Rappers and religion: Are you offended by hip-hop’s God complex?

When it was announced that Kanye West would be naming his new albumYeezus, the news was met with snickers and smirks from many fans. But for some critics, his choice of album title–as well as song titles like “I Am A God”–the rapper had taken his famously ego-maniacal persona too far over the top.

But Kanye’s Yeezus is just the latest in a long line of hip-hop stars who reference God–sometimes in questionable ways. Ye’s longtime buddy and frequent collaborator Jay-Z has famously referred to himself as “Jay-Hovah” for years. Rakim has dubbed himself “The God MC,” and Nas has often gone by the moniker of “God’s Son.”

Even the current legal battle between hip-hop producers Pharrell Williams and will.i.am over the use of trademarking of the phrase “I am” has religious undertones: “God said unto Moses, I Am That I Am” – Exodus 3:14.

Maybe Moses should check with will.i.am for clarity.

Rap star, Wiz Khalifa says that he does take exception to rappers who use religious imagery in their artwork and rhymes. “This is just me personally, I don’t like how much people play with religion in rap,” Wiz revealed to Al Lindstrom. “You know what I’m saying? I feel like that’s a fad that a lot of people came into and they don’t really understand really what they’re saying or doing. So, they’re playing into that because it’s popular, it’s cool, but it’s not really what the s–t’s about. So, when you talk about religious stuff and you talk about rap culture. Religion is religion and rap culture is rap culture.”

Former Clipse member, No Malice has become a born-again Christian, and he said that he isn’t offended by the phenomenon.

“I think all of the references that the emcees do to God is because the truth cannot be denied,” No Malice explained in an interview with the Christian Postearlier this year. “When you want to be recognized as the best; when you want to be recognized as number one when you want to be comparable to the most elite the only name that you can come up with is God.”

“That’s what leads them to say God out of their mouth,” he concluded–before adding, “After that comes the perversion of it. But a lie always has to ride on the coattails of the truth.”

There is also an underlying cynicism regarding organized religion among many young African Americans–and the number of black atheists has risen steadily over the last 20+ years. According to the American Religious Identification Survey of 2008 (ARIS 2008), the number of black people without any religious affiliation jumped from 6 to 11 percent between 1990 and 2008. Among all Americans the number jumped from 8 to 15 percent over the same time.

Religion has been a subtle part of hip-hop for decades, with many fans becoming exposed to ideologies like The Nation of Gods and Earths, for instance, via music from artists such as Brand Nubian and Digable Planets. Islamic and Christian ideologies have found their way into the music of everyone from Mos Def to Goodie MOB and DMX. Even Run-D.M.C.’s “Down With the King” single and album of the same name were rife with Christian imagery.

Perhaps rapper’s use of religious language to flaunt their own success and talent is their way to criticize organized religion’s inability to reach the people. Or maybe they aren’t afraid of the same symbolism that previous generation’s held so sacred. Either way, hip-hop’s God complex isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Fans have to decide for themselves how far is too far.

Meet India.Arie: Award-Winning Artists Returns to Music More Aware and Authentic

Multiplatinum and Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter India.Arie sits down with Queen of Talk, Oprah Winfrey for back-to-back episodes of "Super Soul Sunday," an Emmy Award-winning  talk show on OWN that the "Brown Skin" singer says is her "favorite show on television."

On the show, India.Arie, who's been in "retirement," opens up about why she went on a sabbatical how she found her true self on this journey – a rise physically, mentally and spiritually from rock bottom. She sums up, during the two-hour televised conversation, how she overcame people pleasing, reclaiming her identity and feelings of unworthiness.

Here's what she said in part and the lessons she's learned:

On decision to retire in 2009: "Navigating the big picture of my life and career, they were so intertwined, I was doing what everybody else wanted me to do. It's is going to be like that, I am not doing it ... I knew that if I kept living that way, I would have so many regrets."

The fallout from the Grammy snub: "Physically, I was having digestive issues, issues with my throat. I sing and talk for a living, it was burning inside. My soul was sick. I did a 48-city tour that I didn't want to do at all. I didn't want to be there. The only reason why I did it is because I prayed about it. In my meditation, I heard: do it and watch everyone around you. I ended up letting go alot of [people] on my team. Getting to that rock bottom was the best thing that I'd ever done. I was limp, and literrally and exhausted."

Lesson 1: "I'm aware now that people still going when their tank is empty."

How she became aware and started to live authentically: "The more I started taking my power back, the more my health stabilizes. The foundation of my life is my spiritual life. What I do and I what I did to really find the answers and restore my life is pray and meditate. ... My prayer was God let me hear your voice and let me have the courage to do what you're telling me, and be 100 percent guided by my soul."

How did she discern the divine voice from outside influences?: "Declaring it during prayer. Know that you pray for something and you trust that it happens. It's like a [spiritual] muscle. I know the difference now; I can't explain it."

Lesson 2: "My definition of success is clarity of my intention and reaching that intention while being true to myself and with joy."

John Legend's 'Made to Love' (video)

Nine-time Grammy award winner John Legend has the ladies oohing and ahhing over his new hit single "Made to Love." Understandably so with tracks like:

I was never sure of a God before, but I know He must exist/He created this…

Legend is gearing up his fourth studio album Love In The Future to be released on September 3 and his 27-city tour which kicks off October 21.

Check out the schedule while listening to the audio of the single.

Oct. 21 — New York, N.Y.
Oct. 22 — Boston, Mass.
Oct. 25 — Atlantic City, N.J.
Oct. 27 — Mashantucket, Conn.
Oct. 29 — Washington, D.C.
Oct. 31 — Durham, N.C.
Nov. 1 — Atlanta, Ga.
Nov. 3 — Miami, Fla.
Nov. 4 — Tampa, Fla.
Nov. 6 — Austin, Texas
Nov. 7 — Dallas, Texas
Nov. 9 — Memphis. Tenn.
Nov. 10 — Nashville, Tenn.
Nov. 12 — Detroit, Mich.
Nov. 13 — Toronto, ONT
Nov. 15 — Cleveland, Ohio
Nov. 16 — Chicago, Ill.
Nov. 18 — Milwaukee, Wisc.
Nov. 19 — Minneapolis, Minn.
Nov. 21 — Denver, Colo.
Nov. 22 — Salt Lake City, Utah
Nov. 24 — Vancouver, BC
Nov. 25 — Seattle, Wash.
Nov. 27 — Oakland, Calif.
Nov. 30 — Las Vegas, Nev.
Dec. 1 — Los Angeles, Calif.
Dec. 3 — Phoenix, Ariz.

In the Name of Chaka Khan; Chicago Street Naming in Grammy Winner's Honor

Ten-Time Grammy Award-winner Chaka Khan will be honored by her hometown with a street naming and "Chaka Khan Day" celebration. The musical icon will be recognized for her stellar 40-year career in music and entertainment in her hometown: Chicago. The unveiling of Chaka Khan Way  will take place on S. Blackstone Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets on Saturday, July 27.

"Chicago is where it all began for me," Khan says in a statement to press. "Even before Rufus, I sang with local groups such as The Babysitters, Lock and Chain and Lyfe. As a young girl, growing up on Carpenter Street, my parents introduced me to a very rich musical foundation-starting with jazz and opera. I owe this city so much, and I'm deeply honored by this tribute. Chicago will always be a part of me, and with this street naming, I now will always be a part of it. It's a blessing to me and my family. We are profoundly grateful to all the people of Chicago."

Chaka Khan Way will be located on the west side of Kenwood Academy, where Chaka Khan attended high school. Khan has Carl McKenzie, president of Artworks Chicago and a music and cultural events producer in the city, to thank. He led the appeal for the street to be named in her honor. He hopes the proximity to the school will lead a new generation to be inspired by Khan's extraordinary achievements in music and entertainment, as well as her efforts to use her success to uplift others.

Chrisette Michele Returns with new Album 'Better'

Grammy winner Chrisette Michele needed a break — so she took one. The release of her fourth album, Better, comes three years after her previous LP, 2010’s Let Freedom Reign. That lengthy hiatus was just a case of her needing to take care of herself for a little while.

“I’m big on taking some time off to figure things out,” she says matter-of-factly. “I’m never in a rush, unfortunately for other people. So the years that I took off weren’t necessarily for music, but for media. I never want to say the wrong thing; I never want to feed people the wrong kind of energy. I wanted to make sure that I came back super positive and supercharged so that I could empower people to do the same.”

“’Better’ in this particular moment means that I can get through anything,” she explains. “I’ve been through the industry and all of its crazy ups and downs. I’ve put together an incredible album. I have a beautiful home and beautiful cars. I have a beautiful family that’s well-fed and taken care of. That just means to me that God is good.”

Read more of this interview on rollingout.com.


Alicia Keys: 'Tears Always Win' (Video)

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Award-Winning Gospel Singer Stephen Steward singin' God's Praises

Award-winning gospel singer and songwriter Stephen B. Steward is touring the East Coast singing God's praises. His lead single, "With My Whole Heart," is touted as a soul-stirring collaboration with Grammy Award-winning gospel legend Andre Crouch.

It's a hit on the Billboard Top Gospel Singles Chart and has helped him nab three 2013 Prayze Factor People’s Choice awards.

Even though he's promoting his debut album, Steward is no stranger to the gospel music genre. He's also a recognized producer.

Read what he has to say about his inspiration and mentors, and find out more about his 10-city East Coast tour.

When did you learn you had the gift of song? It was the year 1987, when I really understood that songwriting was a gift from God. One day I was struggling with my own thoughts to write and in the midst of my struggle I said, "God, if the gift of song is within me, let it flow out of me like living water." Thereafter, writing became spontaneous and instantaneous in some situations.

Why did you choose gospel? 
Gospel was the first genre of music that I was introduced to as a child. I really didn't have a choice coming up in the Steward household, so I guess you can say gospel chose me. I learned that there's an intimacy in God's word whether spoken in song or a sermon that speaks even to the heart of a child. Gospel has always been my first love of music so I have to stay loyal to what I fell in love with as a child.

Who is your inspiration?
Well, this may sound old fashioned, but Jesus is my inspiration to write, compose and to sing. He has first place in all I do. My father inspired me to sing as I watched him sing and play music growing up.  Regarding a musical inspiration, hands down, my mentor and friend, Andrae Crouch. I ate, slept and lived Andrae's music growing up in Mississippi.  His music was  moving, powerful, bold and encouraging. I listened to and studied everything he wrote and still admire his gift to this day!

If you could sing on stage with any singer, who would it be and what would you sing?
That's a tough one! But at the moment, I would have to say Israel Houghton and the song would be, "If Not For Grace." How cool would that be?

'Blurred Lines' - Robin Thicke ft. T.I. & Pharrell (Video)

Watch the music video for Blurred Lines (Unrated Version) by Robin Thicke ft. Pharrell & T.I.

10 reasons Prince was the Greatest Artist of the 1980s

Happy Birthday, Prince Rogers Nelson.

The legendary funk-rock-pop-soul musician turns 55 today (June 7th) and there isn't a better time to acknowledge the greatness and remarkable legacy of one of the greatest artists of his era.

No, actually--the greatest artist of his era.

No disrespect to the King of Pop or the Boss or the Material Girl, but from a strictly musical standpoint, no other artist influenced the sounds and styles of recording artists in the Decade of Excess quite like Prince. Maybe he didn't have the most iconic videos of his era and maybe he wasn't a constant fixture in the media, but when it comes to the actual music, there's really no debate as to who cast the biggest artistic shadow.

Don't agree? Well, here are 10 reasons why Prince was the greatest artist of the 1980s...

No. 10 Re-igniting black rock music for the MTV generation

Prince embraced hard rock and New Wave just as the video age dawned; and by the end of the decade, acts like Lenny Kravitz and Living Colour were charting hits. Even Michael Jackson's more rock-oriented songs came after Prince's 1980 breakthrough album, Dirty Mind.
No. 9 Constant musical reinvention

At the start of the 80s, Prince was known for funk music and was beginning to embrace New Wave. By 1984, his "Minneapolis Sound" was in full swing. He never stayed in one place creatively: moving on to Beatle-esque psychedelia in 1985 and 1986 before embracing everything from hip-hop to Velvet Underground-ish minimalism in 1987 and '88.

No. 8 Providing a template for funk-rock bands

By the end of the 1980s, funk rock bands like Jane's Addiction, Faith No More and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were gaining momentum with a brash mix of funky grooves and guitar-driven rock riffs--a sound that was largely popularized by The Purple One.

No. 7 Insanely prolific

He released virtually an album-and-a-half every year from 1980 to 1989, and that's not counting bootlegs, B-sides and the numerous side projects that served as outlets for his creativity. To put that in perspective: in the time between Michael Jackson releasing Thriller (1982) and Bad (1987), Prince released five albums--including a double set.

No. 6 The "Minneapolis Sound" came to dominate popular music

After Prince's crossover stardom with 1999, his "Minneapolis Sound" (a continuation of Stax-ish soul that essentially replaced horns with synths and featured hard funk and dance grooves) became the defining sound of 80s pop. From Ready For the World's "Oh Sheila" to Stevie Nicks' "Stand Back," to Full Force's work with Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam.

No. 5 Also brought to you by Prince...

The Time, Vanity, Sheila E., The Family, Jesse Johnson, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and Alexander O'Neal. They were all at one point or another shepherded by His Royal Badness during his creative and commercial peak.

No. 4 "Written, produced, arranged and performed by Prince"

No artist of the MTV era epitomized the idea of a self-contained creative force better than Prince. Even though he would often work with bands like The Revolution or New Power Generation and others, his ability to put together entire albums on the strength of his own ability made him one of pop's most respected hitmakers.

No. 3 He wrote how many hits for other artists?

"Sugarwalls" by Sheena Easton. "Manic Monday" by the Bangles. "I Feel For You" by Chaka Khan. "Nasty Girl" by Vanity 6. "Get It Up" by the Time. "Glamorous Life" by Sheila E. "Nothing Compares 2 U" by Sinead O'Connor. Those are just some of the hit songs he tossed out to other artists.

No. 2 Prince, Controversy, Around the World In A Day, Parade and Lovesexy

There's something to be said for watching an artist at their creative pinnacle. And Prince in the 80s was at his pinnacle. Even the albums that weren't quite universally-acclaimed still sound fresh and spawned hit singles and classic album tracks.

No. 1 Dirty Mind, 1999, Purple Rain and Sign o' the Times

But if you don't quite grasp why people make such a big fuss over some little guy from Minneapolis that dresses funny--these are the albums that cement his greatness. Like all great art, Prince's best work both defines its era and transcends it; on these albums (and virtually everything he did over that period) you hear the Prince that influenced everyone from D'angelo to Pharrell Williams, and you see the vision and undeniable talent of a man who shaped his era as much as any artist ever could.

India.Arie returns with new single, 'Cocoa Butter' (Video)

The single "Cocoa Butter" will appear on India.Arie's forthcoming fifth album, SongVersation, due June 25, 2013,