By Margaret Wangui
If you asked me what hip hop was three months ago, I would have said that hip hop is rebellious and rude music which comprises of bad language and portrays women very negatively. Thankfully, my view has changed, ever since we had a different encounter with hip hop in a class offered by Daystar University, courtesy of our distinguished facilitators, Mr. Curtis Reed–a great model of Christian faith, and Black Skillz, a true icon of hiphop.This class was also unique because it integrated faith with hip hop.
I did not know what hip hop was until I listened to artists like Shai Linn’s song ‘False Teachers.’ In this song, Shai Linn encourages the listeners not to allow the so called men of God to discern what God’s purpose is for them; instead they should read the Bible for themselves and ask God to give them the wisdom.
“If you come to Jesus for money,” the song goes, “then He is not your God; money is.” Tupac Shakur is another artist who is an excellent pillar of hip hop. As a class, we listened to his song ‘Brenda got a baby’ which is a great composition that is very relevant to the youth and their need to make sound decisions when life is not so promising. We also learned about the roots of hip hop in jazz and in the African American struggle for freedom. It is from this class that I also learned that hiphop is an avenue of expression. We also watched a clip of ‘Strange fruit’ performed by Billy Holiday – such a passionate performer! Our first class, which was an introduction to hip hop, was held on 20th January 2014.
It was during this session that I learned how people have mistaken true hip hop with the kind we have been exposed to on radio and TV. Hip hop is an art of expression of what people are going through, and so I also realized the need and the importance of expressing ourselves to avoid dying on the inside while our outer appearance pretends to show that we are faring well. In yet another class, we listened to a great theologian known as James Cone, who is known for his work that compares Jesus on the Cross and to the lynching tree on which thousands of African Americans lost their lives.
I was amazed to discover how African Americans were deeply convicted that their blackness was from God and that black is not their weakness but their strength. This means that the blacks had long realized their position in which God had predestined them to be. The blacks demonstrated great faith and never did they allow their faith to blind them in just believing that slavery was their way of life. These icons of faith had a deep conviction that God was with them and He was able to save them from the hands of the oppressors. As a class we sang some spirituals such as ‘Wade in the water’ and ‘Swing low, sweet chariot’, which blacks would sing as they escaped from slavery to freedom. Even today, we can almost hear them singing those songs that encouraged blacks held in bondage during their painful moments.
The songs tell us something about one of the pillars of hip hop: knowledge and consciousness. The blacks were able to face their fear and were convicted that suffering in the hands of their oppressors was not God’s will for them. It is for this reason that they expressed their pain and hope through these songs. Another great lesson that spoke volumes to me was the topic of hip hop and education. It is amazing that hip hop as a form of music takes into account the intellectual ability of every student, and so we need to learn the multiple intelligences and the role they play in a child’s education. Every child is smart in their own way. I wish that we Kenyans would be more exposed to the right kind of hip hop, the one which helps us direct our anger into a more constructive channel.
I am grateful for other truths that the class taught me, one of them being the importance of expressing myself when things are not in the right, regardless of the repercussions. Silence is expensive and so is ignorance. We cannot afford to be silent while the wrong prevails. Hip hop is a medium of expression when done the correct way with the right content. More Kenyan youth should have the opportunity to study hip hop as we have been privileged to do. If given the chance, hip hop can change our way of thinking, and this would result in a constructive way of doing things. The parting shot of our Hip Hop class was a quote by Albert Einstein: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Our hip hop class brought out the genius in us.