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More than any other religion, Christianity has consistently played a prominent role in the African-American neighborhoods that nurtured hip-hop. As a result, the hip-hop generation has often used that Christian habitus as a way of coping with death and the desire for financial success, as well as a platform for critiquing Christian capitalism, congregational hypocrisy and complicity, and so on.
That’s why the recent addition of the King James Bible to the Rap Genius corpus is both natural and exciting. When you realize how tightly interwoven the fabric of rap is with that of religion, it seems only logical that we push forward our efforts to annotate the world by opening up the Bible to crowdsourced explanations.
To illustrate, here are 10 rap songs I’ve chosen, all of which make some dope references to the Bible:
In this track, KRS-One evokes the genealogy of Shem (often referred to as the Father of All Semitic Races) — via Genesis 10, Genesis 11:10, and Genesis 14 — to illustrate that all Semitic races are dark-skinned, contrary to some Eurocentric depictions in which they’re light-skinned.
I've been in this game for years, it made me an animal
It's rules to this shit, I wrote me a manual
A step-by-step booklet for you to get
Your game on track, not your wig pushed back
This track by The Notorious B.I.G. is analogous to the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. Just as the Ten Commandments are generally taught to be essential for good health and growth, so too are the Ten Crack Commandments.
They say money's the root of all evil but I can't tell
You know what I mean, pesos, francs, yens, cowrie shells, dollar bills
Or is it the mindstate that's ill?
The lines above refer to 1 Timothy 6:10, in which Paul the Apostle teaches that his hearers must not simply treat the individual problems caused by greed, but tear out the root of the problems.
Well, it is a weeping and a moaning and a gnashing of teeth
It is a weeping and a mourning and a gnashing of teeth
These lines refer to Matthew 13:42, which is part of a larger narrative related by Jesus to explain the plight of those who will be sent to hell.
Jealousy's a sin, Cain killed Abel
Backstabber, Caesar had Brutus
It's hard to weed 'em out, even Jesus had Judas
In pure Pusha T fashion, these few short lines make reference to not one but three biblical verses. The first line (“Jealousy’s a sin”) could allude to a number of passages, but 1 Corinthians 3:3 in particular states exactly that.
“Cain killed Abel” is a reference to Genesis 4:1-8. Cain (the first human born and the first murderer) killed his brother Abel (the first human to die). Although Genesis provides no motive for the murder, it is often attributed to jealousy.
“Jesus had Judas” is a reference to the story of the betrayal of Jesus given in Matthew 26:47-56.
This refers to Daniel 1 – Daniel 3, which tells the stories of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These three young Jews were spared by divine intervention from a Babylon-style execution: getting thrown into a fiery furnace (as outlined specifically in Daniel 3).
Though I walk through the valley of death
I shed so many tears
If I should die before I wake
Please God walk with me
Grab a nigga and take me to Heaven
This is a reference to the oft-quoted Psalm 23, which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
What do you mean, John 3:16?
For God so loved the world, every man packs an M-16
This is a reference to John 3:16, which states, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The juxtaposition of the above with “every man packs an M-16” sheds light on the much-debated topic of the existence of evil. Simply put, if God is good and loves the world, why do people feel the need to pack M-16s?
Talking out your neck, sayin' you're a Christian
A Muslim, sleeping with the gin
Now that was the sin that did Jezebel in
Who you gon' tell when the repercussions spin
Showing off your ass cause you're thinkin' it's a trend
This is a reference to the Jezebel of 1 Kings. Jezebel brings the worship of Baal, a Phoenician god, to Israel, angering Jewish prophets, and is eventually executed.
Jezebel is portrayed as a deceitful woman who uses her husband and later her sons to gain and retain power over Israel. In Christian Western culture, her name has come to refer to a wicked, seductive woman.
In closing, I’ll leave you with the words of fellow Rap Genius moderator Perfectrhyme, written earlier today:
The Bible. On Rap Genius. In classic King James flavor. It’s here and we need your help explaining it like never before. Audio, video, pics, maps, comprehensive links to relevant lyrics and memes. Serious theology. Comic theology. You don’t have to be of any particular faith (or any faith) to help out: you just have to contribute stuff that’s informative and entertaining.
Div students, people of the cloth, drop your wisdom on us too! John Wesley's already doing explanations—are you gonna let him have all the fun? If you've got some expertise in this arena, claim a verified account!
Ready to experience the RG gospel? Begin “in the beginning,” with Genesis 1, here. Or navigate the whole thing using our dope-ass Bible Table of Contents.