Each reading reflection should be a minimum of 4 pages (double-spaced) and should include the following components: a brief recap of the main points of that module, personal critical reflections and a
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Each reading reflection should be a minimum of 4 pages (double-spaced) and should include the following components: a brief recap of the main points of that module, personal critical reflections and analysis, and the use of at least two other scholarly sources (NOT from the class readings). The minimum length of 4 pages does NOT include a title page or bibliography (which should be separate pages).
The recap may include a brief summary of the module as a whole OR it may focus on one specific topical unit (i.e. the specific lecture/reading on televangelism). Additionally, the summary should be relatively short and concise as the critical reflections are the most important component of this assignment. Students may wish to address the following questions: How do specific forms of media (articles, internet sites, TV shows, movies, or music) portray specific religion traditions? Are these portrayals accurate or do they reflect common stereotypes? How do religious traditions employ different forms of media? Is there a political component to these representations?
Format: Please format your submission using the following parameters: 12-point new times roman, default margins, and double spaced. Please include a title page with the course number, your name, student number, and assignment title. Also be sure to use in-text citations (MLA, APA, or Chicago are all acceptable) and include a separate bibliography. In-text citations are required for both direct quotes and paraphrased sections where you have included content from a source.
This response will focus on musical references in popular music. Students should select either song lyrics or an album cover and analyze the religious content. This can build on what you posted in the discussion question OR it can deal with an entirely different example – the choice is up to you!
As with all other reading responses, you will need to use a scholarly article (at least 2) to support your analysis. You might consider any of the following questions in your response: How is religion presented in the song/album cover? Is there a positive or negative viewpoint? Does it appear as though the artist identifies with a particular religious tradition? How are certain ideas/images appropriated and perhaps altered to suit the message of the song/image? How might the depiction deviate from ‘normative’ or traditional understandings of a particular religious tradition?
Your discussion can focus on other issues as well but these are just a few examples of questions you will want to consider.
Each reading reflection should be a minimum of 4 pages (double-spaced) and should include the following components: a brief recap of the main points of that module, personal critical reflections and a
Hip Hop and Religion: Gangsta Rap’s Christian Rhetoric Robert Tinajero Tarrant County College-South Abstract:This article analyzes gangsta rap discourse through the lens of rhetorical studies to reveal central features of its Christian religious ethos. The religious rhetorical output of many gangsta rappers, both textual and visual, reveals a religious ethos containing a form of religious phronesis (practical wisdom). This ethos has three central telling characteristics: solidarity with Jesus formed through the common theme of suffering; a mistrust of orga- nized religion; and the presence of a psycho-social battle between good and evil, analyzed here through the examples of DMX and Mase. Keywords:Rap,hip hop,religion,Christianity,music,rhetoric,gangsta,suffering,struggle, inner city,phronesis,black,African American Indeed, gangsta rap’s in-your-face style may do more to force our nation to confront crucial social problems than countless sermons or political speeches. —Michael Eric Dyson (2008, 181) Religiosity 1is an important part of individual and social identity. The pervasiveness of reli- gious thought, rhetoric, and symbolism is seen in its deep-rooted connections to historical, social, political, and popular discourse and action. In hip hop culture, important and telling connections exist between that culture’s discourse and religious thinking and symbolism. This resource of social agency, in this case rap, can both be revealing and formative. Hip hop music and culture are telling sources of religious identity and can teach us much about the religious ethos of those who produce and closely identify with them. More speciﬁcally and intriguingly, a subgenre of rap music, gangsta rap, known mainly for its crude and violent rhetoric, also contains a vast amount of religious discourse and imagery. Religious discourse and gangsta rap may be seen as an incompatible paradox to some, but rhetorical analysis reveals a complicated and layered connection in which the producers of gangsta rap, and those who strongly identify with its message, attempt to rec- oncile personal and social marginalization with aspects of religious thought. This paradox of religious discourse and gangsta discourse is played out under the umbrella of a community— the gangsta hip hop community—that struggles within a socially and economically margin- alized realm while being connected to communities that stress hope through religion. It is important toﬁrst establish a working deﬁnition of the term“gangsta rap.”Here, it will be deﬁned as the subgenre (and subculture) of hip hop that is dominated by rebellion and an outlaw mentality, and has the common elements of violence, drugs and drug dealing, sex and misogyny, and an unrelentingﬁght for physical and linguistic respect. Furthermore, gangsta rappers, and those who closely identify with their message, most often come from The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture25:3, Fall 2013 doi:10.3138/jrpc.25.3.315 poor, inner-city neighbourhoods and are usually African American or Latino/Latina. In fact, the very few Caucasian gangsta rappers who have been successful andacceptedwithin hip hop culture have had their gangsta ethos legitimized by the fact that they came from poor, minority neighbourhoods. 2Central to the discussion here is that gangsta rappers, coming from African American and Latino/Latina communities, are brought up in environments where many use religion (mainly Christianity) as a means of understanding and getting through life and social ordeals. This is not to say that gangsta rappers are very religious, in the sense that they are connected to organized religious activities, but there is ample evidence in textual and visual form to show that religion does indeed play a role in their worldviews. It is in this religious rhetorical output of gangsta rap where a religious ethos is revealed— an ethos containing three main characteristics. One characteristic is a strong solidarity with Jesus Christ and an embracing of Him as a symbol of suffering and marginalization. On a basic level, gangsta rappers predominantly embrace the life of Jesus because, simply put, Christianity is the predominant religion of African American and Latino/Latina communities in the United States. On a more profound level, Jesus and His life story are embraced because they point to suffering caused by a seemingly unjust society and because they represent meaning in suffering and hope beyond suffering. A second dominant characteristic of gangsta rap’s religious ethos is that while it gloriﬁes the life and suffering of Jesus, it simultaneously expresses a deep mistrust of organized religion. For the gangsta rapper and his/her followers, religion gets in the way of God and the message of Jesus, and can be part of the social order that has marginalized many poor, often minority, individuals and communities. Finally, gangsta rap seems to fully embrace the notion that good and evil exist simultaneously within individuals and society. These characteristics are displayed by vast amounts of textual and visual rhetoric, some of which will be discussed here, and in the lived experiences of many gangsta rappers. Some of these rappers include Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Nas, South Park Mexican, DMX, and Mase. Importantly, these gangsta rappers are not insigniﬁcantﬁgures in the rap industry, but artists who have sold millions of albums and discursively connected with thousands of inner-city individuals, particularly African Americans and Latinos/Latinas. As Charles W. Mills states, they are“philosophers:::pondering the truths of inner-city life”(Darby and Shelby 2005, xi) and often use religious rhetoric to do so. This rhetoric is an important piece of the rhetorical landscape and the terrain of religious scholarship, and one that should not be trivialized or ignored. Importantly, this article is not aimed at making sweeping generalizations that connect gangsta rap to all poor, urban minorities—or even to all that listen to gangsta rap music—but to display central characteristics of the Christian religious ethos of gangsta rap- pers and their rhetoric. Future scholarship may, and should, address the complex connections between gangsta rap’s religious ethos and larger segments of society. Gangsta Rap and Christian Rhetoric: Between Religion and the Jesus Trope The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made head of the corner; This was from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes? —Matt. 21:42 (American Standard Bible, 2009) Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 25:3 Fall 2013 316 On the surface, gangsta rap’s connection to religion may seem superﬁcial—large diamond, gold, and silver cruciﬁx necklaces around the necks of many rappers and references to being a god of rap. Lil Wayne stating“ask ya reverend’bout me, I’m the young god”in the song“Aint That a Bitch,”and Jay-Z regularly referring to himself as Jay-Hova or Hova 3are but two examples. Yet a deeper study of religious rhetoric and imagery in gangsta rap music reveals a complex connection between the identity of those who produce and strongly identify with the musical genre and the religiousﬁgure of Jesus Christ. This connection is forged mainly through two themes that are central to both—struggle and marginalization. As CornelWest (2002)points out, one of hip hop music’s aims is to“forge new ways of escaping social misery”(xi), so it is not surprising that gangsta rap’s rhetoric would connect to aﬁgure whose life was surrounded by, and ended in, social misery and suffering. It is because of Jesus’s suffering that He is predominantly who gangsta rappers most identify with in the religious realm. It is not surprising that a musical genre born from a marginalized community and a subgenre (gangsta rap) that often focuses on the“struggle in the streets”often highlight the image and life of the suffering servant of Yahweh. This emphasis on Jesus may be seen by some as a simple extension or reuse of the Jesus trope in pop culture and entertainment. Others may see it as a sign that gangsta rappers are truly religiousﬁgures and“pastors of the street.”I argue that the use of religious rhetoric by gangsta rappers places them somewhere in the middle of these poles. On the one hand, gangsta rappers seem to not merely identify with Jesus forﬁctional entertainment value, as is the case with recent uses of the Jesus trope in movies such asThe Matrix;The Lion King; Braveheart;The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe; andHarry Potter, just to name a few. Gangsta rappers are, in fact,real peopleborn ofreal situations tellingreal storiesabout their life experiences, and they consciously choose to connect their identity with the suffering in Jesus’s life. On the other hand, gangsta rappers are not known to be religious in the sense of living lives centred on religious practices and creeds. This is dis- cursively displayed in the fact that gangsta rap is still predominantly materialistic, violent, and misogynistic—all characteristics that run counter to the message and practices preached by Christianity. Gangsta rap, in fact, looks upon organized religion with strong suspicion, a point that will be discussed later. Importantly, this dichotomy of sacred and profane has never been a simple one in popular culture or within Christianity itself. Christian texts, including the Bible, Christian churches, and Christianﬁgures throughout history regularly make us ques- tion a simple and static notion of holy and profane discourse and actions. For gangsta rappers, identifying with Jesus is not trivial, or simply a storytelling trope; it, in fact, seems to be an important piece of many of their identities. This identiﬁcation, though, seems to stop at the doors of the church. It is one that is simultaneously bound up in the image of Jesus as suffererandwith a strong indifference and/or mistrust of organized religion. Their focus on Jesus is more biographical than religious. Like Christianity itself, and many of its followers, rappers struggle with important questions of holiness, goodness, righteousness, justice, and the lived reality of a complex world. And while it can be argued that in some cases rappers may use religious tropes for entertainment or marketing purposes, gangsta rappers, especially in the examples provided here, seem to truly identity with Jesus the sufferer because of their life experiences. Identifying with Jesus the Sufferer Theologian Luis G.Pedraja (1999)reminds us how many marginalized groups experience God:“It is an embodied and empirical experience that acknowledges:::particular 317 Hip Hop and Religion: Gangsta Rap’s Christian Rhetoric experiences”(49) and is connected to important contexts. These contexts include struggle and marginalization and are the contexts from which most gangsta rap is produced. Themes of struggle and marginalization are not surprising, considering that a vast majority of this music, and consequently the gangsta rap ethos, are created mostly by poor racial minorities, especially African Americans and Latinos. 4These individuals are members of groups who have been socially and economically marginalized by a historical process of racialization. This process is connected to a complex of developments (Hall 2002) and is constituted by racial projects that work within the web of cultural hegemony (Omi and Winant 2002). These complicated circumstances have led to the creation of a genre and culture of music with a textual and visual rhetorical output that both understands and perpetuates the experience of marginalization. And because of this marginalization, and its thematic connection to the life and death of Jesus, those individuals accept the notion that God deeply understands their historical context. This notion is born from an understanding that“Jesus came from a place at the margin of society and [that] he identiﬁes with those who were rejected and marginalized by society,”and empowers marginalized individuals and communities to claim Jesus as their own (Pedraja 1999, 50). Gangsta rappers, and those who connect with their music’s religious ethos, display an understanding that in some ways Jesus is one of them. This connection is best illustrated in the ultimate image of Jesus’s suffering, the cruciﬁx, which has a prominent place in gangsta raps’symbology. This visual rhetoric is often displayed by rappers on large necklaces and has adorned the necks of some of gangsta rap’s most popular and inﬂuential artists: Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., DMX, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, 50 Cent, and Rick Ross, just to name a few. The notion that Jesus understands the suffering of these individuals and the community they look to represent—poor minorities—is the main reason that the cruciﬁx plays such an important role in many gangsta rappers’telling of their life experiences. And while it cannot be ignored that gangsta rap includes numerous references to drug use, misplaced violence, and misogyny—which tends to be the only focus of many social pundits—much of the focus of gangsta rap music is actually on the social circumstances and lived realities of poor inner-city minorities in the United States. As Anthony B.Pinn (2003)asks,“is it not possible that rappers are modern griots:::who are continuing a tradition of social critique using an ‘organic’vocabulary?”(1). These rappers use one of their most powerful discursive mediums—the organic language of hip hop—to express the experience of economic and social marginalization and suffering, which often highlights the suffering Jesus Christ. Beyond the cruciﬁx being displayed on jewellery,“Jesus pieces”as they are known, some gangsta rappers have directly integrated the image of the cruciﬁed Jesus with their own image on album covers and in music videos. Some of the most popular of these images include Tupac’s image of himself as Jesus on the cross on the cover of his albumMakaveli, rapper Nas being cruciﬁed in the videoHate Me Now, and Mase standing with a crown of thorns and bloody neck garb on the cover of his mixtape 510 Years of Hate. Two other notable examples are the February 2006 cover ofRolling Stonemagazine, where Kanye West appears with a crown of thorns, and the cover of The Game’s 2012 album titledJesus Piece, where a black Jesus is displayed in a stained glass window with a teardrop tattoo and red bandana covering the lower half of his face. As these images show, these rappers not only feel solidarity with the suffering Jesus, but actually see themselves as Jesusﬁgures in that they encounter suffering, injustice, and persecution by an unjust society. While the merits of this connection can be argued at length, and may be found by many to be inaccurate or blasphemous, the fact that gangsta rap embraces and perpetuates this suffering identity in lyrical stories and images, and the fact that this identity is born out of real-life social and historical circumstances, is undeniable. 318 Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 25:3 Fall 2013 The visual rhetoric of rappers as Jesusﬁgures is powerful and telling, and because it represents real people and their real-life struggles, it moves rappers beyond any simpliﬁed view of the use of the Jesus trope for storytelling purposes. J. AnthonyBlair (2004),in“The Rhetoric of Visual Arguments,”states that“the narratives we formulate for ourselves from visual images can easily shape our attitudes”(43). Not only are narratives formulated and followed and attitudes shaped from the religious images espoused by gangsta rappers, but these images are formed also from speciﬁc social circumstances. A recursive cycle of image formation and image inﬂuence is at work. Gangsta rappers incorporate images of the cruciﬁed Christ in their ethos because of their life experiences, and these images in turn can affect the attitudes and psyches of those who connect to the visual and textual message of gangsta rap’s religiosity. Ultimately, these images aredidactic narratives(Blair 2004, 52); they teach us something about the psychological makeup of these gangsta rappers, predominantly urban minorities, who see suffering and marginalization as central characteristics of their person- hood—a personhood connected to their community. Beyond visual imagery, gangsta rappers’religious ethos is espoused textually/verbally through their narrative and stories—namely song lyrics. As Jeffrey D.Jones (2007)states about the power of stories to convey and form religious identity: Faith stories aren’t just about success. They are about people seeking toﬁnd faithful ways of being and doing in the world. Sometimes they struggle; sometimes they succeed; sometimes they just hang on. Often they do this in an environment that is hostile. Often they are uncertain about what God is up to. (7) Gangsta rappers seem to be looking at their particular social context, understanding that struggle is a big part of that context, and embracing aﬁgure they feel understands their situ- ation and provides meaning. Interestingly, they simultaneously see themselves as suffering ﬁguresandtriumphantﬁgures. This too connects with Jesus because, after all, in Scripture, “Jesus is to be found in those places where people suffer and die”(Pedraja 1999, 50), char- acteristics common in poor inner-city neighbourhoods, but He is also ultimately seen as a triumphant martyr who rises from the dead and ushers in a new religion and new age. This understanding leads to textual and visual rhetoric thatﬁnds solidarity with theﬁgure of Christ. Thisstoryof suffering, solidarity, and occasional triumph is conveyed visually in the wearing of cruciﬁxes and in the images of rappers as Jesusﬁgures, and textually or verbally in numerous song lyrics and interviews. These gangsta rappers connect their stories to the “grander story that is God’s”(Jones 2007, 8). But thesestories, once again, are not stories about characters in a novel orﬁlm; they are the all-too-common narratives of poor in- ner-city peoples who feel that Jesus understands their speciﬁc social situation and suffering. In the song“Lord Give Me a Sign,”rapper DMX writes: I know you’re here with us now Jesus I know you’re still with us now Keep it real with us now I wanna feel, show me how Let me take your hand, guide me I’ll walk slow, but stay right beside me Devil’s trying toﬁnd me Hide me—hold up, I take that back Protect me and give me the strength toﬁght back 319 Hip Hop and Religion: Gangsta Rap’s Christian Rhetoric The rapper is expressing the common sentiment in gangsta rap that Jesus understands the plight of those struggling and does not abandon those in need (“Iknowyou’re still with us now”). He also states,“Keep it real with us now,”which is a way of asking Jesus to not be fake in His claims of solidarity with the downtrodden and to allow the truth of His message to connect directly with the real-life situations faced by the rapper and the community he wishes to represent. Andﬁnally, DMX changes his request of Jesus from oneoffearofevil(“hide me”) to a more forceful request—“give me the strength toﬁght back.”Thisﬁnal request is reminiscent of the hip hop and gangsta rap ethos, which emphasizes strength in the face of adversity and highlights the fact that while gangsta rappers see themselves as victims of oppressiveand violent social circumstances they, and their religious identity, are not to be labelled weak or neutered. Physical strength and spiritual strength, in the form of a mental and emotional solidarity with Christ, carry them through life. This sense of solidarity is also seen in a song titled“My Life”by The Game and Lil Wayne, in which the rappers express their feelings about lifeon the streetsand offer up a sort of prayer to God. The most telling lines are delivered in theﬁrst section of the song: I’m from::: From a block close to where Biggie was cruciﬁed That was Brooklyn’s Jesus Shot for no fuckin’reason And you wonder why Kanye wears Jesus pieces? ’cause that Jesus people And The Game, he’s the equal First, the references to“Biggie”(Notorious B.I.G.),“Kanye”(rapper Kanye West), and “The Game”(the one rapping) are ones who would be easily recognizable to those familiar with rap music and show a very direct andkairoticconnection between the stories being told by gangsta rappers and real, everyday life. Inkeeping it real, these rappers do not look to reference mythic and historical literature,ﬁgures, and texts, but instead want to tell the stories of struggle, injustice, and survival in terms of their particular social circumstances. As Robin Sylvan (2001)puts it, the religious worldview of rappers“refuses to take refuge in the hope of other worldly salvation but, rather, tells the truth about the harsh reality:::of oppression” (281). The focus on Jesus as sufferer is meaningful and practical. When The Game states that he is from the same area where“Biggie was cruciﬁed,”there is the layered understanding of who Biggie is and the circumstances of his death. Notorious B.I.G. is a pillar of rap music and was a native of Brooklyn, New York, who was gunned down in 1997. What is especially interesting, and very telling in regards to the social and religious identity of many poor black and Latino/Latina communities, is how the death of Biggie is perceived. For privileged non-minorities, the death of a rapper who often rapped about sex, drugs, and violence was nothing important and happened simply because he chose to live a life and follow a career path that was surrounded by the very things he often rapped about. But, for many disadvantaged minorities, especially blacks and Latinos/Latinas, Biggie has been and is seen as“Brooklyn’s Jesus”—a Christﬁgure in that he suffered in life and died at the hands of senseless evil and injustice (“shot for no fuckin’reason”). Some may argue that Jesus, on the other hand, was not killed forno reasonbut, in fact, for the salvation of humanity. But that would be a misreading of the sentiment of Biggie’s message. Biggie, and Jesus, being killedfor no reasonstresses the senselessness of the killing and the fact that, like 320 Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 25:3 Fall 2013 Jesus, society did nothave tokill, but did. And for those who strongly identify with DMX’s message, if Biggie rapped about sex, drugs, and violence, it was because those were central char- acteristics of the life that was handed him and were characteristics born from the same society that might eventually kill those who identify so strongly with the message. As Michael Eric Dyson (2008)puts it in“Gangsta Rap and American Culture,”while misogyny, violence, and materialism are common characteristics of gangsta rap, they are not its exclusive domain—“at its best [gangsta rap] draws attention to complex dimensions of ghetto life ignored by many Americans”(179). This includes the use of religious rhetoric to“aggressively narrate the pains and possibilities, the fantasies and fears”of urban youth (179). While not every disadvantaged minority would rush to label Biggie a Jesusﬁgure, there is an understanding among disadvantaged urban communities, especially among those who strongly connect to gangsta rap, of how a gunned-down rapper could be equated to the suffering Christ. Conversely, this occurrence would, at best, be labelled as misguided by many in the dominant culture, and at worst, as disrespectful and sacrilegious. Furthermore, in the song lyrics, The Game adds,“and you wonder why Kanye wears Jesus pieces?/’cause that Jesus people/and The Game, he’s the equal.”Here, the rapper stresses the fact that rappers—like Kanye West and himself—wear cruciﬁx necklaces (Jesus pieces) because they are members of Jesus’s community and connected to the suffering that Jesus experienced in life and in death. Once again, solidarity with Christ is created and displayed through the discourse of gangsta rap and highlights a religious identity that focuses on the martyrdom of Christ. This same sense of struggle, marginalization, and meaning in suffering can be seen in numerous lyrics by gangsta rappers: Jesus loves me, he told me so/that’s why when it gets ugly, he hugs me/’cause he knows me, yo. DMX in“Jesus Loves Me” The other day I spoke to the reverend/to see if he said that Mexicans could go to heaven/[in heaven]:::is minimum wage all they offer my people?/does my uncle gotta marry someone just to be legal?/will he get dirty looks’cause he can’t speak English? South Park Mexican in“Mexican Heaven” With me it’s not just bars and music/I walk with God/I got the scar to prove it. Mase in“Jesus Walks” Man, I gotta get my soul right/I gotta get these devils outta my life. Jay-Z in“Lucifer” I’m the boss, and I don’t follow no person. I follow Jesus. Snoop Dogg in“Gangsta Ride” God is who we praise/even though the devil’s all up in my face. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony in“Tha Crossroads” 321 Hip Hop and Religion: Gangsta Rap’s Christian Rhetoric Come from the land that Jesus walked through/sacriﬁce my life::: Lil Wayne in“Intro: This Is Why I’m Hot” God’s the seamstress who tailor-ﬁtted my pain/I got scriptures in my brain. 50 Cent in“Patiently Waiting” God love us hood niggaz/’cause he be with us in the prisons and he take time to listen/God love us hood niggaz/’cause next to Jesus on the cross was the crook niggaz/but he forgive us. Nas in“God Love Us” In these lyrics we see the complex mixture of suffering, calls for help, solidarity, and the presence of speciﬁc realities. The rappers pull God in to their situations and theology from the realm of theory into the space of their lives. And because this space is oftenﬁlled with suffering and marginalization, minority urban youth do not simply“cling on”to Jesus, but raise Him as a symbol of their very identity andﬁnd meaning in their lives and a will to persevere in the face of social, ideological, historical, and economic marginalization. So, it is not only in their death—as in the case of Biggie’s martyrdom—but also in their lives that suffering is present. As theologian KarlBarth (1959)stresses inDogmatics in Outline,Jesus’scruciﬁxion was merely one part of His suffering. Barth writes,“I should think that there is involved in thewhole of Jesus’life the thing that takes its beginning in the article‘He suffered’”(101)—a statement that runs in opposition to much religious exegesis, from Calvin to the Apostles to many con- temporary religious leaders, which emphasizes Jesus’s suffering only in the Passion. For Barth, and seemingly for many gangsta rappers,“the whole life of Jesus comes under the heading ‘suffered’”(102). It is no simple coincidence that a marginalized community would discursively and visually connect to the life of Jesus—a life that included being born in a stable, becoming a stranger among one’s family and nation, and a stranger in the realms of government, church, and civilization, a life lived full of loneliness and temptation, which involved betrayal by one’s closest followers; and a life that ended by being sent to be cruciﬁed by a judge and vengeful community. It was an entire life lived in the shadow of the cross (103). Thus, when gangsta rappers invoke the life and name of Jesus, when they wear the cruciﬁx, or when they display themselves as cruciﬁed Jesusﬁgures, they are expressing a deep connection between the totality of their lives and the totality of Jesus’s life. This is made apparent in an interview with Tupac Shakur, one of gangsta rap’s most prominent voices. Tupac often used religious imagery in his music and was displayed as a cruciﬁedﬁgure on the cover of his albumMakaveli—hisﬁnal album release before he was gunned down in 1996. In an interview withVibemagazine, the rapper states,“We get cruciﬁ ed. The Bible’s telling us:::all these people suffered so much. That’s what makes them special people. I got shotﬁve times”(2007, 128). He then proceeds to equate hisﬁve gunshot wounds with the stigmata of Christ by outstretching his arms and legs and continues with: I got cruciﬁed to the media, and I walked through with the thorns on and I had shit thrown on me and:::I’m not saying I’m Jesus be we go through that type of thing everyday. We don’t part the Red Sea but we walk through the’hood without getting shot. We don’t turn water in to wine but we turn dopeﬁends into productive citizens of society. We turn words into money. What greater gift can there be? So I believe God blessed us. I believe God blesses those who hustle and 322 Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 25:3 Fall 2013 those who use their mind and who, overall, are righteous:::God put us in the ghetto because He’s testing us even more. That makes sense. (2007, 129) This religious discourse by a central gangsta rapﬁgure points to the complicated religious identity embraced and espoused by many who see gangsta rap as the soundtrack to their lives. They see the miracle of Jesus manifested in the miracle of surviving harsh social conditions and violence. They see blessings mixed in with suffering, and they see themselves walking in the footsteps of Christ. It is for them both natural and theologically sound to equate their suffering to Christ’s suffering and to understand that suffering in a social context. Tupac and many other gangsta rappers often see their suffering in connection to the evil present in society. Poverty, an unjust legal system, racism, decrepit social conditions, the media, and political pundits are just a few of the reasons, according to rappers, why individuals and communities are marginalized. Theologically, rappers are rhetorically expressing the fact that, like Jesus, they feel that they and their communities are bearing the sin of the whole human race, a sentiment that once again moves their identiﬁcation with Jesus beyond a simple artistic trope. They suffer mostly not out of individual choices or decisions, but because the world is structured in a way that marginalizes poor racial minorities. The link between economic poverty and racial marginalization is made by StuartHall (2002),who writes that modern capitalist production has produced a classed and racialized work force—one that has perpetuated black labouring classes and a class system that is structured in race (61–3). This system is very much alive in contemporary times and not only negatively affects the black community but also the Latino/ Latina community. Thus, the realities of economics and race form communities that under- standably produce discourse—in this case gangsta rap—that carries a message of suffering at the hands of an unjust social order. This parallels Jesus who suffered because of a lost and sinful society—“from Bethlehem to the Cross He was abandoned by the world that surrounded Him, repudiated, persecuted,ﬁnally accused, condemned and cruciﬁed”(Barth 1959, 104). From individuals who forsake them, to an unforgiving society they are born into, to an unjust legal system 6and death at the hands of society, there are parallels made and romanticized by gangsta rappers who use Jesus and His suffering toﬁnd meaning and forge a religious identity. Not surprisingly, Tupac, in the same interview, expresses notions of heaven and hell in very down-to-earth terms. This is not surprising, considering gangsta rappers produce reli- gious discourse that sees suffering in the context of real-life situations. For Tupac, heaven and hell arekairoticmatters—in the here and now of social circumstances. They are notﬂoating somewhere in the ether but connected to the realities of life on the streets: Heaven and hell are here [on earth]. What do you got there that we don’t have here? What? Are you gonna, [in hell], walk around aimlessly, zombied? Nigga, that’s here! Have you been on the streets lately? Heaven is now, here. Look (gesturing to the expensive room he is sitting in). We sittin’up here with big screens. This is heaven, for the moment. I mean, hell is jail. I’ve seen that one. (2007, 127) This notion is directly connected to the common gangsta rap theme of materialism. While critics of gangsta rap see the ultra-materialism of the genre asﬁckle, short-sighted, and selﬁsh, a more complex look at the situation points to the fact that money, cars, jewellery, and fame are small pieces of“heaven”for individuals who many times grow up in poverty-stricken areas. If hell can be here on earth in the form of poverty, violence, crime, and marginalization, then heaven can be here as well. So for many gangsta rappers, and for those who closely relate to its rhetoric, there is a seeming dichotomy in the way they view heaven and redemption. 323 Hip Hop and Religion: Gangsta Rap’s Christian Rhetoric In a sense, the meek shall inherit the earth in two possible ways. Heaven and redemption may come in the form of material wealth for those who are either lucky or“hustle”their way out of marginalization, or it may come at the end of time when God rightfully judges those who have not lived up to the calling of Matthew 25 7and“helped thy neighbour”and who have created social conditions that have led to the“cruciﬁxion”of poor minorities. For many gangsta rappers, there is hope that in some way“the stone which the builders rejected, the same [will be] made the head of the corner”(Matt. 21:42a). That is, discarded individuals/ communities, which many gangsta rappers feel they represent, may become the centre of God’s heavenly kingdom. All this may upset and bafﬂe privileged people and leave them asking,“And is it marvelous in our eyes?”(Matt. 21:42b)—a question that can reﬂect confu- sion and anger at the fact that the world’s marginalized may, in God’s eyes, actually be the cornerstone of heaven. Then, in fact, rappers are not simply using the Jesus trope for sim- pliﬁed entertainment or storytelling purposes, but identify themselves and their communities with Jesus the sufferer and with those who willﬁnd some sort of justice and redemption. Embracing Jesus, but Not Organized Religion An interesting aspect of gangsta rap’s religious rhetoric is that while it embraces the life of Jesus and aspects central to religious thought such as heaven, hell, justice, redemption, and meaning in suffering, there is a strong mistrust of organized and established religion. Gangsta rap’s theology, therefore, is centred on the person of Christ, speciﬁcally on His suffering, but not religion centred. That is to say, while many gangsta rappers embrace the life and suffering of Jesus—and often display this attitude through visual and textual rhetoric—they do not embrace the entity of organized religion nor live what most would recognize as religious lives. This dynamic is partially laid out by rapper South Park Mexican when he states in“The System,”“without peace there can be no happiness/I wear a cross around my neck like the Catholics/I’m not sure exactly what my religion is/I just know I thank God for my little kids.” The rapper displays the attitude that while God is an important part of his life and psychol- ogy, religion itself causes an attitude of indifference. This attitude reaches the ears of many and can shape the religious attitudes of those who connect to the message. As one fan of South Park Mexican stated on an online message board directed at the rapper,“Like it said in da story, Ur not da most Christian in da world. Me neither, but I do believe in God and his Son Jesus. I’m glad U have Christian beliefs now and more importantly that U speak about it freely”(Martinez 2009). Most gangsta rappers who mention religion go beyond South Park Mexican’s indifference and openly attack organized religion. Talib Kweli 8writes in“Beautiful Struggle,”“You go to church toﬁnd you some religion/and all you hear is connivin’and gossip and contradiction.” For Kweli, religion is full of hypocrisy and ungodly things. So while God and particularly the life of Jesus are good and useful presences in history and the world, the entities that purport to carry Their message is extremelyﬂawed in the eyes of these individuals and many of those who strongly connect with gangsta rap. This mistrust of religion is layered and complex, considering the fact that religion plays a large role in the lives of many racial minorities. Looking speciﬁcally at the African American and Latino/Latina communities in the United States, two communities that have a large fol- lowing in gangsta rap, Protestantism and Catholicism often play central roles in the families and communities of these groups. Yet, in gangsta rap, there is the overwhelming notion of mistrust of religion. This—a point that needs to be re-emphasized—is within a rhetoric that 324 Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 25:3 Fall 2013 reveres the life of the suffering Christ. Thus, the theology of gangsta rap unknowingly points to the complex history of biblical interpretation and racialization. While the ancient authors of biblical texts were aware of colour, this awareness“was by no means a political or ideo- logical basis for enslaving, oppressing, on in any way demeaning other people”(Felder 1991 127). Centrally, an awareness of colour, as a physiological characteristic, was not to say that these authors were racializing society—for the social construct of“race”did not come about until the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries through the writing of natural historians (West 2002). It has been the long history of biblical exegesis that has racialized many biblical events and led, in many cases, to the diminution of racial minorities. Cain HopeFelder (1991),in“Race, Racism, and the Biblical Narratives,”shows some ways in which biblical interpretation has subjugated“colored”people—speciﬁcally those of African descent. One instance is in the interpretation of the biblical story usually referred to as the Curse of Ham or Curse of Canaan (actually the land of Canaan; Gen. 9:18–27). Ham was a son of Noah, and he was cursed by Noah for disrespecting his father by not doing the proper thing and covering up his father’s nakedness. Though there is much ambiguity in the connection between Ham/Canaan and Africans, the fact that there is some seeming connection between Ham/Canaan and the peoples of Africa/Egypt that has led some“Bible interpreters to justifytheirparticular history, culture, and race by developing self-serving theological constructs. In one instance the Canaanites‘deserve’subjugation; in another instance, the Hamites‘deserve’to be hewers of wood and drawers of water”(Felder 1991, 132)—two lower occupations. Furthermore,Felder (1991)points out that racism is present in the Midrashim (the teachings on or of the Bible and biblical exegesis): In theﬁfth-century Midrash (C.E.) [it states that] Noah says to Ham:“You have prevented me from doing something in the dark (cohabitation), therefore your seed will be ugly and dark-skinned.” The Babylonian Talmud (sixth century C.E.) states that“the descendants of Ham are cursed by being Black and are sinful with a degenerate progeny.” Into the seventeenth century the idea persisted that the blackness of Africans was due to a curse, and that idea reinforced and sanctioned the enslavement of blacks. (132) There was a clear link made and perpetuated, through religious discourse, between black- ness and unpleasing aesthetics, blackness and sinfulness, and blackness and evil. It is a link that has had a powerful historical inﬂuence, and that can be connected to the“genealogy of modern racism”(West 2002). It is a genealogy that includes in its ideological ancestry scien- tists, artists, and philosophers and traces the history of racism in the West, a racism that is alive and well in the minds and experiences of many inner-city minorities. This connection between blackness and evil, prevalent in early biblical hermeneutics, lives on today in religious circles in more subtle ways: Even today in such versions of Holy Scripture asDake’s Annotated Reference Bibleoneﬁnds a so- called great racial prophecy with following racist hermeneutic:“:::after theﬂood. All men were white up to this point, for there was only one family line—that of Noah who was white and in the line of Christ:::and his son Shem would be a chosen race and have a peculiar relationship with God:::His descendants constitute the leading nations of civilization.”(Felder 1991,132) Today, there are also those who tend to“exclude black people from any role in the Christian origins:::[as when] Luke’s editorializing results in the circumstantial de-emphasis of a Nubian 325 Hip Hop and Religion: Gangsta Rap’s Christian Rhetoric (African) in favor of an Italian (European) and enable Europeans thereby to claim that the text of Acts demonstrates some divine preference for Europeans.”(Felder 1991, 142–3) Though gangsta rappers are presumably not scholars of historical racial biblical exegesis, they point to an understandable mistrust by some racial minorities of biblical interpretation and the largest purveyor of that exegesis—religion. This mistrust permeates the discourse of gangsta rappers and is usually expressed in a way that displays the notion that the church is out of touch with the marginalized. As rapper Tupac once opined, If the church would give half of what they’re making and give it back to the community, we would be all right. Have you seen some of these god damn churches lately? There are ones that take up the whole block. Trust me, all this religion stuff is to control you. So while the life of Jesus, and particularly his suffering, is a central theme in gangsta rap, there is also the deep mistrust of organized religion, especially by young, poor racial minorities—the most common producers of gangsta rap discourse. This mistrust, when looked upon from a historical perspective, is fascinating and also didactic in that it teaches us about important connections between religion, economics, race, ideology, and popular discourse such as rap music. All these connections emphasize the notion that music’s presence“is clearly political, in every sense the political can be con- ceived”(DeNora 2000, 163) and that, as one genre of music, gangsta rap—including its religious discourse—can serve as a powerful medium of social understanding and social critique. Living Out the Paradox: The Conﬂicted Spirituality of DMX and Mase From its very inception, the human race has been condemned to exist within the eternal division [of good and evil], always moving between those two opposing poles. —Paulo Coelho (2000, 129) The connection of religion and gangsta rap is vividly portrayed in the discourse and lives of rappers DMX (Earl Simmons) and Mase (Mason Betha). Both rappers reached the height of their popularity and commercial success in the 1990s and are importantﬁgures in the history of rap music and culture. What makes these two rappers unique, and pertinent to the discussion in this essay, is the fact thatboth have openly and discursively embodied a struggle between a“gangsta”lifestyle and a life of spirituality. They have often dealt with this struggle rhetorically and have lived lives that make this struggle clear. DMX and Mase embody the paradox of gangsta discourse and religious discourse within the life of one person and display a struggle between using the life and message of Jesus in a seemingly haphazard manner and actually taking up the mantle of serving Christ through the avenue of organized religion. It is important to establish that DMX and Mase fall into the realm of gangsta rap. Much of their lyrical discourse focuses on themes common in this genre: sex, materialism, misogyny, violence, drugs, respect, struggle, and marginalization. DMX and Mase are by no means gospel/Christian rappers—a separate genre—but are rappers who followed the path toward gangsta rap, a path surrounded by those common themes of gangsta rap. These rappers, like many inner-city minorities, are inﬂuenced by this musical genre that was born from a marginalized social environment. The following lyrics provide examples that place these two rappers squarely in the realm of gangsta rap. 326 Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 25:3 Fall 2013 DMX I resort to violence, my niggaz move in silence/like you don’t know what our style is/New York niggaz the wildest/my niggaz is wit it/you want it? Come and get it “Ruff Ryders Anthem” I’m Evil, like Knievel, faggot I’ll leave you/like I shoulda did your peoples before they could conceive you “Don’t You Ever” Mase Make all my guns shoot/you let your gun loose, none o’them niggas gun proof/watch them niggas drop, when I pop one in they sunroof/and we be lead bustin’, leavin’niggas heads gushin’ “Take What’s Yours” And they send the trauma unit to come repair you/Now there you are, nigga, in the fuckin’ reservoir/:::we don’t give a fuck:::who you are “You Aint Smart” These lyrics, along with many others produced and performed by the two rappers, may seem ultra-crude to some but represent the norm for much gangsta rap rhetoric and highlight pieces of the gangsta rappers’identity. What is most intriguing about DMX and Mase is not that they follow the mould of gangsta rap but that, while having such violent and crude lyrics, they also have discourse and life experiences that reﬂect a struggle with good and evil. They also,ﬁtting the mould of gangsta rap religiosity, continually look to God/Jesus for answers. While many gangsta rappers reﬂect this struggle, DMX and Mase do so most often and most poignantly. DMX, a platinum-selling artist, in his six best-selling albums, includes a track that is a spoken-word prayer. These prayers almost always come at the end of each album—albums containing lyrics like the ones presented above—and are examples of Socraticparphesia: bold, frank, and plain speech in the face of conventional morality and entrenched power (West 2002, xi). In hisﬁrst prayer, DMX reﬂects the solidarity that he perceives God/Jesus to have with His suffering and connects his life to the life of Christ through meaning in suffering: I come to you hungry and tired/:::I come to you weak/you give me strength and that’s deep/you called me a sheep. Lord, why is it that, that I go through so much pain?/all I saw was black and all I felt was rain/I come to you because it’s you that knows. But it’s all good,’cause I didn’t expect to live long/so if it takes for me to suffer for my brother to see the light/give me pain till I die, but please Lord, treat him right. These lines reﬂect the notion that the Lord understands DMX’s pain and suffering and is there as a respite and saviour. They also reﬂect the meaning-in-suffering theme discussed earlier—a theme that many gangsta rappers connect with. In DMX’s second prayer,“Ready to Meet Him”(West 2002), he presents a conversation between himself and God and con- tinues to emphasize the evil of the world around him (“Snakes still coming at me”); the fact 327 Hip Hop and Religion: Gangsta Rap’s Christian Rhetoric that God is there for help (“My child, I’m here, as I’ve always been”;“My doors are not locked/:::all you gotta do is knock”); and that he (DMX) has been moved by the negativity of the world and the good of God to follow Him (“After what I just saw, I’m ridin’with the Lord”). Once again, the spirituality presented is always verykairoticin that it comes from real-life experiences and the fact that God helps people persevere in their worldly struggle. DMX is not speaking of an ideological struggle between good and evil but a struggle that permeates the very streets he was raised in and walks in. In“Prayer III”(West 2002), DMX continues by labelling the Lord Jesus as hiscrutchand describes himself as a“weakened version of Your reﬂection.”The former statement reﬂects the functional use of God/Jesus in the lives of the marginalized; it literally helps them get through life. The latter statement shows the direct connection these individuals feel they have with Jesus. Like Tupac comparing hisﬁve bullet wounds to the stigmata of Christ, DMX believes that in his life and suffering he is, or is trying to be, a reﬂection of Christ.“Prayer IV”(West 2002) emphasizes similar notions of spirituality but adds to why the rapper has become a follower of Jesus:“You gave me a love most of my life I didn’t know was there.” This short line is reminiscent of much gangsta rap that emphasizes a lack of love and an abundance of hate, anger, or violence in the lives of marginalized inner-city individuals. This may come from absent fathers, overworked mothers, dying friends and relatives, lack of ma- terial comforts, crime, an unforgiving legal system, racism, classism, and cultural hegemony. But DMX’s religious rhetoric also stresses victory and redemption and connects to the biblical notion that the hungry, hurting, and meek shall inherit the earth (Matt. 5:3–12). DMX, in“Prayer V,”states,“Because of God’s favor my enemies cannot triumph over me/:::I declare restoration of everything/that the devil has stolen from me,”and in“Prayer VI”asks that Jesus uplift the suffering and allow their spirits to be born. DMX also references John 2:15, where Jesus angrily drove the moneychangers from the temple—the rapper’s way of showing that the world he lives in is full of those who are concerned with ungodly activities and thus ignore those who need help in society. The reprimanding of moneychangers may represent, in today’s terms, the reprimanding of those who create an unjust social order that in turn marginalizes many in society—including the community that DMX represents. Beyond lyrics, DMX, while expressing the more common themes of gangsta rap (the prayers constitute only about 10% of his music), has over time espoused more and more religious rhetoric and contemplated a religious life. He has more consistently spoken about God and religion even while he has been involved in criminal behaviour, including drug possession, assault, and animal cruelty. Since 2003 he has been interested in pursuing a career as a preacher and, while working on a set of gangsta rap albums and completing a stint in prison in 2009, stated he would soon release a gospel rap album as well. His life is a symbol of the dichotomy between good and evil expressed by numerous gangsta rappers. While many people experience personal battles between good and evil, in gangsta rap there is often a message of meaning in suffering and a connection is seen and made between evil and speciﬁc social circumstances. There is also a reaching out toward God or Jesus for hope and solidarity. DMX is one rapper who highlights these notions, and Mase is another. When DMX thought of leaving the music business to pursue religious preaching, he went to seek the advice of Mase (Mason Betha). He told Mase,“I’m fed up with this rap shit. I know the Lord. I know my true calling is to preach the Word. Where do I go from here?” Mase answered,“As long as the Lord give you the talent to do what you do, do it. He’ll call you when he’s ready”(quoted inReid 2005/2009). The question and answer, and the fact that the conversation even took place, are quite remarkable considering the fact that both of these rappers have released a plethora of gangsta rap material—material usually seen as polar 328 Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 25:3 Fall 2013 opposite to any religious message. Their rhetorical output is seemingly conﬂicted between a pursuit of righteous behaviour and a gloriﬁcation of negative and criminal behaviour in pursuit of proﬁt. Mase, in a span of ten years, went from releasing gangsta rap music under the name of Murda Mase to retiring from the music industry twice to serve as a Christian pastor. His second return to rapping included discourse that gloriﬁed killing and womanizing, and ended soon after with a return to pastoral duties. In 2013, Mase was still contemplating another return to rap while continuing his religious work. This wavering and indecision illustrate the personal and ideological struggle between the world that gangsta rap espouses or creates and the world of spiritual righteousness. The rapper has simultaneously become a Christian preacher, worked with inner-city youth,andreleased the gangsta mixtape albumsMase Cru- ciﬁed for the Hoodand10 Years of Hate(the album whose cover displays Mase as a Jesus ﬁgure). He has stated that his rapping career is incompatible with his religious beliefsand returned to his rapping career at least twice—not only his rapping career, but his gangsta rapping career. Also, from this rapper we hear in the song“Gotta Survive,”“You don’t even know success until you know him and him is Jesus,”and in“300 Shots,”“put guns in niggaz mouth like‘who you dissin?’/:::I [shoot] niggaz in the chest, they never breathe again.” Finally, in Mase’s explanation of his moment of conversion is a sincere belief that he felt his music career was“leading millions of people to hell,” 9yet he felt it necessary, just a few years later, to return to his early persona of Murda Mase—espousing aggressive gangsta lyrics. Part of this return could be forﬁnancial reasons, but if economics was the only reason, Mase would not have left the music business in theﬁrst place. His reasoning, backed by the fact that he had, in fact, become a pastor, seemed based on a true mental and spiritual struggle and was not simply about economic issues. The life and rhetorical output of Mase is revealing in that it displays a conﬂicted religious and spiritual ideology that is symbolic of the religious message common in gangsta rap, which in turn may be representative of the religiosity of many inner-city minorities who strongly connect with the message of the genre. This ideology is one thatsimultaneouslystruggles with good and evil and closely connects life on earth to the Christly characteristics of marginali- zation caused by an unjust society and meaning in suffering. When Mase expresses that he has been cruciﬁed for his religious beliefs and actions, the cruciﬁxion is not taking place at the hands of inner-city minorities who connect to the gangsta rap ethos; those individuals are, in fact, the ones who seemingly understand his message clearly. They understand how a deep desire for material wealth, possibly an aspect of Mase’s returns to rapping, a lived reality surrounded by poverty, violence, and suffering, and a belief and hope that the poor and meek shall inherit the earth (Matt. 5), can be intertwined within one individual’s psyche and message. Conclusion The religious rhetorical output of many gangsta rappers, both textual and visual, points to the Christian religious ethos that they seem to embrace. This rhetoric contains a form of religious phronesis(practical wisdom) in that it is born out of the rappers’speciﬁc social situations and espouses religious interpretations of understanding and dealing with the world. This output focuses on the telling characteristics of solidarity with Jesus, formed through the common theme of suffering, a mistrust of organized religion, and a psycho-social battle between good and evil. These characteristics are on display in the rhetoric of rappers like Tupac, South Park Mexican, Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Nas, 50 Cent, and numerous others. They are also acutely 329 Hip Hop and Religion: Gangsta Rap’s Christian Rhetoric represented in the lives of DMX and Mase—two gangsta rappers who have had a considerable impact on the formation and perpetuation of the gangsta rap religious ethos. Future scholarship must work at unpacking the complex ways in which these character- istics are connected to the milieu of larger sections of inner-city minorities and to the long and complex history of religiosity in the African American and Latino American communi- ties, as well as the United States as a whole and Christianity in general. Furthermore, future work in this area must continue the work of unpacking how the religious ideology of gangsta rap is directly inﬂuenced and created by a social and capitalistic system that has historically marginalized certain groups and individuals. This unpacking will lead to the further under- standing, as DerrickDarby (2005)writes, that“[t]hese poor righteous teachers and lyrically gifted MCs [give] their congregations a street-side perspective on biding philosophical questions concerning the nature and existence of God [and] the problem of evil”(4). In studying gangsta rap, we also continue to reveal that“music is:::implicated in the formula- tion of life;:::it is something that is a formative, albeit often unrecognized, resource of social agency”(DeNora 2000, 152–153). Understanding central characteristics of gangsta rap’s religious ethos is an important foundation from which to build understanding and action. Notes 1.Religiosityis used in this article as a general term to represent religious beliefs, actions, and/or discourse. Within this article, it is emphasized that organized religion itself is not a central characteristic of gangsta rap’s culture. 2. This includes rappers such as Eminem, Paul Wall, Shamrock, and Yelawolf. 3. Jay-Hova and Hova refer toJehova(JHVH), which was the term used to refer to God in the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures. 4. The term Latino is speciﬁcally used here because the majority of these rappers are male. 5. Mixtapes are“underground”albums that are not commercially released but that, in many instances, accomplish large distribution, especially among those who are more serious listeners of hip hop. 6. Another common theme in gangsta rap is the viliﬁcation of the US legal system (police, laws, judges). Future work could make deeper connections between this occurrence and the fact that “Jesus dies the penal death of Roman justice”(Barth, 104). 7. Matthew 25 tells of those whom God will choose to inherit the earth—those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, visited the stranger, clothed the unclothed, and visited those who were sick or in prison. 8. Talib Kweli is not a gangsta rapper, but many of his raps contain sentiments often found in gangsta rap—and in hip hop in general. 9. From a UK interview with Mase at http://realtalkny.uproxx.com. References American Standard Bible.2009.Bible Resources Online (October 5). Available fromhttp://www.Bible. com. Barth, Karl. 1959.Dogmatics in outline.New York: Harper. Blair, J. Anthony. 2004.“The rhetoric of visual arguments.”InDeﬁning visual rhetorics,ed. Charles A. Hill and Marguerite H. Helmers, 41–61. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Coelho, Paolo. 2000.The Devil and Miss Prym. New York: Harper Collins. Darby, Derrick. 2005.“Yo! It ain’t no mystery: Who is God?”InHip hop and philosophy: Rhyme to reason,ed. Derrick Darby and Tommie Shelby, 115–36. Chicago: Open Court. 330 Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 25:3 Fall 2013 Darby, Derrick, and Tommie Shelby. 2005.“Preface.”InHip hop and philosophy: Rhyme to reason,ed. Derrick Darby and Tommie Shelby, xi. Chicago: Open Court. DeNora, Tia. 2000.Music in everyday life,New York: Cambridge University Press.http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1017/CBO9780511489433. Dyson, Michael Eric. 2008.“Gangsta rap and American culture.”InThe hip hop reader,ed. Tim Strode and Tim Wood, 172–181. New York: Pearson. Felder, Cain Hope. 1991.“Race, racism, and the biblical narratives.”InStony the road we trod: African American biblical interpretation,ed. Cain Hope Felder, 127–45. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. Hall, Stuart. 2002.“Race, articulation, and societies structured by dominance.”InRace critical theories: Text and context,ed. Philomena Essed and David Theo Goldberg, 38–49. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Jones, Jeffrey D. 2007.“Telling stories—Forming disciples.”The Clergy Journal(March): 6–8. Martinez, Jesus. 2009.South Park Mexican message board. Sing365 (database online), October 28. Available fromhttp://www.sing365.com/music/archive.nsf/South-Park-Mexican-Reviews/ C586CA2F29BFD4D748257380002D5476. Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. 2002.“Racial formation.”InRace critical theories: Text and context, ed. Philomena Essed and David Theo Goldberg, 125–127. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Pedraja, Luis G. 1999.Jesus is my uncle,Nashville, TN: Abingdon. Pinn, Anthony B., ed. 2003.Noise and spirit: The religious and spiritual sensibilities of rap music,New York: New York University Press. Reid, Shaheem. 2005/2009.Mase advises DMX to rap again, wait for the Lord’s call. MTV News, May 25, 2005; October 27, 2009. Available fromhttp://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1502925/20050525/ dmx.jhtml. Shakur, Tupac. 2007. Interview with Kevin Powell.The Vibe Q: Raw and uncut. New York: Daﬁna. Sylvan, Robin. 2001.“Rap music, hip hop culture, and the future religion of the world.” InGod in the details: American religion in popular culture,ed. Eric Michael Mazur and Kate McCarthy, 290–300. New York: Routledge. West, Cornell. 2002.“Genealogy of racism.”InRace critical theories: Text and context,ed. Philomena Essed and David Theo Goldberg, 90–109. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Discography 50 Cent. 2003.“Patiently Waiting.”onGet Rich or Die Tryin’. Aftermath. 50 Cent. 2007.“300 Shots (Remix).”onReturn of the Mixtape Millionaire. BCD Music. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. 1996.“Tha Crossroads.”onE. 1999 Eternal. Ruthless. DMX. 1998.“Ready to Meet Him.”onFlesh of my Flesh, Blood of my Blood. Def Jam. DMX. 1998.“Ruff Ryders’Anthem.”onIt’s Dark and Hell is Hot. Def Jam. DMX. 1999.“Don’t You Ever.”onAnd Then There Was X. Def Jam. DMX. 1999.“Prayer III.”onAnd Then There was X. Def Jam. DMX. 2001.“Prayer IV.”onThe Great Depression. Def Jam. DMX. 2003.“Prayer V.”onGrand Champ. Def Jam. DMX. 2006.“Lord Give Me a Sign.”onYear of the Dog:::Again. Columbia. DMX. 2006.“Prayer VI.”onYear of the Dog:::Again. Columbia. DMX. 2008.“Jesus Loves Me.”Single. Def Jam. The Game featuring Lil Wayne. 2008.“My Life.”onLAX. Geffen. Jay-Z. 2003. “Lucifer.”onThe Black Album. Def Jam. Lil Wayne. 2004.“Aint That a Bitch.”onTha Carter. Cash Money/Universal. Lil Wayne. 2007.“Intro: This Is Why I’m Hot.”onDa Drought 3. Young Money. Mase. 1997.“Take What’s Yours.”onHarlem World. Bad Boy. Mase. 1999.“You Aint Smart.”onDouble Up. Bad Boy. Mase. 2004.“Gotta Survive.”onWelcome Back. Bad Boy. 331 Hip Hop and Religion: Gangsta Rap’s Christian Rhetoric Mase and Kanye West. 2004.“Jesus Walks (Remix).”onCollege Dropout. Def Jam. Nas. 1999.“God Love Us.”onNastradamus. Columbia. Snoop Dogg. 1999.“Gangsta Ride.”onNo Limit Top Dogg. No Limit. South Park Mexican. 2001.“The System.”onNever Change. Dope House. South Park Mexican. 2008.“Mexican Heaven.”onThe Last Chair Violinist. Dope House. Talib Kweli. 2004.“Beautiful Struggle.”onThe Beautiful Struggle. Geffen. 332 Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 25:3 Fall 2013
Each reading reflection should be a minimum of 4 pages (double-spaced) and should include the following components: a brief recap of the main points of that module, personal critical reflections and a
Rap on‘l’Avenue’; Islam, aesthetics, authenticity and masculinities in the Tunisian rap scene Dervla Sara Shannahan &Qurra Hussain Published online: 29 July 2010 # Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010 AbstractThis paper presents research findings from fieldwork in the rap scene of Tunis. Although the scene is relatively small, especially when compared to its Algerian counterpart, the number of young men involved in rap is expanding rapidly, particularly with the internet as a networking and promoting tool. Throughout the discussion I explore some of the ways that (Sunni) Islam intersects with rap in the artists’lives, lyrics and identities, and the ways that their particular locatedness informs their position within what has been termed the‘transglobal hip hop nation’. Whilst interpreting religion has long been a contested area in Tunisia, it seems that rap here functions as a route to articulating alternative interpretations of Islam, ones which not only unite the artists but offer potential for pan-umma and transglobal connectivities. These potentialities resonate with the idea of a‘transglobal hip hop ummah’and provide the artists with arenas for personal, political, collective and spiritual expression. KeywordsIslam. Hip hop. Rap. Music. Tunisia. Masculinities I see my life like a desert in bad weather, son of the Saharah, Arab, Muslim, head to toe. I take my pen, raise it up like a katana [sword]. Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 DOI 10.1007/s11562-010-0134-7 D. S. Shannahan (*) Birmingham City University, BIAD, Margaret Street, Birmingham B3 3BX, UK e-mail: [email protected] Q. Hussain 19 Perry Street, Easton, Bristol, UK e-mail: [email protected] I speak Tunisian, going to Tunisians, just let me speak Tunisian. 1 (‘Just a question of time’, T Men) Introduction Rap emerged as a child of hip-hop culture in New York’s African-American and Afro-Caribbean communities in the mid-1970s. It has been described as a form of ‘black cultural expression that prioritizes black voices from the margins of urban America … [through] a form of rhymed storytelling’(Rose1994: 2). These stories initially told of the environments in which the hip-hop movement began, and served to articulate protest against conditions on the‘street’where the artists lived. In the last 40 years US rap artists have reached dizzy commercial heights (Rose1994: 58) which have spread across the globe,‘prompting some artists and fans to proclaim the emergence of a‘global hip-hop nation”(Condry2007: 638). Now its beats vibrate through urban streets as far apart as Sydney, Palestine, Cuba City, Tokyo and Rome, and its expression in diverse contexts takes on both global and local elements, a fusion that has been termed‘glocal’(Mitchell2001: 11). As a transnational subculture, rap has proven to be a powerful vehicle for young people as‘the entire expressive culture of hip-hop … resonate[s] not only with the anxiety of youthful social rebellion, but extant global socio-political inequalities as well’(Osumare 2005: 268). Further, studies of rap and hip-hop culture have definitely made it into the academy. 2The focus is usually upon the US context; that is where the loudest, biggest and most economically successful rap is taking place. Endeavours to explore rap outside the US (such as Mitchell2001; Kahf2007; Condry2007; Orlando2003) suggest that it takes both globalised and internationalised forms yet remains‘rooted in the local’(Mitchell2001: 10). In this paper we discuss research findings from fieldwork conducted in Tunis in late 2008-early 2009 where the rap scene is small yet rapidly expanding. We seek to explore the ways that (Sunni) Islam influences the lives and lyrics of the rap artists that we met there, and the ways that their particular locations shape their positions within what Alim terms the‘transglobal hip-hopummah’(Alim2005: 264). Although Allen may be correct in positing Islam as‘hip-hop’s official religion’ (Allen in Alim2005: 264), the majority of references to Islam in US hip-hop respond to the legacy of The Five Percenters and The Nation of Islam (Aidi2004: 111), an inheritance which is not necessarily intentionally reproduced by Muslim 1‘Ça fait ma vie comme un désert dans les mal temps/ fils de Sahara, Arabi wa Muslim hau a bot/ Je tire mon stylo il fouq, comme un katana. Kalami Toonsi, meshi il Toonsi, khaleni net kalem Toonsi.’All the lyrics here have been translated with the artists in the hope of reaching the most meaning-faithful English translation. Raps frequently involve code switches and mix (Tunisian) Arabic, French and English; lyrics are presented here are as they are spoken. For more information on the groups discussed here and some tracks, seehttp://www.myspace. com/gangstarwanted(Gangstas Wanted);http://www.myspace.com/weld15(Weld 15);http://www.al-fann. com/path/Tunisia/Rap/T_Men/(T Men); andhttp://www.myspace.com/daly_blaze216(Daly Blaze of T Men). 2This is shown not only by the variety and diversity of approaches to be found in academic works on rap, but also in the interdisciplinary reach of hip-hop studies. Alim reminds us that many US universities are now offering‘hip-hop courses in departments as diverse as linguistics, religious studies, philosophy, and African American studies’(Alim2005:p272), a variety which will inevitably increase in time. 38 Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 rappers in other locations. Orthodox Muslims (taken here as Sunni and Shia) and the Five Percenters may produce lyrics which share identical terminology and symbols, yet they are imbued with starkly differing meanings, a nuance which is not always perceptible when listening to the raps of‘Muslim artists.’In other words, the Islam that is spoken of by artists who are influenced by, or are members of, more heterodox forms of Islam (such as Eric B and Rakim, Brand Nubian, Busta Rhymes, Nas, Daddy Kane and Ice Cube), can easily be understood to be Sunni Islam although the implied frames of reference differ dramatically. This distinction is not automatically understood by listeners, particularly outside of the US. In contrast, US rappers whose lyrics are inspired by, and take their religious landscape from orthodox Islam (such as Native Deen, Mos Def, Q Tip/Fareed Kamel and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, from A Tribe Called Quest), are not so widely known outside the US, or at least that is what we found in Tunisia. In Tunisia, as in much of the regional area, rap and hip-hop culture more broadly has propagated primarily through channels which downplay these differences—or elide them all together—whilst promoting a very particular form of what rap is (such as MTV/MTV Arabia, and Hollywood films). Thus the differences between rap being produced in a Muslim—majority culture such as Tunisia and the more religiously heterodox counterparts in the US deserve attention, particularly when considering just how Islam (as an umbrella term for multiple traditions) can function to inform the music itself. A question that then arises is which (interpretations of) Islam is articulated within different raps, and how do they intersect with the artists’ identities? This difference is significant when considering the interplay of global and local that the‘glocalisation’of hip-hop embodies, and the ways that a particular form of art or cultural practice can intersect with religious identities and take on highly different meanings in diverse contexts. 3Indeed, during our stay in Tunis it seemed that the majority of the artists find rap as an extension and elaboration on their identities as Muslim men. For them, the two cannot be separated (which takes either positive/transformative forms or negative ones, as shall be discussed below), through the lens of theory, in listening to and analyzing lyrics, or on the streets where they are performed. For this reason it is vital to look at both aspects of the artists’self-definitions; as Muslims, but also as men within particular situated geographies. A further impetus to exploring Tunisian rap is the aspiration to add to existing research on gender in the Middle East, which as an area of study is currently heavily weighted towards women’s studies. As Connell suggests, in‘discussions of politics, “gender”is often a code-word for women (Connell2009: 122); this is particularly true within the context of Islamic studies and Muslim cultures, where‘much of the literature … has been written and read with Muslim men as an unmarked category’ (Ouzgane2006: 6). The Tunisian rap scene is currently small (especially when compared to neighbouring Algeria, see Bouzine2000) and the artists discussed in this paper share similarities and differences with their non-rapping counterparts. 3Whilst many of the rappers that we met in Tunis were quick to point out that Nas and Busta Rhymes are Muslims, they were less certain of the format that their Islam takes; the routes that their (heterodox) Islam provides in bringing them to, and articulating as, Islam, are surely very different to the Sunni, Maliki Islam that the Tunisian artists practice. Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 3939 However, Tunisian rap is created, produced and dispersed through locations which are predominantly male domains, and the processes which it takes encapsulates the intersections of contemporary Islam, modernity, globalisation and constructions of masculinities. To this aim, consideration of the Tunisian scene can add to contemporary studies of masculinity, and also to the place of Tunisian rap in the ‘glocalised’hip-hop nation. 4 The research The data for this discussion comes from research conducted in late 2008-early 2009, primarily in the capital of Tunisia, Tunis. 5Following initial contact through online networking toolMyspace, we used snowballing methodology in order to meet other rappers. Overall, we spoke to thirty eight men connected with the rap movement, and twelve self-identified rappers. 6The remaining twenty six were involved in the scene in various ways, either in production, music engineering, promotion, dj-ing or graf artists. We also met women during our stay, yet their place within the movement seemed less central, a point which will be discussed further later in this discussion. The research consisted of fieldwork, or just‘hanging out’on the scene and getting to know the artists and the men they refer to in American hip-hop slang as‘homies’, and also eleven in-depth interviews. These interviews ranged from 40 min to 3 h each and were semi-structured. Whilst we would begin the interviews with just one or two artists, often other men would appear and contribute to the discussion, frequently interspersed with freestyling or playing particular raps from mobile phones or MP3 players. These took place in a variety of settings, including studios, family houses and cafes along the main street of central Tunis,‘L’Avenue Bourguiba’. Fieldwork was conducted in similar locations, and involved many informal, group discussions, predominantly about rap, religion and global politics. We also had the opportunity to travel to Hammamet to a nightclub where one of the interviewees was performing; a large group of Tunisian artists and supporters also attendeden masse. This paper initially focuses upon Tunisian rappers in relation to their social and geographical locations and explores the various ways that rap can serve as a forum for protest, both locally and internationally. It then looks at issues of authenticity and self-censorship when freedom of expression is delineated by the state, and the significance of staged performances for the artists’self-perceptions. The second section of this paper turns to Islam as a source of inspiration and motivation within the artists’lives and lyrics. It discusses the ways that artists’interpretations of Islam are articulated through rap and also their understandings of the place of music within 4For further information on Arab/ic hip-hop a good place to start is the forum ofHip-hop Arabia,http:// hiphoparabia.ning.com/forum. (accessed 10th of July2009) 5We were told that the hip-hop scene is primarily located in Tunis (although there are artists working in other places such as Sfax and Sousse) and summer concerts take place in diverse coastal resorts. 6This may seem a small sample group but the number of people considered rap artists with the scene is relatively small; as producer Kamel told me,‘there are maybe fourteen or fifteen artists in Tunisia.’This reflects surely his distinction between artists who are producing and recording, and‘wannabes,’a quick search onMyspacecasts doubt onto this figure, and also indicates that there are many more of the latter. 40 Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 Islam. It explores how the aesthetics of hip-hop culture are negotiated in the public sphere by Tunisian artists and finally turns to the multiple ways that gender interacts with the Tunisian hip-hop scene and is expressed therein. Throughout this discussion the concept of double consciousness is relevant, as in the multiple ways the artists’ have to negotiate between distinctways of being. Gilroy explains double consciousness as a‘double vision,’one which‘allows people to be in two places at once and maintain a double perspective on reality’(Tate2001: 211). Gilroy’s definition will be used in this paper and thus the terms‘double vision’and‘double consciousness’may be read as interchangeable. Following hip-hop to Tunis A history of the rap movement in Tunisia is beyond the scope of this paper, but a brief excursion backwards is necessary to set the stage for the following discussion. There is a clear division between what the artists refer to as the‘old school’and the ‘younger generation’of rappers on the scene, and relationships of mentoring and mutual support are common. Our initial introduction to the scene was through an ‘old school’producer and writer, Kamel, who quickly introduced us to younger artists, commenting on their talent. 7Almost every old school artist we spoke to claimed to have started the movement—claims which obviously require caution— yet we found wide consensus that the first wave of rap in Tunis began in the early 1990s, when US rappers (Wu Tan Clan emerged as a common influence) first gained popularity amongst young Tunisians. As T Men, (a group of four 30–40 year olds) told us, the group they call their‘clan’formed on the rooftop of a member’s family home, and was propelled forward by a shared love of rap. They see their clan as distinctly located in Tunis, as Mac of T Men explained; We are old men, from the old medina, you know it? We began this so long ago, right there in the medina. Outside of Tunis it is not the same, cannot be the same. The music comes from the street, the small ones of the medina, from between the houses, on the rooftops, in the small spaces between the walls. By linking his own lyrical inspiration to the very bricks of the old medina, Mac firmly situates his music within his own autobiography, claims authenticity is geographically located and hints at potential differences of context between what the artists broadly term the‘street’. All the artists we met display a strong sense of connectivity with their national identity (even whilst remaining critical of the actions of the state itself), and local struggles are articulated in their music through distinctly male experiences. The way that clans are named encapsulates this; T Men stands for Tunisian men, and their logo (designed by D’Ali’s wife) is of five men. There are four clan members and the fifth, as Jamal explained carefully, symbolizes the Tunisian man,‘all the other men not talking.’Not dissimilarly, the name Gangstas 7Two more commercially successful Tunisian rappers are Balti Hiroshima and Sincero. The majority of artists we spoke to were rather doubtful about their status within the holistic movement, particularly emphasising the (perceived) trajectory towards R‘n’B that Balti appears to have taken. We did travel to see Balti in concert but, due to a low turnout, it ended early, and unfortunately we were unable to interview him during our stay. Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 4141 Wanted is understood by clan member Hossam‘in the positive way. A Gangsta means being a man going out for work, for family, for his children, and being wanted by the people.’Many of the raps reiterate the situatedness of the rappers; in ‘Arabi’, for example, the central theme is Arab unity, which is presented as entwined with the land and the history of the artists. I am Arab proud and simple, but proud of my land and the land of my ancestors and proud of my Arab brothers. 8 This shared connectivity is reflected within the wider scope of the music; in response to the question‘what do you write about?’the artists unanimously agreed that the social problems of the Tunisian people provide a main thread to their rap. Issues of poverty, unemployment, 9job insecurity, state repression (overt and covert), curfews, harsh behaviours of security forces, political hypocrisy (national and international), European imperialism and political strife are recurring themes. In this sense, Tunisian rap can‘be understood not so much as an individualist obsession with the self but rather as a dialogical engagement with community’(Pennycook2007: 103), an engagement which firmly situates itself within local geographies. It also seems that the authenticity of their raps (as measured by other artists) is directly related to their experiences as located within the nation state and social setting of Tunisia, where Arab, Muslim and male identities intersect and are consolidated collectively through music. Keeping it real A recurring theme in hip-hop culture and its observers is the importance of keeping it real, of authenticity, of artistic integrity (Basu1998). The intersections between integrity as an artist and authenticity as a lyricist have been cited as key aspects of being successful in hip-hop, and reflecting upon rap beyond the US, Pennycook (2007: 103) asks‘the question, then, is what is real talk on the global stage?’In Tunis, it seems, real talk has to resonate with contemporary social realities. Solo artist Ahmed commented on how the general population of Tunis is slowly changing their attitudes towards the music, as the lyrics increasingly respond to local realities; when non-rappers listen, he explains,‘they hear their problems in this music, you understand? It is their lives in our tongues.’The long-term outcome of such recogni- tion obviously remains to be seen, yet the artists that we met seem confident that rap is a more effective vessel for articulating these realities than other, more traditional forms of music. Similarly, Kahf argues that for Palestinian rappers, the elevation of the ‘uniqueness of hip-hop as a form of expression and resistance’is a crucial part of validating their authenticity as Muslim, Palestinian rappers (2007:362).Writer/ producer Kamel explained how‘popular music here istaboukah …and some R‘n’B. Traditional music is all tak tak,habibi, habibi, but life is not allhabibi habibi[my love, my love]!’This comment is met with much laughter, nods and agreement. 8‘Ena Arabe fakhour baseet, la khin fakhour bi ardi ow ardh ajdaadi bil Arab ikhwaani’.92008 figures put the official unemployment figure at 14.1%, though unofficial figures place it much higher. Due to the seasonal nature of much of the work in Tunisia, (most notably tourism and agriculture) figures are estimates at best. 42 Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 Approaching rap as resistance begs the question, what is being resisted and how? It seems that the resistive-elements of Tunisian rap take two broad forms, with starkly different political consequences. First, resistance to local and national conditions is a highly controversial trope and, whilst a recurring one, is potentially dangerous for artists. Envisioning rap as a sophisticated form of social critique demands a correspondence between local context and the speakability of it, which finds a particular intersection in Tunisia, where the realities that inspire the lyrics cannot simply be challenged or critiqued. It is necessary to mention at this stage the limits placed upon rap artists in Tunisia by strict regulations on freedom of speech, association and expression. 10 Government enforced restrictions on internet access, state actions against journalists and violent security responses to incidents of social unrest and protest are common, adding to an environment of insecurity and social frustration. A recent Amnesty International report stated that authorities continue to use their“security and counter-terrorism”concerns to justify arrests and other repression of Islamists, and political dissent in general —including the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly— and arrests and harassment of alleged Islamist youth are common (2009: 6). Limits on freedom of speech are subtle yet ever present, and the artists that we spoke to displayed a deep awareness of how their music is created within and against this backdrop. Whilst we were told that things have improved (the clampdowns on public concerts and seemingly random closure of rap events which were common in 2004/5 are less frequent at the time of writing, 2009) a culture of self-censorship is evident within lyrics and everyday discussions of anything that could have political undertones. Gangstas Wanted‘One-by-One’evinces such indirect self-censorship and simultaneously provides a critique of everyday conditions through metaphor; On the street I say oh my people jump in the palaces of the inferior, they turned you into plastic people/ It is the underground revolution!Magically I talk about what’s happening in my town, using my music. 11 A kind of utopian justice is promoted here; for‘the people’who are described as ‘plastic’(stripped of dignity, self-worth and individual power)‘jumping in the palaces’is presented as a metaphorical move to claim back power from the wealthy, and hip-hop is placed at the‘underground’centre of this move. Raps such as this one mention‘bad conditions’yet do not go into specific details about them, instead using metaphor and allegory (which are commonly understood by Tunisian listeners) to avoid potential critique, yet there is a sense that much is held back. When we asked an older artist‘what would you say about if you could rap about anything at all?’he laughingly responded;‘all the things I cannot say to you now, I would say it then.’In practical terms the lengthy bureaucratic processes and need for official permission to act in the public spaces renders production, performance and distribution precariously challenging. To make a music video, for example, it is necessary to be granted permission to record anything in public spaces, and as a film student 11‘Fi sharah akhi ah sha’bi nukuz fil abrage mteera ithul/ khalowkum people plastic/ underground tra revolution!/ Bi saher mnit kelim aley sigher fi hum bil musica mtayeh.’ 10For more information, see Amnesty International2009and Ben Mhenni2009. Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 4343 explained, subject areas that can be explored in film are severely limited. Returning to the question of authenticity, it is tempting to ask just how relevant it remains when exploring contexts where real talk is restrained before the lyricist’s pen is even picked up. Artists are also keen to point out the‘bad conditions’around the world. This second form of resistance, the critique of bad conditions beyond Tunisia, is less likely to put the artists at risk and in some cases, (especially pro-Palestinian raps) is actively encouraged by the state. Our second visit to Tunis coincided with the Israeli offensive in Gaza, an event that shadowed our visit and was at the forefront of the artists’discussions, emotions, and lyrics. There was a tangible sense of frustration amongst the men, which is not simply a reaction to gross political and military injustices, but also a frustration at their inability to help change the situation in Palestine in direct ways. Hossam expressed his frustration in painfully eloquent terms, displaying unshakable links between the Palestinian struggle, shared membership of theummah, and gendered roles. Their children are our children, their sisters are our sisters; 1,000 dead in 1 day, did you see it? Did you? … But they don’t do anything. No one does anything … I cry, you cry, he cries … and will all our tears rain into Israel and flood [them]? Palestine is repeatedly evoked as a symbol of continuing injustice in the world, one which has particular poignancy for Muslims everywhere and reverberates through Tunisian rap. Swedenburg makes a similar point in discussing the significance of the Palestinian struggle in the lyrics of UK group Fun-Da-Mental (2001: 60). Also, links between oil, wealth and international politics were raised on multiple occasions, with the current international power balance cited as an obstacle to Arab unity and economic progress. The artists expressed skeptical views of the ‘wars’in Afghanistan and Iraq, which accord with Zoubir and Aït-hamadouche’s observation that the overwhelming majority of the populations in MENA believe that the main objective of the Anglo-American operation was to control Iraqi oil wealth, consolidate Israel’s security and guarantee oil supplies to Israel (Zoubir and Aït-hamadouche2006: 44). In this sense, rap can provide a forum for protest; against national, international and transnational political events and trends, yet as a form of resistance it remains within the limits set by the nation state. Gross et al. observe how World Beat discourses about Raï‘are essentially based on a projection of a white, Eurocentric model of the culture wars onto Algeria,’a projection which elevates the whole genre as a resistance movement whilst glossing over issues such as complicated relationships to the nation state (Gross et al.2002: 203). Thus it is clearly necessary to avoid romanticising all rap as resistance (which in itself ignores the diversity and locatedness of different artists and productions), yet within Tunisian rap, there are notable elements of political resistance taking place. These are nuanced and multifaceted; rap may be used as a vehicle for expressing frustrations against political climates, yet simultaneously it may display sophisticated use of metaphor as self-censorship, in order to protect the same artists from political ramifications. 44 Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 Staged selves Nowhere is the potential for rap as action in itself more visible than in the artists’ relationship(s) to their stage performances, and their stage selves. 12 Significantly, the artists who are usually modest about their music and talent often describe their live performances in boastful terms, urge us to return in the summer to see them on stage, and on many occasions, show us DVDs of their past concerts, animatedly pointing out themselves, their clothes and their crews. The divergence in autobiographical attitudes and self-expressions that these stage performances evoke is striking; in such recollections, reference to their (own and others’) stage names is common, and the English term AKA (‘also known as’) is widely used. Yet in everyday social situations, they use their first names. Is it possible to read such performative elements of the artists’dual identities as expressions and affirmations of double consciousnesses? When asked the question‘who are you?’on stage, Hossam answered,‘me, I am me, and I am Achille. A different me!’This‘different’or ‘other’self appears closer to Hossam’s ideal(ised) hip-hop identity, where enactment and embodiment of the perceived roles of a hip-hop artist (such as aesthetics, body language, use of language and attitude) frees him to engage in a performativity that reflects a (self-perceived) truer self. This different self is there already, before the stage, even partially, propelling the artist onto the stage itself, yet depends on the public space within, and yet outside of the constraints of, the regulated public sphere. The performative aspects of double consciousness which emerges on stage/in staged spaces (arguably extendable also to coffee shops and the imagined listeners of all lyrical productions) are at once personal, individual and self-affirming and simultaneously, public, shared, collective and identity binding. The effectiveness of the performance rests upon the shared awareness of the framework of public performance—of the rap artist and persona—in contrast to the restrictions and shared reality of everyday, off-stage life. Ibrahim’s description of being on stage is typical; ‘I want to show myself to the world; I play by my feelings.’Such reported experiences include personal, collective, and public elements, which blend together into a particular freedom of being, and indicate the power of rap‘to call into being through performance new identities and subject positions’(Rose1994:21–22). The artists’relationships with their staged selves and their everyday selves is thus negotiated in a performativity that takes a deeper resonance when on stage, and infuses the same lyrics with a stronger political, transformative potential than when they are free-styled in coffee shops. Hythem recounts how on stage There I am free. People are interested in me, in myself. It is like being president, my ideas matter, they care, everybody listens. I hope, one day, if we keep speaking, others will want to speak to. The power that comes with performing on stage and having the chance to use a voice that is rarely heard outside close circles of friends is infused with political 12The artists perform in public at least twice a year in a variety of venues, such as summer festivals, nightclubs and self-organised concerts. Balti (who is more commercially successful) was said to perform a few times a month. Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 4545 power, with the aspiration of location, national and international transformation, with hip-hop providing the vehicle towards desired change. Small venues‘dramatically enable performances that question authority and challenge audience members to act for social change, even as they entertain’(Dowdy2007: 77). Through being on stage, the transformative potential of hip-hop’s performativity is transferred from the artists’lyrics to the audience which is where, as Hythem’s account above indicates, the possibility of real change lies. This possibility is rendered more precarious and precious because of the particular environment of rap concerts in Tunisia, where freedom of speech and expression are not necessarily guaranteed, and where the concerts themselves have frequently been closed down by local authorities. Interpretations of Islam Tunisia is often described as the most liberal of Maghrebi countries, especially in terms of family law (Brand1998: 201). Like its regional neighbours it has struggled to achieve a balancing act between diverse, and often conflicting, trends within its society, a balancing act which has been contained, or some may argue, resolved, by carefully propagating a particular interpretation of Islam. As Lee explains,‘the Tunisian government now sees Islamism as its principal opposition and takes pains, as do so many Muslim governments, to clothe itself in an official, conventional Islam’(Lee2008: 159). The dramatic reinterpretation project begun by Bourguiba in 1956 was presented as a modern reading of Islam, which aimed to undermine any independent base of Islamist or traditionalist opposition … not eliminating, but rather bringing under state control, all forms of civil society organization (Brand1998: 178–179). Whilst Ben Ali’s government has elaborated upon Bourguiba’s reinterpretations of theology and at times engaged in an‘Islamization of official discourse’(Brand 1998: 192), the shift towards political and economic liberalization that Bourguiba’s reign effected remain in place (Charrad2001: 214). It is this reinterpretation which has facilitated the enactment of theology-inflected legislations, such as the dismantling ofshariahcourts and centres of Islamic studies and the prohibition of polygamy. Further, it has effectively recast public displays of religiosity as incompatible with the trajectory towards liberalism. If‘for Bourguiba, Islam represented the past, the West is Tunisia’s only hope for a modern future’(Esposito and Voll2001: 92), Islamic practice in the public sphere as a route to Tunisian modernity is rendered potentially precarious. In this context the way that rap (a distinctly modern form of music and art) is used as a vehicle for interpreting and expressing religion offers an alternative route to locating religion in the public sphere. Interpretations of Islam are not something separate from the Tunisian rap scene; rather they are an integral part of the scene’s identity. Religion holds a central, relevant and vital part of the movement’s core in Tunis and by showing that religion remains relevant to their music and to their very existences, artists could be seen as adding to existing interpretative discourses on the meaning and place of Islam in the public sphere. Though all the artists we met subscribed to Sunni Islam, theological differences were notably downplayed; for 46 Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 example in‘One-by-One’, Gangstas Wanted rap‘God willing I will end with the people of heaven/ with your hand on white Shi’ah or Sunni,’with white being used as a symbol of spiritual purity. 13 Mac, who describes himself lyrically in‘Just a Question of Time’as a‘son of the Sahara, Arab, Muslim, head to toe,’positions Islam at the‘beginning and the end’of his relationship to music. When we asked him how Islam affects his rap, he explained that Islam is my roots; I cannot move [away from] my roots. We do not talk about Islam exactly it is just there in every verse and … you know, we are Muslims and we are artists. Although Mac says that they do not talk about Islam explicitly, the omnipresence of Islam is central to their lyrical frame of reference; it is found in between verses dealing with all sorts of other subjects. Gangstas Wanted rap‘Arabi’became almost like a theme tune to our stay in Tunisia because it was played, freestyled and hummed so often by various artists. Amongst content rejoicing in (an almost utopian) Arab unity and Muslim brotherhood, we find the verse; I’m happy I am Muslim walking on the (straight) path, the finger of testimony always up; There is no god but Allah. The word Muslim unites us all … This is what the Prophet said; The Qur’an is the source, its the law, its the distinction between good and bad, between oppressor and oppressed. 14 Appealing to Muslim unity, the transcendental character of religion and the traditions that form the roots of all other interpretations of Islam, the track returns its listeners to the key sources of Islam. Whilst the religious phrases chosen are not uncommon in everyday speech and interactions in Tunisia, the centrality of the sources to the rap is striking. As an interpretation of religion and its place in contemporary lives, it is one that effectively bypasses political debate over who can interpret Islam in Tunisia, and how. Considering how official interpretations may appear to refute the authority of thesunnahin certain areas (such as the prohibition of beards),‘Arabi’is a striking testimony to the prevailing importance and centrality of thesunnahandsirahin the rappers’lives, consciousnesses, identities and frames of reference. Religion is the force that unites the rappers here, and the Qur’an is the primary framework for social and ethical behaviour. Again, by appealing to the Qur’an as the highest authority, they are effectively returning to age old definitions of what Islam means, and doing so through undeniably modern routes. Islam also functions in the rap scene as a connecting force.‘Arabi’draws heavily on themes of pan-Arab unity, and this rap elevates the potential of Muslim identity to 13‘Insh’allah wil khatma min ahl Jehnah/ min yiddek alla ubayid Shi’a wala Sunni.’14‘Muslim farhan nimshey ala as sirat/ subah shahada deyma il fouq; la illaha illah allah/ tajmana kilmit Muslimeen … hadah she wasa Rasul, kitab il Qur’an whoah il mem bah, whoah el kahnoon, whoa iley ey faruk bayn il haqh wil batil, nayn addalim wa al mathloom.’ Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 4747 transcend all other identity positions and affinities. Although later in the track Hossam raps;‘there is no black and white, no difference between origins, in Islam,’ race is notably not discussed as a significant factor in this interepretation. The chorus states, in French, English and Arabic, a vivid aspiration of pan-Arabism and a celebration of the locatedness of Tunisian rap; Brother I’m so happy I’m an Arab. We speak together, one language Arabic. We pray together, we fight together. Forever ever, I’m still Arab. 15 If the rap movement expresses pan-Arabism and international Muslim solidarity (particularly evinced in their unified concern for the Palestinian struggle) it is most vitally a vessel for brotherhood amongst Tunisian artists. The spaces where rap is written, produced, distributed, exchanged and listened to facilitate relationships centred around the music itself. Membership in a clan creates different modes of relating and identifying, modes which may, or may not, elaborate upon more traditional forms of belonging. Rap can thus serve to work out and consolidate individual and collective identities, whilst offering escape from the struggles of everyday life. Mac writes in‘Just a Question of Time,’ Satisfaction with my crew and with my section [area]. Despite the bad mentality and the bad conditions, Brother Mac gets called the scorpion. 16 In this rap it is precisely the‘bad conditions’that strengthen the locatedness and sense of belonging to a‘crew’, and it is the potential for being named that inspires the satisfaction within the section (geographical area), that is the focus of this rap. Although clan membership in itself does not overtly challenge the political system or nation state,‘these musical forms fracture unity and promote a new model of heterological subjectivity that is not rooted in the political status quo’(Orlando 2003: 402). Significantly, it is individual talent that allows entry to clans, and in this sense at least, Tunisian rap provides artists with a space for community within the wider community. Like Raï, Potter suggests, hip-hop culture can function to create a ‘new vernacular’of‘insurrectionary knowledges’that are juxtaposed with traditional ‘historical societal forces’(Potter in Orlando2003: 402). Halalvs.Haraam? Many artists spoke of the negative images attributed to hip-hop in Tunisian society, blaming both the national media and American films which glorify‘gangsta’ violence. Considering the relationship of Islam to rap, it is worth remembering that ‘the issue of music and singing has always been surrounded by controversy’(Dien 2004: 138) in Islam, and the 1994 assassination of the Algerian Raï artist Cheb 15‘Arabe, fière de l’ètre frero I’m Arab/ We speak together, one language Arabi/We pray together, we fight together/ Forever ever, I’m still Arab.’ 16‘Satisfaction with my crew and with my section/ malgré la mentalité mauvaise/ and the bad conditions/ MAK frère nomé le scorpion.’ 48 Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 Hasni evinces the contemporaneousness of the issue. 17 We were interested in how artists in Tunis, as Muslims, interpreted and articulated this relationship. When the issue was raised in discussion, the artists were divided; either they emphasized the potential to spread Islamic values through music, or they were adamant that rap is haraam, and that their involvement as artists is incompatible with their Muslim identities. The first perspective focused on what may be termed the transformative potential of music; the artists’answers were cautious, yet generally well thought through. At a table with five artists, the eldest stated unambiguously‘it is not for you or for me to say it isharaam, only Allah can know,’and proceeded to cite a beautifulhadith;‘the distance between you and a decision is the distance between you and the [hell] fire’. The other men nodded in agreement, and talked animatedly for a while, before the one seemingly acting as spokesman for the clan cites the elements of American hip- hop which strike him as evidentlyharaam, such as the use of female sexuality and bodies, the consumerism and the violence of the culture. 18 He concludes carefully; It is like a knife, for me, music. You can use it to kill someone or to cut meat to eat. For me it is like this. Look at D’Ali … he is a discotheque manager and he just been to make hisjummah[prayers]. Other interviews echoed this sense of context, the importance ofniyat(intention), and the way that music can actually bring listeners and artists closer to Allah. Hythem, a well-read and articulate 25 year old, talked about global (mis)perceptions of Muslims, and laughed dismissively over how‘they think Muslim equals terrorist; its not true!’He continued to stress that music can be a form ofda’wa(spreading Islam), in that it can bring knowledge to non-Muslims about what Islam really is, taking the form of a revolutionary message, hearkening back to what he termed‘the original heart’of Islam.‘In the music we will change the condition. We can use it to tell people about Islam – how it is here, and how it can be.’From this perspective, the transformative potential of rap can bring about positive change and is inherently tied up with the artists’own intentions and aspirations. In contrast, a slightly older artist, Ibrahim, cast rap as a more negative force in his understanding of Islam and social conditions. He started rapping 12 years ago, is relatively successful and co-owns a recording studio. Ibrahim welcomed us to the studio in a suburb of Tunis, apologizing for the club-style display of alcohol. With all the trappings of a fully functional studio, the walls are painted graffiti style with prayer beads hanging over the multiple computers. He often chooses to stay overnight at the studio to work (rather than returning to his family home), and rents out the equipment to other musicians of all kinds. Unlike the younger artists, Ibrahim is cynical about the potential of rap to change anything in Tunisia, saying he‘can’t do a revolution by rap’and is now focusing on diverse musical genres. He played us his current project of classical style piano, he is involved in a soft rock band, and 17For an in-depth discussion of Raï in Algeria and France see Gross et al.2002.18This perspective is similar to that presented by the popular siteMuslim hip-hop, where music from, and information on, Muslim artists is offered online, supporting the argument that some music, if the focus is halal, can bring listeners closer to Islam, rather than further away. See for example‘Music in Islam,’Muslim hip-hop (MHH),http://www.Muslimhiphop.com. (accessed 10th of July 2009) Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 4949 self-describes as a musician, not a rapper. Although Ibrahim is one of the most successful artists in Tunis (a position confirmed by others’admiration for his work, and desire to‘make it’like he has) he presents a very different understanding of the relationship between Islam and rap. I believe it isharaam. Allah did not put two hearts in one human. 19 I cannot love music and Islam. It is shame on me. I lost three prayers yesterday, and my prayers are so late. Always. Yes, it isharaam. The tension within Ibrahim’s account cannot simply be understood as conflicting identities, although his perception of Muslim identity creates a debt-of-meaning which informs his artistic choices. Perhaps it is better seen as the way that the particular pulls towards action(s) and lifestyle choices play out in his self- consciousness, affecting his own self-perception as a precarious subject. Instead of positing rap as a transformative and positive sphere of expression, he views it as touching a weak point within himself, one inherently implicating his own spiritual struggles between right and wrong actions as a Muslim man. Although respectful of different opinions, Ibrahim is adamant that the music that he loves is keeping him away from his practice, that he‘loses’his focus when he is producing and that his inability to stop when he hears theadhan(call to prayer) is the work ofshaitan(the devil). 20 DuBois’s concept of double consciousness may be relevant at this point. In DuBois’s account the focus is on skin colour, yet the concept can usefully be applied to other experiences of a nuanced multiplicity of identities. Pattillo explains how DuBois’s double consciousness is not half of this plus half of that, but a full part of each; not this or that, but both. There is no middle in this formulation—no transitional point in a journey of migration, hybridization, and later-generation assimilation; no central actor linking organizational nodes (Pattillo2007: 115). Within Ibrahim’s account of himself as a Muslim who is also a musician (within the hip-hop scene), the struggle for self-identity is very much entwined with the locatedness of both sides of his consciousness. He describes rap as‘like addiction, but I don’t smoke [grass] or drink,alhamdulillah[all praise belong to God].’He admits that many artists who come to his studio do drink, immediately locating the context of rap as part of the perceived problem, and cites the tendency towards un- Islamic lifestyles as one of the problems of the genre. Pattillo (2007: 115) renders double consciousness as not a‘split’between two parts of an individual identity, it is not about‘liminality, but simultaneity.’In Ibrahim’s case, the simultaneity of the environments that his double consciousness evokes is the difficult point; for him, the environment that rap exists within is a key obstacle to fuller realisation of Muslim consciousness. As a very talented musician who seems tormented by his love of hip-hop 19This is a reference to the Qur’an; 33:4.20Discussing raï artists in Algeria Schade-Poulsen noted as similar tension; whilst artists reported spiritual elements within the musical process, some also felt it kept them from complete religious observance (1999: 140). 50 Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 and his interpretation of Islamic practice, Ibrahim states,‘I am fighting with myself, over music.’Such negotiations of consciousness require a never-ending chain of choices and modes of affiliation, modes which are at once responsive and self-determined. As Clifford writes on the pressures of maintaining a double vision within ones self- perception, this hooking-up and unhooking, remembering and forgetting, gathering and excluding of cultural elements—processes crucial to the maintenance of an ‘identity’—must be seen as both materially constrained and inventive. Of course it is difficult, analytically and politically, to sustain this double vision’ (Clifford2000: 97). Aside from Ibrahim, three interviewees insisted that music in general and rap in particular isharaam,or at leastmukrouh(reprehensible), and indicated challenging dual affinities towards their talent and their interpretation of their faith. The new generation artists gave brief answers such as‘yes, it isharaam,onlydaff[a kind of drum] is really allowed,’and two further suggested that women’s voices are com- pletelyawra(not to be exposed in public), a view that proves particularly problematic for artists when production entails sampling female vocals, or having them in their videos. Aladdin, who we spoke to on many occasions, had his twenty-fourth birthday whilst we were there, and announced how he intends to‘start mydeen[religion] now,’ seeing it as a pivotal age. He takes his religion very seriously, echoes Ibrahim’sviews about the incompatibility of hip-hop with his interpretation of Islam, yet appears to currently have less trouble maintaining this double consciousness within himself. Disciplined aesthetics vs. streetwear Aesthetics are central to hip-hop culture across the world, most visibly in streetwear, which plays a central role in hop-hop culture and is often‘virulently masculine’ (Fleetwood2005: 332). As Fleetwood writes, if‘the relationship between hip-hop music, specifically its lyrics, and fashion is mimetic … clothing acts as the visual identifier of the sound’(Fleetwood2005: 329). The artists in Tunis reported that the aesthetics of rap are met with widespread negativity from Tunisian officials and wider society because of the image propagated by (American) films and perceived links between the music and gangster and/or Mafioso aggression. To dress as they perceive rappers should, could prove to be a barrier to employment, not dissimilarly to overtly Islamic apparel. Tunisia’s 1990 official ban onhijabin civil buildings is enforced to varying degrees in different areas, 21 and it seemingly functions to remove particular forms of religious observance from public domains. Restrictions on male aesthetics are less 21During a visit to a large university in the suburbs of Tunis, a senior Professor estimated that one third of university students wearhijabon campus, despite the official ban. Ashijabis, we didn’t encounter any problems. However, many women confided to us of frequent, unpredictable harassment and refused entry by security forces at the gates to campus, the most extreme case being the actual pulling off of a woman’s scarf. They were keen to stress that enforcement is as much the whims of the particular officers as it was higher directives. (Interestingly, in towns in southern Tunisia the ban was more strictly enforced, with many women choosing between the scarf or employment in civic offices and universities). Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 5151 often commented upon. The government frowns upon male expressions of reli- giosity in the public sphere and wearing a beard and religious adornments can be a barrier to employment. The rules of public aesthetics may be understood as a disciplining of the visual, which takes a particular form for religiously observant members of the rap scene. One young artist exclaimed;‘Hijabandbarbis in the sunnah, but here, everything is forbidden [‘ala ici, tout interdemit’]. Where are we, Beirut or something?’The intentionally flippant rendering of the situation is enjoined with frustration at the divergences between official interpretations of Islam (and the selectivity of their applications), the Islam of traditional sources (such as the Prophet’ssirahandahadithcollections), and their own quests for individual and collective identity as Muslim men. Hythem, who works as an administrator for a university, explained how he once, when he was‘more religious,’had a beard, but was pressured to remove it when looking for work, a pressure he once again met when he started wearing street wear. As he explained,‘I like to look as is not okay now, no. If I wear like this [motions to baggies] I cannot work.’For Hythem, the need to belong is inherently entwined with appearances, or external regulation of aesthetics; the aspects of his identity expressed through how he dresses, walks, or wears his beard demand constant negotiation. This is not a unique account. In interviews at the end of the artists’working day, for example, it was not unusual for them to turn up at the cafe in formal workwear, and before sitting down, pull on a t-shirt over their day clothes, add shades and lower a cap over their eyes. Further, at discotheques the artists wore American style baggies, caps and t-shirts, visibly and aesthetically embodying the music that they play and dance to (perhaps testifying to the globalising aesthetics of hip-hop culture). Here the concept of double-vision resonates with the artists’attitudes to the aesthetics of streetwear which they juggle in the Tunisian public sphere. We observed a clear discrepancy between the artists’aesthetic image—what they feel they should/would/could wear to be rappers—andthewaytheydressedona daily basis. Returning to the lens of double vision, the artists’management of their dual identities appears to be heavily entwined with aesthetics through a sophisticated juggling of appearances and performances. Tate suggests that conceptualisations of double vision need to‘include the possibility for agency in the construction of identities in talk’(Tate2001: 211); what emerges here is the centrality of aesthetics for constructing and confirming identities which contain elements of double vision. If the artists display double perspectives of their selves, these positions yield nuanced relationships between external actions, choices of appearance and aesthetics, and expressions of agency, and its control, in the public sphere. The aesthetic changes that they embody, and undergo on a daily basis, hint at the performativity of aesthetics and the disciplining of appearances in public spaces. In Tunisia this aesthetic performativity could be interpreted as being similar to the guidelines for Islamic apparel; either can prove to hinder the individuals’employability and general acceptance in wider social spheres, yet both make demands on the artists’identity constructions. It seems that the very real need to be accepted in the public sphere requires the artists’understanding of hip-hop culture, rapper identity and Islam to be negotiated along already set lines. 52 Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 Located masculinities Hip-hop cultural sites in Tunis are predominantly male. The scene is located in mixed venues, such as coffee shops and discotheques, yet the women who are involved in production seem to be either girlfriends or transient members, but not individual rappers or relatives of male artists (during our experiences at least). We were told that there are a few,‘maybe two or three,’female rappers on the scene, but were frustratingly unable to obtain any reliable information about them. 22 Whilst the younger artists expressed frustration about the expenses involved in marriage, they also displayed surprisingly conservative views on gender roles for married couples. (Surprising because such views stand in contrast to the attitudes shown in everyday mixed interactions). 23 One artist, who’d been married for a year, laughed that he tells his wife he’s going to listen to rap and drink coffee‘for my head.’When we asked his clan members about this, we were told that his wife‘stays at home, he doesn’t like her to come here or there, she doesn’t go for coffee and he stays home more now [that he’smarried].’Although perhaps an unusually conservative example, Ibrahim explained that his dream is to take his (future) wife and mother to live in Saudi, and practice what he called‘real Islam.’ Women are also conspicuously absent in their lyrics, which stands in sharp contrast to US rap where‘the representation of women as sexual objects for men’s use is a common trope’(Crossley2005: 506). When we asked a large group of artists how their music differs from their American counterparts, the lyrical placing of women was immediately raised. Following much animated discussion, Jamel explained, it is not the same image, women here is different, she is the inspiration beside you in struggle, she is … she is not the subject, we don’t treat them like subject of music … we don’t need to talk about them too much. Such responses emerged as common and are certainly refreshing to hear against the oft-objectifying backdrop of mainstream US rap. In this regard the artists appear to differentiate between a conscious and commodifying depiction of women, and interpretations of gender-roles in Islam play a central role in this differentiation. Arguably this differentiation is in line with the artists’overall critical approach to the dominant values of mainstream US rap, and is less about feminism in any form; more, it reflects contextually-specific conceptions of gender difference articulated against those purported by American artists. Whilst the quote above shows that women are not‘the subject’of raps, it also shows that gender is not an overt theme in the overwhelmingly male domain of Tunisian hip-hop. Kamel explained that‘our sisters come to the concerts, our mothers, [so] we’re not permitted to swear or say bad words about women,’yet many of the tracks that we were played did contain words and terminology closer to misogyny than respect. 22This stands in contrast to raï’s gendered spaces and roles, wheresheikhat(female artists) have been fundamental to the history and development of the genre. Virolle suggests that in Algeria female performers open up spaces‘whereby masculine and feminine signs are superimposed, inverted, corresponding, and mutually nullifying’(Virolle2003: 226). 23For example, as the research progressed we faced the experience of being offered‘hugs’by some of the artists, something completely novel to us within a mixed Muslim context. Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 5353 Inclusion of female-derogatory terminology and slang in Tunisian rap could arguably be seen as less about mainstream hip-hop values, and more as reflective of traditional Tunisian patriarchal Arab attitudes towards women, and male unease with the speed at which gender roles are changing in Tunisia. This unease also emerged in discussions of female involvement in hip-hop production; the younger generation of artists were completely comfortable discussing rap with female friends and dancing together in nightclubs yet simultaneously displayed unease around the use of female voices, samples and bodies in music videos. Such answers placed us (as consumers of rap, as feminists and as Muslim women), in an interpretative dilemma; it would be impossible to gauge just how much of the artists’responses were affected by our gendered presence, and by the multiple different ways of relating which our locations as researchers produced. It is clear, however, that the ways in which attitudes towards gender intersect with the Tunisian hip-hop scene are nuanced and multifaceted. The artists’hopes for their own futures contrast with their unmarried behaviour in mixed settings, for example, and whilsttheyinsistthattheirmusicismore respectful to women than that of their US counterparts, the inclusion of some female-derogatory terms curiously contradicts that. Is this an example of how double consciousnesses can play out against social and cultural backdrops? If the self-perception of rap artists requires acertain kind of embodiment of action and attitude, do the misogynistic frameworks of reference so embedded within mainstream hip-hop culture cast a particular light upon the gendered sides of rappers’double consciousnesses? At the veryleast the gendered attitudes of the artists contain a selective adoption and creative criticism of US rap which is continued into their music. In conversation they would frequently speak scathingly of the egotism and materialistic lifestyles promoted therein, and we were intrigued by how the artists’own lyrical content is negotiated alongside the hip-hop culture broadcast by MTV Arabia and similar medias. I am sorry to say this to you but most of it is bullshit. Everything bling bling, women, cars, money, clothes; this is what they do. If you look at any of them … [like] 50 Cent … this is their life. They think this is life? Whilst Kamel states he has a lot of respect for the production industry and musical talent of many American artists, he takes a selective approaches to what is included in his own music. The raps discussed here use diverse music samples. For example, in‘One-by-One’the sound is incredibly Arabic; synthesised samples of Arabic flute and oud-like string instruments are interspersed with a standard rap beat. However, there is also a continuous return to reggae chants in the background, and a heavily patois accent is used throughout the chorus. In contrast,‘Arabi’is much closer in style to a West coast/LA sound and contains no Arabic style samples. Instead it is a composition of different melodies with a distinctively (Western) classical tone, clustered around orchestral strings and piano-orientated crescendos. Amongst the artists who identify as‘new generation’there is a distinctive reggae influence on the composition, words and samples used; for example, young solo artist Weld 15 raps about Islam in a track entitled‘Soldiers of Jah’sarmy.’Such attitudes of critical consumption and sample selections indicate that the 54 Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 rhizomic globalization of rap is not a simple instance of the appropriation of a U.S./African-American cultural form; rather, it is a linguistically, socially, and politically dynamic process which results in complex modes of indigenization and syncreticism (Pennycook2007: 107). Clearly, far from a neat admiration of all things western, artists such as Kamel are responding critically to the superficiality and ethical framework which mainstream American rap can reproduce. D’Ali elucidates on his own relationship to US rap as ‘we are not obligated to take all parts, we don’t imitate. I like the clean rappers, not the dirty parts of it, like Common.’In this sense, mainstream rap is like much of American culture which‘is imitated and admired … yet at the same time it is contested’across the world (Zoubir and Aït-hamadouche2006: 51). Between the ink and the feather: conclusion This paper has discussed rap in Tunisia from a variety of angles, including gender, aesthetics, authenticity and censorship, social conditions, external restraints and interpretations of Islam. The concept of double consciousness has been a useful lens through which to view some of the apparent contradictions within the artists’ identities and we have suggested that a degree of‘double vision’is forced, to a certain extent, by restraints on agency in the public sphere. Social and structural constraints render the current hip-hop scene in Tunis challenging and frustrating; to be an artist is not to expect financial or even public rewards, and, as we heard in numerous variations, rap‘is not a life’in Tunisia. However, there are some exceedingly talented artists whose devotion to the genre is enabling the scene to grow, if slowly. Opportunities provided by cyber networking resources and advances in production technologies 24 are increasingly rendering auto-production a more feasible option, which will surely diversify the future of the scene. In terms of religion, the Tunisian rap scene testifies to the power of‘Islamic hip-hop … [which] has emerged as a powerful internationalist subculture for disaffected youth around the world (Aidi2004: 124). The interpretations of Islam found within the artists’ lyrics are absolutely situated within the Tunisian context, and the employment of a framework informed by Sunni Islam is strikingly different to the ones used by the Muslim artists that they admire in the American context. This fidelity to Muslim identity intersects, as we have seen, with rappers identity construction in diverse ways in Tunisia. The majority of artists interviewed cite the transformative, positive potential of rap to bring listeners closer to Islam. However, the synthesis of identity affiliations is far from simple. Attitudes towards women, for example, and Ibrahim’s summary‘I am fighting with myself’testify to the dual-vision which artists may express in synthesising these different aspects of being Tunisian, Muslim rappers. Tunisian rap emerges as a powerful vehicle for self-expression, one which is firmly situated within the artists’geographies and biographies, whilst simultaneously looking beyond national boundaries. By focusing on Palestine as a site of gross 24Programmes such asCubaseandFruity Loopsare dramatically changing the landscapes of production, enabling artists to create and auto-produce their raps at home. Copies of such programmes are widely available in Tunis’s markets for as little as 1 Dinar, (50 pence) at the time of writing. Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 5555 injustice the artists also strengthen transnational connectivities as Muslim men and as Arabs, and offer support for a cause that unites and mobilises emotional responses. Rap is posited by the artists as a form of resistance; by articulating what they see as the‘bad conditions’that surround them (both locally and globally), the artists at once draw attention to their own streets and the multiple politics embedded therein. In the track‘Just a Question of Time,’T Men say‘lyrics are like bullets; hip- hop is the foundation of the revolution.’ 25 Here the pen is adorned with the power to resist, as a weapon to be employed in the defence of Tunisians, 26 and in depicting himself as an Arab Tunisian warrior, 27 Mac’s lyrics point towards the potential for change that rap as a genre can predict, articulate, and even help effect. I take my pen, raise it up like a katana [sword]. I speak Tunisian, going to Tunisians, just let me speak Tunisian. 28 It must be noted, however, that for all the revolutionary potential hinted at within the lyrics, the artists are less clear about the transition from rap as performative resistance to solid political change. We have suggested that the stage allows the artists to perform their other selves, embody their ideal/ised understandings of rapper masculinity and aesthetics, and move towards desired social change. Remembering Hythem’s statement about being on stage,‘I hope, one day, if we keep speaking, others will want to speak too,’indicates the potentiality within rap as a form of communication and political mobilisation. Yet as the lyrics above suggest, the desire to be allowed to speak freely is omnipresent; even on stage the constraints on freedom of speech limit just how far‘keeping it real’can take this mobilisation. Whilst it is necessary to avoid romanticising rap as resistance, it is clear that Tunisian rap does contain political potentialities; simultaneously, it may also function to reinforce dominant notions of the nation state and interpretations of religion. Further, the way that gender roles and performativity interact with the rappers’self-identities is far from a neat genealogy. Though artists display critical attitudes to the materialism promoted by mainstream American rap and claim that women have a different place within their culture and thus their music, their lyrics were not completely clean. Rather, they do include female-derogatory phrases and terminology, which could be seen as a reflection of the rappers’propagation of situated patriarchal attitudes. This is also suggested by the duality that the men display in terms of everyday gender relations; whilst they are comfortable in mixed social settings, conservative views of gender roles emerge when the issue of marriage is raised, and this is as significant for considering gender in their music as the place of women in mainstream American rap. In this sense rap can be seen as perpetuating dominant attitudes and social frameworks as much as it provides spaces for their 25‘Lyrics comme les balles, revolution hip-hop sas.’26Lyrically linking the potential of the pen with weaponry is of course nothing new in rap, hearkening back to Tupac’s words‘so I fight with my pen’(To Live & Die in L.A.,1996). 27‘Harbi Toonsi Arbi.’28‘Je tire mon stylo il fouq comme un katana. Kalami Toonsi, meshi il Toonsi, khaleni net kalem Toonsi.’ 56 Cont Islam (2011) 5:37–58 contestation. As female rappers carve out their own place within the Tunisian hip-hop scene this will invariably change. The self-censorship that the Tunisian context de- mands is another area that is at once (arguably necessarily) perpetuated and contested. Overall, the scene facilitates relationships and a sense of belonging where identities can be worked out and consolidated. In this sense, Tunisian rap can be seen as‘serving to establish and contribute towards the formation of ethnic and geographic identities, while carving out‘spaces of freedom”(Whiteley2005: 8). Tunisian rap is firmly located in the streets that inspire it, yet it also turns beyond Tunisia; within such spaces of freedom, there is much potential. The artists’lyrics indicate that desire for social change is widespread; yet rap is also, for these artists, an intensely personal and spiritual endeavour, one where conflicts of religious interpretation, globalisation, masculinity, nationality and belonging can be worked out. 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Each reading reflection should be a minimum of 4 pages (double-spaced) and should include the following components: a brief recap of the main points of that module, personal critical reflections and a
This article was downloaded by: [University of Manitoba Libraries] On: 29 July 2014, At: 13:34 Publisher: Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Popular Music and Society Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rpms20 Religion in Popular Music or Popular Music as Religion? A Critical Review of Scholarly Writing on the Place of Religion in Metal Music and Culture Marcus Moberg Published online: 22 Feb 2012. To cite this article: Marcus Moberg (2012) Religion in Popular Music or Popular Music as Religion? A Critical Review of Scholarly Writing on the Place of Religion in Metal Music and Culture, Popular Music and Society, 35:1, 113-130, DOI: 10.1080/03007766.2010.538242 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2010.538242 PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Taylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the “Content”) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use of the Content. This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms- and-conditions Religion in Popular Music or Popular Music as Religion? A Critical Review of Scholarly Writing on the Place of Religion in Metal Music and Culture Marcus Moberg The highly conspicuous interest in “dark” religious themes and ideas found throughout metal music and culture has received increased scholarly attention in recent years. This article offers a critical review and evaluation of scholarly writing on the place of religion in metal music and culture produced thus far. The article highlights how this scholarship has interpreted metal music and culture principally as either providing its followers with important resources for religious/spiritual inspiration or, in quite different terms, as constituting a religion in itself. Introduction What are popular music cultures “about”? What functions do they ll in the social and cultural everyday lives of their followers? Depending on the answer offered, what is their function within and in uence on wider society and culture? Questions such as these have long attracted the interest of a large number of scholars from a range of different disciplines. As Andy Bennett (1) observes, particularly because of their collective quality, popular music cultures offer their followers a basis on which to build friendships, a focus of community, belonging, and important resources for the construction of identities. Various popular music cultures have also become connected with more particular social and cultural issues, different forms of political activism, and resistance against dominant cultural ows. A few have also become particularly connected with the social and cultural force ofreligion. If there is one among these that stands out particularly well, it is the world ofmetal music(these days, the term “metal” is widely used as a general term for a large number of closely related sub-genres and styles that have developed out of the “heavy metal” rock genre since the late 1960s). The history of metal is complex and ridden with controversy. Ever since its emergence and initial development during the late 1960s and early 1970s, metal has ISSN 0300-7766 (print)/ISSN 1740-1712 (online)q2012 Taylor & Francis http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2010.538242 Popular Music and Society Vol. 35, No. 1, February 2012, pp. 113–130Downloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 13:34 29 July 2014 been characterized by its fascination with the world of religion, and particularly various types of “darker” religious/spiritual themes drawn from a range of different sources, including the apocalyptic visions of the Bible, the world of mythology and legend (primarily as found in Norse, Celtic, and Germanic traditions), different strands of occultism, esotericism, paganism, and Satanism/the Satanic. Here, drawing on the work of Christopher Partridge, the epithet “dark” is understood broadly and is primarily used to denote two things. First, it is used to denote stark and austere biblical themes, Judeo-Christian demonology, the subversion of central Christian narratives and symbols, and anti-Christian sentiment. Second, it is also used to denote certain forms of religion or spirituality, such as various forms of esotericism, occultism, paganism, and Satanism, which, to the extent that they are willing to view existence in terms of dualities or polarities at all (e.g. in terms of light versus darkness, harmony versus discord, life versus death), nevertheless tend to stress the need for the darker aspects of life to be embraced as integral components of authentic subjective spiritual development (for more on these religious/spiritual currents see, for example, Hanegraaff ). In large part because of its long-standing interest in these types of themes, metal has also been the subject of a great deal of controversy and moral panic (e.g. Walser 137 – 71; Weinstein 237 – 74). As a consequence, the view of metal as a subversive, destructive, and potentially dangerous particular cultural and social environment has lived on. Partly as a response to this controversy, metal’s interest in darker types of religious/spiritual themes has also steadily intensi ed over time. Metal’s long-standing interest in these types of themes and ideas has received increased scholarly attention in recent years. The aim of this article is to offer a critical review and evaluation of the scholarly accounts that have been produced on this topic thus far (found in sections in books, chapters in anthologies, and journal articles). My review will include only accounts that go beyond general observations of metal’s close relationship with religion and that offer some more explicit arguments by way of how this relationship could or should be interpreted. I have, therefore, deliberately omitted a few contributions which could have been included in an evaluative review of this kind (e.g. C. M. Brown; Dyrendal; Epstein and Pratto; Luhr; Martens; Moreman). Thus, my aim is not to examine the relationship between metal music and religion as such. Rather, it is thescholarshipthat directly deals with this subject that is the main focus of this article. As we shall see, there is quite a degree of variation between the accounts that have been offered on this topic thus far, with most having interpreted metal as providing its followers with important resources for religious/spiritual inspiration, and some having argued that metal can or should be viewed as constituting a religionin itself. A critical review of this area of scholarship is now clearly called for. As will become evident, my evaluation will be more critical at some points than others. Some readers might well disagree with some of the arguments and opinions that I present in this article. Admittedly, an evaluative review of this kind can never do full justice to all aspects and subtleties of the arguments presented in the accounts under evaluation. My intention is, however, to focus on points that I regard as being central to these accounts and to highlight not only weaknesses but also strengths. It is important to 114 M. MobergDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 13:34 29 July 2014 recognize that scholarly accounts of the relationship between metal and religion play an important role in the construction of metal as a particular form of cultural expression. Such accounts often also become directly implicated in wider debates on what metal is “about,” and what social and cultural functions it ful lls for its followers. I shall, therefore, also highlight more generally the ways in which different academic interpretations of the place of religion in metal music and culture serve to construct and underpin different pictures of metal as a particular cultural and social environment. I shall begin by brie y outlining some main areas of interest within the study of religion and popular music. This is followed by a short overview of the scholarship on metal music and culture. These brief introductory overviews will help us situate the following discussion of scholarly interpretations of the relationship between metal and religion in relation to some broader debates. Since arguments advancing an understanding of metal culture asin itselfful lling functions for its followers that can be directly compared to religion have already appeared in the early scholarly work on metal, I shall begin with a discussion of two such arguments. This is followed by a discussion of some more recent work by other scholars who have instead interpreted metal as providing its audiences with importantresourcesfor religious/spiritual inspiration and the construction of religious and cultural identities. The Study of Religion and Popular Music: A Brief Overview During the previous two decades or so, the study of the intersection between religion and popular culture has grown rapidly and developed into an interdisciplinary area of inquiry in its own right. Although the eld so far has remained somewhat fragmented, a set of main areas of interest and commonly used approaches has nevertheless emerged over time. These include what Bruce Forbes has termed the study of “religion in popular culture” and the study of “popular culture as religion” (9 – 17). With regard to the study of religion and popular music, these two main areas of interest could be described as follows: Studies of religion and popular music falling within the area of “religion in popular culture” have mainly concentrated on the appearance of religious themes, ideas, symbols, imagery, language, and so on, in various forms of popular music and their surrounding cultures. Most existing studies of the relationship between metal and religion are characterized by this approach as they have concentrated mainly on the ways in which particular religious/spiritual themes appear in and inform the lyrical subject matter, imagery, or aesthetics of particular metal bands, sub-genres, or the genre as a whole. In the context of this article, these will be called studies of “religion in metal music and culture.” Studies of the relationship between religion and popular music falling within the area of “popular culture as religion” have instead typically argued that different popular musical forms and their surrounding cultures, subcultures, or scenes have themselveseffectively come to constitute “religions,” or substitutes or surrogates for religion or religiosity, for their most devoted followers. As noted, this article will Popular Music and Society 115Downloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 13:34 29 July 2014 discuss two examples of metal having been approached in this way. Here, these studies will be called studies of “metal music and culture as religion.” The Scholarship on Metal Music and Culture Although metal has a four-decade-long history and enduring popularity on a global scale, scholarly interest in metal has been modest when compared to that devoted to most other major and long-standing popular music cultures (A. R. Brown 209 – 10). Scholarly interest in metal has, however, increased markedly during the past decade, although the eld remains fragmented and lacking in any coherent terminology (Kahn-Harris 9). Moreover, wider awareness of both earlier and more recent contributions to this eld, as well as general knowledgeability about metal music and culture on the whole, sometimes varies considerably between individual commentators. Although the eld of “metal studies” has remained small, there has nevertheless been an uneven ow of scholarly explorations of metal music and culture since the early 1990s. These include book-length works such as Deena Weinstein’s seminal work Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology, Robert Walser’sRunning with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music, Jeffrey Arnett’sMetalheads: Heavy Metal Music and Adolescent Alienation, and Keith Kahn-Harris’sExtreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge. Both Weinstein and Walser offer more detailed accounts of the religious themes that most commonly appeared in the “classic” heavy metal of the 1970s and 1980s in particular. As will be discussed below, Weinstein also makes some more speci c arguments. Arnett’s brief discussion of religion in relation to the heavy metal culture of the 1980s and early 1990s is different in this regard as it approaches religion as one of many “sources of alienation” and concentrates on theactualattitudes towards religion found among a sample of American metalheads. Indeed, Arnett (121 – 219) concludes that, when viewed in the context of an increasingly individualized general American religious landscape in which religious socialization has long been progressively weakening, young American metalheads appear to be even more dismissive of organized religion that their peers. As noted, since these studies all focus primarily on the more widely popular and commercially successful heavy metal of the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, the later development of so-called extreme metal styles from the mid-1980s onwards, which also brought with them a far more sustained engagement with darker types of religious/spiritual themes and ideas, largely fall beyond their grasp. These have, however, more recently been extensively explored by Kahn-Harris in his study of today’s global extreme metal scene. Kahn-Harris (34 – 43) mainly discusses issues related to religion in relation to his exploration of the practices of “discursive transgression” that constitutes a central feature of extreme metal culture on the whole. As he argues, in contrast to most “classic” heavy metal, the extreme metal scene is marked by its own consciously extreme discourse characterized by its “activesuppressionof re exivity” or “re exive- 116 M. MobergDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 13:34 29 July 2014 anti-re exivity” (145). This essentially means that extreme metal discourse typically, so to speak, consciously ignores the often negative effects of expressing such things as anti-religious, racist, or anti-Semitic sentiment in insensitive and inconsiderate ways (145). In this way, Kahn-Harris is able to argue convincingly for the importance that extreme metal’s often deliberately provocative use of Satanist, anti-Christian, and other subversive religious ideas should be understood in relation to the extreme metal scene as a particular discursive environment. Finally, we should also note Thomas Bossius’s doctoral thesisMed framtiden i backspegeln: Black metal och transkulturen: Ungdomar, musik och religion i en senmodern va¨ rld(With the Future in the Rear-view Mirror: Black Metal and Trance Culture: Youth, Music, and Religion in a Late Modern World) from 2003, which, in addition to trance music culture, also explores the use and function of religious/spiritual themes within the extreme black metal sub-genre. Indeed, this study is of particular note here since it explicitly deals with the relationship between metal and religion. Unfortunately, as it is written in Swedish, it has received relatively little attention within the wider scholarship on metal. Bossius’s study will, however, be discussed in some detail below. A signi cant number of scholarly articles and anthology chapters on different aspects of metal music and culture have also appeared over the years, many of which note the pervasiveness of religious themes within the genre as a whole and some of which have speci cally focused on this topic. As we shall see, however, some of these article-length explorations have offered quite different interpretations of the relationship between metal and religion. Metal Music and Culture as Religion In addition to highlighting the ways in which religious themes and symbolism appear in metal lyrics, imagery, and aesthetics more generally, some commentators have also suggested that the popular music culture of metalitselfcan be seen as functioningasa religion for its most devoted followers. In very general form, thoughts of this kind are present already in the seminal work of Weinstein. In this view, metal culture is taken to provide its most devoted followers with a particular worldview and way of interpreting their place in society, a cultural identity, collective rituals, and a sense of community and belonging—all typical traits of classicalfunctionalistunderstandings of religion. Popular music cultures undoubtedly do indeed provide their followers with important resources for the construction of personal and cultural identities and also signi cantly serve to foster a sense of community and togetherness among them, and metal can well be viewed as a very good example of this. However, to argue that this equals “religion” raises many problems pertaining to conceptual clarity and sensitiveness to the lived experiences of metal audiences themselves. When approached from a functionalist perspective, religion is basically understood in terms of a “socio-cultural system which binds people into a particular set of social identi cations, values, and beliefs” (Lynch 129). Religious ideas and practices are seen Popular Music and Society 117Downloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 13:34 29 July 2014 to be oriented towards the “sacred” and set apart from the ordinary or the “profane.” In this view a shared understanding of the “sacred” serves to bind people together within a single moral universe and thereby to underpin and strengthen social cohesion (Chidester 16). Functionalist understandings thus highlight the social and communal function of religion, emphasizing the ways in which it offers people structures for everyday life, sources for the construction of identities, and a sense of purpose and meaning with life as a whole (Lynch 127 – 29). In some cases, functionalist understandings have also been combined with phenomenological so-calledsui generisunderstandings of religion which argue for the “uniqueness” of religious experience as such and its “irreducibility” to sociological, psychological, or any other factors. Sometimes such understandings also presume the actual existence of some form of transcendental force which individuals are able to “experience” in various ways. Here it is enough to note thatsui generisapproaches have long been widely contested within the broader study of religion since they are not only ahistorical and context-insensitive but also “untestable, and thus unproveable” (McCloud 193). Substantiveunderstandings have provided another way in which the concept of religion has long been approached and understood. While functionalist under- standings primarily concentrate on what religion “does” or on how it “works,” substantive understandings instead focus on what religion “is” as they strive to outline sets of “externally observable” generic or “substantive” elements to serve as a basis on which to determine when a socio-cultural system may “count” as a religion (Lynch 128). The respective virtues and weaknesses of functionalist and substantive approaches continue to be the subject of much debate. Functionalist understandings of religion might seem particularly suitable for studying the increasingly individualized and subjectivity-oriented character of much contemporary Western religiosity/spirituality. However, like all understandings of religion, functionalist understandings have a number of problems associated with them, problems which also surface in accounts by commentators arguing for the religious functions of metal music and culture as such. As noted, such an argument was most probably rst suggested by Weinstein. Discussing the intense and overwhelming “sensory overload” (214) spectacle of the heavy metal concert, Weinstein argues that “From a sociological perspective, the ideal heavy metal concert bears a striking resemblance to the celebrations, festivals, and ceremonies that characterize religions around the world” (231 – 32). She bases this view on the classical thoughts on the social function of religion offered by Emile Durkheim and Mircea Eliade—both in uential early developers of functionalist perspectives on religion (and in the case of Eliade phenomenological perspectives as well). As she argues, the traditional heavy metal concert setting in which “audience and artist encounter one another directly in a ritual-experience, is itself the peak experience, the summum bonum, the fullest realization of the subculture” (194). Elaborating further on this idea, Weinstein then comes close to explicitly equating the heavy metal concert with a religious event when she writes that “ideal metal concerts 118 M. MobergDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 13:34 29 July 2014 can be described as hierophanies [a term developed by Eliade] in which something sacred is revealed. They are experienced as sacred in contrast to the profane, everyday world” (232). It is important to note here that these observations are made through drawing parallelsbetween the heavy metal concert experience and that which is deemed to be particularly characteristic of religion according to a functionalist view (cf. McLoud 199). Notably, the “religious” dimensions of metal are represented as surfacing most clearly when metal fans gather in large numbers to appreciate their musiccollectively. More generally, this line of argument also connects with a longstanding body of scholarship on the “ritual” and quasi-religious dimensions of different forms of media reception and appreciation (e.g. Couldry). However, in Weinstein’s case, it does appear that the religion parable is employed primarily for the purposes of illustrating the intense atmosphere that undoubtedly does characterize large metal concerts. It thus remains unclear as to whether the intention really was to argue that metal should be interpreted as a religion or as providing its followers with “religious” functions. One exceptionally good example of functionalist arguments being driven much further can be found in Robin Sylvan’sTraces of the Spirit: The Religious Dimensions of Popular Music. In this book, Sylvan explores what he regards to be the essentially “religious” functions or dimensions of popular music as such in the light of a few distinct popular music cultures, including metal. Notably, Sylvan also adds a strong phenomenologicalsui generiselement to his understanding of religion as he postulates the existence of an unde ned “numinous” which is the subject of what is claimed to be humanity’s “religious impulse” (6) and which also functions as the “ordering structure for human beings” (Sylvan 5; cf. McCloud 190 – 92). In applying this functional-phenomenological understanding of religion to metal music and culture, Sylvan directs particular focus at the collective musical experience. Drawing heavily on Weinstein, he writes of metal concerts as “the key ritual form which brings metalheads together as a community” (163). Moreover, he goes on to argue, “It is not only the music, however, but an entire meaning system and way of looking at the world, a surrogate of religiosity if you will, that explains the enduring power of heavy metal” (163). A musical subculture, writes Sylvan, “provides almost everything for its adherents that a traditional religion would,” such as encounters with the “numinous,” rituals, “communal ceremony,” a “philosophy and worldview,” a cultural identity, and a “social structure” which serve to foster a strong sense of belonging (4). However, he does not leave it at that. These arguments stem from his more basic claim that popular music cultures as such provide their followers with these types of essentially “religious” functions in “an unconscious and postmodern way” (4). As he contends, many people in these subcultures (and in general) do not think of these phenomena as religious…rather, the music is often seen as a form of entertainment with aesthetic, social, and economic dimensions. The musical subculture functions as a religion in these people’s lives, but they do not consciously recognize it as such; thus, it is unconscious. (Sylvan 4) Popular Music and Society 119Downloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 13:34 29 July 2014 This claim also serves as the basis on which Sylvan interprets the “religious” functions of metal. However, it is a claim that is highly problematic for a number of important reasons. Let us consider his line of thought a bit more closely. If devoted followers engage with their respective popular music cultures in an essentially “religious” manner unconsciously, then must one not draw the conclusion that they also do so unknowingly? Put another way, howreasonableis it to argue that a popular music culture provides a person with a worldview, an avenue through which to experience transcendence, or a sense of community and belonging without this person realizing or acknowledging any of this? Indeed, as Sylvan goes on to argue, “the speci cally spiritual and religious implications of the musical experience in heavy metal are often not so explicitly recognized and consciously articulated by metalheads” (164). Even so, following from his presumption that metal provides its followers with a vehicle to experience the “numinous,” this does not hinder him from continuing to argue that “[n]evertheless, there is strong evidence from their testimonials that metalheads do have such experiences, and that these experiences are also very powerful and lifechanging” (164). It needs to be noted that Sylvan does indeed include a few excerpts from interviews with metalheads who invoke the term “religion” when they describe the musical experience of metal and the sense of community they experience during concerts (e.g. 166, 167, 168). However, as noted just above, Sylvan openly acknowledges that it is uncommon for metalheads to invoke the term “religion” in this regard. What metalheads actually mean when theydouse the term religion as well as how this relates to their attitudes towards the category of “religion” more broadly are also questions left unexplained. Sylvan further adds to the confusion regarding this as he simultaneously also bases his argument on the “religious” dimensions of metal on interview excerpts in which metalheads simply state that metal concerts provide them with powerful experiences or express their appreciation of metal culture more generally (cf. McCloud 191 – 92). Sylvan’s highly functionalist-phenomenological understanding of religion thus easily runs the risk of itself producing “evidence” of metal fans experiencing their music in essentially “religious” ways. Moreover, as is aptly demonstrated by his argument about how popular music cultures function as “religions” for individuals “unconsciously,” such an understanding of religion effectively, and in this case also quite expressly, invests the individual academic with the authority to determine when a person engages in cultural practices in an essentially “religious” way irrespective of whether that person actually describes his/her activities in such terms or not. Finally, as already noted, although Sylvan mostly links his argument on metal’s “religious” dimensions to “the musical experience” (164) of metal, he also argues that metal provides its followers with an “entire meaning system and way of looking at the world” (163). However, although this issue is loosely discussed in relation to youth rebellion and Satanism, Sylvan does not provide any clear answer as to what this “entire meaning system” actually consists of. So, even though his assertion that metal culture is characterized by a stance that “is almost diametrically opposed to peace and 120 M. MobergDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 13:34 29 July 2014 love and a positive outlook on life” (152) is highly suggestive, the general picture presented of metal culture is nevertheless left open to a wide range of different interpretations. The many criticisms that can be leveled against Sylvan’ssui generis understanding of religion aside, his argument illustrates with all clarity the many problems and ambiguities that easily arise if academics makegeneralizingarguments about the lived meanings of popular music culture participants regarding such a sensitive issue as religion on the basis of theoretical presumptions which grant them the authority effectively to ignore or arbitrarily interpret the expressed views of these very participants themselves. Evaluating “Metal Music and Culture as Religion” Arguments As noted above, contemporary Western societies are generally marked by a progressive weakening of religious socialization and an increasing privatization of religious life and practice. In such a situation, for increasing numbers of people, religion/spirituality is ever more frequently explored outside the borders of traditional religious institutions and in more direct connection to the wider cultural/popular cultural realm (e.g. Partridge). Viewed in this broader context it might certainly be the case that some individual metalheads could indeed describe and understand their own involvement with metal culture in terms of it resembling a religion or as providing them with what could be described as equivalents of religious functions. Functionalist approaches could, therefore, clearly have much to contribute to a broader understanding of such contemporary transformations in Western religious/spiritual sensibilities. Even so, as illustrated by Sylvan’s sweeping and highly generalizing arguments, if employed uncritically, and especially if a much contested phenomenological element is added, highly functionalist understandings also introduce a strong element of conceptual vagueness into the arguments that they are intended to underpin since they can easily blur all distinctions between “religion” and other cultural meaning-making practices of various sorts (Lynch 132 – 34). Sylvan’s arguments on the “religious” functions of metal culture are made possible by his uncritical—and I wish to stressuncriticalhere—use of a highly functionalist- phenomenological understanding of religion which, in crucial ways, serves to predetermine how this presumed dimension of metal culture is approached and understood. This, in turn, also greatly affects the general picture that is presented of metal as a particular social and cultural environment. However, as illustrated by Weinstein’s more suggestive thoughts on these issues, such arguments can be made in different ways. Again, this is not to say that functionalist concerns have no merit; they no doubt do. But itisto say that every understanding of religion becomes more nuanced and sensitive to the actual lived lives of people, and in this case to followers of metal culture, when different perspectives are allowed to be combined with and enriched by each other. The main point I want to make is this: If functionalist arguments are to be made convincingly, they need to be empirically substantiated and work from the “bottom up” rather the other way around so that individual academics Popular Music and Society 121Downloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 13:34 29 July 2014 are neither intentionally nor inadvertently invested with the authority to decideon their behalfwhat “religious” functions metal culture provides its followers with purely on the basis of unsubstantiated theoretical assumptions. As has been pointed out in many studies of metal, although metal culture generally displays an obvious fascination with dark and subversive religious themes and ideas, it is also characterized by a broadly de ned individualist ethos. Indeed, the complex relationship between these two components has only rarely been explored in direct relation to what thoughts and views metalheads actually express regarding religious institutions and the category of “religion” as such (with the exception of the short examination provided by Arnett). When metal’s individualist outlook is viewed in direct relation to its fascination for (or indeed love-hate relationship) with religion, this would perhaps suggest that more thought-out views on religion in general would be relatively common among wider metal audiences. However, as virtually no information exists on this, it is a question that remains to be empirically investigated. Future studies aimed at highlighting parallels between contemporary metal music practices and religion could usefully investigate this question more closely since that could add more substance to their arguments or, alternatively, further challenge the premises on which such arguments have been based in the past. Religion in Metal Music and Culture A handful of accounts focused on highlighting how the pervasive religious/spiritual themes within metal culture provide its followers with importantresourcesof inspiration for the construction of worldviews and religious/spiritual identities have also been produced during recent years. The majority of these accounts have directed particular attention to metal’s interest in what is variably referred to as “Satanism,” the “Satanic,” or the “ gure of Satan.” Because of this, most of them have focused on the extreme and “Satanic” black metal sub-genre in particular. Thomas Bossius’s detailed study, which explores how (mostly Swedish) young people involved with black metal and trance music culture consciously combine religious/spiritual ideas with their popular musical tastes and lifestyles, constitutes a good example of such a study. Bossius approaches the use and exploration of dark religious/spiritual themes and ideas within black metal culture using a combination of functionalist, substantive, and psychological perspectives on religion. He also views black metal culture in direct relation to a broader Nordic contemporary social and cultural environment marked by accelerating processes of de-traditionalization, individualization, and privatization of religious/spiritual life and practice (137 – 40). Drawing on a wide range of sources and using both text-based and ethnographic approaches, Bossius offers an interpretation of black metal culture as essentially constituting a form of rebellion against the con nes and demands of post-industrial society. As such it is also interpreted in terms of a particular attempt at a re- enchantment of culture and everyday life. However, instead of viewing black metal culture as constituting a religion in itself, Bossius is careful to point out the important 122 M. MobergDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 13:34 29 July 2014 role that the music as such plays within this context as the locus around which particular religious/spiritual themes revolve. Even though he devotes most of his attention to black metal’s focus on Satanism/the Satanic (or rather its own version of it in the form of a radical inversion of Christianity), he also highlights many important intersections with Norse pagan themes. Bossius’s analysis is complex, interesting, and informative, but it also contains a few problematic aspects, most of which concern his understanding of “youth” as a transitional phase in life during which uncertainty about one’s own identity and a corresponding need for rebellion against the adult world becomes particularly acute (137). This view tends somewhat to downplay the re exive agency of black metal musicians and fans themselves, at times making their engagement with Satanist/Satanic and pagan ideas seem like little more than a way of rebelling against adult society. Despite this, however, Bossius’s study can well be regarded as a particularly valuable contribution to the study of metal music and culture since it provides the most comprehensive exploration of the relationship between metal and religion produced to date. Another, in some ways similar although much shorter and less detailed, exploration of the relationship between metal and religion more generally is offered by Partridge in the second part of his two-volume work on religious change and transformation in the West (246 – 55). Partridge views metal culture as an important site for the disseminationof a wide range of dark alternative religious/spiritual themes and ideas. As he argues, popular culture as a whole has developed into an increasingly important medium and resource for the dissemination and circulation of a wide range of different religious/spiritual beliefs and ideas and has signi cantly contributed to the emergence of a broad bank of religious/spiritual resources or “constantly evolving religio-cultural milieu,” which he terms “occulture” (2). Within this “constantly evolving religio-cultural milieu” one also nds evidence of rising interest in different forms of “dark occulture” sourced from, among other things, Judeo-Christian demonology and different strands of Western esotericism, occultism, paganism, and modern Satanism. Indeed, the long-standing pervasiveness of dark religious/spiritual themes and ideas within metal culture on the whole leads him to argue that, as a genre, metal has had “an enormous occultural impact” (251). However, in contrast to a “metal music and culture as religion” view, Partridge views metal instead as an exceptionally good example of a popular music culture that circulates and disseminates a more particular set of dark, and often closely related, religious/spiritual ideas. As such, it is interpreted as offering its followers a wide range ofresourcesfor religious/spiritual inspiration and the construction of alternative religious/spiritual identities. The re exive agency of metal audiences themselves is thereby also brought to the fore. Metal’s interest in dark religious/spiritual themes has also recently been explored in a few anthology chapters and scholarly articles. Helen Farley has concentrated on metal’s early developed interest in the “Occult,” which in this case implies Satanism as well. She rightly points out how metal bands have traditionally employed darker Popular Music and Society 123Downloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 13:34 29 July 2014 religious themes such as Satanism and the occult in a deliberate, and often successful, attempt to raise the shock value and rebellious edge of their music. However, as she devotes a considerable portion of her chapter to tracing metal’s interest in the occult to its roots in Southern US blues, its tales of musicians’ “Faustian pacts” with the devil, and its subsequent in uence on central gures within the British “blues boom” of the 1960s, not much room is left for any deeper analysis of later and contemporary metal bands’ engagements with occult and other types of dark religious/spiritual ideas. The observations Farley does make regarding these issues also unfortunately largely echo the rather simplistic view that metal bands’ explorations of these types of themes tends to be frivolous and super cial almost by default. Even so, it is important to note that Farley does aspire to interpret the relationship between metal and religion in closer connection to contemporary currents in the Western religious/spiritual landscape. However, despite being recently published, her chapter contains no references to Partridge’s thoughts on metal’s “occultural signi cance” or Kahn-Harris’s highly useful thoughts on discursive transgression within extreme metal culture. A very different view from that presented by Farley is provided by Jonathan Cordero in an article focusing on “anti-Christian” themes within what is called the “anti-Christian” black metal and “impious death metal” scene. According to Cordero, far from being characterized by a super cial interest in Satanist and anti-Christian themes, this scene is instead marked by an austere seriousness in this regard. Cordero is right to note the commonness of self-elevating “popular satanist” themes within these metal subgenres. Somewhat similarly to Partridge, he also makes the additional and interesting observation that the pervasiveness of such themes also serves to “normalize an anti-Christian perspective” (6) within this scene as a whole. Cordero offers a detailed discussion of the many different ways and forms in which anti-Christian themes appear within this scene, arguing that they essentially serve to underpin it and to provide it with a basis for a more or less coherent and seriously taken ideology characterized by a directly antagonistic stance towards Christianity and the hypocrisy and suppression of individuality it is seen to represent. However, most of the time, Cordero seems to take the appearance of these types of themes as well as statements on these issues made by individual band members in metal media at face value. One could well say that, if commentators such as Farley tend to downplay the seriousness with which metal bands explore these types of themes, Cordero instead tends to exaggerate it. However, although he relies heavily on Kahn-Harris’s study of the extreme metal scene, he makes no use of his thoughts on the “re exive anti-re exivity” that characterizes extreme metal discourse. Taking this into account would surely have been of much help in making his analysis more nuanced. The issue of Satanism/the Satanic has also recently been explored with speci c reference to the Norwegian black metal scene of the early and mid-1990s in a chapter by Gry Mørk. As she observes, the “Satanism” found in black metal culture often intersects with a range of other types of darker religious/spiritual ideas: “The so-called ‘Satanism’ of Black Metal rather points to a general attraction towards Occultism, 124 M. MobergDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 13:34 29 July 2014 dark and evil urges, forces and powers within the universe, as well as other hidden and repressed parts of man, culture and history” (179). In this way, Mørk also wishes to highlight the interconnectedness of various forms of darker religious/spiritual themes and ideas within one particular metal sub-genre. Moreover, somewhat similarly to Cordero, Mørk also points out the meaning-making potential of black metal’s particular “Satanist” and anti-Christian ideology (174). As many scholars of contemporary religion (e.g. Partridge) have observed, many forms of paganism and Satanism in particular are generally characterized by highly critical attitudes towards institutional Christianity and its perceived suppression of individuality. As argued by Mørk, this is essentially the light in which the black metal sub-genre’s great interest in the gure of Satan and often violently adversarial stance towards Christianity needs to be understood (180 – 82). Although Mørk also brie y connects all this to the issue of youth rebellion, the general picture presented of the relationship between Satanism/ the Satanic and black metal culture is that of a complex intersection of Satanist/ Satanic ideas and the search for authentic identities and sources of meaning in late modern society and culture (193 – 95). Mørk’s account thus occupies something of a middle ground between the other accounts discussed above. Once again, however, very few connections (with the exception of Bossius) are made to already existing work on metal music and culture and the study of religion and popular culture/music more generally. Finally, similar points to those presented by the commentators discussed above have also recently been raised in a forthcoming article by Kennet Granholm. Focusing on the pervasiveness of pagan themes in black metal and so-called neo-folk music, Granholm argues that the early 1990s Norwegian black metal scene, in spite of being widely regarded as having been particularly preoccupied with Satanism (or its own version of it), is instead more appropriately described as having been “heathen” as it was clearly more characterized by its engagement with Norse paganism. Granholm delves deeply into the historical roots of this interest in “heathenism” and suggests that it re ects the strong and widespread appeal of that which lies “far away in time and/or place” which has long characterized the Western esoteric milieu more generally. As he goes on to argue, within certain contemporary metal scenes such as black metal, heathen ideas may be taken to function as important resources in the quest for authenticity and the construction of new discourses of rebellion in a time in which the old Satanic themes have become increasingly exhausted. As such, argues Granholm, metal cultures such as black metal “can provide sets of ideology, meanings, and practices for its adherents, and in essence function as a ‘cultural system’—largely due to the heathen Esoteric foundation of the scene”. This interpretation of particular metal scenes as constituting “cultural systems,” of which certain sets of religious/spiritual ideas constitute integral parts, again emphasizes the central place of religion throughout much of metal culture and also highlights the ways in which popular culture as a whole has developed into an increasingly important arena for the exploration of alternative religious/spiritual ideas. It should be pointed out, though, that Granholm’s argument is of a very general character. Even so, he does not fail to Popular Music and Society 125Downloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 13:34 29 July 2014 make many important connections to earlier work on metal music and culture, the study of contemporary religious change, and recent contributions to the study of the intersection between religion and popular culture. Evaluating “Religion in Metal Music and Culture” Arguments As seen above, different studies within what has been called the “religion in metal music and culture” category have offered some rather different interpretations of how the relationship between metal and religion is to be understood. While some commentators (Bossius; Farley) tend to question and downplay the seriousness with which metal bands explore dark religious/spiritual themes, arguing that this is most appropriately described as a form of youth rebellion against adult society, others (e.g. Cordero) instead argue in quite the opposite direction. Yet others (Granholm; Mørk; Partridge) are more careful in their interpretations and interested primarily in exploring the ways in which certain types of dark religious/spiritual themes circulate and intersect within metal culture more generally, and particularly within certain more extreme sections of it. Although to different degrees, there is also a tendency in all of this work to, in some way or other, raise the issue of youth rebellion when pondering the sincerity with which metal bands and audiences explore and engage with Satanist/Satanic themes and ideas in particular. Indeed, the Satanist/Satanic element in metal should certainly not be exaggerated or overstated. But, on the other hand, should itautomaticallybe reduced to merely an “unimaginative” falsetto cry of adolescent rebellion? Although many metal bands have indeed dabbled with Satanism/the Satanic and other types of dark religious/spiritual themes in obviously instrumental ways in order to enhance the shock value of their music, as argued in many of the accounts discussed above, one also nds cases of such themes and ideas being explored in ways that are marked by much higher degrees of ideological substance, sophistication, and apparent seriousness (Cordero; Granholm; Mørk; Partridge). Notably, the issue of rebellion has always constituted a central theme in the scholarship on metal and been interpreted both as a symptom of metal audiences’ general alienation towards dominant Western society and culture as well as a means of empowerment. However, as already noted, detailed empirical/ethnographic information on metal audiences has always been in very short supply indeed, and this has undoubtedly had its consequences for how scholars have approached and dealt with the issue of rebellion as well (cf. Kahn-Harris 10 – 11). Indeed, clearer speci cations of what is actually meant by terms such as “youth” or “adolescent rebellion,” what such rebellion actually consist of, who exactly it is that such terms are meant to apply to, and how issues related to rebellion play out across different social and cultural contexts have too often been lacking. Future work could usefully examine more critically how issues of rebellion actually surface in the everyday lives and practices of contemporary metal musicians and audiences themselves as well as how this relates (or does not relate) to their explorations of dark religious/spiritual themes 126 M. MobergDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 13:34 29 July 2014 and ideas. This is to say, therefore, that, although the issue of rebellion remains a legitimate focus of metal studies, it too, is a question that needs to be investigated on an empirical basis. Unless studies are rmly eldwork and ethnography based and attentive to the expressed views of participants themselves (which accounts such as Bossius’s, and to some extent Mørk’s, aim to be), when analyzing the ways in which darker types of religious/spiritual themes such as Satanism/the Satanic are explored by individual metal bands, there is not much to be gained through speculating about whether such bands are “really” serious or not, or whether an interest in such themes “actually” mirrors the views and attitudes of musicians and audiences themselves. A much more important point to note is how the exploration of such themes and ideas, irrespective of whether they are considered to be “seriously” explored or not, contributes to the dissemination, popularization, and intersection of these themes and ideas within, and indeed beyond, metal culture more generally (Moberg 141). It is also worth noting that, even though these accounts clearly offer different interpretations from that of a “metal music and culture as religion” view, it is equally clear that they all, to varying degrees, also contain elements that bring functionalist concerns to mind, and particularly so when they highlight metal culture as an important resource for the construction of meaning and cultural and religious/spiritual identities. Future studies within this area would surely bene t from aspiring to do two things in particular: First, to ground their explorations more rmly in broader current debates on changes and developments in the contemporary Western religious/spiritual landscape and more directly relate these explorations to contributions already made within the growing scholarship on metal music and culture; second, and more importantly, in order to be able to provide more persuasive arguments about what followers of metal culture themselvesactually get out oftheir participation in metal culture in ways that relate to religion/spirituality, studies would clearly also bene t from striving to ground their arguments on the expressed views of musicians and fans themselves (and this concerns the issue of “rebellion” as well). Only then can one more con dently speak of metal providing its followers with an “ideology,” a “cultural system,” or a resource for the construction of worldviews and identities. Conclusion This article has offered a critical review of eight more explicit scholarly interpretations, of varying length and detail, on the place of religion in metal music and culture. These accounts were divided into two main areas or types of studies, called respectively studies of “metal music and culture as religion” and studies of “religion in metal music and culture.” I discussed two studies of the rst type which were both based on highly functionalist understandings of religion. It was argued that, in one of these accounts in particular (Sylvan), the very idea of metal functioning “as” a religion, or as Popular Music and Society 127Downloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 13:34 29 July 2014 providing its followers with essentially “religious” functions, emerged as a result of the uncritical employment of such a highly functionalist approach (which in this case contained a problematic phenomenological element as well). This approach was criticized on the grounds that it effectively equated the very concept of “meaning” with that of “religion” without suf ciently basing this interpretation on the expressed views of audiences and participants themselves. It was argued that, while functional aspects surely can be considered or suggested (Weinstein), this should be done in a re ective and critical way. Studies within the area of “religion in metal music and culture” have been more careful in their interpretations and mainly argued that metal’s interest in dark religious/spiritual themes and ideas provides important sources of inspiration for many metalheads’ construction of worldviews and cultural and religious/spiritual identities. The majority of the accounts discussed above were situated within this category. In this regard, however, studies of “religion in metal music and culture” also tend to display some similarities with studies of “metal music and culture as religion.” For example, while none of these scholars argued that metal should be regarded “as” a religion, they nevertheless argued that it could (and perhaps alsoshould)be interpreted as providing its followers with a means of cultural and everyday re-enchantment and meaning-making (Bossius; Mørk), important resources for the construction of religious/spiritual worldviews and identities (Partridge), a subversive ideology (Cordero), and a “cultural system” (Granholm). Whether metal is interpreted as providing its followers with any or all of these things or whether it is interpreted as constituting a religion in itself, in order to be more persuasive,anysuch interpretations would need to be rmly empirically substantiated. While it is certainly interesting to explore the highly conspicuous ways in which certain religious/spiritual themes and ideas circulate within metal culture, future studies might well want to focus more directly on the possible bearings this actually has, or doesnothave, in the lived lives of audiences and participants themselves. Importantly, as I have tried to highlight more generally, we need to recognize that all interpretations of the place of religion in metal music and culture construct different pictures of the world of metal as a particular social and cultural environment as well as of its relationship to wider society and culture. Too often the many controversies surrounding metal continue to be underpinned by ill-informed and simplistic views about metal’s relationship to religion in particular. Therefore, as has been repeatedly stressed throughout this article, it is crucial that academic accounts on this subject aspire to be as informed as possible and suf ciently attentive to the lived meanings of metal audiences and participants themselves. In addition to the issue of empirical grounding, this examination has also illustrated more generally the need for future studies on the place of religion within metal music and culture to recognize more openly and embrace the interdisciplinary character of this type of research. Future research would thus clearly bene t from interpretations being more rmly grounded in both the broader scholarship on 128 M. MobergDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 13:34 29 July 2014 contemporary religion and the study of metal music and culture as well as from suf cient connections being made between them. At various stages in the development of any particular area, eld, or sub- eld of research (no matter how small) it becomes necessary to take a step back and re ect critically on the general state in which it currently nds itself. Such an endeavor involves locating, assembling, and organizing existing literatures, identifying and differentiating between different main approaches, critically assessing their respective strengths and weaknesses, and evaluating their overall contribution to the eld or sub- eld as a whole (and indeed beyond it). Maintaining that such critical assessments should be considered vital to the ongoing overall development of any area, eld, or sub- eld of research, this is precisely what this article has aimed to do. Surely, some of the individual scholars whose work has been critically discussed in this article might want to comment on and challenge my views and arguments. This would be welcome since one more general aim of this critical review and evaluation also has been to inspire further debate among researchers active in or otherwise interested in studying the place of religion within metal music and culture. Indeed, this article will itself ultimately need to become evaluated on the basis of how successfully it will be able to do so. Works Cited Arnett, Jeffrey, J.Metalheads: Heavy Metal Music and Adolescent Alienation. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996. Print. Bennett, Andy.Cultures of Popular Music. Maidenhead: Open UP, 2001. Print. Bossius, Thomas.Med framtiden i backspegeln: Black metal och transkulturen: Ungdomar, musik och religion i en senmodern va¨ rld. Gothenburg: Diadalos, 2003. Print. Brown, Andy R. “Heavy Metal and Subcultural Theory: A Paradigmatic Case of Neglect?”The Post- subcultures Reader. Ed. David Muggleton and Rupert Weinzierl. New York: Berg, 2003. 209 – 222. Print. 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Notes on Contributor Marcus Mobergis a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Comparative Religion at A bo Akademi University in Turku, Finland. His primary research interests include contemporary intersections between religion, media, popular culture, and consumer culture, the sociology of religion, and metal music and culture. 130 M. MobergDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 13:34 29 July 2014
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