A conversation on the god complex in hip hop
A few days ago, a friend sent me the latest video that Drake dropped for his song “God’s plan.” Upon watching the video, I was pleasantly surprised to see Drake giving nearly a million dollars back to the Miami community. He gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to schools, bought groceries for a whole store full of people, gave to service organizations and recorded the process.
The chorus of the song starts off “God’s plan, God’s plan.” A few lines later, Drake says “I might go down as G.O.D.” Now, this is not completely surprising because Drake has often referred to himself as the “6 God”, the 6 is a reference to his hometown, Toronto. It is interesting that Drake’s references to his “god nature” are always tied to his contributions to a city or a culture. It is ironic that the song title “God’s plan” has more to do with Drake’s reference to his own god complex, however Drake is definitely not the first to refer to himself as “God.” Hip-hop has a rich history of rappers and god complexes.
Now before you stone me for pointing this out about your favorite rapper, I want you to know that my intention is not to bash Drake or hip-hop in general. I grew up as a child of hip-hop culture, like most African American men that had roots in urban culture. I will always resonate with hip-hop even if I don’t agree with the messages in all of the music. However, I believe that this god complex issue is definitely worth exploring.
The god complex in rap is not a new phenomenon by any means, but my earliest memory of it is was during the 90’s hip-hop era. At this point in hip-hop history, the New York rap scene was heavily associated with the Nation of Gods and Earth movement also known as “The 5 Percent Nation”. This movement, which still exists today, proposed that 15% of people in the world knew the secrets of the world and only 5% chose to show it. This “5%” constituted the Nation and they boldly claimed that the black man is “God” and their mission was to make that known to as many black men as possible. This trickled into the rap scene and eventually flooded it. It was heard not only in the music, but also in the ways that rappers identified themselves. For example, Rakim, one of rap’s icons, was widely known as the “God MC”. Lamont Hawkins of Wu-Tang clan was coined U-God.
This god complex continued into the new millennium and still continues today. Jay- Z, also known a J-Hova, has referred to himself as the god of rap. In 2013, Kanye West made a controversial album called Yeezus with a song called “I am a God.” Jay Electronica called himself “the god” in 2015 when referring to Drake’s earlier mentioned “6 god” reference. Lil’ Wayne, T.I., Big Sean, ASAP Ferg, Pusha T, Game, Busta Rhymes, Lil B, Joe Budden, and many more are on the list of rappers who have identified themselves as god.
As a Christian, this trend is obviously disturbing, but not just because of the whole blasphemy part. I think this trend points to a deeper insecurity that young black men face. These rappers’ self-identification with god is usually rooted in power and authority. Things that most young black men grow up without, especially in urban contexts like these rappers usually come from. I venture to say that the god complex in rap is an attempt to gain the power and authority that no one around them possessed in their younger years. Not only is this an attempt to gain these things, but it is also an attempt to make every one believe it, especially those who doubted them before. What if the god complex was a plea for attention and an attempt to gain things that, quite frankly, will never satisfy.
As a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ is God and that He came to earth as man. Yet when Jesus came to earth as a man, He gave up all of His power and authority and decided to resonate with the experience of the lowliest in the society. The overall socio-economic situation of Jews in the ancient Roman Empire was very similar to the socio-economic situation of the African American in American society. This is the narrative that Jesus resonates with.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” 2 Corinthians 8:9-10
One of the powerful emperors in all of history was a man named Napoleon Bonaparte and at the end of his life, as he reflected on the life of Jesus, he had the following to say:
“Well then, I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him.”
What was Napoleon trying to say? If anyone knew what earthly power and authority felt like, it was Napoleon. Napoleon was a short man, but his height didn’t stop him from conquering most of the continent of Europe. He was by far the most powerful man on earth during the height of his reign. But even Napoleon realized the limits of human power. He realized that the power of man could never make him God, this realization was further confirmed as he sat in a jail cell in an exile island at the end of his life. He was finally defeated and he had to accept that true power is in the hands of God alone, and Jesus Christ was the exemplification of that power in human form. This power was unattainable by man, but this power was not found in human force. It was found in a supreme act of Love that ended in Him on a cross, dead, but resurrected three days later.
While we see the god complex blatantly portrayed in rap music, if many of us are to be honest with ourselves, including myself, we might find a bit of a god complex in our own lives. Do you love to be in control of your life and all the circumstances in it? Do you love to brag about your accomplishments? Is your ambition a means to prove a point that you are something in this world? Do you look down on others who don’t have what you have? Do you do acts of charity for others who don’t have what you have to look up to you? These are seeds of a god complex. But there is hope for us to leave the bondage of chasing this unattainable goal and to live a truly fulfilled life.
“For we do not have a high priest (Jesus) who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16