4- “Praise the Lord and Break the Law”: Negotiating the Tensions between Religious Conversion and Commercial Identity in Hip-Hop - Alyssa Woods, University of Guelph - Robert Michael Edwards, University of Ottawa

1:30 PM, Friday 24 May 2019 (2 hours)
Coffee break   03:30 PM to 04:00 PM (30 minutes)

From its foundational point hip-hop has been an important locale for the expression of religious identity. Historically, rap artists have incorporated references to, and symbols of their faith in ways that reinforce the norms of hip-hop culture. While many of these artists are associated with a defined form of organized religion, there has been a growing trend of “finding God” within the hip-hop community. The ever-growing list of rappers who have undergone an experience of religious conversion includes such notables as: Snoop Dogg, Loon, Doug E. Fresh, Shyne, and Kendrick Lamar.

This paper will interrogate the question of how conversion experience is expressed both sonically and visually in hip-hop. What becomes apparent through analysis of the work produced pre- and post-conversion is that there is a tension between industry norms and expectations (concerning masculinity, wealth, power, gender dynamics), and the post-conversion idealized public expression of faith. We argue then, that hip-hop artists are in a constant process of negotiation between these tensions as they act out their faith while attempting to remain commercially viable. Drawing on typologies of religious conversion (Jindra 2014, Rambo and Farhadian 2005, Zanfagna 2017), we note that artists are far from uniform in their use of platforms for post-conversion expression. Among rappers who have discussed their conversion experiences through interviews, lyrics, and visuals, the Game and his 2012 album Jesus Piece, offers extensive insight into the points of navigation between faith and identity. Ultimately, this case study will illustrate the divide between artists who use their platform as a medium for reflecting on the conversion process and those, such as the Game, who incorporate their faith into an evolved, although consistent, version of their pre-conversion identity.
University of Guelph
University of Ottawa
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