A Christian’s Response to Rap Music
- Aaron D'Anthony Brown Contributing Author
- 2021 18 Jun
Music has been integral to family life for as long as I can remember. Mom and Dad bumped tunes from the radio during road trips, Saturday morning house cleaning, and Christmas. Even after I moved away to live on my own, music remained a part of my life. Music for me has been a daily experience, at times more so than God.
However, as I have grown from a boy into a man, and a person who believed into a Christian, I’ve noticed a change in my musical tastes. Time and experience helped my personality mature, and so did my faith. Where once my family and I enjoyed Rhythm and Blues, Rap, Pop, and the like, today, Gospel music takes the cake for me.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)
Why the change? In my quest to become more like Jesus, I studied, learned, and developed. A change began, and the more I changed the more I started to see how being a Christian was different from the world. The Christian lifestyle was not represented in the music I most enjoyed.
I began noticing things like replacing the word “love” with “lust” in most songs would retain the same meaning. Other songs promoted violence, hate, and sins of all sorts. This was readily apparent in rap music. I grew up in the ’90s during the gangster era of this genre where artists like Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Nas, and others found their fame.
As with the rest of our culture, since that time, rap music has grown to be more violent, more sexual, more hateful. Music has an effect on the listener, an effect dissimilar to movies or video games. Before we engage with certain types of music, we should be mindful of what we are listening to and encouraging others to hear. This is true for all, and definitely true for Christians.
My prayer is that the country will wise up to how rap music has been affecting the culture, specifically young brown men in America. A changed culture creates a changed society. Music can be the catalyst for that change, thus here’s this Christian’s response to rap music.
4 Things Rap Music Promotes
“Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.” (1 John 4:11)
Music is great for talking about human emotions, including the struggle of suffering. Rap music which once accurately conveyed discrimination in America and certain communities has continued to encourage a culture of victim mentality. I have heard countless songs where people with brown skin say things about people with peach skin. While we are all human, many seek to divide by drawing distinctions in how we appear.
There is more police presence in low-income brown communities. And where there is more police presence, the chances for discrimination or police misconduct are higher, because police are also sinful humans. However, we have to keep in mind that much of the crime is occurring in these areas also. As Christians, our role then is to be knowledgeable of where discrimination may be occurring, but also seek to understand why or why people would perceive discrimination. Every bad thing that happens in communities where people look the same is not based on skin color.
Not only that, God has commanded that we love one another. By saying negative things about a person or group of people based on their skin color, we are not acting in a godly fashion. We certainly look different because of how God created melanin, the climate, and other factors, but nowhere in the Bible is God praising someone for their skin or victimizing them. Neither should we.
“For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” (James 1:20)
There is much hate and anger to be experienced in rap. Many talk not just about owning firearms but using them to eliminate the opposition. Using the word eliminate is expressing their sentiments mildly. Violence is not the answer to perceived or real adversity, not unless we are in a war. To promote violence for the sake of violence is even worse. Rap is all about putting down the competition inside and outside of the music.
Jesus preached forgiveness for a reason, and countless times in the Bible are we reminded that human anger is far often sinful. This provides a natural contradiction to violence in rap.
“Flee sexual immorality! Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the person who is sexually immoral sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18)
Women receive all kinds of names from rappers. Words that start with the letter w, b, h, and more I am sure. Unsurprisingly, female rappers do the same and utter phrases which degrade themselves. Why? Rap promotes sexual activities that are direct contradictions to Scripture. No one raps about sex in marriage, but plenty discuss sex outside of marriage. Teen pregnancy and babies outside of wedlock result from this mentality. How effective are these rappers as fathers having different children with different women, never settling down with just one? How are the children affected? The women?
Christianity promotes commitment, the behaviors that keep families united and committed to serving one another as one body.
“And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit:” (Ephesians 5:18)
Alcohol and other drugs are commonly mentioned in rap music. At times songs are named after drugs. Scripture reminds believers that we can either serve the spirit or serve the flesh. A lifestyle dedicated to drugs serves the latter, and by doing so this means we are serving ourselves. The Christian response to drugs is to make sure that everything we do, we do to serve God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Is Rap Music Influence the Same as Movie or Video Game Influence?
One argument for rap, as the genre currently is, claims that music is no different from the themes included in movies and video games. If video games and movies don’t make people act out, then neither does music. Surely the themes are the same: drugs, sex, violence. There is some truth to this, that the themes are the same. As an artist, I have no problem with the themes. We can learn through storytelling the effects of violence, drugs, and sex on individuals and families. We learn from such stories. However, the case can be made that all music, movies, and video games offer some level of influence to the viewer/listener, even subtle. Nonetheless, there is a key distinction between movies and video games compared to music – the former don’t promote themselves as reality.
I can name plenty of rappers who in their music rhyme about illegal activities that they have or are engaging in. Those activities include murder, theft, and other crimes. They rap and brag about their dubious deeds and the resulting wealth. They don’t just rap about their wealth, some notably become wealthy.
When we play video games, we understand that we are entering into a fantasy. The same with movies, whether we watch in a movie theatre or at home. We enter into the fantasy for an hour or more, but when the fantasy is over, the fantasy is over. Movies might try to encourage my religious or political beliefs, but I don’t watch a movie thinking that the film is reality. Rappers present themselves as reality.
Yes, rappers do lie about the crimes committed and money made, but their words do impact the impressionable youth. How many young boys are donning chains and not wearing belts around their waists because of what they saw a rapper do? How many take an interest in drugs and gang violence because of what rap music encourages? When gang members are listening to music, do we imagine them listening to Earth, Wind, and Fire or Justin Bieber? Or instead, do we expect music with expletive language? There is a culture of violence and misogyny produced from rap music. That influence runs deeper than any movie or game.
Reap What You Sow
You are what you eat. Your friends are a reflection of you. I find wisdom in these sayings. Maybe we are what we listen to, or surely at least what we listen to impacts how we think. Rap has had a very clear and intense cultural consequence. Two Bible verses come to mind when I think about the culture promoted by modern rap.
“Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.” (Galatians 6:7-8)
“Then Jesus told him, ‘Put your sword back in its place because all who take up the sword will perish by the sword.’” (Matthew 26:52)
Not only had I been a participant in rap culture, but I also witnessed other children, especially boys, imitating behaviors they saw from rappers. Saggy pants, using the n-word, calling girls anything but girls. I’ve done all that, save one. Now, with a mind fixed on Jesus, and an adult, I can happily say I do none.
But back to the question of music. Do we eliminate rap music? No. Rap is nothing but poetry, using samples of various songs, plenty of intricate rhyming, and making art to discuss life. That’s useful, especially for artistic Christians like myself. Instead, the focus should be on encouraging people to produce positive rap. Negative rap music sells because people buy. If the culture stops purchasing music that promotes hate, the music will stop being produced.
Additionally, as Christians, we can encourage the youth to abstain from the behaviors witnessed in the music. Whether that person has peach skin, brown, or something else, the effects of the culture are the same. Drugs, crime, and sexual immorality don’t help us become more like Jesus. We must remind the younger generation of this.
As for myself, to this day I still listen to rap. My level of tolerance has shrunk significantly, but maybe I am a hypocrite for still listening. Or maybe I am just fine for being more mindful of what plays into my ears. My enjoyment these days is less about the lyrics or more about the beat. Whatever the case, whether I am jamming out at home, or teaching a dance class at the studio, I am mindful of the content I listen to and share. Jesus has given me commandments and I want to fulfill them because the culture that matters most is kingdom culture.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/LesByerley
Aaron D'Anthony Brown is a freelance writer, hip-hop dance teacher, and visual artist, living in Virginia. He currently contributes work to iBelieve, Crosswalk, and supports various clients through the platform Upwork. He's an outside-the-box thinker with a penchant for challenging the status quo. Check out his short story “Serenity.”