The Accidental Ascetic

May 24, 2006

M&T: DMX – Lord Give Me A Sign

Filed under: hiphop, Music & Theology — exmoor @ 4:54 pm

DMX As the church nears its third millennium and the gravity of the post-Constantine era begins to fully felt it finds itself more and more lacking culturally relevant heroes. This vacuum is extremely obvious especially when it comes to the entertainment industry. For instance, Episcopal churches have seen a trend of church services based around U2. Even my own church, as culturally engaging as it tends to be, is not immune as I have repeatedly heard Mark Driscoll refer to Bono and Scott Stapp as the coolest Christian guys in music. First of all, its not 1988 anymore and Bono's not cool. He's the lame uncle with a weird outlook on the world that comes from wearing bad sunglasses for ten years past their expiration date. As for Scott Stapp, last time I checked he had explicitly denied being a Christian and is now best known for having the unpleasant distinction of being in a sex video with Kid Rock.

Its a shame that in such times as these we find the majority of evangelical churches ignoring the person who might just be the coolest guy to preach Jesus since Bob Dylan took a shot at it in the late seventies: Earl Simmons. Earl, better known by his stage name DMX was raised in the housing projects of Yonkers, New York. Sometime in his teenage years he dropped out of school and got involved in various forms of illegal activities and eventually ended up making a career out of rapping. His first five albums all debuted at #1 on the billboard charts and in one of his latest singles he brags that to date he's sold 20 million copies of his records. What makes DMX different from most of his contemporaries is that he has placed his faith at the forefront of his career.

Its a really old joke in the hip hop and R&B music industry is seeing someone on come out and perform one a song that would make a sailor blush with its lyrics and then promptly thank the lord when they win the grammy for it. It comes to me as no surprise then that the majority of white evangelicals would simply ignore a gospel song from a rapper who's best selling album began with a song about drug dealing. However, three songs later his huge single "Party Up" featured seemingly the uncharacteristic lines "That's why you layin on your back, lookin at the roof of the church / Preacher tellin the truth and it hurts."

The deeply perplexing issue of DMX's fate began at the end of his first album, Its Dark and Hell is Hot. After a list of songs that had kicked the level of violence in hip hop up a notch, he added a spoken word track called "Prayer" that is heartfelt piece of poetry directed towards God which introduced "The Convo" which is finds X in a deeply frustrated conversation with God himself. This, by itself could be written off, but over the course of his five albums DMX has continually raised the bar and his faith has become more and more explicit in his music. Every album has included a prayer track and at least one track devoid of his dark imagery and focused on Jesus.

One of my favorites is off his third and most successful album, …and then there was X. "Angel" begins with a paraphrase of of Matthew 16:26 ("For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life? Or what can a person give in exchange for his life?" (NET)) and then returns to the conversational style he started with. "I'm callin out to you Lord, because I need your help", X begins, "See once again I'm havin difficulty savin myself/ behavin myself, you told me what to do, and I do it / But every and now and then, gets a little harder to go through it / Losin friends, day by day / I'm in so much pain when I'm here Lord, please take me away." "God" answers with words that wouldn't be out of place in the Bible: "I put you here to do a job, and your work ain't done / To live is to suffer, but you're still my son."

Simmon's hit a career high with 2001's "The Great Depression." Not only was it arguably his best record musically, but it was also the most personal lyrically. This time around X made Jesus the issue in a good portion of the record, not just the usual prayer and closing song. For instance, his deeply personal song about his grandmother, "I Miss You", begins with a quotation from one of my favorite portions of the wisdom literature, Job 19:25-27. X then goes on the eulogize his grandmother. The song focuses specificly on his grandmothers faith which was quite obviously the focal point of her life.

Five years after Depression and three since his last album, the mediocre Grand Champion DMX is now poised to release his next album, Year of the Dog…Again, this summer. Interestingly enough he's launching the album with a single that focuses exclusively on Jesus. The single, which doesn't even have to feature a "Clean" cut for radio", is possibly the most upfront and theologicly thought out material yet from the rapper. It begins with a paraphrase of Isaiah 54:17 and heats up from there. You can grab mp3 from here and the lyrics are posted below.

In the name of Jesus, no weapon formed against me shall prosper.
and every tongue that rises against me in judgment thou shall condemn.
For this is the heritage of the servant of the lord,
And that righteousness is of me says the lord, Amen.

(Lord give me a sign)

I really need to talk to you lord,
since the last time we talked the walk has been hard,
now I know you haven't left me but I feel like I'm alone,
I'm a big boy now but I'm still not grown,
and Im still goin thru it the pain and the hurt,
soaking up trouble like rain and the dirt,
and I know only I could stop the rain,
with just the mention of my saviors name:
in the name of Jesus!
Devil I rebuke you for what I go through, and trying to make me do what I used to,
but all that stops right here, as long as the lord's in my life I will have no fear
I will know no pain from the light to the dark,
Imma show no shame spit it right from the heart
This is life from the start cause you held me down
and ain't nothing they can tell me know

(Lord give me a sign)
let me know what's on your mind let me know what I'm gonna find
it's all in time show me how to teach the mind show me how to reach the blind
lord give me a sign
show me what I gots to do to bring me closer to you cause Imma go through whatever you want me to just let me know what to do lord give me a sign

Please show me something,
I'm tired of talking to him knowing he frontin.
Crying bout life ain't nothing,
Cause you either be the one mad cause you trapped or the one huntin.
Trapped in your own mind waiting on the lord,
Or huntin with the word that cuts like a saw,
the spoken word is stronger than the strongest man
carries the whole world like the strongest hand!
With the trial and tribulations you never let us down
(Jesus!) I know you here with us now (Jesus!) I know you still with us now,
keep it real with us now I wanna feel show me how please let me take your hand
guide me or walk slow but stay right beside me devils tryin to find me hide me
hold up, I take that back, protect me and give me the strength to fight back

(Lord give me a sign)

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19 Comments »

  1. Were you at the Resurgence conference? Eric Mason brought along his co-pastor, “Duce” AKA “The Ambassador” (www.theambassadoronline.com). The Ambassador put on an impromptu rap performance. It sounded incredible over the MH soundsystem and was a refreshing anachronism in a room full of chubby white guys. While I’m not one to question DMX’s heart, Duce’s performance made me realize that the world is settling for far less when it comes to spiritual hip hop heroes (Kanye West or Murder MA$E, anyone?). Raises the question: are Christianity and hip hop lifestyles mutually exclusive? I don’t think so (and I hope not), but my prayer is that more guys like Duce and Eric will carry the torch. Can street cred survive faith uncompromised? What’s it all about?

    Comment by Andrew — May 25, 2006 @ 12:44 pm

  2. Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend the conference.

    I definitely won't be settling for DMX as a spiritual hero. The other side of the coin when it comes to DMX is obviously the far less Christlike thug side. Even if we were to write off all those songs as fictional caricatures its still hard to reconcile the two sides. I still think DMX's "positive" lyrics have a lot more to offer orthodox Christianity than any U2 song I've ever heard or even a lot of stuff that makes it on christian radio.

    I agree with you that hip hop and Christianity shouldn't be any harder to reconcile than indie rock, punk rock, or even top 40. I also hope we will begin to see more artists who are able to look at Jesus as something more than a word you say in the slow emotional songs. He's the rock on which we build our lives.

    Comment by exmoor — May 25, 2006 @ 4:02 pm

  3. The song is real. It’s exactly what Hip Hop needs. It gives people the confidence that through rough times we may make mistakes or be misguided by the devil, but we will be loved no matter what. It helps people realize that is ok to acknowledge that we may struggle through our daily lives and we can still love God!

    Comment by Andre — August 18, 2006 @ 10:31 am

  4. ok…3 things.

    1-Bono is cool and he will never stop being cool.

    2-Scott Stapp said in a post-Creed interview, “Yes, I am a Christian. We were not a Christian band.”

    3-While I love DMX’s Christian songs, his darker lyrics on the rest of the album mean that I can’t condone buying it.

    nuff said.
    josh

    Comment by josh — September 25, 2006 @ 9:07 pm

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