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Hip-hop morphed, became perverted

A young James Brown long before hip-hop became religion.  |  PolyGram

A young James Brown, long before hip-hop became a religion. | PolyGram

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Updated: October 15, 2012 9:25AM

Way black when, before hip-hop became religion, grandmothers were grandmothers and everybody went to church on Sunday mornings.

Like Stevie Wonder: I wish those days could come back once more . . .

The smell of pot roast wafted through the house. Streets outside were filled with peace. Gospel music spilled from the stereo hi-fi and Mama sang as we readied for church.

Our world came to a screeching halt on Sundays, no matter the chaos the week before. Card parties might have ceased just hours earlier — cussing or fussing, the flow of beer, the smoking of cigarettes.

Sundays were sacred and going to church more than ritual.

So we piled into cars, or the church van, or we walked — destined to get more than good ’ligion.

I never realized as a child how “golden” Sundays were back then. The impact of seeing my grandfather standing strong in the pulpit, speaking God’s word. Or of seeing my grandmother stand faithfully as our Sunday school teacher, week after week, before us hardheaded, hormone-raging teenagers.

I can still hear one of my cousins driving her into a silent fit:

“Life is short, Grandmother. I gotta go for the gusto!”

Too many friends — even some relatives — went for the gusto, rather than for God and the life and principles espoused by the “saints” at my grandfather’s church.

They went for the gusto. And some fell into the gutter — into drugs, alcoholism, brokenheartedness. Shattered lives. Stolen legacies.

And yet, I remember them — way black when, before hip-hop became religion. I remember James Brown, Afro Sheen, corn bread and collard greens, soul music.

To lay any blame on hip-hop for our current devastation, for the crumbling of our moral structure, some might say, is wrong — my accusations misplaced.

But I remember the birth of hip-hop: “. . . A hip hop; a hippie a hippie to the hip hip hop, and you don’t stop the rockin’. . .”


Back then, “crack” was something in our sidewalks. We shot marbles and pitched pennies, jumped rope, slap-boxed, played two-hand touch football.

We respected our elders. Held our tongues for approaching ladies, carried their bags. Opened doors.

Why did those days ev-er have to go . . .

Hip-hop morphed, became perverted. It gave us misogyny, promoted pimpology.

Combined with gangsterism and thug life, it ultimately brought us glistening video images of cussing, bare-chested young brothers in sagging pants, with dangling braids and platinum teeth — waving wads of money and working themselves into a murderous froth, smoking blunts, brandishing guns.

Watching one such video recently, I was reminded of the way the saints sometimes got worked up in a different spirit.

And as I look across the urban landscape, at “my” people and our devastation — caught in this conundrum between the Gospel and hip-hop as religion — I am convinced that money and social or educational programs and law enforcement are just part of the solution. And that none of these get to the root of what really ails us.

For ours is a deeply spiritual matter.

And if hip-hop has become religion, it is, in part, because of the general failure and disconnection of the black church, whose focus has become materialism — which is also the god of hip-hop. Not all churches. But far too many.

I honestly can’t tell sometimes who blings brighter: gangsta rappers or celebrity preachers.

But this much I do know: When I see the spiritual decay crystallized by the wanton murder of our children and our crumbling communities, this isn’t of God.

At least not the God of the religion I used to know, especially on Sundays, way black when.

I love them so.

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