What does hip-hop got to do with preaching? This was my initial reaction the minute I learned from Helen Riley — United Bookstore manager, who Jay Z is. My ignorance is pardonable, I suppose, because I came all the way across the Pacific Ocean and I am not a musician. Stories fascinate me though and nothing captivates my undivided attention than a storyteller. Jay-Z decided to tell a story and it opened me into a world completely different from my own.
It is a hip-hop world — a world where poetry and music collide. It is a highly competitive world where only the toughest survive. Jay-Z advocates hip-hop as poetry (235), therefore it is an art — structured yet free. The minute he told himself “I could do that” (5) — after watching Slate do the rhymes, he did not stop until he reached the top. His passion got hold of him until he mastered the craft and now reigns as the “king of hip-hop”.
It is a world of stories. The second reason why Jay-Z wrote Decoded is to tell a little bit of the story of his generation (235) — a fatherless generation. This generation was forced by their circumstances to mature early. The streets became their playground, their workplace, their home, their graveyard. It was a tough world out there — survival of the fittest. The irony of it all though, is that the streets taught them how to dream and gave them a voice through an art form that expanded the musical horizon. Hustling and rapping molded Jay-Z’s character and it is fascinating how the streets — regardless of the chaos and hostility toward skin color, contributed in making him a stronger and a better person (87). His story and the collective stories of hustlers and rappers on the streets of New York and elsewhere in the United States at that particular time in history, convey how the society missed the gold mine — that is, the African American race.
It is a relatable world. Though in varying degrees, violence and injustice exist in every culture and society. Every person or race, in time, develops both coping and defense mechanisms. Hip-hop, as I observed it from Jay-Z’s narratives, has become the creative culture of resistance against these atrocities — and it is understandable. It channels the frustration, anger, pain, hopes, and dreams through an art form that has the potential the change mindsets and attack the source of one’s malady without being physically brutal or violent.
I commend Jay-Z for his honest, bold, yet fearless revelation of his life and passion. I never knew him until I got hold of his book Decoded. I was impressed about the strength of his character and as a preacher, I was challenged to evaluate my preaching skill. There are several things that ran through my mind while reading the book but I will mention only two. First, preaching is an art — an art to be mastered. Jay-Z has a riveting commitment to his craft. He did not learn it overnight because rapping has a beat and a flow. He “honed over hundreds of hours of practice and work” since he was nine (141). Jay-Z is driven by his passion to be excellent for his race and for the next generation. I wonder if preachers — including myself, have the same level of dedication and commitment. Am I practicing enough? Do I exegete enough? Do I pray enough? To borrow Jay-Z’s words, do I have that “dead serious discipline” to the talent that I possess (143)? Second, preaching has a story to tell — in fact, it is the greatest story every told. Jay-Z’s fearless revelation of his experiences gained my respect both for him and his craft. He was not ashamed of his story — of being a rapper and a hustler. I really do not know much about hip-hop but when Jay-Z began telling the stories behind every song, I was drawn to check every song through he internet and listened to them while I read through the lyrics. Though most of the words and slangs are foreign and quite vulgar for me, I came to accept the culture for what it is and I was led to a place where pain breeds love and hope. If one knows the context, then acceptance and understanding would not be too hard and too slow to come by. I have observed that boldness in preaching the Gospel of Christ is fast becoming a rarity. Most messages today are too careful — no longer sharp as they used to. Is it because, we as Christians, have already conformed to the patterns of this world? Or, is it because we no longer have enough testimonies about the saving love and grace of God? Jay-Z is preaching to me — without him intending to, but indeed, “truth is always relevant” (279) and “being offensive is not a crime” (163). Preachers know the truth of the Gospel of Christ and it is still relevant and they know that the Word of God is like a two-edged sword — an offensive tool, but it is God’s story and it should be preached.
Decoded is an eye-opener for me — as strange as it may sound. God, in His wisdom and love, placed small pockets of truth and wisdom all over the pages of this book. It hit me hard. Since its inception, rap was built on the question, “What is the meaning of life?” and it remains to be its subject (256). There was a generation that asked that question and every generation that followed it asked the same. Christians are supposed to know the answer and preachers are supposed to preach about the answer. God has given the voice and the platform for preachers to make a difference in the lives of people — young and old. The challenge is, are we going to let another generation come and go without letting them encounter the Answer to their ultimate question? There are more Jay-Z’s out there who are just waiting to hear from the Father, are we ready to speak on God’s behalf?
Now, what does hip-hop got to do with preaching again?
Book on review: Decoded by Jay-Z