White Rappers and Theology: Racial Reconciliation?

19 10 2010

Top 10 Rappers of the 21st Century


White Rappers

Or rather, white rapper.

BET (Black Entertainment Television) just released its list of the top 10 rappers of the 21st century. Excited to see if rappers like Andre 3000, Nas, and Jay-Z were on the list, I was disappointed when I did not them on the list to even be considered for the honor. The newcomer, Drake and even decent rappers like Jadakiss made the list, but the greats who had been rapping since the 1980s and 1990s and well into the 2000s did not.

I was confused.

What actually confused me most was not just the list, but the number one rapper of the 21st century: Eminem. I was shocked because, like so many other Caucasians, his being white gave him that spot.

Now before I get a bunch of hateful responses, let me qualify my reasoning. It is pretty obvious that Eminem is lyrically one of the best rappers today. He is clever, poignant, and even utters some of the violently honest lyrics we’d love to hurl at our bosses, enemies, significant others etc. He is definitely a voice for the people. Record sales can tell you that.

But what record sales can also tell you is that his support is mainly from the white community. In fact, all the rappers of the lists’ support are mainly from the white community. It’s been a trend for a while now: Caucasian people love and therefore are the main consumers of black rap and hip-hop music.

Eminem’s sales, though, are much more precisely because he is Caucasian. Who wouldn’t get excited to see “one of their own” making amazing strides in an industry where their race is hardly represented? That sounds pretty familiar for the black community.

Caucasians aren’t supposed to be dominating rap and hip hop but Eminem clearly is. He is the best; and the best denotes prestige, power and control in that area of entertainment, sports, business or whatever.

The black community cannot get upset at the overwhelming Caucasian support because we do it too. We cheer on Omarosa on The Apprentice, the Williams sisters in tennis, Tiger Woods in golf (or at least some of us used to). We cheer on the black person in that unconventional vocation where they stick out like a sore thumb because we want to be (or at least our token representatives to be) the best at something that we are not supposed to be good at.

But what if being the best minority isn’t all what it’s cracked up to be. What if being the best also denotes communal ownership of that token, that representative. Something evil even, since possession of a title, reinforces superior ability over and against another.

What if minority tokenism violates something sacred, like the space to be individual and unique and not have to rely on a “chosen one” to defeat the forces of the majority?

What if?


I wonder about our competitive nature and need to have a representative in order to make a splash or be the best. It’s as if we can’t be happy if another group is doing better than “us.” This silent competition redraws the “us”/”them” binary. It recreates division where the unity is supposed to be in the craft. In a strange way it creates race dynamics. It hurts feelings when a white person is dominating a black enterprise. It turns heads. Despite whether he deserves the title or not (and I understand that both sides can be argued), Eminem is a white man at the top of an industry that is culturally a black one.

It begs the question of ownership. And worship.

What do we worship? What we own? What believe is ours? What we know belongs to us?

Honestly, when I pose this question I’m asking myself. I’m asking myself can hardship’s transformation into rap lyrics belong solely to black people. Do the streets just belong to one demographic? Is transfiguring one’s pain into a catalyst for success a black thing? Not necessarily.

Sure I have named potential sins: tokenism, domination, competition, but perhaps the biggest sin of all is this false right of ownership. Maybe Eminem is legitimate. Maybe he’s the best not because he raps about material things all the time but about the painfully true abjections in life. Maybe he’s the best because of white consumerism, but maybe he’s the best because lyrically he does something that a lot of us are afraid to do: he speaks the truth about himself and others. He doesn’t focus on “hating” but hates himself and others when they do wrong and loves himself and other when they are wronged. He loves enough to be angry.

Sitting on this list after a few days shows me that I have racialized rap. I rejected the list solely because Eminem is white. I have fallen prey to the same practices that spurned hate the mess that we’re still wading through today.

I have sinned because I rejected Eminem’s act of confession. I don’t know everything about him. He may be very disturbed or he may not be, but that doesn’t change the fact that his message is in the music and in his skin.

Petty lying doesn’t quite work for Eminem. He has to speak straight from the heart even if it’s too violent or disturbing for some of us. Maybe he’s alerting us to the fact that we lie to feel safe in a disturbing world. Maybe he’s at the top of the list because of the social commentary laced within his lyrics. Or maybe not.

All I know is that Jesus hated petty lying. He hated falsity for the sake of keeping something the same and untouched. No, he wanted the truth to be the norm. His words touched not only ears but hearts. Jesus made people angry and changed the social situation, or at least how people thought about it. And it worked.

Let’s be clear: I’m not calling Eminem, Jesus. He is a figure of sorts, not a salvific one, but a figure nonetheless.

What I am saying is that after harshly judging Eminem on this list, I believe he deserves to be on this list precisely because he is a different rapper with a slightly different message. Sure socially conscious rappers are out there and have been out there for a number of years. But in the 21st century Eminem is arguable doing a pretty good job of being a white male talking about the social issues that we don’t even want to talk about too in-depth (like domestic violence for example).

So I retract the hate behind the first part of this blog entry. I still do believe that whiteness has propelled his record sales. Like I said earlier, white people buy hip-hop and rap albums. His race definitely has played a role in his sales.

But, I can say that Eminem is deserving of being in the list of the top ten rappers of the 21st century. His message/lyrics alone say something. He is speaking out honestly and it’s not always about his women, cars, and house or people who want his women, cars, and house. He is speaking for some people who didn’t really have a voice until he came on the scene and started confessing for them, their issues to the world.  He speaks for a white lower-class and white middle class (even the white upper-class) concerning their social and cultural issues. He speaks through lyrical confession.

Confession is healing. I wonder if Eminem is bridge-building. I wonder if his presence is saying “Hey black world, white people exist and hurt too. And here’s how we react to it or want to do better about how we react towards it.” And I wonder if black people can and will respond to that knowing, or just become jealous or upset (like I was at first).

Or will we continue to fight to reclaim the top spot, always imagining rap and hip-hop as a game to be won and conquered instead of an expressive social movement with hopes of invoking healing for many.

Eminem is making some issues of his race, class and culture known. I wonder if black people will listen and listen well and engage this whole community thing where we love each other not because of race but because of our journeys in life. Maybe Eminem is (drum roll please) doing racial reconciliation is a subtle way by taking step one and honestly informing others about himself and many like him so that responses can be made.  

He could be or I could be giving him way more credit than necessary, but I know for sure that I’ll be paying more attention to his lyrics and hopefully his life and the lives of many others.

Maybe there is a model for the reconciled church in Acts and Galatians.

7 07 2010

Maybe there is a model for the reconciled church in Acts and Galatians.

In order to have the perfect reconciliation recipe you need (in my opinion) two things:

1)      A majority group and minority group who recognize that in being with each other something different (and oftentimes good!) can and will happen

2)      (More often than not) The majority group recognizes that it takes a lot more work and grace to do this new “together thing” and starts to tighten the reins on what is acceptable change, and what is just plain crazy.

And in Acts 15, Paul is trying to affirm the “just plain crazy” and the reality of the whole reconciliation situation: this reconciliation stuff is ridiculously uncomfortable!

It’s not peaches and roses like it was imagined. To be honest, it’s not okay with some people in the church body who were so eager to reconcile with everyone.

And some not so eager. The Pharisees still held to the fact that in order to be transformed, one must transform themselves to look like us. In other words, you can’t be us until you are like us.

But the point isn’t to be just like you. The point is to be just like Him.

The Pharisees were not like Christ, but interested in trapping Christ, setting Jesus up, outwitting Jesus and those who followed. And they looked stupid for doing it. Jesus can’t be trapped into being something or someone less than He is.

Jesus can’t be outsmarted. His way of reconciliation and life in God and with God’s Spirit is a model that freely accepts people without condition except to believe in Him. He does not require people to worship God as He worshipped, but to love God in their own way, to believe in Him because they have witnessed His glory.

For Jesus reconciliation was not about mimicry, it was about collectively becoming something totally different.

The Pharisees wanted to enforce a pre-requisite for others to be like them even though they were not the new model of reconciled life that Christ intended. They misunderstood. People weren’t converting to Judaism, they were de-converting from whatever life they once lived, whichever gods they did serve and moving towards an ambiguous following of righteousness, humility, and freedom that did not warrant certain dress, places of worship, specific rituals and the like.

Life in Christ didn’t mean joining the ranks of the Pharisees…Christ was too free for all that.

At least that’s what Paul was trying to teach/remind people. Christ has freed us up from the new guy having to become like the old guy. Instead both are made new. Both begin again. No matter how long one has been doing something, it is never long enough.

Many churches fall into the 2-step reconciliation model because those who own the church (the faith of that house if you will) are only willing to go so far. They don’t quite understand that it’s not about bringing people into your church to be transformed into yourself.

Reconciliation is a complete make-over of the church. Christ, the Reconciler, does not employ surface change. He’s interested in something completely new standing before Him as His bride.

The real question is, is the bride willing and ready to be transformed? Or does her transformation really translate into “trying out a new look” like someone tries out eyeliner or mascara? Is this a temporary cover up or a new yet permanent identity?

I don’t think Paul was interested in the Gospel he spread being a colonizing agent against the minority into the majority image. I don’t think Jesus wanted people transformed into the Pharisees image, or the Western church’s image, or the Methodist’s church’s image, or the Presbyterian Church’s image.

Both parties must change. And if both parties change that eliminates the backbone of this entire controversy: power.

In Christ, power is surrendered to His will. His transforming power overrides the power of the majority over and against the minority many are so eager to transform into their image.

Both parties are powerless and both parties are powerful in Christ alone. That’s it. Not powerful in budgets or buildings but in Christ. Money and longevity mean nothing. Both are beginning something new, and they’re doing this together, both as amateurs copying the Expert.

Don’t get circumcised for the wrong reasons. Don’t get circumcised at all. But rather accept the uncircumcised and the circumcised into your life because Christ’s death and resurrection wills us to. The laws and unwritten understandings and “this is the way we’ve always done it” mean nothing. But grace means everything no matter if you’re the majority of the minority…

…in Christ both have become beloved.

That is the picture of reconciliation. It refuses trends and patterns of acceptance and accepts anyway. It reject traditions that harm. It replaces custom with Christ.

I think Paul calls this grace.

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