A Deeper Look: The theology of Propaganda's rhymes
Posted by Edward Shelton on Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 8:56am EST
One of the best albums last year was Art Ambidextrous. I heard Propaganda interviewed on DJ Wade-O's show and decided to check his work out. It was a decision I didn't regret. I listened to this album frequently on my bus trips to and from work - so much so that I could lip synch the words backwards. The thing that is notable with the tone of the album is that it hits the sweet spot between theological, spoken word, and “life” Christian hip hop (CHH). While Propaganda and Odd Thomas might not be the first artists to add spoken word into a CHH album, they give solid sign posts for those that want to do it in the future.
The first song we will look at is “I Hate It.” Propaganda takes a holistic approach to rhyming in the sense that he hits on everything to touch a nerve. For example, you might give a nod to his view on prosperity preaching and TBN and later twinge at the idea that President Obama is not the apex of the Civil Rights movement. (The point being - everyone's toes may get stepped on at some point.) Then there is insight that police brutality issues have not changed much in the last few decades other than in appearance. In this song, Propaganda takes a note from the biblical prophets. He hits the theological issues first and then shows that the social issues are not to be divorced from complete justice. His transparency on the issue of economic problems and personal responsibilities that are mixed into the rhymes gives us an honest look into Propaganda's total worldview and outlook in one song. The scripture passage that stands out is Ezekiel 34:1-9.
1 Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. 4 Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. 5 They were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered.
6 My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them.”’” 7 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 “As I live,” declares the Lord GOD, “surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock; 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep. So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them.”’”
The second song we are going to look at is “Beautiful Pain.” At first you think that the two words are oxymoronic. The rhyme flow displays God’s grace when we overcome. Propaganda shows that the rough seasons of life, while painful in the process, produce beautiful results. The idea of a woman being scarred and removed of her breasts due to cancer seems horrific. But Propaganda shows the listener that the cost of pain is survival and pride in survival. We see Propaganda grateful for both his poverty and his ability to exodus from it – in essence, being able to see beauty in the midst of pain.
The last song we are going to look at is "Dig". The beat hits you with the idea of struggle and work to achieve authentic, custom-crafted character. A set of bars stand out when he says...
I'm not the artist I'm the canvas.
Remind me of my own words though I can't stand it.
Hold me accountable.
Call me on my laziness.
Call me by my birth name and dig.
I will say that those bars hit me the most. The times I should be writing or doing ministry I don't because I choose not to. It is easy not to do what you are called to do when no one is pushing you or encouraging you. Holding true to what we confess as Christians is even more essential in this day. The world knows us more by our failings than our successful ventures. Propaganda brings us back to the truth that there is struggle in the consistency of being authentic. If there is a track that needs to be on rotation for Christian Hip Hop listeners and artists it is this song.
It’s an interesting mix that is presented. It is clear that Propaganda sees himself as a portrait of God's workmanship. At the same time Propaganda calls for accountability when he is not reflecting the work of God in and on him. I know for me, lines three and four have been problematic for me at times. When I stepped back I could hear my own call to accountability to you the reader. In the end Propaganda reminds the listener that a life of character requires work, accountability, and a sense of remembrance.
Propaganda mixes scripture and social outlook unlike anyone else in the genre of CHH. This is by far a great album with great insights into the word. It is free from the Humble Beast website. I encourage you all to pick it up.
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