WATCH: Pastor of New Olivet Baptist Church, Dr. Kenneth T. Whalum Jr., Says Hip-Hop Is Not the Black Church's Enemy
Dr. Kenneth T. Whalum, Jr. is pastor of New Olivet Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. In addition to his pastoral duties, he is a member of Memphis City Schools' Board of Commissioners, the Stellar Awards GospelMusic Academy, and the Recording Academy. Blending a lifetime of wide-ranging experiences, in 2010, he released his critically-acclaimed book, Hip-Hop Is Not Our Enemy [digital; print], an insider's critique of the Black church's role and responsibility in co-opting Hip-Hop culture.
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In support of the book, Dr. Kenneth T. Whalum, Jr., spoke with AllHipHop.com about "Hip-Hop theology," mainstream condemnation of Hip-Hop culture, and methods in which the church can connect with members of the Hip-Hop generation.
AllHipHop.com: I find the concept of "Hip-Hop theology" to be very interesting - as it mixes the secular and the spiritual worlds together. Towards the end of your book, you offer a blueprint for Hip-Hop sermons. As a "Hip-Hop theologian," how - and why - do you think you were called to incorporate Hip-Hop's cultural framework within religious institutions?
Kenneth Whalum: Well, it starts with my own children, man. I have three sons who are musicians. Each of them is a professional musician. They were trained in music, they read music, and they make music. And they all love Hip-Hop. I heard music all the time in the house that I grew up in. All of my grandparents were musicians. It's sort of indigenous and natural for me from the music perspective.
From the Hip-Hop perspective particularly, I just couldn't avoid all of the references to either God or godlike characteristics in the Hip-Hop music itself. The most glaring example of that would be H.O.V.A., man. You know, how much closer do we need to get to that connection between Hip-Hop and holiness? And then, you notice that when rappers - and I'm making a point of differentiating between rap and Hip-Hop - would receive their music awards early on...
AllHipHop.com: They would say, "I want to thank God."
Kenneth Whalum: ...yes. They would thank God, and they would be wearing crosses, and I make a point of this in the book. They'd be wearing diamond-encrusted crosses that were as big as their chests. It was such a loud statement that rappers - who were initially misunderstood and misconstrued in terms of where they were coming from - would identify with the most widely recognized emblem of Christianity in the world, which is the cross. So, I don't know, man. All those things sort of played together in my mind, and they all came to a head when Three 6 Mafia won their Academy Award.
AllHipHop.com: But there's so much embedded in that moment, too, and I'm glad that you made that connection. The introduction of your book notes that you find parallels with Jesus and earlier generations' use of creative language, as well as the dynamics of their times. As the church folk would say, "Make it plain, pastor"! [laughing] What parallels do you see?
Kenneth Whalum: Well, one thing that is also unavoidable is the fact that Hip-Hop is driven and created and perpetuated by young people. It's a young person's environment. It's a young person's product, even though the ones who typically make the most money off of it is the group of elderly, non-Black people who couldn't be further from Hip-Hop and its indigenous environs. That's the first thing. From that, I derive what Jesus himself said about children.
What He said himself about young people in his teachings and in his just day-to-day chillin', man. He always gravitated toward young people, and they always gravitated toward him. There's a portion of my book were I spotlight Jesus talking about the children singing to the audience. They're singing to the onlookers saying, "Listen. We've been playing and pipin' to y'all for years and years trying to get you to see" [Matthew 11:17]. I can almost hear the rhymes as they performed on the streets of Jerusalem, just being themselves.
It's clear that Jesus went to bat for young people, and He challenged the status quo. That is the parallel between the Hip-Hop generation and Christ, himself. But it goes further than that to the actual fact that most Hip-Hoppers clearly identify themselves as either Christian or spiritual in some kind of way. No matter how much you don't like that, you can't change that. And that's a part of who Jesus was. He really didn't care much for the status quo. And if there is one word or one concept that could really speak volumes about Hip-Hop, it is that it is anti-establishment and anti-conventional thinking and anti-status quo. That's why the church killed Jesus, because He was anti-church. He was anti-what we had done to church.
SOURCE: All Hip-Hop.com
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