The Hymns & Hip Hop Conference at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta showed that the church can be both sold out for God and turnt up for hip hop.
Can the church say Amen? Who’s ready to get “turnt up?” These sentiments and seemingly conflicting statements described the mighty movement of the Hymns & Hip Hop (#H3C) conference hosted by the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and N.E.W. Leadership Academy in Atlanta that was held on March 28-March 30. In a word, this conference was refreshing! As a part of my thesis and graduate work I have attended various conferences that focus on the recent scholarship and issues in/surrounding Hip Hop. There was the #femhiphop conference hosted by Melissa Harris-Perry in New Orleans. The Hip Hop Literacies Conference at The Ohio State University, and various hip hop sessions at the American Academy of Religion. Each of these conferences offered a variety of valuable, enriching experiences, amazing networking opportunities, celebrity sightings, and brilliant scholarship presented by rising scholars and academic starlets alike. However, there has been something missing. As a minister and theologically trained scholar with a focus in ethics, I constantly search for voices that reflect my own, one that is concerned about the intersection of hip hop and church culture. But it becomes tiring to search and provide the church’s response when it comes to Hip Hop. Though the conferences have been covering a wide range of topics, the church’s response, understanding, and position has gone by with deafening silence. I deeply believe that it is important to the future of the church and we must engage this culture because it influences and develops our congregants.
“Secular” Hip Hop continually mediates and affects our culture and Christian Hip Hop and R&B are steadily developing and changing the game, but our youth are more engaged with Rick Ross than the book of Mark. Both the church and the Hip Hop community are needed to navigate faithfully in this unjust world. So when I heard about the Hymns & Hip Hop conference I was ecstatic and cautious! Ecstatic because I would finally have the opportunity to be in the midst of scholars, lay persons, and clergy who were willing to do the work; to problematize and nuance lyrics, music, dance, and hip-hop culture. I imagined a safe space where like-minded people could come to place of understanding to discuss the prevailing issues that surround the rift between the Church and The hip-hop community. But I was cautious because I’ve never seen the church truly engage with Hip Hop, I’ve only seen the promotion of negative stereotypes, condemnation, and judgment from both sides. As a result, I went into this conference with my eyes wide open yet full of optimism.
Hymns & Hip Hop did not disappoint; they truly represented as they set the stage to begin “bridging the gap between the Holy and Hip Hop.” The leaders of the conference Pastor Mike Wortham and Min. Cassandra Henderson began by highlighting the goals of the symposium. #H3C wasn’t trying to address or solve all of the conflicts that surround Hip Hop and the Church, but rather they were opening up a safe space where both communities could begin to dispel myths and find a common ground on the journey to working side by side in love and acceptance.
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