Professor Trill

Bun B examines hip hop and religion in his Rice U course

Essentially, hip-hop is a reflection of the human dichotomy that exists in all walks of life: The philandering preacher who saves a couple's marriage through counseling, the drug dealer who puts his nephew through medical school, the crooked cop who talks a teenager out of suicide.

Like everything else, there are some instances where religion comes in sharp contrast with hip-hop.

"You can always pick the worst example out of an element, use that to represent the element, and say that that is what the element is. That's what people are doing with hip-hop," Bun explains. "They're taking the worst example of expression and entertainment in hip-hop and using that as a litmus test, so to speak, to basically say that all hip-hop is like this."

Bun B (left) and Dr. Anthony B. Pinn hold court in their Religious Studies 331 class at Rice University.
Erik Quinn / ImagesbyQ
Bun B (left) and Dr. Anthony B. Pinn hold court in their Religious Studies 331 class at Rice University.

What critics overlook is that hip-hop and religion have never been mutually exclusive. Prominent rappers like Freeway and Lupe Fiasco are also devout Muslims. Hasidic Jew Matisyahu came into prominence by merging hip-hop and spirituality. Wu-Tang Clan and Brand Nubian's emergence in the '90s brought considerable attention to The Nation of Gods and Earths.

Dr. Pinn sees a parallel between hip-hop expression and religious expression: "The way in which folks who are embedded in hip-hop culture would dress and what that means is very similar to the church mothers with their hats and their outfits, or the deacons with the suit and the matching Stacy Adams," he says. "It's all a statement of 'I'm here. I'm important. Recognize me.'"

Historically, faith has provided refuge to African-American communities. Hip-hop, a culture that grew out of black America, is now a support system and identity for people of all backgrounds, a sanctuary for those who seek shelter. Just as faith flows from the church even when she is sometimes sinful, light springs from hip-hop culture even if it's sometimes eclipsed by darkness.

Bun, meanwhile, has just learned that two other journalists are ­heading toward­ The Pavilion. One of them made the trip from Beaumont.

This time, he flashes an easy smile and cracks some jokes. He's been in a blissful mood all afternoon. He compliments Dr. Pinn's perfectly laundered gray suit.

"Doc is always clean."

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