US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Two turntables and a catechism

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Hip-should not be overlooked when catechizing young Catholics.

By guest blogger Kevin Considine

"The beautiful thing about hip-hop is it's like an audio collage. You can take any form of music and do it in a hip-hop way and it'll be a hip-hop song. It's the only music you can do that with."

Those are the words of hip-hop artist Talib Kweli. And theologians, bishops, priests, lay ministers, and catechists should listen up. We can't dismiss the artistic and cultural power of hip-hop. Especially if we work with youth or in an urban setting, we dismiss it at our own risk.

Hip-hip is more than music. It is an art form, a fashion, and a way of life for many people.It is at the foundation of much of global youth culture.

One finds hip-hop artists all over the world, from Korea, China, India, France, Kenya, and Mexico, just to name a few. At its best, hip-hop is an art form that tells stories, raises consciousness, has its own dance styles, and (not least importantly) provides a good beat. And Catholics should dialogue with any cultural movement that has this much power

Yes, it has elements that are objectionable but there's more to it. Much of it is about self-expression, politics, story-telling and improvisational and lyrical skill. For example, arising to the general public in the mid-nineties was the more progressive wing of hip-hop, as represented by The Roots, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common. They made music that purposely displayed intelligence, historical and political consciousness, and a greater respect for women.

That doesn't mean that we give hip-hop’s morally questionable elements a free pass. Particularly since our youth and teens are the primary consumers of this culture. There are numerous examples of hip-hop “artists” who use their music to glorify violence, sex on demand, materialism, drug use, and violence against women.

But these critiques don't take away the value of hip-hip as a meaningful, cultural force. There are many artists who tell compelling stories, advocate for a better life through education, marriage, and nonviolence. Even if some of these stories have violent imagery, is it much different from Johnny Cash singing, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”? And the more progressive strains in it understand the limits of the culture. As Kweli observed, "There's so many things in life, like women, children, God and family that transcend the world of hip-hop.”

This doesn't mean that we pander to our youth or that we pretend we “get it.” Most of us don’t. But it does mean that we make a place for the best parts of it somewhere in our Church while also harshly condemning its excesses and destructive tendencies.

Due to the incarnation, where God took on human flesh, humans can carry God's image. This means that the art, music and ideas that we create also have the possibility of carrying the image of God. And despite all of its flaws, hip-hop is a part of that possibility.

Kevin Considine is a Ph.D. candidate in theology at Loyola University in Chicago.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.