Ghetto Hermeneutics (A Christian Perspective)
by Brace Boyd
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William Shakespeare once said, "If music be the food of love, play on." That may be true (to an extent). But what William Shakespeare didn't know at that time was how one's social stature could so elevate him to a state of mind-numbing depravity. Or the use and rise of crack-cocaine in neighborhoods. I don't think we should evade the issue any longer. Let us examine the dusty bones from the closets of demons, shall we?
His name is Joseph Wayne McVey, (born January 19, 1977) better known by his stage name Z-Ro, is an American rapper, singer and producer from Houston, Texas. He lost his mother at age six which caused him to be in a constant shuffle for stability. In his late teens, he was unemployed and resorted to dealing drugs as a source of income. Now, this can easily be said and understood in a matter of a couple of sentences. I am well aware that Z-Ro doesn't have a Masters in theology, but he does (as we all do) have a grasp of how things 'ought' to be in a Christian worldview. But why bother with a mundane story of another African-American ghetto-child? I'm about to explain.
He was named one of America's most underrated rappers by the New York Times.
His songs have the ability to grab your soul by the hand and lead you down the roads to his linguistic ghetto. The music he produces isn't easily listened to nor is it meant for virgin ears. They're real life. In some cases they tend to get resentful, hasty, angry, and hateful. But somehow he begins to harmonize a rhyme to his reason. What stuck out in a lot of his music was his lyrical obsession with God. But not just any God, but the God of the Christian faith. He has multiple references to prove this.
For example, in his his song "Tired" he says,
"Here we go again, just to live another season,
I keep my faith in God to face these demons.
Sometimes I win the battle, but it doesn't mean I win the war,
I got to laugh to keep from crying good times I really wonder what they are."
Sheer struggle and pain which is simply stated in these four bars. Here is a primitive example of how his minute grasp of God (though not theologically based) can help him face the harsh reality of the ghetto. As the apostle Paul so aptly states (Ephesians 3: 10-17) that it's a battle which can only be won by God, not us.
In another song, "T.H.U.G. (True Hero Under God)", he says,
"Sometime, one time, stereotype me
The jewelry, and gold teeth
They swear I've got to be running drugs
But I am just a man, trying to stay Satan free,
Through hell is where they're taking me
I swear it's so amazing, to be a THUG
A (T)rue (H)ero (U)nder (G)od's sight from above."
Our Lord Jesus, with His great economy of words, said it best, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment." (John 7:24 ESV)
Here's a reference on how easily one can judge someone of this character and think he is a 'thug' when in actuality, he might be a (T)rue (H)ero (U)nder (G)od.
C.S. Lewis once said "That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the result's which a man's choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it."
How easily (and regularly) do we pass judgement on one another? Moreover, one from a background as Z-Ro? The point here is that even he notices it from his standpoint. Not to mention others do as well. Maybe if we weren't so fixated on appearances ("jewelry" and "gold teeth") and more fixated on the person itself, we might see more clearly through the eyes of Christ.
He goes on to say in that same song,
"Everyday I see my people in poverty
and when I say my people, I mean everybody I see
ain't no discrimination, on Caucasian or Asian
or Mexican, Samoan, lesbians, or the gay men.
Everybody got a day to die, and they won't miss it,
better be ready for company, when death come visit.
Man, I wish Adam and Eve, wouldn't been in the garden,
now the devil swinging at me, got me weaving and bobbing.
Homies are being murdered, by lieutenants to sergeants
like weeds we uprooted just as soon we harvest.
Searching for sunshine, suffocated by darkness
looking for protection, in God's heavenly fortress.
They tell me when I make it, there will be no more pain
ain't gotta be nervous about somebody knowing your name
everybody is your family, it's love around you
even on earth, God is your upper when people down you, so amazing."
"I decided to give it up, and give it to God
Instead of living in the world, I'ma live in the Lord
Gave up cussing this time, while I'm spitting my bars
With a vision of me in prison, that vision is fraud"
"I got a Satan proof vest on, stopping the devil head on
With Jesus I'ma stop him, that's something you can bet on, so amazing."
This is a poetic construct of the brutality of a ghetto life. It's called poverty. What causes poverty to this extreme? Not loving thy neighbor as thyself? I believe so. Once this takes place, it blows open a gap between individuals as well as cultures. But as Z-Ro stated, "God is your upper when people down you" which is "so amazing."
In 2009, Z-Ro released an album titled "Cocaine" with a surprising song called "I Don't Give A Damn". It's fascinating to see a theological relevance throughout this song. For example,
"I need Christ, that's the only thing I know . . ."
"They say my music won't make it, cause I don't rap cars or dancing, I rap pain, poverty, and fraud romancing. . . ."
"If you feel like you wanna die sometimes you can release stress to this, just keep God first in your life, even when you feel like He ain't blessing it."
". . . . all you gotta do is learn to let go and let God handle it, and then you can say . . ."
". . . . I don't give a damn, 'cause God got me and if you don't know you better ask somebody . . ."
". . . . you dying from worrying about thangs you can't change, be mad at Satan, it's too many other name's to blame, only God can bring forth rain to smother pain flames. And then the sun gonna shine, no matter what the doctor tell you, the Lord decide when it's the end of your time . . . ."
". . . . so repeat after me, the devil ain't pimpin' me, cause I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)
". . . . and just because you're white and I'm not, doesn't mean trying to plot on taking your last dime, but I know just because I got a diamond grill in my mouth, you thinking I wanna steal dollar bills out your house. Even though you think I'm an animal I don't give a damn, a (T)rue (H)ero (U)nder (G)od is what I am."
(Oh, I know he cussed and used "God" in the same lyrical reference, but that's a gangster way of telling us he's 'letting it go'. Remember, God doesn't see things as we do. Plus, I'm sure God isn't surprised at a curse word (though they change by culture). Oh, and technically, when we break it down, how 'good' are we anyways? It's all about how we communicate and this is how he (and others) tend to do it to their best acknowledgement. So let us not judge, but relate and help one another see it correctly (2 Timothy 4:2). We can see how Z-Ro yearns to know God through his music.
In a song called "It's Gonna Be Alright" he says more about the harsh reality of the streets. A song regarding to the cruelty of everyday life and the troubles of partnership with humanity. In a sense, he's talking to his mother (as I mentioned before, passed away when he was six).
"People think I'm missin' manners at home training, but I'm just missin' my momma.
It's like I don't fit in this bullshit world. . . ."
". . . I know you looking at ya' son from heaven. . . ."
". . . . Wish I could open up the pearly gates and see your face,
but I gotta sinful life momma and I may not get to see that place."
This simply highlights a heavenly fervor, that is rooted in a deep-seeded pain, which can only be understood by one's own experience. Like many artists do, he copes with his life with a malnourished, theological worldview.
The last song (though there are many more) is called "No more Pain" from his album "I'm still Livin'" released in 2006. I have to say, this is one of my favorite songs he has done for one reason. It's real. Not many artists nowadays spill their heart on paper as he does. (Especially in rap.) If I was put in his situation, I'm not sure I could make it out of it, let alone, make an outstanding song that it put together so beautifully. Admitting your faults is one thing we could all learn from this. He expresses his need for help and his appreciation from his friend, Trae. From contemplating suicide to being thankful for helping hand–he realizes the harsh reality of life. Let's examine.
". . . . Chain smoking, cigarettes back to back,
Unless I was pillow fighting with the kids, I miss that.
But it's a different day and time, and I'm all alone
With nobody to call my own, different area codes popping up in my phone.
Probably just another hoochie, searching for some sex
It ain't got nothing to do with me, it's all about my checks."
First, let's visualize the love he has for his kids. He points out how the problems and stress seem to dissipate when it comes to playing with his kids. Secondly, we can see he doesn't have a solid relationship with a good partner (probably for good reasons). He flat out explains how women call him (from different area codes) simply to get in his pockets for money, not because of anything else. What psychological outfit does that present him when that's the only type of women he sees?
He goes on to say, ". . . . Let me make my mama proud, and she could see me
Cause heaven ain't too far away from the ghetto, but touching it ain't easy
God, give me the victory and bring me out the rain, Give me something to smile about and no more pain."
"First off, I gotta say that I'm thankful for Trae
If I ain't never told you I love you, I'm telling you today
Cause you made me, keep my head on straight
When I was talking suicide, you made me keep my infrared on safe
Instead of me sleeping outside, you would open your home
And tend to your cousin, even though you had problems of your own
I appreciate you my nigga, it's deeper than rap
Somebody else, would of wanted to see me fall off track. . . ."
"Now when I say no more pain, let me explain
Cause God wills certain events to happen that can't be changed.
I use to cry when my friends died, but then I realized
I'm the one who's still facing hard times."
Hate, pain, depression, and problems aren't bound to certain races or cultural boundaries. Satan isn't colorblind. Nor does he care who he hurts. He's like a roaring lion waiting to tear someone down! (1 Peter 5:8)
No matter who 'gangster' one may be, there is always love found in a solid friendship and God knows how BADLY we all need that.
Not everyone is given the same psychological makeup nor do we have the same upbringing. For example, one might have a harder life (a ghetto upbringing) than someone who was brought up in a suburban neighborhood. On the contrary, the one brought up in a ghetto lifestyle might be doing more with what they are given than the one brought up in the suburban neighborhood. As James says, "There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?" (James 4:12 ESV) The main point of the article was to compare and contrast someone such as Z-Ro, who may be seen as a "thug" but in reality he, in God's eyes, is a (T)rue (H)ero (U)nder (G)od.
(His music has helped many. To demonstrate, I'll leave you with some comments from some of his videos on YouTube. And to anyone who says his music is 'pollution' tell that to the people who are alive from his 'pollution'.)
I highly suggest you watch this video and see where he has went in his musical path. There aren't many artist in his genre (or any genre) that will make a song like this.
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