Thursday, July 08, 2004

Hip Hop; Art or Slang?

Two recent news stories have me slightly confused, as I tend to find myself in agreement and appalled by aspects of both.

First, there is some controversy surrounding recent comments made by Bill Cosby. It appears he shocked some of the members of the NAACP in a speech in which he stated that blacks needed to take responsibility for their economic problems, quit blaming the police, and teach better English in the home;

...Ladies and gentlemen, the lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids - $500 sneakers for what? And won't spend $200 for 'Hooked on Phonics...'

...They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English. I can't even talk the way these people talk: 'Why you ain't,' 'Where you is' ... And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk. ... Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads. ... You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth!"
I heard Cosby on NPR after this speech, and he did acknowledge the systemic problems faced by African-Americans in this country, but still insisted that the primary problem continues to be poor parenting. I tend to agree, but am uncomfortable with the elitist feel to his words. Also, my life experience is that anyone can rise above poor parenting if they choose to do so. It's not all the parent's fault, just as it's not all the system's fault.

Juxtaposed against this news item is one from the Episcopal News Service; Roskam Raps at Hip Hop Mass. It appears that Bishop Suffragan Cathy Roskam of New York was the celebrant at the Bronx's third Hip Hop Mass, held Friday, July 2 at Trinity Church of Morrisania. The article describes this as an innovative way to explore alternative forms of worship. A number of the members wrote parts of the liturgy, which are portrayed as art forms. Maybe they are. And, it is certainly time that we begin to look for new ways to meet people where they are in their spiritual lives through alternative worship styles. But, consider some of the innovations;

Psalm 23;
The Lord is all that, I need
For nothing
He allows me to chill.
He keeps me from being heated
And allows me to breathe easy.
He guides my life so that
I can represent and give
Shouts out in his Name.
And even though I walk through
The Hood of death,
I don't back down
For you have my back.
The fact that you have me covered
Allows me to chill.
He provides me with back-up
In front of my player-haters
And I know that I am a baler
And life will be phat
I fall back in the Lord's crib
For the rest of my life
Confession and Absolution;
Merciful God
We confess we have sinned against You and our Neighbor.
We have not done right by You.
We have not done right
by other people.
We are sorry.
We want to change.
Remember Jesus, Your Son.
Have mercy and forgive us.
From now on may we try to do what you want,
To the glory of Your Name. Amen.

It's Cool.
God has forgiven you.
It's a done deal!
And finally, the dismissal offered by the Bishop;
My sistas and brothas, all my homies and peeps, stay up -- keep your head up, holla back, and go forth and tell like it is.
Since I have never lived in the Bronx, I suppose I need to reserve judgment. But I'm more than a bit uncomfortable with some of this. It sounds so much like the ugly stuff in the music I hear the young people listening to today; full of violence, sexism, and a lust for bling-bling.

Is this a generational/cultural dissonance I'm facing? Maybe it is really a grieving over a perceived loss of something I consider beautiful: the English language.


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