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[578.3(2010)327-340] doi; 10.1558^1th.v8i3.


ISSN (print) ISSN (online)

1476-9948 1743-1670


Ralph C. Watkins'
Fuller Theological Seminary 135 N. Oakland Avc. Pasadena

USA rwatkins@fu!lcr.cdu


In this paper Dr James H. Cone's Black Tlieology and Black Power is put in conversation with two hip hop socio-theologians, Lauryn Hill and Talib Kweli. The next move in Black Theology will be led by the hip hop generation and this move will be towards an Afrocentrie/African centered theology. The method and socio-theological conditions that surrounded Dr Cone's work are compared and contrasted with the present state of affairs in the African-Americancommunity. Dr Cone was writing after the assasinations of Malcolm X and Dr Martin L. Kingjr. Hip hop is writing after the election of President Barrack Obama. Hip hop is raising theological questions. As one generation celebrates the realization of a dream, hip hop is rapping about a nightmare. The theological tension between Cone's generation, my generation, and hip hop are also explored. Keywords: Africana studies; Africana-theology; Black Power; Black Theology; hip hop culture; urban evangelism; young adult ministry.

1. Ralph Watkins is Assistant Dean ofthe African-American Church Studies Program and Associate Professor of Society, Religion, and Africana Studies. He is the author ofI Ain't
Afraid to Speak My Mind (Augusta, GA: Unity Council Press, 2003), Tlie Gospel Remix: Reaching the Hip Hop Generation (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2007), Jay Z to Jesus: Reaching and Teaching Young Adults in the African American Church, which he co-authored with Benjamin Stephens (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2009), and his new book. Leading Your African American Church through Pastoral Transition (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2010). He is currently workingon his next book project, Hip-Hop Redemption: Finding God in the Music and tlie Message, to be released by Baker Academic Press in late 2011.

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Black Theology: An Intemational Joumal

I philosophize Possibly speak tongues Beat drum, Abyssinian, street Baptist Rap this in fine linen, from the beginning My practice extending across the atlas I begat this Lauryn Hill, "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" Religion, you learn Jesus Turn the other cheek Inherit the Earth, just stay meek Fuck the way you speak Try to run, we chop off your feet Fast forward to 2004 we selling Yo this ain't what I'm settling for I want more, yo I got a part to play, we going hard these days Fuck the harder way, we doing it the smarter way To my God I pray, that's how I start my day The bullets start to spray the revolution starts today I say the shit these people ain't got the heart to say Fuck the harder way, we doing it the smarter way To my God I pray, that's how I start my day The bullets starts to spray the revolution starts today Talib Kweli, "The Beautiful Struggle" The present work seeks to be revolutionary in the sense that it attempts to bring to theology a special attitude permeated with black consciousness... Unless theology can become "ghetto theology," a theology which speaks to black people, the gospel message has no promise of life for the black manit is a lifeless message.
James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power, 32

To'ward the Identification of the Hip Hop Theologian

These three opening quotes establish the existing tension by puttingjames H. Cone in dialogue 'with Lauryn Hill and Talib Kweli. Lauryn Hill steps up to the microphone and she says "I hegat this." As an African American woman she begins to philosophize and theologize. Her speech is God-speak as she hints at speaking in tongues, interrogates the role of the church, while reaching back to an African center for her socio-theological starting point. She extends her words across the atlas as she points her followers back home to Mother Africa and introduces the Afrocentric frame. Talib Kweli steps up to the microphone and he, like Dr Cone, is critiquing the passivity of the African-American church. The church, as Talib understands

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Watkins From Black Theology to Afrocentric Theology


it, encourages you to turn the other cheek, not be critical and engaged in society; and this is not a stance with which Talib can agree. It is as if what Cone wrote in Black Theology and Black Power is in direct dialogue with Talib Kweli as he says, "religion you learn Jesus, turn the other cheek... Fuck the way you speak." Talib is critiquing institutionalized religion and what they are saying. He is effectively dismissing their message. Talib's dismissal of their message is based on its irrelevance to what young, inner-city African Americans face every day. As bullets spray in the 'hood there has to be another way, and that way is the smarter way that calls for a revolution, according to Talib. Talib sides with Cone when Cone says, "Unless theology can become 'ghetto theology,' a theology which speaks to black people, the gospel message has no promise of life for the black man [woman]it is a lifeless message."^ Cone appears to be calling Black Theology back to the people. When we say Cone is calling Black Theology back to the people we mean the masses, the African-American masses, "the lower classes the ones you left out." The question this paper raises is, did Black Theology become a ghetto theology? Did Black Theology migrate to the academy and away from the 'hood? When Cone wrote in 1968, a shift was occurring in the African-American community: the doors of the academy were propped open for the professionalization and institutionalization of Black Theology. Was the professionalization of theologians as academicians versus leaders of embodied, religious communities indigenous to the African-American community a symbolic and literal removal of Black Theology from the ghetto? Has a chasm developed between the larger, grass-roots African-American community, the institutionalized African-American church and the Black theologian? Did the theologian of the 'hood become the voice of the hip hop theologian? I was on Facebook the other day. Status Update; a young brother just put this on the wall: "Hip hop is a religion." I replied, and suddenly we are in the midst of a discussion. This young man and many like him are looking to hip hop theologians as conversational partners and not the institutionalized African-American church or the theologian. The theologians to the ghetto are not us, professionally trained, institutionalized theologians, but rather those who come out of the ghetto and/or those who speak back to the ghetto. These "hip hop 'hood theologians" are the ones who are making Black Theology a "ghetto theology." It is a theology that is contextualized in the African-American community and conscious of the class divide within that community. As bell hooks says. More and more, our nation Is becoming class-segregated. The poor live with and among the poorconfined in gated communities without adequate


James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power (New York: Seabury Press, 1969), 32.

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Black Theology: An InternationalJournal

shelter, food, or health carethe victims of predatory greed. More and more poor communities all over the country look like war zones, with boarded-up bombed-out buildings, with either the evidence of gunfire everywhere or the vacant silence of unsatisfied hunger.

What theology speaks of and into the class reality that bell hooks describes? Is it the hip hop 'hood theologians who speak of and back into the working class, working poor, and non-working poor in the communities that bell hooks describes? Talib Kweli says, "To my God I pray, that's how I start my day. The bullets start to spray the revolution starts today."'' It is Talib Kweli, hip hop 'hood theologian, who talks back to the bullets and announces the revolution starts today. Kweli empowers the 'hood to act as he says; it is to God they pray, as they start their day. To go directly to God and bypass the traditional institutionalized forms of religion is the order ofthe day for the hip hop theologian. It is clear that Talib places himself and hip hop in the middle ofthe religious/ theological discourse when he says in the second verse, "In the battle between God and the devil, I lay claim to your spirit, your religion, your belief system." This is the root of his work. He is not hedging his bets on where he stands in the dialogue. He is right there in the middle, intentionally, laying claim to the belief system of his devotees and informing their spirituality and religiosity. This is not incidental or accidental, but as Talib claims, he is in the middle of this dialogue as an active participant, making claims, taking a stand, and sharing a hip hop theology and worldview informed by their understanding of God that informs their faith. Hip hop sees God as the creative power as they co-create with God. This co-creative theological principle is central to hip hop theology. God is using hip hop to speak to the people as they take their gifts as given to them by God to write, rap, make beats, and inspire a God-conscious lifestyle for the artist and the artist's followers. The lifestyle is one that is sustained by God as hip hop theology is an incarnational theology that is real-world oriented, as hip hop lives in the moment, in the harshness ofthe city. James Cone would call this a "worldly theology," as he says, "Theology is not, then, an intellectual exercise but a worldly risk." A worldly theology is one that is in dialogue with God and real-world issues that are facing the present age; confronting this generation. This young-adult hip hop generation are developing their worldly theology, taking theological risks as they engage in theological dialogue with the issues that plague their generation.

3. bell hooks. Class Matters (New York: Routledge, 2000), 2. 4. Talib Kweli, "The Beautiful Struggle," on Coing Hard (CD) (New York: Rawkus Entertainment, 2004). 5. Cone, Black Theology, 84.
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Talib Kweli wrote in the liner notes to Eardrum, "I speak of God often in my music, because we all try to achieve a greater understanding." Kweli goes on to say, "Of course, first and foremost, all praises and accolades are forwarded to the Most High, our creator, the Spirit that connects us." The fact that Talib Kweli talks about God in his music is not a coincidence or secondary in his mind. He sees God as the one who inspires him and his work. God is the one who, by the power of his Spirit, connects him with his followers. /As Kweli raps he engages in God-talk or what Will Coleman calls "tribal talk." According to Coleman, "tribal talk" "is committed to the future. It is a way of doing theology within a post-Christian, pluralistic, and post-modern realizes that African /American spirituality, both non-Christian and Christian, is that which sustains all generations via God's life-giving spirit."^ This is what Kweli is appealing to; namely, God's life-giving spirit, as he models for us the way in which hip hop does theology, a theology that is life-giving and which sustains his followers. Lauryn Hill opens her liner notes, "Thank God, my salvation and inspiration." She is not making some blanket perfunctory acknowledgement of God, but she is citing God as her savior and her salvation. She is also making a theological claim that God is the inspiration and co-creator of her music. These claims by both Talib and Lauryn Hill position them as theological voices empowered by God to speak on behalf of God to the people. Equally important is how those who follow them receive their word. These artists are not simply seen as artists by their followers; rather they are respected theologians who bring weight to bear on the theological conversation or discourse. /As the pastor for young adult ministry at First /African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, I have learned from young adults the seriousness with which they take the words of their hip hop theologians. In November of 2009 we put Lauryn Hill in dialogue with the book of Philippians, and if I was not yet convinced, I was that Thursday night, as the words of Lauryn Hill became flesh in that church basement. Lauryn Hill was the theologian, helping us understand God, how God acts, how God acted, and how God will act, as we dealt with the theological textures in "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill":
I look at my environment And wonder where the fire went What happened to everything we used to be I hear so many cry for help Searching outside of themselves Now I know his strength is within me


Will Coleman, Tribal Talk: Black Theology, Hermeneutics, and frican/American Ways of

"Telling the Story" (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000), 194.
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And deep in my heart, the answer it was in me And I made up my mind to define my own destiny The theological richness of this verse sparked a conversation that lasted for hours. Lauryn Hill doe notjust reference the urban environment; she talks about how the urban center has redefined our people. The decay ofthe city has taken the hope and desire to dream out of our people. Then, she points to a theological resource of inner strength that is God. This strength is not delivered via the institutionalized church or via the words of a preacher, but rather, this resource is abundantly available to the one who looks for it. In truth, it is already inside of them. Her theology begs the point ofthe need for some type of "conversion experience;" or if one is "born in sin," the claim of God being in her hearers is what empowers them to uncover their own destiny as divinely designed by their creator. This is an important finding that cannot be dismissed, because one ofthe key developments in hip hop theology is their interrogation of ecclesiology. They raise the question ofwhether the institutionalized church is relevant and necessary to be in relationship with God and or to hear from God. Hip hop claims to have God, to know God, to talk directly to God, to hear from God, and therefore, can bypass institutionalized religious authority.

From Black Power and the Black Church to Hip Hop and the New Jack and New Jackie
James Cone said in Risk of Faith: The Emergence of Black Theology of Liberation,

1968-1998, "I did not limit my critique to white churches and their theologians. In Black Theology and Black Power I also leveled sharp critique against the postCivil War Black Church for its otherworldliness and indifference toward the political and cultural implications of Black Power."^ Talib Kweli joins Cone in this critique ofthe post-civil-rights church; a church that Talib goes on to say is passive, irrelevant, and has failed to speak to the suffering and pain index ofthe African-American community. Talib Kweli and Lauryn Hill are talking about a "ghetto gospel," or as Talib said on his Eardrutn CD, "the hostile gospel";
Every Sunday dressing up catching gossip at its worst Couldn't see the difference in the Baptist and the Catholic Church Caught up in the rapture ofthe first chapter and second verse If we alt God's children then what's the word ofthe reverend worth

7. Lauryn Hill, "The Miseduation of Lauryn Hill," on The Misedtication of Lauryn Hill (CD) (New York: Ruffliouse Records, 1998). 8. James Cone, Risk of Faith: The Emergence of Black Theology of Liberation, 1968-1998 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999), xxiv. 9. Talib Kweli, "Give 'Em Hell," on Eardrum (CD) (Burbank, CA: Warner Brothers Records, 2007).

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Watkins Frotn Black Theology to Afrocetttric Theology What is the word of the reverend worth? The preachers are not speaking into the lives of young African Americans. There is no significant difference between churches or denominations. They are all dealing with gossip, or insignificant issues that are linked to congregational life, with little to no concern for what is happening outside the walls of the church. Kweli goes on to spit;
Taught early that faith is blind like justice when you facing time If we all made in God's image then that means his face is mine Wait or it's that blasphemy it's logical it has to be If I don't look like my father then the way I live is bastardly Naturally that's confusion to a young'n trying to follow Christ Taught that if you don't know Jesus then you lead a hollow life Never question the fact that Jesus was Jewish not a Christian Or that Christianity was law according to politicians Wlio was Kingjames? And why did he think it was so vital to remove chapters and make his own version of the Bible They say Hell is underground and Heaven is in the sky And they say that's where you go when you die but how they know


Here Kweli is willing to be blasphemous. He is willing to raise difficult, unsetding questions. He is questioning the church's role, authority, and liberative natureor lack thereof? Where James Cone was coming from inside the church, and in many ways talking to his peers in ministry, Talib Kweli and Lauryn Hill are standing outside the institutionalized church and making their critique from that positional stance. They are questioning the power and authority of the African-American preacher and the institution they represent. They are questioning the authority of Scripture. The questions they are raising are more vexing than those that James Cone raised. Cone lodges his method within the context of a Christian community as he elevates the role of Scripture in his socio-theological method. The move toward an Afrocentric/Africancentered hip hop theology levels the Scripture with the revelation of the experience of the hip hop generation. This is a critical point. Whereas Cone was raised in the church, hip hop is raised in the streets, outside of the church; looking at the institutionalized church with a hermeneutic of suspicion. The relationship between the institutionalized church and the hip hop generation is a tenuous relationship at best and antagonistic at worst. Whereas Cone's conversational partners were "...Black Power... Christianity, the church and contemporary American theology,"" in hip hop theological method, the church, and Christianity are suspect partners. At best, Christianity is put on a level playing field with other religious traditions in the 10. Kweli, "Give 'Em Hell." 11. Cone, Black Theology, 1.
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city. The church as an institution is talked about, not talked to. The institutional church is not invited as a partner in the conversation. The institutionalized church is an outsider within the African-American community according to hip hop. When you hear the hip hop 'hood theologian talk about the AfricanAmerican church it sounds a lot like James Cone's critique of the white church. As Cone defines what the church is and where Christ is, in his critique of the white church, he said:
Where there is black, there is oppression; but blacks can be assured that where there is blackness, there is Christ who has taken on blackness so that what is evil in men's eyes might become good. Therefore Christ is black because he is oppressed, and oppressed because he is black. And if the Church is to join Christ by following his opening, it too must go where suffering is and become black also.

The question James Cone and the hip hop 'hood theologians are raising is how Black is the Black church? Is the African-American church speaking to the oppression that African Americans in the inner city are facing? Are the prophetic voices that spoke truth to justice being exchanged for the new praise and prosperity gospel of Fifty-cent and Creflo Dollar? It is hip hop that is where Black is. It is hip hop that is blasting from the earbuds of iPods in the 'hood. It is hip hop that encourages kids to dream, tells their story of suffering, struggle, and pain. It his hip hop that talks about "Black girl pain." It is hip hop that as Lauryn Hill says, tells of every city and every ghetto.

God Has Left the Building: A Hip Hop 'Hood Theology

In the eyes of the 'hood hip hop socio-theologian, the critique of the church is more scathing than that issued by James Cone in 1968, aged thirty. Talib at age thirty-fours says, "the reverend looking like a pimp and the pimp look like the reverend."''' Not only has the church lost its authority and respect, the very leaders ofthat institution have been likened to pimps. As even members of the academy echo the views of Talib; as Marvin McMickles asked in his book
Where Have Alt the PropheL<: Cone? Reclaiming Prophetic Preaching in America. This

issue is being addressed by both Talib, in his rapping, and McMickle in his writing. So for those who may be struggling to hear Talib, allow me to do the remix, and put Marvin McMickle on the mic:
prophetic preaching is absent from the scene because too many of those whose responsibility it is to raise the issues ofjustice and righteousness have become distracted and preoccupied with other topics and other aspects of 12. Cone, Black Theology, 69. 13. Talib Kweli, "Around My Way," on The Beatitiftd Stniggle (CD) (Rawkus/Umgd, 2004).
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Watkins From Black Theology to Afrocentric Theology ministry... Too many preachers are ignoring the issues and the urgency of prophetic preaching as they invest all of their time and energy and imagination in some of what James and Christine Ward referred to as obscuring the wider dimensions ofthe gospel.


The absence of preachers preaching to the powers that be and dealing with the issues of poverty, the prison industrial complex, under-funded and overcrowded schools, homicide, greed, and wealth, puts the mantle on the shoulders ofthe hip hop 'hood theologian who is looking back at the preacher and saying, "we can't tell the difference between you and the pimp." In essence, they are saying that our Black preachers have become the pimps ofthe community and no longer hold the hallowed office ofthe prophet. The fact that the prophet does not come from the institutionalized church does not obviate the need for the prophet. The prophet is now found in the voice ofthe hip hop 'hood theologian. That voice is Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Dead Prez, Immortal Technique, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Outkast, Goodie Mod, Cee-lo, and other emerging prophetic voices. Hip hop is prophet to the institutionalized church and pastor-prophet to the people whom the institutionalized church has disregarded. In 1968James Cone could talk to the church and in that venue the masses were reached, but in this world, in this age, the masses of our people are not in the church. The masses are in a virtual church that is not enclosed by walls. This is truly the church without walls. We used to talk about a "church without walls" as we spoke of its ministry outside the four walls ofthe church. That metaphor now speaks to the development of a church that is not thinking about coming inside.
Rap, your daddy is the blues; your mama is gospel. That's what they didn't wantyoutoknow. They want you to think you're illegitimate but I was there. I saw them jump the broom and I know they loved each other; still do. Some people want to judge but love is love. You the love child of epspel and blues and don't let nobody take that away from you. You belong.

The baby has come of age: hip hop, the baby born to blues and gospel. The baby born out ofthe post-civil-rights movement has grown up, the baby that James Cone saw and recognized in 1968 without calling her name. James Cone said.
It would seem that it is time for theology to make a radical break with its identity with the world by seeking to bring to the problem of color the revolutionary implication ofthe gospel of Christ. It is time for theology to leave its ivory tower and join the real issues, which deal with dehumanization

14. Marvin McMickle, Where Have All the Prophets Cone? Reclaiming Prophetic Preaching in America (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2006), 8. 15. Nikki Giovanni, "Rap-Blues Child," in/4fo/}'(e$ (NewYork: William Morrow, 2007), 67.
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of blacks in America. It is time for theologians to relate their work to life-anddeath issues, and in so doing to execute its function of bringing the Church to recognition of its task in the world.

The theologians who clearly heard his cry were the hip hop 'hood theologiansthey never entered the ivory tower. They stayed in touch and in tune with the streets. These theologians were not sequestered in four-walled churches. They talk about the issues ofthe streets, track after track; they raise socio-theological issues in their music. Lauryn Hill said, I was just a little girl Skinny legs, a press and curl
My mother always thought I'd be a star But way before the record deals Streets that nurtured Lauryn Hill made sure that I'd never go too far Every ghetto, every city and suburban place I been Make me recall my days, in New Jerusalem

Lauryn Hill was mindful of not going too far. She made sure that she stayed connected by acknowledging that the streets are what nurtured her, before the record deals, and it was important to keep in touch with those streets after fame ensued. You see Lauryn Hill struggling with this even more when she does her second solo project in 2003. Lauryn Hill and the hip hop 'hood theologians are conscious and deliberate as they seek to remember the streets from whence they have come and with which they continue to represent and dialogue. As Lauryn says, these streets are the "New Jerusalem." /As hellish as they are and as much as they struggle, these streets are heaven and the source for theological reflections and God-consciousness. For the hip hop 'hood theologian, theology is not a function or property of the church. James Cone said in Black Theology and Black Power, "Theology functions within the Church. Its task is to make sure that the 'church' is the Church. The mission ofthe church is to announce and to act out the gospel it has received."'* This theological conversation has moved outside ofthe church. The hip hop 'hood theologian questions if the institutionalized church is even capable of having a meaningful theological dialogue that raises serious ecclesiological issues. In an age when mega is betta and big is brighter and the suburbs are richer, where is the revolutionary radical African-/American church? In an age where the Civil Rights pastors are retiring and dying, who is replacing their voice in the pulpit?
16. Cone, Black Theology, 83. 17. Lauryn Hill, "Every Ghetto, Every City," on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. 18. Cone, Black Theology, 84.
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Watkins From Black Theology to Afrocentric Theology The very goals and impetus of Black Theology as defined by James Cone are conspicuously absent from the majority of inner-city churches in America. Cone said, "The goal of Black Theology is to prepare the mind of blacks for freedom so that they will be ready to give all for it. Black theology must speak to and for black people as they seek to remove the structures of white power which hover over their being, stripping it of its blackness."'^ Is the church doing this or is it hip hop? When we listen to Talib as he spits out what he says on "Hostile Gospel Pt. 1 (Deliver Us)," what do we hear? We hear the cry of hip hop theology as a cry for deliverance. As Talib opens this track, the intro cries, "deliver us, deliver us, deliver us, deliver us."^" This is the cry from the streets, far removed from those who have been seduced by corporate America and have hought into the shallow "American Dream." As he moves to the first verse he refers to rappers as baby seals who have been government fed. The implication here is that commercial rap^versus conscious, theologically inspired rapis trapped in an economic system that is intent on holding African Americans dovra by exploiting them. Talib Kweli targets those rappers in the rap game who are going after profits and are not prophets who speak truth. They become a target for Talib Kweli as he tries to make sense ofthe oppression African Americans continue to experience in the twenty-first century. As Talib moves into the chorus he says, "What the people want? Please deliver us." This cry is consistent. I would go as far as to say that those whom Talih characterizes as government pawns and tools of oppression also want to he delivered. Who, after all, enjoys being oppressed? The "hostile gospel" is what he calls it. This is obviously a play on the word "gospel" as used by the church culture. The hostile gospel is a cry for deliverance from a people who are fed up with systems that systematically oppress them in the forms of institutional oppression. Talib puts the church among those institutions that oppress others. Therefore, his gospel is not the church's gospel because that is a gospel of oppression that calls for the oppressed to conform via socialization to their oppressor. The hostile gospel is the good news that we are to be angry and to rise up against this oppression. It is up to us to fight back via our definition and construction of a liberative gospel that is cocreated with God, via hip hop culture and the hip hop 'hood theologian. Within the hip hop community there is this engagement and critique of hip hop as well, especially the commodification ofthe art form and how it is being used to sell-out the movement. As Lauryn Hill says. It's funny how money change a situation Miscommunication leads to complication


19. Cone, Black Theology, 118. 20. Talib Kweli, "Hostile Gospel Pt. 1 (Deliver Us)," on Eardrum.

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My emancipation don't fit your equation... You might win some but you just lost one! Hill is critiquing a system of money and profits that calls prophets to compromise. She is questioning the system of capitalism and what it does to hip hop. She and Talib call for a hostile gospel that takes into account the construct of karma. Personal responsibility is highlighted in this gospel. Systems of oppression are implicated, but this does not dismiss personal responsihility for participating in oppression or submitting to it. Kweli and Hill want to be the "lost one" as they did not buy in to a system that is inherently oppressive. As I look back over my career in the academy and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, I have to ask myself did money change the situation, did it lead to miscommunication and complication? Did the situation lead to my and our peoples' liberation? The hip hop 'hood theologian like Hill is always raising the question that Patricia Hill Collins put before us; "Is buying in selling out?" A major enemy to the liheration struggle is the hip hop industry that has prostituted hip hop culture, according to Kweli. "The industry inside us is vipers with fangs trying to bite us."^^ This is a call for hip hop not to he seduced by the American Dream, and on the other hand, to embrace the struggle for freedom by being both a disciple and preacher of the "hostile gospel." The hostile gospel as espoused by hip hop 'hood theologians is an oppositional gospel. It is oppositional as it seeks to reclaim the good news to the poor and broken people by acknowledging their presence and struggle, while simultaneously critiquing those institutions that are supposed to he liberative but in reality are a part of the oppressive system that keeps the poor, poor and the rich, rich. As Lauryn Hill says, "I'm about to change the focus from the richest to the brokest."^^ The hostile gospel is a bottom-up critique of capitalism as it is manifested inside and outside of the church at the expense of the poor. Lauryn Hill goes on to say, "Make a slumlord be the tenant give his money to kids to spend it. And then amend it, every law that ever prevented."^'* The hostile gospel is one that is about changing the socio-economic arrangement. The hostile gospel is a gospel that reaches down, while pulling the African-American poor up and helping them see God. Hill says, "Our survival since our arrival. Documented in the Bible, like Moses and Aaron. Things gon' change, it's apparent. And all the transparent gonna. Be seen through, let God redeem you.""' Lauryn is reaching back to the hiblical image of revolutionary leaders in Moses and Aaron. She has essentially taken the story of the exodus and re-contextualized it
21. 22. 23. 24. 25. Lauryn Hill, Talib Kweli, Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill, "Lost Ones," on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. "Gvie 'Em Hell," on Eardrum (CD). "Final Hour," on The Misedncation of Lauryn Hill. "Final Hour," on The Misedtication of Lauryn Hill. "Final Hour," on Tlie Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

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Watkins From Black Theology to Afrocentric Theology


in the hostile gospel. The story does not need the preacher or the institutionalized church to be actualized. The story becomes incarnational in the struggle for freedom in the context of the 'hood. The hip hop 'hood socio-theologians' view of God is not what has been defined by the African-American institutionalized church, but they are reaching back to Africa, before Nicea, and asking who is this God who comes out of Africa? Lauryn Hill says, "Still be in the church of Lalabella, singing hymns a cappella." She is going back to Ethiopia. She is reaching back to an African/ Afrocentric center to begin her theological journey. The hip hop 'hood theologian will not be restricted to a Western canonized view of God or the constraints of what has been considered orthodox theology. As Hill says, "I've been here before this ain't a batde, this is war."^^ The hip hop 'hood socio-theologian is conscious of history. They have seen how former liberative movements have been derailed and even undermined by trying to appeal to a liberal audience of Whites who have not had the interests of African Americans at heart. The hip hop 'hood socio-theologian is not looking for acceptance from anybody but the 'hood. As Hill says, "I make shallot like a Sunni. Get diplomatic immunity in every ghetto community. Had opportunity went from hoodshock to hoodchic. But it ain't what you cop, it's what you keep. And even if there are leaks, you can't capsize this ship. Cause I baptize my lips every time I take a sip.""^ The hip hop 'hood theologian is the re-embodiment of Dr James Cone in the present-day context. They are young, as he was, back in 1968. Both Talib Kweli and Lauryn Hill were in their early thirties when they penned these works. The hip hop 'hood theologian is a prophet who speaks truth to the powers within the African-American community and outside it. They have reframed the gospel, and this gospel is not limited to a Christian conversation or a church context. Rather, they are looking at and have an appreciation for the veracity of other religious traditions that live in the 'hood. They are inclusive and not exclusive when it comes to their theological dialogue. The willingness to have multiple theological conversational partners has given the hip hop 'hood theologian a broader audience that appreciates their moving beyond religious tolerance to theological inclusion. The principle of inclusion and dialogue makes for a richer, more robust conversation that is reflective of the real socio-theological-religious life that is actualized in the 'hood. The question that remains is will we hear and respect the hip hop 'hood socio-theologian or will we condemn them? James Cone said of the White church, "we must say that when a minister condemns the rioters and blesses by silence the conditions which produce the riots, he gives up his credentials as a 26. Lauryn Hill, "Final Hour," on The Misedtication of Lauryn Hill. 27. I..auryn Hill, "Final Hour," on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
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Black Theology: An InternationalJournal

Christian minister and becomes inhuman. He is an animal, just like those who, backed by an ideology of racism, order the structure of society on the basis of white supremacy."^* While the African-American institutionalized church condemns hip hop, is hip hop the rioters? Is hip hop the ones that are crying from the streets saying we are in pain! We are hurting! We feel neglected! We feel left out! We have not been fathered! We have not been mothered! We have been disowned by our own people! We have been blamed for the disarray in our communities! But it is our elders who failed to critique a system that is built on white supremacy and racism that created the 'hood, created overcrowded and under-funded schools. Why is that? In the words ofthe Black-eyed Peas, "Where is the love?" Holler IfYa Hear Me!

BIBLIOGRAPHY Coleman, W. Tribal Talk: Black Theology, Hermeneutics, and African/American Ways of "Telling the Story". University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000. Cone, J. H. Black Theology and Black Power. New York: Seabury Press, 1969. Risk ofFaith: The Emergence ofBlack Theology ofLiberation, 1968-1998. Boston: Beacon Press, 1999. Giovanni, N . "Rap-Blues Child."/Ifo/yies. New York: William Morrow, 2007. Hill, L. "The Miseduation of Lauryn Hill," on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (CD). New York: Rufhouse Records, 1998. hooks, b. Class Matters. New York: Routledge, 2000. Kweli, T. "The Beautiful Strudle," on Coing Hard (CD). New York: Rawkus Entertainment, 2004. "Give 'Em Hell," on Eardrum (CD). Burbank, CA: Warner Brothers Records, 2007. McMickle, M. Where Have All the Prophets Cone? Reclaiming Prophetic Preaching in America. Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2006.

28. Cone, Black Theology, 80.

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