Kush and Corinthians: Religious Contradictions in Hip Hop

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As I open this book and then burn up some of this reefer/
My plan is to figure out the world and escape all my demons
"

-Kendrick Lamar, “Kush and Corinthians

As fans of rap, we should come to expect vulgarity, graphic imagery, and “PG-13” lyrics from our favorite artists. However, many of these artists are religious, as proclaimed by the rappers themselves in their music. Often times, the religious, church-friendly ways don’t match with anti-biblical devices used in rap. Several elements of lyricism and culture constantly repeat and can be heard across radio waves. Let’s dive in to these contradictions — staples of the game.

EXHIBIT A: AMEN

Many of us know of the hit single released by Meek Mill called “Amen” featuring Drake and Jeremih, off of Meek’s 2012 album Dreams and Nightmares. This song is a perfect example of what I’m referring to as a “religious contradiction.” For God’s sake, the song’s hook is like a diss track to the church:

There’s a lot of bad bitches in the building, Amen!

After the song’s release, Meek Mill responded to much criticism about the song’s vulgarity and association with religion. In an interview with BET’s 106 & Park, Meek Mill noted that:

No preacher, no church approve of any rap music […] ‘cause rap music period, there’s a lot of bad stuff that’s being said. But at the end of the day, it’s real life.

Is it real life, though? Many rappers spit about lifestyles that the average person cannot relate to, much less claim to be normal. These upper echelon lifestyles are the basis of much of the “bad stuff” in hip hop, and as Biggie said, “Mo' Money Mo' Problems.” However, that isn’t to discount the other end of the spectrum, either; many of these rappers share thoughts about things that went on in their bad neighborhoods growing up. Religious imagery can simply be a way to represent the pain and contrast, where God lived and died with bullet holes.

EXHIBIT B: JESUS WALKS

Chi-Town native Kanye West does a number with this smash single from The College Dropout, “Jesus Walks.” This song is by far one of my favorite rap songs of all time. Filled to the brim with biblical references, prayers via rap, and general mentions of Jesus Christ, West’s work is a buffet of imagery.

God show me the way/
Because the Devil’s trying to break me down

PAUSE. Isn’t this the same dude that did “H.A.M.” with Jay-Z? And “Birthday Song” with 2 Chainz? Or “Cold,” where he said:

To whoever think their words affect me is too stupid/
And if you can do it better than me, then you do it!

Come on, ‘Ye! Don’t you know that pride is one of the seven deadly sins? At any rate, Kanye is ironically speaking in this song about the same subject. Still, West randomly turns to a preaching tone often:

To the hustlers, killers, murderers, drug dealers, even the scrippers/
(Jesus walks for them)

No matter what sins you’ve committed, what your vices are, or how troubled your past may be, Jesus still walks with you. Kanye also touches on a very important part of the subject, commercial media’s fears of being labeled “religious”

So here go my single dog radio needs this/
They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus/
That means guns, sex, lies, videotape/
But if I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh?

Preach, Kanye! Why is it that we love religion only when it’s convenient? Ye seems to have a grip on how, even with a successful song, religion is not welcome. Let’s move on…

EXHIBIT C: JESUS PIECE

Ahh, the famous chains…

In late 2012, rapper Game released his fifth studio album, Jesus Piece*.
Jesus pieces serve as fantastic symbolizations of the point I’m trying to get at. Their intent is to symbolize religion, but they end up being a symbol of wealth and materialism. Remember, after all, that greed is another deadly sin. It is more than ironic that a device used to symbolize religion has become the antithesis of religion in rap. Now THAT’S a contradiction.

Back to Game’s album: Jesus pieces have been a hot topic in rap for years (The Notorious B.I.G., Kanye West, and Ghostface Killah all rocked one). It was inevitable that somebody was going to drop an album with that name. But really?! GAME?! Of all people?! The known violent man? Isn’t this the dude we saw on World Star in a fight with 40 Glocc?

To be fair, I’m not trying to say that you shouldn’t spread your religion if you’ve been caught sinning. As the Bible says, there are no perfect people (this goes for the aforementioned Kanye West). But come on, Game, you got Jesus wearing a Blood Gang-colored bandana over his face on your album cover. THAT’S outrageous.

EXHIBIT D: 4Eva N A Day

Arguably one of the most descriptive cover artworks to come out in quite some time, Big K.R.I.T. hits the nail on the head with this mixtape. 4Eva N A Day, released in 2012, is Big K.R.I.T.’s 10th mixtape. Without referencing any music on the tape, let me just say this about the album art: it is exactly what I’m talking about. Church on the left, strip club on the right. Bible on the left, booze on the right. This artwork completely exemplifies the sinner on Saturday, saint on Sunday point-of-view that hip hop generally holds. I give mad props.

OTHER EXAMPLES:

RocNation, Jay-Z’s handcrafted imprint, signee J.Cole’s next album will be titled Born Sinner. On his EP Truly Yours, Cole spits this line:

I was sent from Heaven with a set of horns, they’d better warn y’all

On Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' album The Heist (reviewed here), Macklemore penned Neon Cathedral, where he describes his main vice: alcohol addiction. The title of the song alludes to the same motif seen on Big K.R.I.T.’s album cover, a juxtaposition of evil and holy.

Rick Ross‘ fifth album is titled God Forgives, I Don’t.

On T.I.’s 8th studio album, titled Trouble Man: Heavy is the Head, the song “Hallelujah” describes T.I.’s faith in god. This is the same man who wrote the song “Trap Back Jumpin',” an undeniably unholy anthem.

Finally, as alluded to in the title, Kendrick Lamar takes the cake with his song on Section.80, “Kush and Corinthians.” As the song describes, our daily temptations are what keeps us from our closeness to our god, and sometimes, the two overlap.

So I’m smoking my kush reading Corinthians
Smoking my kush reading Corinthians

CONCLUSION: NEW GOD FLOW

What am I getting at with all of these examples of religious contradictions? Well, to some extent, I just found them interesting. But, I also note that such opposition is not seen to such a degree in other genres, if at all. This poses the question: is hip hop a religion in its own right? Rap, after all, coincides with a lot of things in the bible, but goes against so much of it at the same time.

Kanye West asks this very question in his song “Gorgeous

Is hip hop just a euphemism for a new religion?

These contradictory ways of hip-hop aren’t likely to change anytime soon. I guess that’s just the “New God Flow.”