Special Section

Finding faith, religion in secular music

In 2004, secular artist Kanye West made waves in the music world with “Jesus Walks,” a hip-hop banger where he raps his longing for Jesus’ guidance in his life.

In the song, West brings up an interesting point: rappers can rap (successfully) about anything but religion.

Kanye West performs “Jesus Walks.” | Photo courtesy of Merva Man

“That means sex, guns, lies, video tapes, but if I talk about God my record won’t get played,” West says in his single.

Ironically, Kanye’s song was a hit, peaking on Billboard’s Hot 100 at No. 11 for two weeks. It was played on every radio station, even in clubs.

Kanye isn’t the only secular hip-hop artist to reference religion in his music. Artists like Macklemore, Kendrick Lamar and Nas are not the typical religious figures preaching through their music. However, they use their music as a channel to express their spiritual and religious experiences.

“I think it is awesome that secular artists are expressing their spirituality in their music,” said biology junior Mike Burke. “It lets people know it’s okay to feel confident in their beliefs.”

Macklemore sat down in an interview with one of New York’s most popular radio shows, Sway in the Morning, on radio station Shade 45. When asked if he parallels religion with his music, he confesses that though he is not religious, he is spiritual. He’s connected with God through his music.

“When music is in its purest form, you’re just a conduit for something greater than yourself,” Macklemore said. “You don’t have to think about it. You don’t have to force it. It comes through the pen. And that’s not you. I don’t take credit for those moments. That’s something bigger than me.”

Christian Eberhart, professor of religious studies, believes that religion and its spiritual foundations are a part of mainstream culture. Artists reflect on modern mainstream culture as a part of their art.

“Sometimes, people might not even be aware of the fact that a certain principle or proverb is biblical,” Eberhart said. “For example, when somebody says ‘an eye for an eye’, talks about the ‘Exodus,’ or finds that something has ‘apocalyptic’ dimensions.”

Finance graduate Ketul Patel does not buy Macklemore’s explanation. Patel said secular artists simply use religion in their music for profit.

“I think they use religion to attract a different crowd, a newer market, to their brand,” Patel said.

Psychology senior Sarah Hayes said she believes it’s a way of expression.

“Music can be a somewhat of a religious experience,” Hayes said. “That’s why people get emotional sometimes listening to it. Music is their outlet.”

This article is selected from our Faith special section in the latest installment of CoogLife, which can be found in our fall Back to School edition.

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