Frankenstein’s monster is one of culture’s most misunderstood villains. A grotesque hodgepodge of parts taken from the bodies of deceased criminals, he was never going to find public acceptance and was doomed to forever be an unwanted “other.” Whatever Frankenstein’s monster ended up doing has to be understood as his only recourse to his lot in life: He was never going to be accepted in society.
This, Lecrae argues, is the best way to understand rap music. In an 18-minute TED Talk, the Grammy-winning Christian rapper eloquently argues that rap music—and the black culture that produced it—have been labeled as villains in society. Lecrae claims that, like Frankenstein’s monster, the misogyny, violence and drug glorification of rap music was largely cobbled together (and purchased) by cultural forces much bigger than the black community, then deemed to be the source of that culture’s ills.
Lecrae outlines the roots of rap, showing how it initially contained messages that were either hopeful, societally challenging or narratively describing (but not condoning) the plight of poverty; however, as America was flooded with drugs from South and Central America, Reagan enforced the “war on drugs,” creating a prohibition era-esque black market. Then in 1983, the unemployment rate rose to 21 percent, hitting impoverished black communities the hardest. What this meant is that black men couldn’t find jobs, but had an extremely lucrative counter-option: drug dealing. Due to the war on drugs, this meant black men were being jailed in droves, with nearly a quarter of all non-college educated black men ending up in jail, often for decades.
Lecrae argues this left a vacuum for kids such as himself. They grew up with the American Dream out of reach, no fathers, and the only male role models in sight being the drug dealers they saw becoming both rich and hated by their country. Lecrae claims this is why the rap music of the ’90s turned violent, misogynistic and drug-glorifying. Most damning, he claims this was actively encouraged by record labels, who realized there was a ravenous market for this hyper-stylized “thug life” music in the form of white, suburban young men.
Lecrae is quick to point out the need to take responsibility—noting that poor choices were made within the black community along the way. No one made the black community turn to drugs, he says. But for those of us who follow Jesus—especially those of us who are white and grew up during the Tipper Gore/Parental Advisory Label/NWA era—we need to realize our narratives about rap music have been far too simple.
Perhaps rap music, for those of us who are Church Leaders, can serve as a window into a marginalized culture the evangelical church has traditionally seen as a villain. Rap music may—at times—be like Frankenstein’s monster, violent and grotesque. But what we need to ask ourselves, as leaders in our communities, is what role did we play in creating him? And, more to the point: What can we do to help?