OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego faculty member Dr. David Moody examines Christian rap and gospel hip-hop as an evolution of black liberation theology in his recently published book “Political Melodies in the Pews?: The Voice of the Black Christian Rapper in the Twenty-first Century Church.”
In his third year on the SUNY Oswego communication studies faculty, Moody grew up in a black Baptist church, worked in the broadcasting industry for more than 20 years, did his dissertation in American culture studies at Bowling Green, studied the history of musical influences on black churches, and continues today as a deacon and youth minister in a Baptist church in Painesville, Ohio.
Moody said he brings all that research and experience to bear in “Political Melodies,” acknowledging his book is, in part, an examination of black America in the current political landscape.
“The book is timely,” he said. “I’m glad it came out when it did as we look at the political climate today, in particular the presidential election. I reference some things about Barack Obama in the book — his relationship with (the Rev.) Jeremiah Wright, how he’s been looked at not only by black America but white America. This leads into how we as a black people have been looked at through the years and have been treated.”
Moody’s book, published by Lexington Books, a subsidiary of Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group, explores the view that many black clergy in America espouse a “theology of liberation” that has rejected and then embraced musical genres from spirituals to gospel, from the blues to contemporary Christian. Rap music and hip-hop culture, particularly in fundamentalist black churches, are in the rejection period.
“It is my contention that the emergence of Christian hip-hop-based ministry has taken on the role of a new liberating theological theme among youth within the black community,” Moody wrote in his preface.
Secular rap, with its controversial history of violence-loving, women-hating lyrics, has left a difficult road to acceptance for Christian rappers from Kirk Franklin to Lil Raskull, Moody said — artists who use rap to deliver messages against drug use, prostitution, gang activity and other “capitalism of the streets.”
“One of the knocks critics have made against Christian rap music is, ‘All they’ve done is co-opt another genre,'” Moody said. “Secular rap is what it is, whether you’re dealing with thugs … or treatment of women. Perception is everything. It’s all about lyrics — that’s where it starts. How else do you separate those artists from Lil Raskull, T-Bone (and others) who are out there in the streets as a member of a gang, but now we’re talking about a different gang whose membership is in the body of Christ?”
Moody points out that black clergy historically have intertwined messages of deliverance from the literal oppression of racism and poverty with redemption from the spiritual bondage of sin.
“The black church has always been a place for black people to come to, to be with each other, to share problems with each other,” he said. “Going back to the days of Jim Crow, that’s the only place we could go and where we felt that we were safe and had the opportunity to speak openly among ourselves. And the black church has not changed in that respect — black clergy continue to be vocal from the pulpit about issues that concern the black community.”
Eventually, Moody said, if black clergy want to reach their youth, they will accept Christian rap as a vehicle.