I was thinking last night about how the Prophets of ancient Israel would see the injustices in their society and speak out against them. People often say today that a certain rapper is a “modern-day prophet” because they rap about “what’s really going on in the streets” and the injustices there, things that wealthy white North Americans like to pretend they aren’t responsible for. I suppose that’s true, but my thoughts last night went in a different direction.
I was thinking about how the Prophets would use object lessons, vivid imagery, and even enacted parables to show the people their sin, and the consequences of their sin. As I thought about our North American society in all of its decadence, materialism, selfish ambition, and incredible egotistical pride, I tried to think of what an object lesson to mirror all of that sin back to the people would look like, and then it struck me…
…I’d be Kanye West.
I’ve been making an effort to find some good hip hop lately, and borrowed a lot of music to decide if I wanted to buy any of it. I listened to three different Jay-Z albums yesterday, and was sorely disappointed, probably because I can’t relate to movin’ roc. But what struck me about all of his albums was that they were completely self-glorifying. Both he and Kanye West have songs praising their mothers, but it seems that almost every other song is chock full of self-praise, which I just find uninteresting. Sometimes even completely ridiculous. Who has the balls to call himself J-Hova?
I’ve listened to a lot of different rappers in the past week, and I don’t want to bash on Jay-Z or Kanye West, because most of them were the same. What I find amazing is that the egotism and self-praise integrates with every other issue. They don’t just rap about dealing drugs, hurting and killing people, or any kind of sex they can get, but they BRAG about it, congratulating themselves for doing things that most people would be ashamed of. I read in the news the other day that a rapper threatened to shoot his own fans at a concert in Florida; will this help his street cred? I’ve even heard several R&B songs recently in which self-proclaimed “players” sing about asking – and it sounds like begging – for sex. And making it sound like they’re awesome for doing it. I couldn’t help but think that if you have to ask for it, you’re probably not getting any – and that’s nothing to brag about. It reminds me of the way that our society tends to celebrate the negative things that we feel powerless to change, like being overweight, alcoholic, or dysfunctional in just about any other way. If we brag about our weaknesses, maybe they’ll start to sound like strengths? It’s all egotism.
And Kanye West just raises the bar on egotism – and is willing to admit it, too. Listening to his records and thinking about some of his publicity stunts, I couldn’t help but think that he must be doing this on purpose, it must be a joke…or maybe a commentary on how egotistical our society is. Which is what got me thinking about prophets. It’s disappointing, because I think that hip hop has incredible cultural power and the ability to spread a powerful message; but if it does so only ironically, by presenting itself as a reductio ad absurdum for our culture, then I can’t help but think it might be hurting more than it helps.
So what do you think? Are rappers prophets, or are they unwittingly and ironically filling the role of the prophet’s object lesson, mirroring back and amplifying our sin?