Why Do Rappers Talk So Much About the Big Guy Upstairs?
Whether it's Blu devoting a large portion of his career to verses about Jesus, or the lyrics to "Sweet Baby Jesus" sung as a hook off Kanye West and Jay-Z's 2011 album Watch The Throne, chances are you'll hear a good number about Jesus and the original "G" upstairs if you're listening to hip-hop radio. But concepts like Jesus and God might seem a bit unnatural in hip-hop, especially considering the common undertones associated with rap (sexism, capitalism, gang violence, etc.) when juxtaposed with the traditional values of Christianity — humbleness, peace, generosity.
So why do rap stars rap about Jesus?
One might just as well ask, why do politicians say "God Bless America?"
Both famous rappers and politicians qualify as celebrities. Whether pushing legislation or hitting the Billboard top charts, rappers and politicians must appeal to the masses in order to do what they do. And considering that we live in a predominantly Christian nation, throwing a few key words like "sweet baby Jesus" here and there is never a bad idea for hooking the public.
However, it's probably not all marketing strategy. Many politicians are born into Christian homes; so are many rappers. If a politician's faith is strong enough to naturally infuse talk about God into his speeches, it makes sense that a rapper would use "Jesus" in his verses. Christianity dominates our culture, thus the language of Christianity inherently resides in those that our culture transforms into revered idols. Aforementioned rapper Blu, for example, grew up with a stepfather who was a pastor, and was highly influenced by gospel music as a child. It's no wonder that his lyrics use Christian rhetoric.
On the far side of the spectrum, other artists rap about Christianity in a less attractive light. Take Jay-Z's hit single "Empire State of Mind," when the rapper declares "Jesus can't save you / life begins when the church ends." Another example of a blatant dismissal of Christian monotheistic beliefs: Kanye West pronouncing "I am a God" on a track of the same title off his upcoming album. Are these recent anti-Christian raps evidence of agnostic upbringings, or a sign of celebrity hip-hop artists targeting a new generation of freethinking and skeptical youth?
If these lyrics are purely marketing devices, then the ploy flows in the opposite direction as well; just as famous rappers might mention Jesus for the sake of acquiring fans and attracting listeners (whether it be inherently Christian or anti-Christian), so have Christians begun to use rap to extend the hand of God. Take some of the first lyrics from this "Rappin' for Jesus" video: "If you want to reach those kids on the street / then you got to do a rap, a hip-hop beat." Ironically, the video provides what very well may be the worst ever "hip-hop beat" known to mankind. Yet the message is clear; Christian pastors can use hip-hop as a vehicle for youth outreach, just as rappers can use Christian language to connect with their young American listeners — and just as politicians use Christian language for garnering votes and favor.
So why do rappers rap about Jesus? Because, as "thug" and "G" as they are, famous rappers are not stupid. Or at least, their marketing professionals and writers aren't. No matter who you listen to — Blu or Jay-Z or Kanye — hip-hop artists rap about Jesus because they were born into a Christian nation, and this Christian nation is their audience.