Rappers and Rioters

The warning came a full ten years ago. "Don't push me," sang the rapper, " 'cause I'm close to the edge/I'm trying not to lose my head." Soon there were other warnings. A rap group that sang about shooting police officers, with lines like: "Taking out a police will make my day." Another rap group sang, "Get rid of the devil, real simple/ Put a bullet in his temple." There was even a foreshadowing of the L.A. riots, when a group rapped about killing Korean grocers. Yes, the warnings were there. And then came the explosion: the eruption of violence in South-Central L.A. There's no shortage of explanations for the riots: racism, poverty, family breakdown, welfare dependency, and, of course, the Rodney King verdict itself. No doubt all these factors must be taken into account if we are to come to terms with the riots. But even taken all together, they do not explain the blood and ugliness that fractured South-Central L.A. If we probe deeper, we discover one answer in the lyrics of rap music. They are clearly calculated to create despair--a despair so deep it erupts into violence. Leonard Pitts, Jr., a black man and music critic for the Miami Herald, says, "The music these rappers make grows out of a paralyzing despair, deeper than any we've seen in over twenty years." For some rap stars, even the L.A. riots didn't go far enough. On television, one rapper said, "I'm ... honored to be living at a time when people are looting and robbing and stealing"--but he criticized the rioters for waiting so long, instead of rising up when the King videotape was first shown. Another rapper lamented that the riots weren't better organized. In an organized revolution, he said, everyone would have headed over to Hollywood and Beverly Hills and burnt them down instead. These are words that could only be spoken by someone on the hard edge of despair--who sees nothing left to build, nothing to care about. Who sees life, in the words of philosopher Thomas Hobbes, as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Leonard Pitts says there is one solution to this kind of despair: we must become truly "one nation under God." There he has hit upon the core of the problem. The disorder in L.A. is fundamentally a disorder of the soul--the souls of men and women, the soul of our nation itself. For years our cultural and intellectual leaders have been telling people there is no God, that life is nothing but a Darwinian struggle for survival, that the earth is just a speck of rock hurtling through space in a silent, impersonal cosmos. That's the secular worldview that reigns from the universities down to the streets of the ghetto. It tears into a person's very soul and says, you're only an animal, your life means nothing. But the rappers who counsel despair have got it all wrong. We're not just animals locked in a Darwinian struggle of one group against another. We have the high dignity of being created in the very image of holy and loving God. If we believe that, then we may truly hope to be "one nation under God."


Chuck Colson


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