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Denison Journal of Religion

Abstract

The essay opens with a discussion of a white artist’s recently attained Grammy award for his anthem for marriage equality. Black artist, Kendrick Lamar, was also in the running, but did not receive the Grammy for his critically acclaimed album about his life in Compton, good kid, M.A.A.D. city. Mendes makes this point to illustrate how the public perceives hip hop as political, arguing that hip hop in its nature is, in fact, thoroughly political. Hip Hop originates from the “corner”: “the heart of the inner city community.” The location of the corner may vary, but serves as a universal source of inspiration to the musicians in the marginalized black community. Mendes points out that many forms of systematic oppression target this community, manifest in the political, economic, and social order. These colorblind caste systems are disguised as accepted institutions, such as the War on Drugs, prison industrialization, and market capitalism. Yet, while the general public assumes these institutions to be both necessary and universally beneficial, these literal wars on a specific group of people actually serve as a way for the dominant powers to exert social and racial control. Amidst these conditions, the “least of these” often turn to underground, illegal capital for survival. Hip hop artists, often able to speak to the experiences of the oppressed, offer their stories through music as a sort of protest. The essay then moves into a segment discussing the historical background of the Corner. Hip Hop’s roots trace all the way back to the Blues, Civil rights movement, and slavery. Mendes discusses Ralph Basui Watkins’ ideas about the four primary characteristics hip hop shares with the blues, illustrating the notion that both musical movements have resistance embedded into the very core of their identity. Finally, the essay brings a theological discussion to the forefront. Mendes notes how Jesus was born into a marginalized condition and continued to identify with the marginalized of his time throughout his life. Therefore, she asserts that the “God on the Corner is one who is active and present in the lives of the neighborhood.” In today’s society, thus, it would make sense for Jesus to be black, one of the “least of these” who has chosen this community as his own. Thus, Mendes argues that hip hop acts as a sort of prophetic voice, naming and calling out to the God on the Corner who has promised to suffer with his people and work towards their liberation.

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