Religion in Hip Hop: A RapGenius Overview

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It is hard not to notice that in recent times (especially last year) we’ve seen a rise in religious content in our genre. From albums being named after Jesus — see Game’s Jesus Piece — to not so subtle shout outs to the G-O-D in some tracks, 2012 was a great year for religion in hip-hop culture.


Emcees have been rapping about religion and referencing it since the inception of Hip Hop into pop culture. What was recently deemed by Rolling Stone Magazine as the greatest hip hop song ever contains multiple quotables referencing God. In verse 5 of “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, these words provoke thought and engage the essence of what religion means to a lot of people — God is the one true companion through thick and thin.

God is smilin' on you but he’s frownin' too/
Because only God knows what you’re going through


Going from 1982 to the “golden era” of hip-hop, we see none other than 2Pac strongly reference religion. Most importantly,Pac does not just mention Christianity, instead venturing into Islam, Buddhism, and multiple conceptions of “God.” He spoke to Vibe Magazine about his thoughts on religion and God, including karma — an element from Buddhism. He has countless tracks — including “Only God Can Judge Me,” “Lord Knows,” and “Ghetto Gospel” — that showcase his apparent undying faith.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnmLl6Fm1MM

“I believe God blesses us.
I believe God blesses those who hustle, who use they mind and those that overall, are righteous."
– Tupac

Along with the quote above, he often speaks about how we can all relate to the real life struggles, pain, despair, anguish and hope. All are common emotions which we can relate to stories contained in the religion, from the The Bible, Quran, Torah, and other scriptures, and thus to music.

The belief that being a good person and doing right is the ultimate message from 2Pac. This allows his listeners, through his lyrics, to not only feel what Tupac is going through, but also to bear through the same types of situations and seek religion as guidance.


Moving into the modern era, we meet Kanye West, the man who had everybody screaming out “Jesus Walks” in the club. Differing from Tupac, we can see that Kanye holds strong beliefs in a Christian God — with heavy emphasis on God’s assistance through life’s many struggles. We see countless references in some of his biggest records, where there is often intense meaning. This message especially revolves around power and what our life on this Earth really means. The hook from Frank Ocean in “No Church in the Wild” highlights this concept perfectly.

“Human beings in a mob/
What’s a mob to a king/
What’s a king to a God/
What’s a God to a non-believer who don’t believe in anything/
Will he make it out alive/
Alright, alright, no church in the wild"
Frank Ocean


With 3 generations of rappers sharing a similar message, the ideas at hand are really quite simple. Rappers are now becoming more lyrical, and with this change, much more conscious. This is not new, as the above demonstrates, but the idea is becoming more popular. With increased consciousness and awareness of societies issues, MCs are now providing greater insights into their own personal struggles to relate with their audience. This personal struggle creates the desire to preach a little or throw in some bars, a sample, or maybe a title regarding God. This is a really wonderful thing in itself, but also because it brings along all the other amazing manifestations of religion too, such as art. You do not see a rapper without a “Jesus Piece” these days, with even Game’s Jesus Piece having a “Jesus Piece” of its own.

Along with this art comes the increased samples in production and fashion. Listen to Game’s Jesus Piece and you will hear all of the wonderful choir-filled samples that make the tracks come alive. My personal favorite is from “Name Me King,” where the heavenly sound puts the listener almost in a trace-like state, with thoughts of power, beauty and strength.

Renaissance art comes into play in the fashion game in particular. Guys like Pusha T are at the forefront, sporting pieces from religious-inspired En Noir, most recently in the “Life Is So Exciting” video with Fabolous, a really dope look.

This is not just a trend within hip-hop culture, but something already embedded into mainstream culture. With a little more guidance, if you can pardon the pun, religion can have a great influence on the future of our genre with its increasing popularity. With J Cole’s sophomore album, titled Born Sinner, set for release in early 2013, we should have ourselves yet another dose. Until then, just take a leaf out of Ye’s book — being in the good books with the big man pays off.

“But I been talking to God for so long/
And if you look at my life I guess he’s talking back/
Fucking with my clique”