The monster that rap created….

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I love Iggy Azalea. I think what she’s doing is brilliant. She has taken the rap industry and turned it on its head by coming out with a song, err rap, which highlights her ability to sound like a drowning kitten WHILE racking up over 135 million views on YouTube. That’s right, 135 MILLION YouTube views. You do the math. If only 10 percent of her fans went out and bought her single, she will have sold 13.5 million copies, on one song!

Get yo’ paper girl!

And after all, isn’t that what the rap game has turned into? Cash moves everything around me, CREAM, get the money, Iggy, Iggy, Iggy yawl. The ends justify the means, and if the ends are all about, well, ends (money for those of you less initiated in hip hop vernacular) then Iggy Azalea gets my vote as being the queen bee.

Still, there are the critics who are saying that there’s no way this white Australian should be rapping about the things she’s rapping about.

I believe that this is where her true genius shines. What she has done is pull the sheets off the façade that says this generation’s brand of rap has to have any nutritional value in it.  Today’s brand of salacious cellulose that is saturated in gross consumerism and passing itself off as rap music is audible crack. The first time you hear lyrics and a beat that you like, you’re hooked. Couple that with the visual stimuli of The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous meets ghetto-fabulous and voila, you have found the mixture that is sure to gain you a lot of customers.

And, just like crack, it’s equally as useless and destructive.

Growing up in New South Wales, far from the pot-holed riddled and drug infested southern neighborhoods that created the style of music she does, little Miss Amethyst Amelia Kelly heard her first rap song and decided “I want to be a rap star.” The pull must’ve been so strong that, along the way, she decided to trade in one form of white privilege (Australian heritage, long legs, thin waist, blonde hair, and opaque white skin) and morph herself into the object of overt male misogyny. She traded in one career, which was modeling for one of the top agencies in New York, for some butt injections and “swag-on-demand” when the studio producers yelled “spit” (with lyrics undoubtedly written for her).

One of her first hits to go viral was a song about a part of a woman’s anatomy that rhymes with the name Delores. Her audience was primarily comprised of hard living, what I call “catfish folks” who either don’t understand or appreciate the art of subtlety.  She put it all out there, and then capitalized on flaunting her “otherness” to a people programmed to be envious of the very physical traits that she was genetically pre-disposed to have.

Think about it. She already had the hair texture that she witnessed many of her rap contemporaries spend hours, and thousands of dollars, to get their hair to look like. She already had the white skin, sans skin bleaching creams and who knows whatever else many of her other women of color artist were doing. She learned how to rap with the inflection, and the swag, of a rapper from the “dirty-dirty”. She even started dating from what I am sure was a very willing, and eligible, pool of black men.

What Iggy Azalea has done, rather what rap music in its degenerated bastardized form has allowed her to do, is to become the face for a new kind of minstrel act. Like Dr. Frankenstein, she is the monster that rap has created.

In the earliest days of minstrel the performers were exclusively white. They performed in black face to white audiences who were very comfortable with seeing the buffoonery and racially insulting caricatures of black people. What Iggy Azalea has done is a hybrid of minstrel act and survival in a male dominated industry. I have no doubt that she is truly a fan of this style of rap music, and as a woman she is doing what she feels is necessary to succeed in this genre. But, what is most damaging now is that black people have a much greater degree of control over our image than we did back in the 1830’s and 1840’s. The best that we can do is to equate having a big booty and over-exaggerated sex appeal as a mark of approval for a woman rapper?

The repetitive message that most of today’s top rap artist broadcast is as healthy as the residue of a used crack pipe.

This is why I like Iggy Azalea. Her presence atop the charts right now is a mirror that this present rap industry should look into and see that they are the emperor who is wearing no clothes, that they are the evil mastermind that has gathered the parts of a thousand dead bodies and recreated something that has no soul. They’re the ones who have made it very easy for someone like her, and the multitudes that will surely follow, to become the maniacally unpredictable brute who roams the countryside.

So keep on doing it, and doing it and doing it well Miss Kelly.  Maybe one day someone in the rap “game” will wake up from their THC induced haze and realize that they’ve allowed one of the greatest musical art forms on the planet to degenerate into a watered down minstrel show.  But, until then, Iggy Azalea you really are fancy.

Happy other people’s Independence Day

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Today is the day millions of Americans celebrate our nation’s Declaration of Independence from British rule over 200 years ago. But was that declaration of independence a natural extension of the frustration felt by the early colonist against the “tyranny” of the British monarchy, or was it more about a powerful few wanting to secure their riches through their newfound money printing machine, aka, slave trading.

That the Declaration of Independence heralded the foundation of a new nation is a foregone conclusion. It is well known that, despite the fact that there were still many British loyalists making up the voices of descent (of which one of them was William Franklin, the then Governor of New Jersey and son of Benjamin Franklin), those voices wanting full secession from British rule prevailed. These “patriots” eventually, through diplomacy and battlefield victories, prevailed.

We have been told all too often that the colonists were angry about the fact that they were being taxed so heavily by the British crown yet had none of their interests represented. Taxation without representation was one of the main reasons that many of us were taught was the reason why the American Revolution was even considered.

But, consider the fact that British soldiers were better paid than the fledgling colonies were able to pay their soldiers primarily comprised of rag tag militias. The British crown was powerful enough to provide protection against hostile nations and savvy enough to provide incentive for businessmen looking to make their fortune in the new colonies as long as they remained loyal to the crown.

Interestingly enough, prior to 1776, the amount of African slave rebellions in the colonies and in the Caribbean, which was home to many plantations owned by wealthy colonists living in North America, were increasing at an alarming rate. North American plantation owners were consumed with fear that the uprising of the African slaves abroad would spill into the borders of this fledgling nation. Additionally an increasing amount of African slaves were escaping from their owners and joining the British Armies in order to fight against American secession. Why? The anti-slavery sentiment in London was growing at a fever pitch and, by all accounts, according to professor Gerald Horne in his exhaustive historical analysis called The Counter Revolution of 1776: Slave resistance and the Origins of the United States of America, that sentiment was going to spread through the British empire and was leading to the institution of slavery being abolished in all of its colonies (even though it hadn’t yet happened).

It is argued very effectively that the wealthy land owners, slave owners and those sympathetic to them were the primary drafters of the document called The Declaration of Independence. This document insured that their fortunes made by virtue of slavery being legal would be secure for many more generations. The counter-revolution, aka The American Revolution, therefore was a targeted campaign that the framers of this new document approved of in order to maintain their way of life, namely legalized slavery.

African slaves, my ancestors, were not set free as a result of that Independence Day. Almost another 100 years would have to pass before their freedom was secured by the bloodiest war in US history and the ratification of the 13th amendment. Another 100 years after that would have to pass before they were fully able to participate in the political process.

So, as a proud American whose ancestors were undoubtedly victimized by the morally bankrupt system of chattel slavery that this country perfected, Independence Day does not resonate as much with me as it does with many other Americans. Yes, I enjoy the food, the fun and the revelry, but by acknowledging the facts of the story of my people in this country I am no less proud to be here. In fact, that I am able to acknowledge these facts and still be proud to be an American makes me not only a good American, but a great one.

Stop Paying Church Musicians!!!!

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Stop paying non-staff church musicians!

Let it sit. Stew in it for a few more minutes. Repeat.

Stop paying non-staff church musicians!

I don’t expect people who care about this topic to agree with me. In fact I expect to meet with a lot of resistance, if not outright hatred. But I’m not joking, nor am I holding back on the punch.

Stop paying non-staff church musicians!

There are clearly a million different directions I could go with this topic. But, for the sake of time and space I’m going to stick to three points. Those points are:

1)            Being specifically appointed, or called to your position;

2)            Is what you do an integral part of the gospel being proclaimed?

3)            With ministry comes sacrifice;

Temple musicians have always been a very important part of worship. This very topic is brought up in the Old Testament where we see King David actually appointing entire families to be responsible for worship music. In fact these families produced 288 people who were skilled and trained musicians (1 Ch 25:4) whose sole job it was to declare the greatness and goodness of God through music.

Still you might think that, “why are you against musicians being paid?”

Hang in there, we’re almost to the bridge (all of my musician friends, er, ex-friends will know exactly what that means. If you’re not a musician it simply means we’re almost to the good part.)

Under God’s instruction when Moses divided the land of Israel among the 12 tribes, the tribe of Levi was strategically excluded. Instead it was their job to be the priests of the temple and preservers of everything associated with the temple. Because they weren’t allowed to do anything else God declared that they could have certain food offerings that were brought to the temple (Deut 18:1) in order to sustain themselves. Ultimately God tells the Levites that “I am your inheritance,” meaning that they were ultimately to rely on Him for provision.

It is here that the biblical foundation for who is supported by the ministry, I believe, is set into place.

This principle permeates the New Testament as well. You don’t think so?

In the New Testament the apostle Paul was; a) specifically called from being identified as Saul of Tarsus to being called Paul, arguably one of the most influential apostles of all time; b) His writings, teachings and mission work probably did more for spreading the gospel than any other apostle of his time; c) He sacrificed earthly comforts and even his life (Phil 3:7-8). Therefore, it is my opinion that he passes the biblical litmus test for being supported by the gospel (even though he often chose to sustain himself financially as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3). He did, however, occasionally receive support from believers while he was working on behalf of the gospel (2 Cor 11: 7-9).)

Fast forward to today. I know that it seems almost obscene to say that churches are businesses, but they are. They have bills to pay and people to support. I believe that if a musician is not an official member of the church staff, meaning they’re employed by the church, then their position should be on a volunteer basis. To put it plainly, if it’s work (and no job at a church is simply just “work”) then you’re in the wrong line of work. If it’s ministry, (and I think it I’m in-bounds by saying it should be) well, read on.

I don’t remember anywhere in the scripture where God did not amply reward someone who sacrificed something for Him. Relying on God for your provision takes, dare I say faith? (And of course no one is expecting you to sacrifice your life to play the drums on Sunday.)

If a musician only shows up because of a paycheck the church has established a very dangerous and destructive precedence. On whose provision are you forcing your musicians to rely upon? At the end of the day a musician also has a soul that needs to be fed by good theology.  I understand the heart of compassion that a lot of ministries have towards their musicians. I get it. But, at the end of the day these churches aren’t doing these people any good if they’re not being consistent in their teaching.

I believe that sound theology should permeate every decision and contract that the church enters into. And why shouldn’t it? Jesus addressed both the practical and spiritual needs of people in his very first recorded miracle, which was turning the water into wine. This profound event had both deeply spiritual and practical applications. The church is not immune from this same methodology.  Just writing a check, in many cases, is taking the easy way out.

And lastly, have we come to a point in our society where the only acceptable way to acknowledge the presence of a gift (i.e. musicianship) is by way of money? Sometimes a talent displayed in a sacrificial manner is much more profound than it would be if paying that person is compulsory.

This is something that I’m very passionate about (can’t you tell?) because all too often I see good musicians holding church leaders hostage by fleecing the weekly offerings by turning their gift into a “pay to play” exercise. I’m not detached from this reality because I used to be a church musician. I understand and appreciate, intimately, a musician’s role in worship.

In the end, above anything, I hope that this opens up a conversation between church leaders and their musicians. Ministries are very creative and resilient. They can, and should, find a way that is both theologically sound and legal to show how much they appreciate their musicians. It just doesn’t always have to be in the form of a check or wad of cash.