”

    Lecrae, from “I did it for you” off of his album, “After the music stops.”

    While growing up, I was blessed to have both parents around and a good education. Despite these blessings, however, I was exposed to my share of gang violence. I vividly remember when I saw someone shooting at another person in my driveway, only to find out moments later that the person was shot and killed on my front porch. Some years earlier I remember overhearing my pops’ telephone call when he found out that my cousin, who had a scholarship to attend UCLA and was a honor roll student and athlete, was shot and killed over a CD players just days before his high school graduation. Further, I have and currently know plenty of people who are involved in gang life.

    Now that I’m older and have tried to learn more about the contexts and experiences which encourage youth to get involved with gang life, I often wonder “what if that was me?” “What if I didn’t grow up with two parents who loved me and encouraged me to be great, and didn’t have a great-aunt to anoint me with olive oil and pray over me often?” I think that asking these type of self-reflective questions is a start to realizing that regardless of the “endowments” or supports we may have grown up with, it is only by the grace of God that we do not have to live a life of crime, violence, and desperation. Does that mean that God is the reason why there are “those” people who are in gangs and who commit violent acts toward each other? I emphatically say no. What it is a result of, though, is the many sins and choices that we have made (via free will) that have created the conditions to where some people feel like joining a gang is their best option for survival or a decent life, given the alternatives. Every choice we make, big or small, has some kind of effect on someone other than ourselves…

    Once we get to the point where we realize that we could easily be in the same position as our brothers and sisters who are severely impoverished, involved in drugs, and/or gang life, we must then ask ourselves, “what kept me out of that situation?” Once we realize that the only answer is the grace of God, we must then ask ourselves, “how do we tell those who are in these predicaments that this is not what God intended for them, and that God, through Jesus Christ, will free them from their bondage and change their lives around?” Whenever I think about the power that we as Christians posses to reach those outside of the church walls, I recall an ever-important question that a woman raised during a discussion on whether or not Christians should embrace hip-hop as a ministry tool. She simply asked:”If Jesus was to come back today, where would he spend his time?” This immediately struck a cord with me because one of the first things that came to my mind were the people most likely to not “get down with” the church (although there are some more progressive churches were this is not the case). When I look in the bible at how and where Jesus spent most of his time, it is clear that Jesus was deeply concerned with those who were marginalized and written of as “outcasts.” In Luke 5:32 Jesus states,

    “I have not come to arouse and invite and call the righteous, but the erring ones (those not free from sin) to repentance [to change their minds for the better and heartily to amend their ways, with abhorrence of their past sins” (NKJ Amplified)

    Someone who has taken this scripture to heart is Bishop George McKinney, who has a
  • ministry in San Diego
  • which focuses on ministering to and improving the lives of gang members, prostitutes, drug dealers, and any other force the enemy tries to enslave our people with. Another thing I like about this ministry is that it doesn’t just focus on the individual (although it comes to choice that must be made by the individual), but also focuses on the context and structural sins that contribute to these outcomes (e.g., poverty, materialism, racism, and so forth).

    What do you think? What do you think are the main causes as to why youth get involved with gang life? What role do you think Christians should play in addressing this issue? Weigh in and speekoint…

    Sunday, April 08, 2007

    Holding it Down: Bishop George McKinney

    Peace and blessings,

    As a sophomore in undergrad, I was fortunate enough to attend an African American Christian Leadership conference. At the conference, I was able to learn from and interact with a host of students, pastors, and prayer warriors that helped give my life more direction while changing my music preferences. Although I heard from many powerul speakers, one in particular continues to stick out in my mind. For those who may not have heard of him,
  • Bishop George McKinney

  • After hearing him deliver a powerful message, I decided to approach him and get some guidance regarding a faith issue I was struggling with. At that time in my life, being in college and being exposed of all the injustices that have occurred and are still occurring against people of African descent, I was having a hard time (and sometimes I still do) trying to understand why and how something like 400 years of slavery could have happened. I refused (and still do) to say that God “allowed” slavery to happen, yet when discussions around slavery would come up in various contexts, I had no idea as to how to approach the issue (and similar issues of injustice) from a Christian-faith perspective. After telling Bishop McKinney these things, he simply replied, “the final chapter has not been written yet.” Initially I thought that he “short-changed” me with that answer as I expected much more. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that his reply was more than what I needed. Consequently, as soon as I returned home from the week-long conference and cracked open my bible, the first thing I noticed was a passage (I think in Exodus) that was talking about how God will avenge and restore His people (Children of Israel) who were enslaved for 400 years! At that moment I remembered how Bishop McKinney spoke with so much faith and conviction regarding the power of God through Jesus Christ to change lives and right wrongs.

    Let’s fast forward about three years later while attending graduate school on the east coast. While visiting the school of Divinity’s library, I came across one of his books (see below) called “The New Slave Masters.” In a nutshell, the premise of the book is that just as people of African descent were stripped of their identity and oppressed beyond measure during the years of physical slavery, people today (of all races and walks of life) are in spiritually enslaved to drugs, gangs, materialism, crime, violence, hatred, racism, sexual immorality, and negativity just to name a few.

    I recommend Christians and non-Christians to cop it. It’s not expensive, short, and it’s an easy read. In addition, it doesn’t come off as “preachy.” Do you think there are similarities between "social" issues and "spiritual" issues? Differences? Weigh in and speekonit...

    Wednesday, April 04, 2007

    Two Sides to a Coin: The Video Game Dilemma

    Peace and blessings,

    As someone who was a former gamer, took a few years off, and is now a more refined gamer, I was intrigued to come across these two video games. With regards to the question "Does life imitate art or art imitate life," I am a firm believer that first and foremost art imiates life. Therefore, I believe that many movies, comic books, literary works, paintings, and music have deeper meanings attached to them than what we we normally ackowledge or give them credit for. With regards to the question "Do some video games go too far," my answer is an emphatic yes. Alittle over a year ago I got into a good discussion with a friend of mine over the video game "grand theft auto," and my position was basically that the game, as well as many other games, is inappropriate not just for younger kids, but for gamers of all ages. Anyway, back to the issue at hand....

    I've recently had a chance to play this game, and as a first impression I would have to say that I like the set-up. It's more educational than action-based, more about consciousness-raising than cool graphics. I think that as long as the intentions are in the right place, certain video games can be used as tools to educate people on issues, people who probably spend more time playing video games anyway than reading about or watching the news. But then again, with all the bias and distorting of information going on in the (mainstream) media, who could blame them? Anyway, I think this
  • video game about Darfur has potential

  • This
  • video game about Columbine
  • however, is a different story. For some reason, I seriously question whether or not the intentions were in the right place when making this video game. From what i've seen of the video game trailer, I think that this video game was a bad idea. And even if the intentions were in the right place, one has to have a certain amount of respect for the victims and their families. With the Darfur game, I think that aims of the game are potentially benefical in terms of trying to end the conflict because it is trying to promote awareness and action and denouncing violence. With this Columbine game, I don't think that the ends justify the means.

    What do you think? Do you think that a video game can promote awareness and positve action? What is your take on these two games? Weigh in and speekonit...

    Sunday, April 01, 2007

    Has it really come to this?

    Peace and blessings,

    I mean I joke about things being "apocalytpic" (i.e., that mini snowstrom steez in Cambridge, MA last year) and that we are in the end times, but now it doesn't seem so funny. For those of you who have not yet heard, here's some info on
  • Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda

  • Despite the fact that his claim to be the second coming of JC is all wrong, his steez is wrong on so many levels:

    #1: He "preaches" that there is no such thing as sin because JC destroyed sin when He died on the cross. Therefore, we can do no wrong in God's eyes.

    This statement is beyond inaccurate on at least two accounts. The first account is the fact that although JC died and resurrected, he did so so that we, through Him, can have a closer relationship with God, given that we accept and live for Him. The second account is due to the fact that sin is still very real. You would be lying to yourself and jeopardizing your soul if you tried to convince yourself otherwise. Jesus is very much alive, and yes He did die and rise for our sins, but that does not mean that we are exempt from obeying His commandments and trying to live like Him. If anything, His death and resurrection is all the more reason to live right. Lastly, JC, who was there since the beginning of time and will be there after the end, never said anything about there will be a time when we could do no wrong in God's eyes. Although He often told people to "go and sin no more," He NEVER said "do what you want because there's no more sin."

    #2: He "preaches" that prayer is a waste of time (as if "#1" was not inaccurate enough).

    There are too many bible verses where JC emphasized the importance of prayer and fasting. I mean dang, He did both for forty days! If he prayed, fasted, and was tempted with sin (although he NEVER succomed to the temtpations), who are we to think that we are exempt? If anything we should be treated more harshly than He was, but instead He showed HIs unconditional love for us by humbling Himself among us and paying the ransom for our transgressions. Neglecting prayer is spiritual denial because it's like saying that there's no need to talk to God, and that God doesn't work through/answer prayers.

    #3: He makes His congregation get a "666" tatoo like him. What more is there to say?

    How can one speak this blasphemy when the very things that he claims are irrelevant now (sin and prayer) are two things that JC spoke of passionately and often. Heck, that's what most of his ministry was about. Also, if there is no such thing as sin, then why did JC often speak about the sin of greed and how it can prevent one from entering heaven (Matthew 19:23-25; Luke 16:19-23)? If there was no more sin, the JC would have told His disciples that after He died, that everyone would automatically go to heaven. Further, He would not have comissioned us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).

    I don't know what bothers me more. The fact that he has the audacity to promote such garbage, or the fact that his followers are growing. In one conversation with the disciple Peter, JC speaks against everything that Miranda "preaches" about:

    "Simon, Simon (Peter), listen! Satan has asked excessively that [all of] you be given up to him [out of the power and keeping of God], that he might sift [all of] you like grain, But I have prayed especially for you [Peter], that your [own] faith may not fail; and when you yourself have turned again, strengthen and establish your brethren."
    -Luke 22:31-32 (NKJ AMP)

    What do you think? Are you more bothered by Miranda's claims or his increasing number of followers? Weigh in and speekonit...