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Gangsta Rap, Hip Hop, Tupac, and Tribalism

by Theodore Walker, Jr.

During the 1980s and 90s, rap and hip hop musicians broadcast and popularized "gangsta" images and "gangsta" culture.

Gangs, including Bloods, Crips and others, are often described as tribal entities.

If we remember that tribalism (like language) remains fundamentally good even though tribes often engage in unrighteous activity,
it should occur to us that gangs may not be inherently unrighteous.

It should occur to us that unrighteous tribal-gangstaism can and should be converted to righteous tribal-gangstaism.

To the extent that gangs are tribal entities, and
to the extent that tribalism is fundamentally good,
rather than eliminating all gangs and all gang-related activity,
it is more righteous to convert gangs to righteous gang-related activity.

For all the suffering and tragedy associated with hip hop culture;
not everything born of gangsta-hip-hop culture is irreligious, wrongly religious or morally unrighteous.

Consider, for example, the music of Tupac Amaru Shakur (1971-1996).

Tupac Amaru Shakur, usually called "Tupac" or "2pac," is an extraordinarily talented and world famous gangsta-rapper-hip-hop musician who died on 13 September 1996, as the result of a 7 September 1996 drive-by shooting.

Popular Tupac tunes/videos include the following:

  • "Brenda's Got a Baby"
  • "If My Homey Calls"
  • "Pappa's Song"
  • "Hollow If Ya Hear Me"
  • "Keep Your Head Up"
  • "So Many Tears"
  • "Dear Mama"
  • "California Love"
  • "Two of America's Most Wanted"
  • "How Do You Want It"
  • "From the Cradle to the Grave"
  • "I Aint Mad At Cha"

In his life, death, and music,
Tupac exhibits
both unrighteousness and righteousness,
both violence and love.

Tupac's music exhibits
both funk and prayerfulness,
both gang relatedness and relatedness to God.

Just as modern Christian religion preaches a gospel of grace and conversion for individuals,
so too modern Christian religion must learn again to preach grace and conversion for tribes and nations, including gangs, and including what Tupac and Queen Latifah call the "hip hop nation."


[See the November 1996 issue of VIBE magazine. This issue is devoted to reflection on the music and tragic murder of world famous gangsta-hip hop musician Tupac Sakur,
see a VIBE Online web site created as tribute to Tupac Sakur "one hour after his death was confirmed" (on Friday, 13 September 1996)
at http://www.vibe.com/docs/tupactribute.html.]

[See BETWEEN GOD AND GANGSTA RAP: BEARING WITNESS TO BLACK CULTURE (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) by Michael Eric Dyson.]
[And see "Let the People Dance" in EMPOWER THE PEOPLE: SOCIAL ETHICS FOR THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN CHURCH (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1991) by Theodore Walker, Jr.]



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most recent update: 5 July 1997
NOTICE OF COPYRIGHT: copyright 1997 Theodore Walker, Jr. This copyright covers all content and formatting (browser-visible and HTML text) in this and attached documents created by Theodore Walker, Jr. c@Theodore Walker, Jr.