Updated: Sep 21
Religion is something that we keep to ourselves in the West. Since the enlightenment and the rise of secularism in societies, religion has always been something that is supposed to be kept out of regular conversations at work, school or any type of gathering place that isn’t a place of worship. And that makes perfect sense. The world is becoming a mosaic of different races, cultures, religions and belief systems and religion is one of the biggest causes of conflict in the world, so in order to limit conflict we limit our public engagements about the concept of religion.
Religion is a deeply personal concept that is difficult to intellectualize and tear down if speaking to an actual believer. One who believes in religion wholeheartedly can often allow their beliefs to occupy every aspect of their lives and even believes in ideas that completely contradict the mainstream perception of reality because of how steadfast they are in their faith. And that's why religion has to remain out of decision making in a society where the population is not a religious monolith. Obviously many of our laws and conducts, and even our understanding of the passage of time and nature as a whole, are JudeoChristian inspired and influenced. But the world is growing, expanding and becoming more connected and we’re being exposed to many different belief systems, so we keep religion private. But even then, a lot of the greatest art we consume tends to provide spiritual experiences.
Spirituality is defined as the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things. That is inherently what art is. Art is introspective, one has to pull from within to release their “soul”, or an abstraction. The artist is not concerned with the physical or material, instead they are grasping an abstract concept that appears to them and then try to make it tangible in the physical world. The creative process can be viewed as the human creating the idea but that is almost never the case. Every creative idea is stumbled upon. It's as if ideas inhabit human beings as opposed to human beings creating the idea.
Many times we have no clue where the idea came from or how we came up with it, we just know that we are hit with a spark of inspiration and at the moment of inception, we are usually not aware of the entirety of the idea. We only have a glimpse of what it's supposed to be and it remains on the tip of our tongues, until we fully refine it and understand what that original spark was trying to tell us. Art is a result of inspiration, and inspiration has a spiritual nature. So art is in its base, a spiritual activity. If we would like to define art in short we could say that it is the communication of the human with the sense of existence, the discovering of deep secrets, penetrating to the source of things. The artist is, in this case, a mediator between that source and the receiver. After the abstraction is complete or at least refined to the best of our ability, it has the ability to cause transcendental experiences.
Humanity has been followed equally by art and religion, which are interwoven till our times, dominating alternately the human conscience in most historical epochs.
In primitive society the two fields were unbreakably linked with everyday life, with the hunters' activities, agriculture, fertility, healing etc. In the personality of the tribe-magician, the priest and the artist were joined and had direct relations with natural forces and daily or seasonal events.
In the later epochs, from Ancient Egypt to Renaissance, art has served as the visualization of ruling ideologies. In this pre-modern time, the artist was illustrating what the ruling class wanted to transmit to other society members, through artwork whose themes and styles were determined and canonized as seen in the works of Michelangelo. In that phase, the artist was communicating with nature and society, always with some ruling ideology on his mind. In that period art was treated mostly as handicraft which should be learnt for better service. The main characteristics of those artists was their modesty, anonymity and serving to the system. The early cultures had temples in which they presented worshipped beings, and in the Middle Ages canonized religious themes.
Since the Renaissance, when painted images became independent from architecture, as an object for itself, the artist gradually moved away from the state's ideologies and became more and more individual.
The reason why Art and Religion have gone hand in hand across the globe is due to arts transcendental ability. Arthur Schopenhauer, the father of pessimism, had a violent vision of the daily world which often sent him on a quest for tranquillity, and he pursued this by retracing the path through which Will, which he believed is the foundational being of everything, objectifies itself. He discovered more peaceful states of mind by directing his everyday, practically-oriented consciousness towards more extraordinary, universal and less-individuated states of mind, since he believes that the suffering that a person experiences is proportional to the degree to which that person’s consciousness is individuated and objectifying. His view is that with less individuation and objectification, there is less conflict, less pain and more peace.
He believed one way to achieve a more tranquil state of consciousness is through aesthetic perception. This is a special state of perceptual consciousness where we apprehend some spatio-temporal object and discern through this object, the object’s essence, archetype, or “Platonic Idea” that corresponds to the type of object in question. In this form of perception, we lose ourselves in the object, forget about our individuality, and become the clear mirror of the object. During the aesthetic perception of an individual apple tree, for example, we would perceive shining through the tree, the archetype of all apple trees, in an appreciation of every apple tree that was, is, or will be.
Schopenhauer believed that few people have the capacity to remain in such an aesthetic state of mind for very long, and most are denied the transcendent tranquillity of aesthetic perception. He believed that only the “artistically-minded genius” is naturally disposed to and can supposedly remain at length in the state of pure perception, and it is to these individuals Schopenhauer believes we must turn — as we appreciate their works of art — to obtain a more concentrated and knowledgeable glimpse of the Platonic Ideas (i.e., into the essences of things). The artistic genius contemplates these Ideas, creates a work of art that presents them in a manner more clear and accessible than is usual, and thereby communicates a universalistic vision to those who lack the idealizing power to see through, and to rise above, the ordinary world of spatio-temporal objects.
Artists and artistic creations have the ability to reflect spiritual realms, principles and values like beauty, creativity, honesty, generosity, discernment, patience,perseverance, struggle, gritty reality and ultimately truth. Art within capitalism is situated in the marketplace and can easily result in spiritually impoverished ephemera, the production of which is governed by worldly priorities like profit, success, power, status, and fame. A lot of mainstream modern music, predominantly mainstream Rap and Trap Music, is mainly focused on attaining capitalistic ideals like money, cars, homes and women as markers of social status, or committing crimes, selling drugs or murdering people. And when looking at that type of environment, it's difficult to see where spirituality fits in. But Hip Hop has always been spiritual.
Hip hop is a contemporary culture that began as a Black cultural expression and creative identity similar to other forms of Black music such as blues and jazz that can be traced to West Africa. Hip hop origins and purpose challenge status quo and is a revolutionary cultural force. In its earliest stages, hip hop was an outlet for
disenfranchised youth of color.
Hip hop spirituality is a street spirituality that recognizes God in everydayness. It is an irreverent theology because it questions the existence of human suffering and oppression, particularly among African Americans. Hip hop spirituality’s emphasis on liberation of the oppressed is connected to liberation theology. Further, it combines liberation theology with the civil rights and Black Power movements. The purpose of this spirituality is to create a new understanding of black dignity among black people, and to provide the necessary soul in that people to destroy white racism and empower black people. The belief is that when a poor person is denied his humanity, stripped of his self-respect, and humiliated through unjust, political and economic arrangements, he is a victim of a system repudiated by the gospel. This theological perspective views sin as a social, political, and economical oppression of the poor. Themes of racism and oppression are reflected in hip hop lyrics such as Kanyes’ Jesus Walks and Tupacs’ Black Jesus.
Public Enemy, Immortal Technique, Dead Prez, TalibKweli, MosDef and others are also known for lyrics that challenge injustice in America. Muslim American hip hop artists such as YasiinBey, Q-Tip and Lupe Fiasco often incorporate elements of their faith by speaking out against oppression. Five Percenters, a quasi-Muslim movement, are known for their conscious raising, Black positivity music, known as ‘God hop’, that is infused with spiritual messages. Mobb Deep, Wu Tang Clan and Jay Electronica are known to infuse Five Percent theology in their music.
If your only view of hip hop is mainstream drugs, hoes and guns hip hop then you probably would never see how spirituality pervades hip hop, until mainstream rappers go spiritual. In the past few years mainstream rappers like Nipsey Hussle, Kendrick Lamar, Chance The Rapper, Kanye West and most recently NLE Choppa have begun infusing their spirituality into their brands, music and cultural appearances. Kendrick Lamar has always infused his spiritual beliefs into his music with his debut album ‘Good Kidd Madd City’ having prayers and Universal Laws appearing throughout the music and sketches, Chance The Rapper created an entire Gospel album and Kanye West has stopped making secular music and came out with a gospel album late last year titled ‘Jesus is King’. Most of the rappers I’ve mentioned are introspective and lyrical rappers that delve into their personal lives, beliefs and philosophies throughout their music, so hearing about their faith and belief systems isn’t really shocking. One name that stood out is NLE Choppa. NLE Choppa is a 17 year old rapper who rose to fame with his January 2019 single "Shotta Flow". The song is the usual mainstream rap song detailing NLE’s criminal exploits, his dusturbance of the peace, abundance of wealth, women and weapons, and how he’ll “smoke a nigga”, you know, the usual.
I found out about NLE Choppa last year when I saw a headline talking about the rapper turning down a lucrative deal. When NLE Choppa was 16 years old, he turned down a 3 million dollar record deal to partner with United Masters and retain control of his music. He became one of the most popular emerging acts of 2019 when he released ‘Shotta Flow’ which is currently sitting at 113 million views on Youtube.The single catapulted Choppa to stardom. Soon after Choppa found himself in the middle of a bidding war between multiple labels. You don’t usually see the story of a 16 year old turning down millions of dollars so I kind of tuned in, but I heard the music and there was honestly nothing special about it.
NLE Choppa was recently inducted into the XXL Freshman class of 2020 and his spiritual turn seems to be more pervasive in his brand than ever before. NLE has been promoting healthier eating, critically thinking, raising your vibrations, meditation, being more conscious and alert, he even recently posted videos of him meditating in water and attempting to create a ring around himself exclusively using the energy emanating from his body.
NLE Choppa is not the only rapper in the past few years to rap lyrics that seemingly go against their mainstream image but promote positive, revolutionary, pseudo-spiritual messaging to their fan bases through their social media, the late XXXTentacion built a cult like following from being a spiritual advisor and guide to his fanbase of rabid teenagers looking for a spiritual leader to confide in. XXXTentacions breakout hit was ‘Look at me’ which featured typical lyrics about women and fashion over a dope beat and distorted vocals, but as X grew as an artist his music became more introspective, personal and created music capable of producing highly emotional experiences. This is not to say that trap music or mainstream rap is completely incapable of producing highly emotional experiences, but you’re not sitting down for hours feeling strong emotions whether positive or negative, crying, thinking about, learning from or intellectualizing Shotta Flow 5, you’re just jumping, catching a flow, vibing for a minute and then going on with your day.
NLE Choppa is not the first rapper to change his spiritual path after beginning to rap. Kanye West recently converted to Christianity after he felt as though he abandoned his faith and ‘worked for the devil’. Religious symbolism and imagery has existed in music since its inception, with concepts like an artist ‘selling their soul to the devil’ being a metaphor for artists that abandon their morals, values, belief systems and the sanctity of their art for the sake of a reward, whether it be financial compensation, fame, status or anything of the sorts. Major labels are usually regarded as “the devil” or “the machine” because major Labels work within the music industry, which occupies the broader entertainment, corporate media and advertising industries.
Corporate media’s agenda is to sell advertisements rather than quality media to inform and entertain the public. And a lot of times you have to look at who owns the outlet, who funds the outlet, where do they get their information from and what their agenda is. The concept of an artist “selling their soul’ has historically implied that the artist has abandoned his morals and beliefs in order to promote and endorse ideologies that further continue the agenda being perpetuated by the current power structure.
Different agendas are perpetuated and enforced by the media. Agendas like the prison industrial complex, which is a system situated at the intersection of government and private interests. It uses prisons as a solution to social, political, and economic problems. It includes human rights violations, the death penalty, slave labor, policing, courts, the media, political prisoners, and the elimination of dissent. The US has the highest population of prisoners anywhere in the world due to private prisons. And the media perpetuates this behaviour by using influential people to promote criminal behaviours that could land them in prison, aka rappers.
Kanye believed “the devil” was using him in order to brainwash the masses and keep them away from God, which is a belief that has existed in theology for millenia, with some religions even depicting the Devil as being proficient at string instruments. XXXTentacion had the same beliefs. In his interview with DJ Akademiks, X states that he had to create music he fundamentally disagreed with in order to make it to a point of notoriety, and then spread his message in order for it to reach the largest possible audience.
“Mixing the medicine with the food” is a figure of speech often used in Hip Hop to refer to the artist incorporating positive, revolutionary and enlightening lyrics within music that the masses can party to and easily digest without seeming preachy. Songs like Andre 3000’s Hey Ya and Kendrick Lamars’ Swimming Pools are party songs with conscious lyrics disguised behind catchy melodies and hard beats. The belief is riddled throughout Hip Hop culture with hip hop influenced stand up comedians like Dave Chappelle, Katt Williams and Chris Rock also feeling the need to disguise revolutionary, enlightening and positive commentary beneath their jokes that can be viewed and enjoyed by the masses without seeming preachy. Lauryn Hill talked about this phenomenon in the Fugees song Zealot where she exclaimed: “And even after all my logic and my theory, I add a "Motherfucker" so you ignant niggas hear me”. Because ultimately all modern day art exists within the marketplace and the demand for honest, introspective, thought provoking, enlightened and positive music, seems to be less than feel good, party, crime and dance music. And so to achieve a certain level of success many artists feel as though they need to to tone down or dumb down material, in order to appeal to the mainstream and finally provide the transcendent poetry and art they feel within.
Fun music is fun but the Covid-19 pandemic has brought a different view to the role of the modern artist. The role of art is essential in helping people gain access to the transcendental experiences that art is capable of giving the individual during times of extreme duress. Hip Hop can be a source of uplifting and truth telling but the mainstream has lacked the messaging in the music and succumbed to corporate monotony. When Lil Baby made a song out of the ordinary detailing the George Floyd protests and a need for unity and revolution, people clamoured for it because during times of turmoil people look to art to contextualize their experiences and to give them a sense of unity and connectedness, and most of modern mainstream music fails to do that. Hip Hop is capable of being transcendental, revolutionary and uplifting and clearly people are seeking that content again.
The“artistically-minded genius” that Schopenhauer talked about which can supposedly create a work of art with universalistic vision to those who lack the idealizing power, is not the artist that is pushed to the forefront by the gatekeepers of mainstream music. And so a large population of mainstream music listeners are kept away from the incredible, character building and transcendental experience of listening to music or experiencing a piece of art, literature or film that can represent an honesty more real and truthful than reality itself. A deep interconnectedness akin to a religious experience. And those artists in the mainstream that are capable of tapping into this aesthetic state of mind for very long are incentivized to bury those aspects of themselves for the sake of mainstream notoriety.
I have no clue if NLE Choppa is capable of providing that level of substance and value in his music but he seems to be a kid on the right track. I would like to see him incorporate his beliefs, philosophies and ideas into his music because it's bigger than just his music. Hip Hop began with revolutionary intent and that spark can’t be lost for the sake of corporatization and monetization. Knowledge is a core tenant of Hip Hop culture and to disperse knowledge is synonymous with Hip Hop. As we enter a new decade that has already begun with turmoil, hip hop morals and values need to make a return for the furtherance of the culture and its inhabitants. Those of us that occupy the culture need to represent what we want it to look like. As the owner of a hip hop media brand, author and hip hop music producer, I have instilled my fair share of ignorance into the culture, but I’m only 21. We’re all growing, and evolving and our goal should be attempting to provide some light into a culture that we love, and as we enter this new decade it's important to be clear about our messages and to avoid self destructive propaganda.
That's not just about hip hop though, all artists who are capable should convey their truth and the universalistic vision to those who lack the idealizing power. Abandoning that strive to express while burying it beneath the lust for financial or material gain is a disservice to humanity and being, itself. You don’t really create an idea, the idea has you, it chooses you. To not convey the truth of that idea and instead adhering to an uncreative formula and attempting to appeal to a system in order to achieve personal gain is blasphemy and its regressive. You prevent your idea from changing the world and inspiring others to attempt their own ideas and change the world too, in an everlasting, abstract, progressive field of innovation. We need our everyday, practically-oriented consciousness to be able to focus towards more extraordinary, universal and less-individuated states of mind, which could lessen the suffering that individuation and objectification cause, and maybe there will be less conflict, less pain and more peace.
During quarantine I put time into learning about music production, graphic design, quantum physics and video game design and it culminated in the release of my project ‘HyperReality’. HyperReality is a combination of an album and a video game. The album is an instrumental album with vocal samples, the project is my sonic argument for simulation theory. The simulation theory idea of the music album sparked the idea for the video game. Since I am new to the creation of games I used the Utility software and created a game from a preexisting template. The world-building aspects of the game were fascinating. Being able to manipulate the physics, terrain, gravity and spatial dimensions of the game helped with my research into physics, quantum physics and simulation theory.
The videogame is about the adventures of Ellen into a strange world. You suddenly wake up in a strange world. You will need to use 3d platforming skills in order to evade. You will encounter some weird creatures that will attack you. Prepare your brain since you will need to solve some puzzles in order to advance in game. You will need to use triggered actions to open gates, to trigger moving platforms, and to use your fighting skills to fight robot enemies and bosses. All links to the project are available below!