[Editor’s Note: In honor of Black History Month, we’re doing a five-part series this week examining race and the Church. Click here to read the rest of the articles as we post them throughout the week.]
To put things gently, hip-hop and the Church haven’t always gone hand in hand.
But a new generation of artists is challenging that perception, and Propoganda is one of those on the forefront of the movement. His blend of rap and spoken word flows out of faith but also challenges it, examining difficult issues within the Church and life in general.
Perhaps among the most controversial tracks on his 2012 release, Excellent, was “Precious Puritans,” which addressed the issue of race in the Church. The track stirred up a debate in the Christian blogosphere about historical and racial perspectives.
This spring, Propaganda will release his third full-length album, Crimson Cord. We talked to him about his hopes for the album, hip-hip’s relationship with the Church and the idea of “playing the race card.”
Q: On your last album, you touched on what you call the “farce” of racial reconciliation. It seems like when race is addressed, there’s a line of thinking that says we’re seeing racial issues where there aren’t any racial issues. There people who think it’s time for us, as a nation, to move on from “the race thing.” Is that something you address?
A: I would love to leave the past there, but the system keeps on proving it’s not. I’ll stop talking about it when it stops being an issue. I would love to not play the race card; it’s just always played for me.
It’s a much easier discussion to just desire homogeny. But homogeny denies personhood, it undermines God’s creative license to create diversity. And what it does is it frees the person from guilt. Because if you can convince me or everyone around you that we’re past this, then we don’t have to deal with it.
But the problem is—think about how demeaning and insulting that is for someone to say “Why are we still talking about this? Aren’t we over this?” So, what you’re saying is I’m stupid, right? So I’m not experiencing what I’m telling you I’m experiencing? So you are the authority—you know what it means to be a black man in America? So you get to interpret my experiences? My experiences need to be filtered through your eyes for them to be correct?
And if that’s the case, I think I can rest my case. How racist is that? You know what I’m saying?
And I want to say this, too: The dominant and subdominant cultural motif is not just white and black. It’s not just a race issue. It’s just a matter or who is in charge or who’s the dominant culture. Because you go to tribes in Africa and they’re both black, but there’s a dominant tribe and there’s a subdominant tribe and their situations are exactly the same as ours, they just happen to be the same color. It just happens to be where we are, it seems to fall by color and economic lines.
But, what I address is, first of all, the fact that you are exercising your privilege and your dominance by telling me I’m not experiencing what I’m telling you I’m experiencing. And then, I try to address the fact that that does not relieve the minority from our responsibility to see the dominant culture as an image bearer, as a brother in this walk, as a sister in this walk and to show you the grace that I’m desiring to be shown.
So I am not exempt from this, but at the same time, you can’t close your curtains and make the sun disappear. It’s there. So for you to say that I don’t see what I’m telling you that I’m seeing is a problem.
Q: You’re in the hip-hop world, which has a touchy relationship with the Church in some communities. A lot of people are still uncomfortable with the idea of a Christian listening to something like, say, Kendrick Lamar. Are those two worlds still separate?
A: Yes, there’s a small faction that still is discussing that issue. And in a lot of ways, it has to do with the maturity level of the individual believer.
What I need to do is what the seasoned believers in my life did, which is be patient with me and allow me to walk these things through. And then if I still don’t come to a conclusion they came to, I need to be gracious enough to shake their hand and say we just need to know how to disagree.
I think the funny thing about the Kendrick Lamar thing is that Kendrick’s album is a testimony. It’s a salvation story. So if you’re a conservative Christian, according to these dudes, you should have been voting for Kendrick. It’s a funny dichotomy.
And then secondly, Dr. Anthony Bradley brought this up, he was like: I don’t know why Christians are complaining [about the lack of Christian hip-hop] at all because we don’t encourage our Christian artists to participate in that world. We tell them to stay in the Church. Maybe we should encourage these Christian artists to participate in the field.
Q: So what do you hope people get away from listening to your new album, Crimson Cord?
A: I would hope they think “That fool is incredible, he’s the most amazing rapper I’ve ever heard in my life!” [laughs]
Just kidding. Kind of.
I would hope that a lot of their assumptions are challenged. I would hope that they receive a new lens, that they would start asking questions of their leaders around them to think through some of the stuff I’m talking about.
And I also hope that I am able to put to words feelings they had but couldn’t get their brain around and they couldn’t articulate what they felt like they understood intuitively. So, my hope would be that God would allow that to happen. Because to me, that’s a win—when I’m able to tell someone a story that they felt like they didn’t have the words to tell.