A Brief Survey of the Sources of Black Esoteric Thought – Spirituality in Hip Hop Part 5: In Summation
Hip Hop is the Spirituals, the Blues, Ragtime, Jazz, Funk, Disco and Rock n’ Roll all in one. Further, it is the expressive culmination of the history of a people entrenched in a centuries long struggle to cement their place in a society that has been built on their blood and bones. Understanding this, in 1979 President Jimmy Carter declared June to be Black Music Month. Moreover, the observance was renamed African American Music Appreciation Month by President Barack Obama in 2009. This was done because African American music in many ways has helped to define the whole of America’s musical prowess on the planet. It is difficult to imagine what American music would be without the presence of African Americans, yet African American artists and their music, as a creative phenomenon, are egregiously exploited.
More to the point, African American music is a means for the Black community to express their understandings and sentiments concerning the difficulties of living in the United States. It is also a means to tell the stories that may never be heard otherwise, as well as appeal to the world’s conscience when a people’s voices are being ignored. As a cry of the down-trodden in American society, Hip Hop represents a refreshingly raw critique of American life using a database of sound and style that works to tie together generations of expressions for freedom. The elements: Emceein’, Deejayin’, Beat Boxin’, Graffiti, Breakin’, Fashion, Language, Knowledge and Entrepreneurism are the unique intricacies that make Hip Hop different from other musical forms. However, this uniqueness does not detract from the fact that the Hip Hop carries the same call for freedom as the Spirituals.
Research concerning Hip Hop culture’s spiritual traditions is evolving in many ways. Both academia and the laity now take Hip Hop seriously as a cultural phenomenon that is shaping our world. For some, Hip Hop is the gospel music of the world. The UZN, NGE, Nuwaubians and the Templars of Hiphop for example, represent varied spiritual movements focused on the freedom of the oppressed masses throughout the world. Further, because of groups like A Tribe Called Quest, The Wu-Tang Clan and OutKast, these religious movements, through Hip Hop culture, have attracted people of diverse backgrounds to their cause, as well they have shed light on the problems faced by the poor and hopeless.
However, within Hip Hop there is also a general pessimism regarding the hope for a better world. Hip Hop, like the Blues, offers a very sobering view of the problems faced by African Americans and proposes the premise that everything might not work out for the best, humanity might not make it through these trials of perception and ideology. This perspective is critical to the art form because it illuminates the fact that Hip Hop was not born out of a place of comfort and optimism. On the contrary, it developed from a place of despair and during a historical period in the United States where hopelessness reigned supreme. As such, Hip Hop has a level of honesty that is appreciated across the globe due to a sense of experiential commonality.
Furthermore, as a global phenomenon, Hip Hop is a focal point where the divergent can meet and mix on even terms. Meaning, Hip Hop music provides a place and space for its practitioners to congregate under the universal banner of fun, a simple and powerful manifestation of humanity that most can relate to. Obviously, not everything in and around Hip Hop culture is so utopian in its outlook; Hip Hop is defined in part by its rough edges. However, referring to the reason for its founding - to push the limits of style and rhythm as well as to breathe life in dying communities - Hip Hop may be a force for good in the push towards peace and global unity, a goal many of its founders and practitioners take very seriously.
More to the point, Hip Hop as a global phenomenon illuminates the cultural bridges that have or are being built as a result of the culture. To explain, while at a 80s versus 90s Party thrown by Biz Markie in Silver Springs, Maryland, I became acutely aware of the DJ’s role as an African Griot in the modern era. As a Griot, Markie expertly assessed the tone of the crowd and provided us with the auditory healing we all were clamoring for. More than a few times he would queue up the next song, wait for the break beat and then literally threw-out the auditory offering as if he were casting an enchantment on the crowd, forcing us to oblige his command with our gyrating bodies. Further, during this celebration of history and sound, Markie’s set was broken down into two parts: the first feature songs from 80s and 90s Rock n’ Roll; the second set did the same thing save for Hip Hop and R&B music of the two different decades. Consequently, Biz Markie as the DJ, as Griot, was able to tell a story across time and space that everyone in attendance was able to identify with and enjoy regardless of their background.
In light of this, in the article “African Oral Artistry and the New Social Order”, Samuel Osei Boadu argues that there must be a balance in modern and traditional understandings, interpretations and manifestations of African culture. Biz Markie struck that balance quite well, as an ancient Griot and a modern DJ, telling a story through music that allowed his audience to occupy diverging cultural and temporal spaces. In sum, this illuminates the critical importance of Hip Hop music as a spiritual manifestation of African people in the Americas, in that through its creative techniques and critical attention to the past and present, it tells a story of a people asserting their humanity in the world.
 Anthony B. Pinn, ed. Noise and the Spirit: The Religious and Spiritual Sensibilities of Rap Music. (New York University Press: New York, 2003), 7. The introduction of this text succinctly connects the history of African music through a particular voice within the various expressions that is not simply centered on the spiritual notions of a particular religious experience but instead provides and understanding that all African American music is linked through the experience of living in America. Pinn states, “The blues and other musical forms, such as the spiritual speak to a style of living, the rhythmic “sway” by which many African Americans have walked through this world.”
 “African American Music Appreciation Month,” White House: Office of the Press Secretary, accessed May 2016, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/african-american-music-appreciation-month.
 Iain Kennedy, The MC: Why We Do It. (2005). KRS One gave voice to this problem in this documentary where he likened the selling of one’s music as the selling of one’s soul.
 “KRS One at Somoma State University,” accessed April 14, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2cr0-p2D8w. On the issue of language for instance, omitting the ‘g’ from the words makes it a new expression that is unique to Hip Hop culture and not to be confused with the similar expression without the abbreviated gerund.
 Anthony Pinn and Paul Easterling. “Followers of Black Jesus on Alert: Thoughts on the Story of Tupac Shaku’s Life/Death/Life.” Black Theology: An International Journal. (Equinox Publishing: London ,2009), 32-33. “While a certain suspicion concerning human history and its conclusion lurks under the surface of various musical genres within African American culture, musical expression of such concerns (if not wishes) comes to a head, we believe, in the more recently developed music genre popularly known as rap. This can be seen in terms of where rap takes root within an environment of aesthetic rebellion and socio-political pessimism expressed through modalities of linguistic creativity.”
 Murray Foreman. The Hood Comes First: Race, Space and Place in Rap and Hip Hop. (Wesleyan University Press: Connecticut, 2002), 3. As the cultural influences of hip-hop’s varied forms and expressions have gradually spread through global systems of diffusion, these themes can be heard in other languages around the world, expressed with a shared emphasis on spatial location and identity formation but informed by radically varied contexts and environments.
 Molefi Kete Asante and Kariamu Welsh Asante. African Culture: The Rhythms of Unity. (Africa World Press, INC.: Trenton, New Jersey, 1996), 86. In the article the author states, “In the traditional societies, music has always been the dynamic driving force that animates the life of the community. This aspect of music as an integral part of African culture is capitalized upon by the modern artist but with some modifications to suit today’s audience.”