New God Flow: Tracing The Iconography of God in Rap Music
God stimulates love, fear, angst, agony, hate or is simply a direct cause of an artist's failures and triumphs over the everyday struggle. Since the dawn of music, there have been some songs that praise God and others that question God’s name.
God has been omnipresent in rap music especially so much so that the word has made holy appearances in numerous song titles. Throughout all the stories enclosed within the growing history of rap, God is the one character that transverses all eras in the genre.
Nation of Islam and Five Percent Nation was the bedrock of any number of classic rap LPs in the late 80s-early 90s by the likes of Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Eric B and Rakim, ATCQ, Poor Righteous Teachers, X-Clan etc.
A little later in the 90s, one of the most famous rappers of all times was referencing God in every other track and had a cross tattoo over his entire back. Remember that guy... he went by the name Tupac?
Tupac didn’t seem like a religious person, he seemed more like a spiritual person who was searching for answers from God. Pac made songs like “So many tears” to speak to God which was cathartic for him, but at the same gave a glimpse inside what was through his mind. For he was getting constant death threats, dealing with fame and trying to cruise through childhood trauma. (You can't just speed past like that, please comeback and pay the respectful homage he deserves, no 🧢)
Where earlier allusions to Christianity were often mentioned in the lyrics or as a visual cue in jewellery, more contemporary rappers have pushed religion to the forefront of their music and used it to explore their psyches.
Perhaps most obvious is Ye, formally known as Kanye West. Raised Catholic, Ye has incorporated religious themes in his music from the very beginning and his faith has become an enormous part of his image. In his famous song 'Jesus Walks', he endorses Christianity through his lyrics.
Back in 2006, he also equated himself to Jesus by posing as him on the cover of Rolling Stone. By 2013’s “Yeezus,” he was declaring, “I Am a God,” in which he rapped, “I just talked to Jesus, He said, “What up, Yeezus?” His latest album named after his late mother Donda West is a tribute to her as well as his affection and faith in Jesus.
Ye isn’t the first rapper to portray himself as Jesus, Nas and Jay-Z too have likened themselves to Gods of rap by proclaiming themselves the God-Emcee. Jay-Z adopted Hova, a shortened version of Jehovah which is the Hebrew word for God, as one of his many aliases while Nas depicted himself similar to Christ being strung up on the cross wearing a crown of thorns in the “Hate Me Now” video.
Ja Rule even went as far as to make up his own Bible passage, with the title of his 2000 album, "Rule 3:36."
Kendrick Lamar has been equally vocal about his relationship with Christianity. In “Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe,” he says “Lord forgive me Lord forgive me, Things I don't understand” while on his later projects “Damn” he makes clear that he's "not 'bout a religion" as he did on "YAH.” Fans will also remember Kenny dressed in papal robes for the music video of "Humble", which also features a scene reminiscent of Da Vinci’s 'The Last Supper'. The album, 'Good Kid', 'M.A.A.D City', is built around the sinner’s prayer and his magnum opus, 'To Pimp a Butterfly', loosely maneuvers through conversations with Satan and God, specially in the song 'How much a dollar cost'.
That same year, Freddie Gibbs depicted himself as a Christ-like figure, floating above his camera phone-wielding followers for his record "You Only Live 2wice".
In a long line of other names who have featured Christ on the cover are “Lord Willin’ by The Clipse, Tupac’s "Makaveli" and The Game’s controversial "Jesus Piece" album which depicted a “blooded out” Jesus.
Or Drake’s God’s Plan which now has over a billion views conveys the message pretty clearly that God is watching over Drake’s every move “I can’t do this on my own, ayy, no, ayy" Someone watchin’ this shit close, yep, close."
Even Travis Scott is on the list with songs like "Stop tryna be God" which is about artists developing a God complex when they have not done the least to help their people/community to which he raps "F**k the money, never leave your people behind." Supporting your family always is also something the Bible preaches vehemently.
His latest feature in Ye's 10th studio album 'Donda' in "Praise God" with Baby Keem is about appreciating God in their lives to achieve great success and how they are all faithful to God throughout their lives.
Many Indian rappers have also been mentioning God in their music lately as well.
Indian Rap mogul Vivian Fernandes commonly known as Divine has been referencing God in his songs quite frequently. In the song "Kohinoor" title track of his album "Kohinoor" he raps "Kuch nahi tha Ab chaar din baad sab kuch dekha, Mai har jagah book Bhagwat Gita."
Another song of his, "Punya Paap" the title track of his album "Punya Paap" is heavily influenced by God in which he questions what's good and what's bad, yeah read that again. He raps "Bhagwaan mein vishwas insaan dhookebaaz" which voices his frustration towards all the people who did him wrong, calling them out for the snakes they were. The track then sees him reinstilling his faith in his art, his parents and the Almighty, whilst being a confused monologue between what's punya and paap.
Delhi-born and based rapper, Prabh Deep who mostly raps in Punjabi, is in a love-hate relationship with God. In one of his most streamed song "Amar," he raps, "Shaitan naal yaari, Rabb naal vair ve" which means he's friends with the Devil, whilst being in conflict with God.
MC Stan, an underground artist from Pune, India in the track, "Astaghfirullah" describes his tangled relationship with Allah wherein he's seen apologising and feeling guilty for the same as a static faith is demanded out of each individual in our society.
Another godly mention that caught our attention was of Delhi's underground artist Manisten’s signed with Delhi-based label-Artistaan. His solo, ‘Different Opinion’ showcases modern-day atrocities and molds his verse to seem like a debate against (what seems like) a common voice behind every corrupt politician and extremist, who justify their actions as the ‘will of god.’
Serious apologies for missing out on some of y'all favorite rappers but let’s focus on the bigger picture.
Over the years, analysis of listeners in context with the word 'God' has been diverse and complex, each trying to prove their point. Whether God exists or not, the answer varies from person to person, but hip hop’s connection to God proves us that we all are looking for lost answers to the problems that infest us all.