Church was always a hollow experience. As ritual requires growing up in the Bible Belt, I went, listened and absorbed the proverbs, tales and characters but I mostly walked away with more questions than answers. In my heart and mind, faith never was a question because I knew somebody greater was pulling the strings. What I didn’t have was an understanding and no amount of Sundays spent seated on in the church pews gave me that.
Rap sparked my circuitous route towards discovery who God was and what it meant to be “black.” Not the version of Black that was depicted as cool on TV. Instead, the music exposed the nobility in our history, the missing elements that weren’t taught in school during the week or in Sunday school. Songs like BDP’s “Why Is That?,” featured on their ’89 album Ghetto Music: The Blueprint Of Hip Hop, did as much for me as sermons because they were plain spoken notes guiding my own efforts to learn how the whole God thing worked. When KRS referenced Abraham, Issac and Shem, my task was to start diggin’ and discovering. What Kris Parker specialized in – mixing in Biblical references and social commentary – and started in rhyme was followed by other artists adding thought and weight to their music, all of which combined to open up the world for me. It took me a while to find God, but I know where a crucial part of my understanding began.
Every six or so months, my mom will make a remark about church and make a side remark about how I should come join them one Sunday. I always remind her that I have 18 good years of church-going, which are more than enough to last me for another 10 years or so. Time served. I may go back eventually, but odds are there’ll be six folks carrying me.
Below, a live video of BDP crew performing “Why Is That?” at the Earth Day concert in 1991. Towards the final lines, the performance gets cut short but the full track can be heard here. What the clip shows is that so-called “conscious rap” doesn’t have to be a sitdown, headphones-only affair. The music can cause neck-snapping and, in some cases, can inspire people to boogie.