Does Dr. King Believe In Hip-hop?

Strength to Love is one of the earliest books that contain direct writings from Dr. King. It is a collection of sermons by a young Rev. during his tenure as co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga. The book sleeve describes the reading experience as a chance to see Dr. King purely as a pastor. It goes on to say that “his sermons have the simplicity, persuasiveness, and contagious faith of a great leader who is humble in adversity and undaunted by disaster.”
MARTIN LUTHER KING‘s spirituality is well established as the foundation of his passion for the universal pursuit of transcendental social justice. However, contemporary analysis of his ideology and his theological beliefs often comes from secondary resources that interpret his meanings. It is rare to read a volume that contains his actual thoughts and beliefs directly from the man himself.

MLK with familyWhat also shines through in his writing is that he is a pastor first and foremost who’s political sensibilities are informed by the superiority of infinite spirituality. In Strength, Rev. King uses the Book of Revelations as an allegory for the incompleteness of America’s legacy. The story follows John the Reveler’s laments of what his society had become; superficially pious and morally deficient. John envisions a new “city of God” that is fair, balanced, and free of partiality.

John says, “the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.” Rev. King notes that John describes the “city of God” with a sense of reverence; understanding that “life at its best is complete on all sides.”

We achieve the length of life by loving ourselves and pursuing personal purpose. We achieve the breadth of life through a healthy concern for the welfare of others. And lastly, we achieve the height of life by connecting purpose and concern for others to a spiritual source greater than our collective selves.Rev. King warns us against falling to into patterns of “disturbing incompleteness and agonizing partialness.”

According to Rev. King’s interpretation, it would be interesting to know how he would rate the completeness of Hip-hop based on these criteria. In substance, the contribution Hip-hop has made to the American critical consciousness is unequivocal. Hip-hop’s essence is the experience of oppression through the lense of poor black and brown poverty. Its appeal to such a broad base of impressionable spectators and inspired agents is a undeniably powerful means of influence. And Dr. King would theoretically applaud Hip-hop’s ability to draw interests from such a broad base of folk and speak beyond the diversity of their experiences.

With all of those accolades, Hip-hop is always linked to a lower status by what Rev. King calls an “agonizing partialness,” or the  cloud that often lingers over the the legacy’s of many great societies; whether they be Romantic achievements built on brutality or American contributions rooted in institutionalized African slavery. Hip-hop’s achievements are sullied by its “agonizing partialness” toward misogyny, materialistic interests, and unabated hedonism.

Hip-hop has done well when it comes to promoting the length of life; gratuitous self-indulgence, self-delusion, self-fulfillment are seminal elements of the culture. But it has failed to relate the fullness of life that Dr. King subscribes to when it comes to the “Three Dimensions of a Complete Life.” For Hip-hop to achieve its full potential–whatever that is–it must imbued with the length, breadth, and height of life as a means to speak to its followers in a holistic fashion.

 “GOD Grant that we, too, will catch the vision and move with the unrelenting passion toward that city of complete life in which the length and the breadth and the height are equal. Only by reaching this city can we achieve our true essence.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King,  Strength to Love, (1957)

To drive his point home, Dr. King defers to “a wise old preacher” giving advice to a young man on his future plans. After seeing that the young man’s plans for life did not extend beyond school, marriage, and wealth, he warned the young man: “you must make your plans big enough to include God and large enough to include eternity.” Dr. King agrees, “make your plans so large and broad that they cannot be bound by the chains of time or the manacles of space.”

Dr. King would implore Hip-hop to tether itself less to the length of life (sole personal fulfillment) and rededicate itself to fulfilling breadth of life (concern for others) and the the height of life (the pursuit of “the more” for the greater good). Hip-hop has to do a better job of capitalizing on its MLK Bus Boycottappeal to youth culture around the world and look at our power as an opportunity and a means to organize a comprehensive campaign against specific forms of oppression on the international scale.

Dr. King writes that the “sheer onward drive toward self self-fulfilment” is the length of life; but to indulge in self without concern for others is spiritually criminal. There is “nothing more tragic” than an individual who is “shackled by the chains of paralyzing self-centeredness” for it does nothing to advance the fullness of life. Hip-hop is a powerful tool to educate, encourage, reach

Hip-hop’s marriage to earthly possession is well documented. It is ingrained in rap lyrics, immersed in our consciousness, and permeates Hip-hop swag. We hear often about the privileges of being a rapper: powerful status, social currency, and admiration, without proper respect on how they intend to use their new found status, charisma, and institutional access to create opportunities for others.

Because of this, Hip-hop is never able to affirm its greatness in an unqualified sense. Because of this tendency toward the “agonizing partialness,” Hip-hop can only be great in certain aspects.

Because of Hip-hop’s general failure to pursue the breadth and height of life in lieu of pursuing the length of life that ensures personal achievement, it continues to produce cultural values that are devoid of spiritual purpose.

For every opus on black female struggle, there are three tributes to the black female stripper hustle. For every “Dear Mama,” there are three more “All About U’s.” This imbalance relegates Hip-hop not to the height of the former, but to the muck of the latter. Thank God for balance. Thank God for Dr. King. Thank God for Hip-hop.

*This is Hip-hop’s Word, govern your Life accordingly.

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