Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta’s God (Praeger; June 2012; $37) tackles a sensitive and controversial topic: the juxtaposition—and seeming hypocrisy—of references to God within rap music. Hip hop culture and rap music in particular have been condemned for inciting violence, promoting misogyny, and perpetuating racial stereotypes. However, Dr. Ebony A. Utley argues that religion has always been an integral part of the complex urban environments that birthed rap music. She asserts that a God-sanctioned gangsta identity empowers many youth facing declining economic opportunities. Dr. Utley sources lyrics, videos, award acceptance speeches, magazine andwebsite content, liner notes, and survey data to provide an enlightening, representative account of how and why rappers talk about God.
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About the author:
Ebony A. Utley, Ph.D. is an expert in popular culture, race, and romantic relationships. Her book, Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta’s God addresses all of the above by closely examining the juxtaposition—and seeming hypocrisy—of references to God within rap music. In her other research, Utley examines how Americans talk about race and racism, asks probing questions about women’s experiences with infidelity, investigates beliefs about marriage, and explores the tenuous relationship between hip hop and love. Her writing has appeared in a variety of high-profile publications, including Black Women, Gender and Families, Critical Studies in Media and Communication, Truthdig, Ms. Magazine, Religion Dispatches, and Women and Language. In addition to national radio, print, and online appearances, Dr. Utley lectures at universities across the country and is an associate professor of communication studies at California State University Long Beach. You can find out more about Dr. Ebony Utley on her website, HERE!
You can order a coy of, Rap And Religion: Understanding The Gangsta’s God, on Amazon, HERE!
Q & A with Ebony A. Utley
What is Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta’s God about?
It’s about how and why rappers talk about God. It answers how and why rappers can rap about murder, misogyny, and mayhem and still embrace God. There are chapters on rappers’ public acknowledgments of God, women rappers’ perceptions of God, rapper affinity for Jesus, rapper relationships with the devil, rappers who appropriate God’s power, and fans’ interpretations of how rappers address rap and religion.
Why did you write Rap and Religion?
I wanted to create the resource I was unable to study with. I am really, really proud to be one of the first scholars to publish a comprehensive, single-author book about rap and religion. The book is the first of its kind to chart how rappers have rapped about God throughout hip hop history. But there’s always more work to do. Twenty years from now I expect the categories I’ve outlined to expand but I don’t anticipate that they’ll be eliminated. If I were in the studio laying down a track, my book is just the bass line. There are so many more layers to add to this signature song.
Are you religious?
I grew up in a fundamental Baptist church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Why do you write about hip hop? I respect rap. I miss Pac. I party to Outkast. I brood with Lauryn Hill. I laugh with Boots of The Coup. I love Dead Prez’s revolutionary but gangsta swag. I admire Jay-Z’s come up story. I appreciate Kanye’s risk-taking. I think Lil Wayne is a clever little man. I adore Nicki’s style. I learn from Immortal Technique’s history lessons. But I’m not your typical hip hop head in part because I grew up super religious, in part because I’m from the middle of America, in part because I came to it so late as a teenager, and in part because too much of it is anti-feminine. Sometimes the testosterone of rap music just turns me off. I can’t always stomach the aggressiveness, but I understand where it comes from. Some of it is for the pure pleasure of saying whatever you want whether you mean it or not. Some of is driven by profit. Say whatever you have to say to make that money. Some of it is about taking one’s power back from those whites, women, and gay men who are perceived as threats. Even when I ideologically disagree with the music, I appreciate it enough to respect the origins of its content.
What impact do you ultimately hope your book will have?
I hope people will pass it around like a mixtape and that each person who experiences the gangsta’s god will hear it differently and spread the word.
What’s next for you?
I’m interested in the pursuit of power. Rap and Religion was about how rappers use God to empower themselves. In my next book I’m interested in sex, and how women use sex to empower themselves. I am collecting interviews, so if women out there want to talk to me about their experiences with sex and power, hit me up on Twitter @u_experience or send a message through my website: theutleyexperience.com.
Selected Rappers Featured in Rap and Religion
The Lady of Rage
Salt ’n’ Pepa (or SNP)
Sean “Diddy” Combs
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