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Critical Approaches to Hip-Hop and Religion Unit

Call for Proposals for November Meeting

The frameworks around violence and non-violence approach to social change have been murky, at best, within the Hip Hop community over the past 50 years. Some have advocated for “fighting the power,” while others within the Culture have advocated for a more peaceful “all in the same gang” approach to change. But, what does this all mean when police occupation within marginalized Black and Brown communities continues to be a problem? What does it mean that violence on Black bodies is sport and spectator within the more prominent U.S. popular culture landscape? Hip Hop has been a voice and sounding board for many communities living on the margins and especially those enduring state-sanctioned violence against them; Hip Hop has not always abdicated for a “non-violent” position when dealing with social action or social equity; moreover, within the Hip Hop community rappers like Killer Mike have argued for a well educated, self-reliant, and even armed people to truly be “revolutionary.”


Violence, at times, is relative. Violence, when done in response to what a state or government defines as a “just cause” can not only be accepted but deemed “holy” and “moral.” More importantly, once the public, and or society, has deemed war and violence acceptable in the name of “justice,” the line connected to God becomes easily visible. For example, following the attacks after 9/11, the war was deemed a “holy war” from certain media outlets. To compound that, President Bush, repeatedly stated he had “prayed” and “asked God” regarding his decision to invade Iraq. This type of socio-religious discourse aids in creating acceptance to the murder of children and innocent by-standers as a result of this “holy war.” The acceptance of “God’s will” is further used to ignore violence against non-dominant religious groups such as Muslims. Violence, in this sense, is then seen as a form of “justice” against “those people.” Further, Wade Clark Roof in his article *American Presidential Rhetoric from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush: Another Look at Civil Religion* reminds us that civil religious rhetoric can be just as dangerous as the violence itself because it involves both nationalism and constructs of identity. This type of religio-political rhetoric tends to create myths and fantasy within the public arena in which God is “on our side” and “with us” while being completely “against them” almost increasing the need for more violence against “those people.” These myths are powerful ideological vehicles for any people group and society, particularly in the issuing of violence through military force.


So, in this spirit, we seek and invite proposals and roundtable discussions centering around violence, non-violence frameworks regarding change, social advocacy, and/ or life on the margins within the Hip Hop context. How does one contend with violence as a process of change? How does one attempt to reconcile self-defense as a way of practice? What does it mean to truly be nonviolent? Moreover, is a nonviolent position just a signal of privilege?


We also seek proposals around the 50-year anniversary of Hip Hop culture.


King Britt is permanent faculty now at UC San Diego and has been doing a curated Blacktronica run at some festivals – this could be a great time to engage in this conversation.


Author meets critic roundtables.


There are also key anniversaries in 2024 that could potentially be panels as well:

  • 40 years - Albums (1984) - Run DMC (Run DMC); Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five (Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five). Events (1984) - Summer Olympics in Los Angeles; DeLorean/cocaine acquittal; Regan re-elected; first Hackers Conference held; 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans; Band Aid for Ethiopian famine relief; Bernard Goetz shoots four young Black men in NYC (guilty of 3rd degree possession of a firearm; innocent of all other charges); introduction of crack cocaine into Los Angeles–to name just a few.
  • 30 years - Albums (1994) - Fugees (Blunted on Reality); Gang Starr (Hard to Earn); Nas (Illmatic); Outkast (Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik); Jeru tha Damaja (The Sun Rises in the East); Warren G (Regulate…); Organized Konfusion (Stress…The Extinction Agenda); Public Enemy (Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age); The Notorious B.I.G. (Ready to Die); Common Sense (Resurrection); Digable Planets (Blowout Comb); Scarface (The Diary); Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth (The Main Ingredient); Da Lench Mob (Planet of da Apes); Redman (Dare IZ A Darkside). Events (1994) - De La Beckwith convicted of killing Medgar Evers; Nelson Mandela inaugurated as first Black President of South Africa; murder of Nicole Brown-Simpsonf and Ron Goldman/Start of OJ Simpson case/trial; Woodstock ‘94; President Clinton signs the Federal Assault Weapons Ban; Iraq disarmament crisis.
  • 20 Years - Albums (2004) - (Way Too Much Here, So I’m going to just put a few examples) Kanye West (College Dropout); Madvillain (Madvillainy); Murs & 9th Wonder (Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition); Lecrae (Real Talk); Lil Wayne (Tha Carter); Mobb Deep (Amerikaz Nightmare); Jim Jones (On My Way to Church); Ma$e (Welcome Back); Jean Grae (This Week); Talib Kweli (The Beautiful Struggle); De La Soul (The Grind Date); MF DOOM (Mm..Food); Nas (Street’s Disciple); 2Pac (Loyal to the Game); The Roots (The Tipping Point) Events (2004) - The launch of Facebook; G.W. Bush reelected.
  • 10 years - Albums (2014) - Pharoahe Monch (PTSD); Nas (Illmatic XX); The Roots (...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin); Common (Nobody’s Smiling); Shabazz Palaces (Lese Majesty); Lecrae (Anomaly); Run the Jewels (RTJ 2); Ghostface Killah (36 Seasons); Royce da 5'9" & DJ Premier (PRhyme). Events (2014) - Ebola outbreak in West Africa; ISIS begins its move into Iraq; killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO; “national recognition” of Black Lives Matter Movement; Obama administration


Potential Co-Sponsorship - Hip Hop, Religion, and Politics - “Rap snitches, telling all their business, Sit in the court and be their own star witness.  "Do you see the perpetrator?" “Yeah, I'm right here.”  F*** around, get the whole label sent up for years…”  As Mr. Fantastik raps on MF DOOM’s “Rap Snitch Knishes (Mm..Food [2004])” rap music has been used by artists as a way of delivering their testimonies (in both a legal and personal/religious sense).  Similarly, the government has used those testimonies as a means of prosecuting artists and labels for state and federal crimes (Andre “Mac Dre” Hicks in 1992, Snoop Dogg in 1996, McKinley “Mac” Phipps, Jr. in 2000, Irv Gotti & Murder, Inc. in 2005, Lil Boosie in 2012, Drakeo the Ruler in 2016, 6ix9ine in 2019, Young Thug in 2022, and Kenjuan McDaniel in 2023).

As Hip Hop turns 50 (2023); crack cocaine turns 40 (c. 1984); and the 20 year old words of “Rap Snitch Knishes” remains true, The Religion and Politics Unit and The Critical Approaches to Hip Hop and Religion Unit invite paper, panel, or roundtable proposals that address these intersections of Hip Hop, religion, and politics through an interdisciplinary lens, with proposals that engage in the personal and the private, the sacred and the profane, issues of illegality and artistic expression, and the engagement in criminal enterprises as culturally, legally, politically, and religiously subversive.


Potential Co-Sponsorship - Hip Hop, Religion, and Visual Culture - The seminal Hip Hop album “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” by the rap collective The Wu-Tang Clan turned 30 in 2023. It represents a generational blending of rap, visual culture, popular culture, and religion, including but certainly not limited to Buddhism and The Five Percent Nation of Islam. Combining inspiration from Kung-Fu films - including "Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976)," "Executioners from Shaolin (1977)," "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)," "Enter the Dragon (1973)," "Five Deadly Venoms (1978)," "The Mystery of Chess Boxing (1979)," "Ten Tigers of Kwangtung (1980)," "Shaolin vs. Lama (1983)," "Shaolin and Wutang (1983)," "The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)” - with the religious, political and socio-economic philosophies of Five Percent Islam, “Enter the Wu-Tang” represents an intersectional expression of creative, theological, and cultural genius.


The Critical Approaches to Hip Hop and Religion Unit, The Religion and Popular Culture Unit, The Religion, Film, and Visual Culture Unit, and The Buddhism in the West Unit invite paper, panel, or roundtable proposals that address, through an interdisciplinary lens, these intersections of hip hop, religion, politics and visual culture in its myriad manifestations. Among other possibilities, we are interested in proposals that engage this momentous work as a nascent music genre and/or a series of music videos, as it has rippled across three decades of Hip Hop and The Five Percent Nation of Islam, and as it continues to influence visual, popular, and religious culture today.

Statement of Purpose

This Unit’s purpose is to provide a space for interdisciplinary, sustained, scholarly reflection and intellectual advancements at the intersections of religion and hip-hop culture. We believe the Unit will assist religious and theological studies to take more seriously hip-hop culture, while expanding the conversation of hip-hop culture beyond a thin analysis of rap music. To these ends, this Unit is marked by an effort to offer critical reflection on the multiplicity of the cultural practices of hip-hop culture. We also see something of value in advancing the field of religious studies through attention to how hip-hop might inform these various disciplines and methods. Understood in this way, scholarly attention to hip-hop will not transform it into a passive object of the scholar’s gaze; rather, through our attention to hip-hop, it also speaks back to the work of the AAR, offering tools by which to advance theory and method in the field.


Steering Committee Members


Review Process

Proposer names are visible to chairs but anonymous to steering committee members