Alex Gee: Jesus and the Hip-Hop Prophets: Spiritual Insights from Lauryn Hill and Tupac.

geea.jpg Well, good afternoon everybody. This is Dick Staub, your host and fellow seeker, thanking you for joining me this afternoon. And we’ve got a very interesting subject ahead of us. Lauryn, Tupac, and Jesus. Prophets? What are prophets? Who are prophets? Is God revealing himself through hip-hop?

Q. Well, our next guest is co-author of a new book titled, Jesus and the Hip-Hop Prophets. It’s published by InterVarsity. Alex is a pastor, and his co-author, John Teter, is an area director for InterVarsity in south central LA. So tell me about the birth of this project. How’d this thing get started?
A. Well, as you mentioned, John works for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and he teaches evangelism, he trains evangelists. My passion, as a pastor, is wanting to really be relevant to the folks I’m ministering to. We put our heads together about a year-and-a-half ago and said, You know, there are really no good evangelism materials that we have found that’s really appropriate for the cross-cultural ministry, the ministries that we lead. So let’s put something together that would really peak the interest.

Q. Now, how did you and John know each other?
A. We met years ago at the Urbana conference.

Q. Okay.
A. I was a conference speaker and I was leading a workshop, and he was assigned as my seminar assistant.

Q. Oh wow.
A. And we-we hit it off back in ’96 and kept in touch through the years.

Q. Yeah. Now, when you talk about cross-cultural, some people, people have different images of what that means.
A. Sure.

Q. It could be ethnic, it could be geographic. I mean, what was the cross-cultural intersect that you were particularly concerned about?
A. We meant cross-cultural and socio-economical.

Q. Okay.
A. We didn’t see a lot of good evangelism materials that could be used for the kids that John was ministering to in south central LA ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ and I was ministering to in Madison, Wisconsin.

Q. Now, how does hip-hop fit in to a cross-cultural genre?
A. Well, we noticed that the young adults are not pouring into churches, and that there is this following that loves hip-hop music. And so, you know, as a person who’s interested in being relevant in ministry, you know, I started asking young people in our church, you know, Why are you listening to dead hip-hop artists and not listening to me? I mean, I strive to be relevant. You know, get me a Tupac CD. And I started listening to it, Dick, and I realized¢â‚¬¦

Q. So now when was that?
A. This was about four years ago.

Q. Really. Had you ever heard Tupac before?
A. No. I mean¢â‚¬¦

Q. Did you have any idea who he was?
A. No. I mean, I just-I just thought this was some renegade, some gangster rapper and¢â‚¬¦

Q. If somebody would have said hip-hop to you a few years before that, what was the kind of¢â‚¬¦ Because in the book or in the materials they mentioned that John listened to hip-hop.
A. That’s what he grew up on.

Q. I mean, this was his stuff.
A. Right.

Q. You know, but for you it was a little bit of a new experience.
A. No. Because of my background and my tradition I really didn’t listen to anything that was secular.

Q. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
A. Hip-hop was way, way out there. But you know, as I listened to what Tupac was saying I realized he has a voice for the disenfranchised.

Q. Yeah.
A. And the disconnected people. And then I thought, well wait a minute, that’s who Jesus connected with. And why does he have a better following than the Church? And then I took the posture of a student and said, Well, let me learn from what he’s saying. Let me learn from his listeners.

Q. Now, when you started doing that did you tell anybody in your church? Did you start talking about Tupac? Did people start saying, you know, Pastor’s gone nuts? I mean, what was the reaction?
A. Well, I started slipping in lyrics. I started saying things in my sermons like, “I ain’t mad at you.” Or I think I even used that phrase in the book.

Q. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
A. I started saying things that only the young adults got. So they were rolling in the aisle. I mean, no pun intended. They were rolling in the aisle, you know, when I started throwing these things out. But of course, people who were older didn’t know what I was talking about. So then I noticed that more and more young adults started coming to our church because the word got out that there was this young pastor who’s not so far removed from culture and ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ you know, he’s sort of slipping in popular lyrics into his thoughts. And I did it in the context of some, you know, some good theological statements, so it wasn’t just something that was loose to get their attention. It was very befitting for the ¢€œ

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. ¢€œ for the context. And I noticed that young adults became one of the fastest growing groups in our congregation.

Q. Now, what was your first impression? You get the Tupac album. Do you remember what was on the cover? Do you remember what it looked like?
A. I do. I still have it. And it was his greatest hits.

Q. Okay.
A. And I remember, you know¢â‚¬¦ Here’s a young man who’s singing songs, he’s serenading his mother, he’s telling single mothers to keep their heads up. And I started thinking, you know, it’s not all about shooting and killing and ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ and all of these things. You know, he’s saying some very encouraging and sensitive messages to a lot of people who are disconnected.

Q. Now, what did you know about Tupac? What’s his background? Kind of, who is he?
A. Now, at this point I didn’t know a whole lot. I just¢â‚¬¦

Q. What do you know now? What can you tell people about Tupac?
A. Well, he was a poet. He was an intellectual. He was classically and formally trained in a school of arts. Very strong young man. Strong will, strong ideas. Very entrepreneurial. Very sensitive. He had a great sense of self-awareness. He-he mentioned, Look, I know I ran with the wrong crowds, but I didn’t have a man to show me the right way. And you know, the gangs showed me love and I didn’t have means so I sold drugs to get money and so I could take care of my family.

Q. Yeah.
A. And he wasn’t necessarily boasting and saying, you know, Hey, this is what everyone needs to do. He said, In my situation it’s what I needed. So I was able to sense his humanity by reading what he wrote and seeing his movie.

Q. Were you surprised when you started listening to the lyrics at the way that it connected to stuff that mattered to you?
A. Not only was I surprised, I was blown away. I found myself ¢€œ and I know this sounds strange ¢€œ I mean, I’m 40 years old. I’ve been preaching¢â‚¬¦ I come from a Pentecostal tradition so we start young. So I’ve been preaching since, you know, since before, you know, before I got my driver’s license.

Q. Yeah.
A. And I would find that on my way to church to preach I would find myself listening to Lauryn and Tupac and Eminem because some of their messages actually encouraged me and stirred me to excellence ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ more than singing Kumbaya.

Q. Now, any missionary will tell you that when you go to another culture, or you want to reach anybody that’s different from you, you’ve got to learn their language, you’ve got to learn their culture ¢€œ
A. Exactly.

Q. ¢€œ you’ve got to understand who they are. Why is what you did so rare among pastors? In other words, if pastors are trying to communicate to people who are out there in the world, why is it so, such a leap for us to think about listening to music or watching the movies of the culture to understand who they are? Why is that such a challenging thing for a lot of pastors?
A. Well, I think historically pop culture has had such a negative image, and so movies and secular music, again, for someone like me who came out of a holiness tradition, you didn’t do that anyway.

Q. Yeah.
A. So to dive into that and to appreciate it and talk about it and bring it to the pulpit was really sacrilege.

Q. Yeah.
A. And so I think we have that stigma to overcome. But I think we don’t think of people in our own homeland as being from other cultures. That’s for people, you know, overseas.

Q. Yeah.
A. And so looking at someone who likes rock and roll or hip-hop music, that’s not another culture, that’s just ¢€œ

Q. No.
A. ¢€œ people going wild.

Q. Isn’t that one of the biggest things we’re missing today in American culture as communicators of the gospel is the fact that we’ve got a multitude of cultures outside our front door? And as a matter of fact, most young people have already been exposed to multiple cultures. You know, when you think of hip-hop, I mean, this is crossover music to the max. I mean, kids of every socio-economic group, every ethnic background ¢€œ
A. Every group.

Q. ¢€œ are listening to it.
A. White teenagers in America are the number one consumers.

Q. Yeah.
A. They could shut hip-hop down if they wanted to ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ because they have the disposable income and they love the music. The Church needs to sit at the feet of hip-hop artists and ask, Well, Snoop, now how do you get kids in barrios and trailer parks and ghettos and inner cities and suburbia to listen to the same music?

Q. Yeah. But isn’t it, when you say the Church needs to sit at the feet of the culture, it almost rankles some people because the culture needs to sit at the feet of the Church, too.
A. Well you know, there are passages in-in scripture, Jesus in the temple when he was young listening to the teachers of the law. I think there are-there are several precedents in scripture of where Jesus listened, where he asked questions. How long have you been sick? How long has this been ailing him? How long has he been going through this?

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. And I think, as a Church, we feel we’ve got the answers, we don’t need to learn anything. And I think that’s one of our greatest problems. I started off listening by understanding how do they have such a great pull.

Q. Yeah.
A. And I look at the diversity of their audience. Come on, they’ve done more in-in bringing together cross-cultural audiences in the past 20 years than the Church has in the past 100.

We’re going to be back with more of our guest, Alex Gee. With John Teter he wrote, Jesus and the Hip-Hop Prophets, published by InterVarsity. We’ll be right back.

(Break)

Well, this is Dick Staub back with you, thanking you for joining me this afternoon. We’re talking with a most interesting guy, Alex Gee. He was challenged to try to understand one of the kind of subcultures in his own community, and he started listening to some hip-hop. Tupac was where he started. Now he’s talking about Lauryn Hill. He even mentioned Eminem. And man, help us.

Q. At Christmas a few years ago we sat with a young man from Nashville, and he’s been in contemporary Christian music for years. Ain’t never listened to Eminem. But he got involved in youth ministry and he started noticing that all these kids were listening to Eminem. And it shocked him because Eminem is a mysogynist, he’s got hateful lyrics, he’s got violent lyrics, he’s profane, he’s everything.
A. All of that.

Q. Everything that parents are saying they don’t want their kids to do, and here he’s in a church where the parents have no idea that their kids are listening to Eminem, they’re streaming it online, they got the CD’s, the whole bit. And he said he decided what he needed to do was listen to it. And I’ll never forget it because he’s a young, contemporary guy. He said, I stuck Eminem in my truck, in the CD player, and he said within 30 seconds I knew why these kids were connecting. He said, The guy was artistically creative. But more than that he was just touching deep ¢€œ
A. Yes.

Q. ¢€œ the things that kids are feeling.
A. Yes.

Q. And-and man, that’s a scary thing. Now so here you are a pastor, a decent, God-fearing, you know, law-abiding holiness pastor¢â‚¬¦
A. Hallelujah.

Q. Hallelujah, brother. And the pastor’s sneaking around listening to Eminem on his way into church. What’s going on, man? Now, I want you to go back to the holiness thing just for a minute.
A. Sure, sure.

Q. Because I was mentioning to you before we started talking that it seems to me that the church has kind of swung in a wild pendulum ¢€œ
A. Uh-huh.

Q. ¢€œ from a complete withdrawal to culture to a wild consumption of culture. And-and so I’ve come, late in life in my ripe old age, to appreciate the impulses of the holiness movement while recognizing that there were deficiencies in it, just as I’ve come to see that while it is absolutely true that we need to engage and understand culture, we also have to be aware that there are alien elements to it.
A. Sure.

Q. What are you learning about sorting through the extraction of what’s useful, the appreciation of the ways that you resonate with the lyrics, and the recognition that there are elements of it that are just not-not supposed to be part of your life or the life of the people that you love?
A. Sure. I’ll use the example of the evening news or newspapers. I don’t read it because I enjoy everything that’s in the paper, nor is it edifying when you read about murders or obituaries, but it’s a part of the news. It’s what’s happening in society and you want to be informed. When I listen to-to hip-hop music, I listen to rappers, there are things that they say that touches my heart, that will touch my heart, because they’re so artistically astute. Then they say some things that are just ugly and raunchy and-and, you know, reeks of misogyny.

Q. Yeah.
A. But I realize that, like other artists, they are merely a barometer of what’s happening in society. And as a pastor my job and following Christ as a Christian, not even as a pastor ¢€œ is to understand the culture. I mean ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ God becoming incarnate is not just about getting a body so he could go to the cross.

Q. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
A. It really is embracing the human experience, including culture.

Q. Yeah.
A. The good and the bad. He became a human being.

Q. Yeah.
A. And so the parts of the music that’s not edifying is educational. So that means I have to ask myself, Okay, where is the misogyny coming from? Where’s the materialism coming from?

Q. Yeah.
A. Because you know, materialism and misogyny are much older than gangster rap.

Q. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
A. Sometimes in my workshop they said, You know, I see you supporting the rappers but I can’t stand all the materialism and the misogyny I see.

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. But you’re okay with it in the Church, right?

Q. Yeah.
A. I mean, the Church in larger society modeled this, modeled the American Dream and these kinds of things. And so when we see these subcultures playing it out in their own means we’re like, Well, my gosh, you know. You know, clutch the pearls, dear. This is-this is-this is ugly. But my question is, Does Snoop throwing a pool party with a bling bling chain around his neck, is that more threatening to American culture than what just happened in Enron? And why do we focus on certain elements of materialism and think, Gosh, that’s wrong?

Q. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay. So now we’re going to get to your book. Folks, we will get there. The book is Jesus and the Hip-Hop Prophets. But I want to set the stage for it. What do you want to have happen with young people? I mean, young people are not necessarily listening to Tupac and Lauryn Hill and Eminem because they want to exegete the culture for the gospel’s sake. I mean, they just like the music.
A. Right, right.

Q. And-and the language and all the stuff is¢â‚¬¦ You know, you and I were raised in a background which said, You get that stuff in your head, you can’t get it out. It’s going to change you, it’s going to make you think different.
A. Right.

Q. How do you¢â‚¬¦
A. And we don’t want Christians thinking.

Q. So-so what do you do¢â‚¬¦ How do you deal with that with the next generation that’s listening to their pastor. He listens to Eminem. You got parents saying no to that stuff. And my pastor listens to Eminem.
A. I think as community leaders or spiritual leaders we need to train people how to use good, healthy lenses so that as they look at culture, look at art, they know what’s edifying and what’s dangerous.

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. I think that’s a better alternative to censorship. Because-because then you’re teaching people how to cope in the real world. But John and I wrote this book because we want non-Christians who have no Christian framework ¢€œ but they’re very spiritual. I mean, all of these rappers talk about God and spiritual issues.

Q. Yeah.
A. What we want to do is, we want to find out what are the themes that the hip-hop artists are talking about and then say, Okay, you love Tupac because he talks about being hard and all these things. Well, let me tell you how hard Jesus was.

Q. Yeah.
A. And then tell the story about how Jesus pushed the envelope and how he stood up for the disenfranchised. He liked the small guy. He sat with the folks who had nobody to sit next to at lunch. He hung out with the last person picked on the gym class to, you know, in the gym class to be on the kickball team.

Q. Okay.
A. To help them to see the parallels between who they think are heroes and who Jesus was, because this is not how Jesus has been portrayed to them.

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. So what we’re trying to do is use their cultural norms to communicate a Christ who in some ways was very similar to some of their hip-hop artists, probably more closely related than some of our televangelists.

Q. Oh, now you’ve got some people going. Okay. You’re saying¢â‚¬¦ First of all, you use the phrase, “prophet of Tupac and Lauryn and maybe Eminem,” and now you just said Jesus might be more like Tupac than he was a televangelist. Now, what do you mean by that? What are you discovering about Jesus by connecting to the hip-hop lyrics?
A. Tupac wasn’t in anyone’s pocket so he earned money, he had his listenership, so he could say whatever he wanted to say. He could speak his heart. He didn’t have to worry about his constituents as much. His thing was, I’m going to communicate truth. And so sometimes I think in Christian culture and as church leaders we want to placate so many things, we want to say the nice things so as to not ruffle feathers or rock the boat ¢€œ

Q. Wait a minute, yeah.
A. ¢€œ but he covers things like racism. I have so many friends ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ white colleagues who-who will say to me, they will lament the fact, Alex, I’ve never preached that racism is sin. But they believe in family values and so they’ll talk about sexual orientation.

Q. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don’t want that stuff.
A. You know, and the abortion issues, but have never gotten in the pulpit and said that racism ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ goes against family values. It’s a sin. And yet you get these rappers talking about glass ceilings or Boyd network. God needs someone speaking out on these issues because, as pastors, we don’t want to.

Q. So wait a minute. You’re saying that you think God is speaking through hip-hop artists?
A. You know¢â‚¬¦

Q. You think he’s been squeezed out of the Church and you gotta go out to the street?
A. I think he never was just limited to the church. I think he’s God, he pre-dates the church. I mean, he speaks through donkeys, he speaks through mongers and prostitutes and murderers. I mean, it’s not as if anything that Tupac’s been convicted of is any worse than what David or Moses or Peter have been guilty of.

Well, I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to me to be reminded that God speaks through donkeys, because I’ve been compared to that and certain parts of a donkey’s anatomy more than once. This is Dick Staub. We’re talking this afternoon with a most interesting fella, Alex Gee, who with John Teter wrote Jesus and the Hip-Hop Prophets. We’re going to be right back.

(Break)

Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re talking with Alex Gee. He is the¢â‚¬¦ He’s a pastor and with John Teter, area director for InterVarsity in south central LA, they’ve written Jesus and the Hip-Hop Prophets, published by InterVarsity.

Q. And let’s get started now on some of what you tapped into with Tupac. There’s this chapter you guys wrote, “Dear Mama.” And Tupac talks about that whole theme in his life.
A. Right.

Q. Talk about how that’s an example of some resonance that people can feel with the lyrics of Tupac and with the gospel.
A. Sure. In this song Tupac serenades his mother and he says, You know, when I was young, basically what he says is, You took the brunt of my anger and frustration because my father, the coward, wasn’t there. And so I didn’t understand you, I was angry with you. But then as I grew up I realized, as I’ve grown up I realize, you were the one always there for me, you came to visit me in jail, you always cooked for me, and I realized you were always in my corner.

Q. Hm.
A. So as I listened to that song, you know, I thought a couple of things. One, if we’re going to present the Creator as a loving father image, we need to consider the fact that many of the young men and young women that we’re writing to don’t have positive images of earthly fathers.

Q. Yeah.
A. I certainly don’t. My parents were divorced when I was real young and I was raised by a single mother. And she remarried. And my step father was a hard worker but emotionally distant. And so thinking of God as a father doesn’t really give me warm fuzzies. But when I think about my mother, who sacrificed and moved us from Chicago to Madison so she could go to school to better her life, to set an example for her children, and how both of us went to college because of her example, and went to her alma mater and things like that, I realized, you know, scripture shows the motherly side of God as well. And maybe, like Tupac, we blame him for all the things that have gone wrong ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ and he’s the one that’s always been in our corner.

Q. Yeah.
A. So it gave me an opportunity to take a theme that I knew that was very sensitive, that if you want to reach young men, particularly men of color, and you want to get straight to their hearts, talk to them about their mothers. And then to flip that on its head and say, Well you know, in Isaiah God refers to himself as a nursing mother with breasts rather than a proud pacing father handing out cigars.

Q. Yeah.
A. It sort of turns it on its head to give them a different image.

Q. What about the challenge to young guys to be a better man than their father? What about the prophetic word to, you know, You had a bad dad, don’t be one yourself?
A. Sure. I think that that’s the message, as well, because then if you’re drawn into a loving father, the Spirit is going to convict you on those kinds of things. But I just saw, just some of the images that we used in presenting Christianity was a barrier to a lot of young men. So we wanted people to rethink the nature of God, that he’s not just someone who’s sitting back waiting to-to come down on you or to punish you, nor is he someone who just sends in money because the courts mandates it. He’s nurturing you. I mean, it’s his job to nurture you to health.

Q. Wow. Here’s one. I hear Brenda’s got a baby, Brenda’s barely got a brain. The girl can hardly spell her name. What’s that one connect to?
A. Now, I have to admit, that’s my favorite chapter in the book.

Q. Yeah.
A. As a pastor I deal with so many people, men and women, who have been victims of sexual abuse. In evangelicalism we are so good at talking about pro-life issues, celibacy issues, and we need to teach those things and talk about those things.

Q. Yeah.
A. But who talks about the sexual abuse and sexual assault that-that many times, often times is the impetus to sexual promiscuity?

Q. Yeah.
A. I preached a sermon once about how Jesus loves people and his ability to put his arms around people who have been sexually assaulted, sexually abused, et cetera, et cetera. A woman came up to me with tears in her eyes after church and said, I want to join this church. I was a victim of date rape my freshman year of college, she said. And it almost resulted in homicide. In all my years I have never ever heard anyone take a sermon and talk about God’s love for the sexually assaulted.

Q. Wow.
A. But rappers are doing it. I mean, in that song that’s what Tupac is talking about. He starts out by telling about Brenda having a baby and you think, Okay good, he’s going to bash the young, the young hoes in the community. But he’s not. He bashes society. And basically what he says is we’re no better than the scum that raped Brenda because we were so busy we didn’t even notice her belly getting bigger. So it was a challenge to society, what’s going on that you’re allowing this to happen to children?

Q. Yeah. Now, there’s research that’s showing that a lot of younger generation are leaving the Church. And when they’re asked why among the reasons they’ll give is the things they’re talking about at church aren’t the things that I’m dealing with. And the things that I’m dealing with aren’t being talked about at church. So what happened is you’re listening to the rap music and it’s helping you get sermon titles and-and helping you get an agenda of what you need to be talking about.
A. Sure.

Q. And how to give it voice.
A. Right. I already prided myself in being a fairly relevant preacher, but when I listened to what my competition was and I didn’t see other churches as my competition, I really, you know, saw other pressures out in the community, whether it’s gangs or whether it’s pimps, or whether it’s other kinds of subcultures. If they’re going to provide more of a community to young people than churches, then we need to shut our mouths and not bash them at all. I said in a sermon once, If we’re not willing to be as-as tight as pimps and as cool as hoes, then we cannot, we can’t provide that same kind of community in the church, of course in a non-sexual, non-financial way. If we-if we’re not willing to provide the same kind of community that gangs and these subcultures are, then let’s stop bashing them, because Jesus taught us to build community.

Q. Yeah, totally. Tupac’s song, “Changes.” How does that one grab you?
A. “Changes” was interesting because he was making comments that we’ve got to change the way we live, the way we interact with each other. And-and what John and I do is we wrote in it what he was saying. We said, Okay, you’re right. He’s calling out for changes. But then we said, All repentance is, is real change. It’s not saying, Oops, my bad, God, or I’m sorry. It’s really a change of mind. It’s a metanoia. It’s a shifting of your paradigm. And true change comes from God. So there’s an opportunity. Let’s look at the people who did change when they came to Jesus. But you’ve got to let go of something to receive change. You can’t just have change for change sake. You need something that’s going to replace what you’re changing, and so give us the chance to say, We agree with you Tupac. However, money doesn’t bring about the changes, and new environment doesn’t bring about the change.

Q. Yeah. You know, what-what you’re describing is a situation in which the culture is describing the problem and doing it in really incredibly artistic, creative ways.
A. Right.

Q. And they’re suggesting solutions, but the solutions don’t go far enough because they don’t tap into gospel. What you’re saying is that if we start with the culture and come into gospel, we’re going to be shocked at how often gospel is the answer to the question that was raised by the culture.
A. Sure. There’s no gospel without a conversation. And if we never entered the conversation, then we’re just, we’re just noisy people on the outside banging on windows. And it seems as if we’re angry and we’re hate mongers. But if I bash Tupac and he is an icon and he’s voicing the opinion of young people, if I bash him they think that I’m also ignoring their pain. I’ve lost the ability to dialogue with them.

Q. Uh-huh.
A. But if I value the culture and what he’s saying but say, But let’s take it a step further, because-because I think Jesus offers a better solution. Because I’ve entered into that dialogue they can-they can hear me. I don’t think that’s compromise at all. I think God has called us to have a healthy dialogue.

Folks, we’re going to be back with some more. Our guest is Alex Gee. This is an amazing, amazing book and it’s called Jesus and the Hip-Hop Prophets. It’s published by InterVarsity. He co-authored it with John Teter. It’s fascinating stuff. Pick it up at your local bookstore. We’ll be right back.

(Break)

Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting this afternoon with Alex Gee. His co-author is John Teter. The book is Jesus and the Hip-Hop Prophets: Spiritual Insights from Lauryn Hill and 2Pac.

Q. Wow. You mention the movie. A lot of people aren’t aware of that movie. Talk just real quickly about it.
A. Sure. It was a documentary on his life. It was called The Resurrection.

Q. Now, didn’t you find that interesting?
A. I found it very interesting. And the entire documentary was done in his own words, so it was a series of interviews that have been woven together. And it was fascinating. I mean, here was a guy who wrote poetry about vanGogh. I mean, you get this image of gangster rappers ¢€œ

Q. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
A. ¢€œ and he’s got poetry on vanGogh asking, come on¢â‚¬¦

Q. So you went and saw the movie.
A. I went and saw the movie.

Q. Take any young people with you?
A. I took my editor with me from-from InterVarsity. I saw it actually in Chicago at a conference. It only stayed in Madison for a few weeks.

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. But I’m going to buy the video when it comes out ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ and use it as a part of my workshop on the book. Not only have rappers become¢â‚¬¦ I mean, keep in mind that in the African-American tradition, oral history is so key. So these are, for the first time in recent years they have a greater voice than black ministers. And I know Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson may disagree with me on this, but they’ve got a strong voice and purchasing power. I mean, look at Jay-Z. He’s just negotiated ownership of the Nets. And so if the church doesn’t engage this group of African-American thinkers, orators, and philanthropists, we miss such an opportunity ¢€œ

Q. Yeah, yeah. Totally.
A. ¢€œ to help provide leadership.

Q. Tell me real quick what the website is for people that want to not only pick up the book, which is published by InterVarsity, but go to the website as well.
A. Sure. They can go to the website to get testimonies of how the book has changed people’s lives. And it’s hiphopprophets.com.

Q. Is hip-hop one word on the website?
A. Hiphop, hiphopprophets is all one word.

Q. Hiphopprophets?
A. It’s prophets, plural, dot com.

Q. Okay.
A. And they can also check out Alex Gee, alexgee.com. It has information about the book in there.

Q. Okay. Let’s talk about Lauryn. What can you tell us about Lauryn Hill?
A. Well, Lauryn Hill professes a Christian faith so she’s in a different category than much of Tupac’s music. But they both talked about spiritual issues and-and God. But she¢â‚¬¦ Both of them are such great lyricists that even if they weren’t musicians, people would line up just to hear their lyrics, their poetry.

Q. Uh-huh.
A. But I loved her song, “That Thing,” where she talked about sexuality. That typically, as an evangelical pastor¢â‚¬¦

Q. Some guys are only about that thing.
A. That one thing. And we’ll preach that and we’ll just say, Keep your skirts down, keep your pants up, and Jesus will be happy. But she talks about the faƒ§ade and all of the falsehood that goes into wooing someone to get what you want, to give them what they want, to come up even more empty.

Q. Yeah.
A. Because you’ve perpetrated yourself, you’ve become someone you’re not to get something that you think you want and you’re left more empty. Now, I think that that’s God’s issue with promiscuity. I don’t think God’s trying to stop fun. He created sex to be enjoyable.

Q. Right.
A. But when we’re able to tell people that sex outside of the covenant, the lifelong covenant of marriage through love and respect, it does more damage than good regardless of how good it feels, if we could help young adults to understand that, it might make more sense. But when, you know, when I’m 40 and I’m married they’re like, Okay pastor, we know why you’re telling us to do this. You’ve got a sexual smorgasbord. You’re married. But we never explain what unrequited love does or what random sex does to your soul. And she talks about that in “That Thing.” She talks about the emptiness of how you make your face and hair and nails to get this guy and he doesn’t even care about you, he just wants one thing.

Q. Yeah, it’s very sad.
A. It’s very sad. But that’s such, I think, a wonderful approach. When I speak about promiscuity now, I talk about it in that perspective.

Q. Yeah, yeah. It’s in your face. The song, “Looking Back.”
A. Yes.

Q. Talk about that one.
A. In that song we wanted to show that God has a plan and purpose for our lives. And if you look back there were people ¢€œ coaches, teachers, parents, grandparents, mentors ¢€œ people who always believed in us, who told us we were going to do good things, and they were just indicators in our life that sort of pointed out the direction that we were going to be taking, that we wanted people to know that you’re not just passing through life haphazardly, that God really does have this-this-this plan. And in the song Lauryn is just kind of looking back and talking about all the things that remind her of the good old days where she got her foundation and her start, and they encourage her to continue to move forward.

Q. Yeah.
A. There’s so much hopelessness ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ in the community today, Dick.

Q. You know, I was interested in your comment about Tupac. You know, he had his own money, didn’t have to account, you know, didn’t have to worry about his constituency. He didn’t have¢â‚¬¦ And Lauryn Hill, there was a story just this last December where she had been asked to sing at the Vatican. And she, before she sang made a comment about the Pope.
A. I read about that.

Q. She said, “God has been a witness to the corruption of his leadership of the exploitation and abuses by the clergy.” And she stood up and spoke it ¢€œ
A. She broke him off.

Q. ¢€œ right in the Vatican.
A. Right there.

Q. Now, that’s very offensive to a lot of Catholics, like when Sinead O’Connor ripped the picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live. But you can argue that it’s prophetic, you could argue that it’s a person who’s saying, Shame. She knows the Pope didn’t approve of it, but the fact is there’s been-there’s been a scam here.
A. Right.

Q. I mean, that level of honesty, that’s something that happens in popular culture that unfortunately you’ve already said doesn’t happen enough in the Church. Now, we’ve been talking about the prophetic voice of the hip-hop culture, and I totally agree with you. And I like where you’re going with it. What’s it going to take to get the prophetic voice back in the Church? What’s it going to take to get the Church able to stand up and be the counterculture and speak to the culture constructively about truth and stuff that matters to God? When are we going to stop playing the evangelical game?
A. That’s a good question. But didn’t the Church stand up and use the prophetic voice when Lauryn Hill did that? I mean, does the Church mean within our four walls? Or do we need to have the Church in the arts, in the performing arts? Do we need to¢â‚¬¦ Does the Church develop that voice by doing some of the things that it’s done but not put chains around the necks of people like Lauryn Hill or Christian actors to say¢â‚¬¦

Q. But almost without exception these artists, who call themselves Christians, like Lauryn Hill, or creative filmmakers and others who call themselves followers of Jesus, will say I love Jesus but I can’t stand the Church. And the thing that bothers them about the Church is the fact that the Church is, they say, is too often playing a game.
A. Sure.

Q. I mean, don’t we need to not only listen to this prophetic voice in sharing the gospel to the culture, but don’t we need to let it speak to the Church?
A. We need to let it speak to the Church very loudly. Ice Cube has a song ¢€œ again, I’m quoting what I’ve heard so I haven’t heard the song itself ¢€œ but I heard someone quote it where basically he’s saying, You know, you go in your church and get the Holy Ghost, but you come out and your neighborhoods look like Kosovo.

Q. Wow.
A. And what he’s saying is, So you roll in the aisles and you’re enjoying Jesus, but you don’t care that you walk outside and your neighborhoods look like Kosovo. There’s unemployment for African-American men four times that of their white counterparts. You’re not preaching again so you’re not challenging your managers, your doctors, your lawyers inside your congregations, but yet we think that they’re more spiritual because we operate as spiritual gifts and fruit. So we think it’s okay to be Christian and not talk about injustice issues. But if an artist is speaking against social justice issues but they don’t read the same version of the Bible we do, or they don’t come to our prescribed churches, we think that they’re not seriously, they’re not serious Christians. We need each other. They’ve got a very social message, we’ve got a more holistic message, but we really need each other. They’re discounting our Christian faith because of the components we’re leaving out. We’re doing the same to them. Together we can be a mighty force if we stop throwing rocks at each other.

Q. Hm. Give us the title of the book and the website again.
A. Sure. Jesus and the Hip-Hop Prophets: Spiritual Insights from Lauryn Hill and 2Pac. And it’s www.hiphopprophets, one word, dot com. And they can also go the Alex Gee, alexgee.com to get more information about the book and our ministry.

There you go, folks. We’ve been visiting with Alex Gee. The book is Jesus and the Hip-Hop Prophets: Spiritual Insights from Lauryn Hill and 2Pac. It’s published by InterVaristy. You notice InterVarsity, a lot of these presses are picking up on this stuff. I’m very encouraged by it. We’ll be back right after this. Don’t go away.

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