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Rap vs. religion
How rappers relate to God
Lil Wayne
Lil Wayne has been open about his religious beliefs, saying he believes in God and Jesus, according to The Hollowverse, which looks into the religious beliefs of celebrities. - photo by Jemal Countess, istockphoto.com

Lil Wayne halted the hounding sounds of the crowd with a single finger. Then he spoke quickly into a microphone placed between his tattooed hands and said, “Before we go, we have to do four things.”

The crowd cheered. Wayne repositioned himself on stage, looked next to his concert co-host Drake, and said, “First thing,” over the roaring crowd. “First thing, we have to thank the Big Guy upstairs.” He lifted a finger up toward the stars that beamed on a cloudless night in Salt Lake City.

Lil Wayne has been open about his religious beliefs, saying he believes in God and Jesus, according to The Hollowverse, which looks into the religious beliefs of celebrities.

Wayne’s appreciation for God isn’t anything new for rappers across the industry. With the American population mostly identifying with at least one religion, according to a Gallup poll, it’s no surprise that rappers, too, are following some form of faith.

But the relationship that rappers share with God is a unique one.

Rappers like The Game, Chris Brown and Jay–Z have thanked God at award shows and in interviews in the past, which is surely something to question -- since a lot of hip-hop’s lyrics are seasoned with swear words, premarital sexual activity and other sinful acts. A report from Best Tickets analyzed the most profane albums of all time and found much of them are from popular rappers like Tupac, Dr. Dre and the Notorious B.I.G.

There’s the argument that the thanking of God is actually an illusion by rappers. According to The Acton Institute, which studies religion and liberty, rappers are often spitting words out on how they’re mistreating men, women and the environments they find themselves in, which is a form of “evil.” And, because of that, they shouldn’t be thanking God.

It may be more complicated than that, though. Rappers, experts say, have their own relationships with God, which show their appreciation may come from a variety of sources. Ebony A. Utley wrote a book called “Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta’s God,” which looked at how different rappers interpret and feel about God. Some women, for example, see God as a father and provider, according to the book.

Utley’s writings say that rappers use God in many ways, mostly to fit into the type of brand they’re trying to promote and how they feel religiously.

But rappers have taken this one step further. Rather than simply praising God or using him as inspiration, they, in turn, have tried to take on the role of God themselves.

Famous rappers have been known to take on the identity of a god, either as a way of showboating their sick skills on the mic or because of narcissism. According to The New York Times, vanity and self-promotion are largely popular among modern rappers, serving as a reflection of the current generation.

For example, Eminem compared himself to a god in the song “Rap God.” He claims he is omnipotent and can influence the world in much of the same way a god can. The song did win Eminem a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records, but it also put him under scrutiny for homophobic lyrics.

Similarly, Kanye West has compared himself to religious figures for years. He even named one of his albums “Yeezus” and makes references to his spiritual abilities in some of the songs, including the aptly titled “I Am a God.”

Why are some rappers taking on the god persona, especially when others are thanking Him in their songs? The Atlantic’s Pete Tosiello looked into this issue back in 2013, tracing the history of the god complex in hip-hop back to the 1980’s. The rap group Five Percent Nation, for example, promoted Afrocentricism and the idea of God as a black man, Tosiello wrote.

“When hip-hop artists deploy the Christ image or story for their own purposes, they tap into a long history of everyday African-Americans trying to maintain belief in the Christian God with the realities of their oppression,” said Edward Blum, associate professor at San Diego State University, to The Atlantic.

Another reason for rappers taking on the role of gods is because of the music genre’s roots. Rap battles -- where a pair of MCs square off with lyrics aimed back toward each other -- may inspire this kind of behavior, The Atlantic reported.

“ ‘Boss,’ ‘master,’ ‘chief,’ ‘king’ are all common titles rappers have given themselves over the years,” Tosiello wrote. “But Christianity, America’s dominant religion, recognizes only one ‘King of Kings.’ “

And comparing yourself to the “King of Kings” is anything but a confidence killer.

Email: hscribner@deseretdigital.com, Twitter: @herbscribner