Artists today almost always preface their winning speeches at awards shows by thanking God. Most of our earliest music was tied to religion, negro spirituals, hymnals, and overall songs of worship. We have now evolved to mentioning faith not only behind the mic but on record as well.
The transition to non-religious music started as early as the Middle Ages and has progressed ever since. There became separate spaces for both secular and religious music, just like church and state – you can believe what you want just keep it out of the music. Genres like gospel thrived by itself, but the most popular music was secular. References to God, the ‘Creator’, or spirituality, in general, were still present in pop music just made for smaller audiences like those receptive to conscious rap – not billboard’s top 100. However, there is now a shift. It has been common as of recent to emulate the past and incorporate faith in music – popular music in particular.
“They said you can rap about anything except for Jesus/ That means guns, sex, lies, video tape/ But if I talk about God my record won’t get played Huh?” – Kanye West
Off of Kanye West’s debut album, The College Dropout, “Jesus Walks” was one record that made the switch from keeping faith separate from pop music. It achieved high mainstream success, was frequent on the radio, and received awards for its accompanying video as well as a Grammy in 2005 for Best Rap Song of the Year. Listed as one of the “songs that changed shook America” on Questlove and BlackThought’s new hip hop anthology series on AMC, “Jesus Walks” was influential in creating a change in American music. It opened the door for hip hop artists to embrace their faith in their rhymes.
“I got to pray I got to pray, like Hammer after “2 Legit” / I got the power I could poke Lucifer with crucifix” – Chance the Rapper
Another Chicagoan, known as hip hop’s most wholesome rapper, Chance the Rapper, carried that faithful musical torch Kanye lit in 2004 into present day. He uses loving his wife, his family, and God as reference points for his bars. Chance the Rapper has undoubtedly become a household name, hosting Saturday Night Live twice, and landing commercials with Twix and Doritos. Everyone, from young children to grandparents, is familiar with his music. He consistently declares his faith in his music. His third mixtape, Coloring Book, received a Grammy for Best Rap Album and reached the top 10 in Billboards 200 Best Albums chart in 2016. All while being centered in Christian ideology.
“Calm down eventually/ Protect your energy/ You are protected” – Jhene Aiko
As we all know, the world does not only subscribe to the Christian faith, healing and spirituality can come about in different ways. Jhene Aiko shows this in the release of “Trigger Protection Mantra”. With a back tattoo of the wheel of Dharma, it comes as no surprise that the songstress would put out a guided meditation track. The song incorporates singing bowls and as the title suggests mantras for relaxation. Music resonates with people in various ways, spiritually, emotionally, and physically through vibrations. Taught by critically acclaimed musician and teacher, Jeralyn Glass, Aiko uses keys, chords, and notes that correspond to different chakras as well as mental and bodily ailments. She told ELLE in a recent interview, “It took me a while to realize that one of my purposes as an artist is to help aid people in the healing process”.
Music is one of the universal languages that connect people no matter what. Like Jhene connects and aids her listeners through the music, Kanye has connected with people across the country with his “Sunday Services”. Sunday services are weekly invitation-only gatherings that celebrate the Lord through music, seemingly the best marketing strategy for his new album Jesus Is King, an album described by West as “an expression of the gospel”. Kanye and his choir “The Samples” sing gospel songs and remix secular songs to be those of faith. Clips from these Sunday gatherings were well circulated on social media and awarded Kanye a better social standing after his MAGA related upsets earlier in the year. Jesus Is King was highly anticipated and has been well received by believers and atheists alike.
Are we actually receptive to spiritual music? It could be the support of the particular artist no matter what genre they choose to explore. There hasn’t been an artist that has broken into the foregrounds of popular music with faith and spirituality as their initial topics of choice. Most of the artists mentioned started off on a different path and found the importance of expressing their faith musically later in their careers.
It could also be a sign of the times. All of the 90’s babies are coming of age and stumbling into the unsettling realizations of the world and adulthood. A lot is going on in the world, so it is natural people are turning to wellness, spirituality, and faith again. This generation has created room for being open and honest with topics that were taboo to publicly address in the past, faith being one of them.
Perhaps the next shift in music is emerging artists of faith. Until then, we can enjoy the secular and spiritual fusion we have arrived on.