Black Church: Rhythm

It is Black History Month, and every year I try to celebrate by writing a series of articles that particularly pertain with my culture and her expression through Christ.  I must admit this relationship has not always been the most healthy for me, but over the years I have come to the conclusion of loving the heritage and culture I have been given.  Additionally, I wanted to start off by talking about some things I love about this culture.  Notice I am saying culture, this is not a racial thing because there are only two races: those who are saved and those who are not.  I just want to clarify this as I will intersperse those words throughout my writing moving forward.


The poet Leopold Sedar Senghor, first president of the republic of Senegal, stated that rhythm is the “organizing force” that makes the black style.  Both Africans and African Americans use rhythm (not exclusively but uniquely)  to articulate their moral, theological, and philosophical beliefs. Rhythm, the essential and central element in black music, philosophically communicates “religious” experience in African and African-American culture and helps its ritual participants reach “communitas.”

Rhythm is particularly significant for rap because it gives rap its unique movement and momentum.  Tricia Rose sucessfully demonstrated through her research that the lowest or fattest beats in a rap song are likely the ones that the most philosophically significant or emotionally charged. Whereas Western music finds its uniqueness in melodic and harmonic structures, African American music finds its uniqueness in rhythmic and percussive structure.

I love the sounds inspired by the black community, whether those sounds come from gospel choirs, blues, Jazz, R & B, Soul, Neo-Soul, rap, or hip-hop.  Allow me to list three ways in which I am grateful.

  1. Gospel choirs: I grew up in a church that did them well.  The emotion, swaying, passion, heart are all things I sometimes miss on a Sunday morning.  Additionally, the spirituals, these are something that as I have grown older have grown closer to my soul.  The pure angst behind every word is still very evident to this day.
  2. Christian rap/Hip hop:  One of the most creative and faithful forms of worship to have arisen in recent years is Christian rap, with rappers like Shai LinneTrip Lee, and Lecrae unleashing some of the most powerful and profound lyrics available in contemporary Christian Music today. I have to be honest this music saved me as I first became a Christian because most of CCM is acoustic guitar driven “soft rock” or ballets and I could not stand it.  May their tribe increase (I wish I were part of the tribe but it is not my calling).
  3. Mainstream Rap/Hip-hop:  While there is so much with which I disagree in mainstream rap and hip hop, those art forms within themselves have served as powerful venues to entire communities to express their beliefs, feelings, and values (both social and political.  Rap itself is an acronym for Rhythm and Poetry and gains its roots in pre-slavery African and serves a basis for most forms of “American”music that we know today.  Even when these artists’ music are consciously and profoundly non-Christian, the Christian community is well served to pay attention to these art forms as a way of loving and understanding a community that is usually so misunderstood yet rich with insight.

About Jon Nelson

I am just a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody [Christ Jesus]!

Posted on February 11, 2013, in ...from Jon, Black History, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hello there! This post could not be written any better!
    Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate!
    He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this post to him.

    Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Well I’m going to need to read up some more but this was a good place to start.

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