The Soul of Hip Hop

The Soul of Hip Hop

By Anthony Barr-Jeffrey, Ph.D.


The Soul of Hip Hop: Rims, Tims and a Cultural Theology
Daniel White Hodge
InterVarsity Press (2010), pp. 250


For many of us who have grown up bicultural, reconciling, balancing, and blending are common exercises that blur into many areas of a life. Daniel Hodge, a bicultural person himself (in this case having grown up in both U.S. church and hip-hop cultures) wrote The Soul of Hip Hop as both an academic and personal endeavor. Despite his intellectual approach, Hodge does not shy away from how personal this bridge-building process really is for him.


In the opening chapters of the book, Hodge lays out brief but rich snapshots of his youth — from the terrifying catharsis of the1992 L.A. riots to the heartbreak of being culturally stonewalled by well-meaning churchgoers. Sadly, as his doctoral research findings show in this book, although sectors of the church have evolved, much of its theology and relationship to the streets has not. Hodge is a keen observer who calls out the cynical use of hip-hop style in the “emergent” church era to simply repackage outdated religious dogma. And although he is not ignoring authentic Christian hip-hop movements, Hodge is more concerned with challenging the larger ongoing divide.


Citing Reinhold Neibuhr’s classic work Christ & Culture, Hodge approaches his book with an understanding of Christ as cultural transformer and Lord of both the sacred and profane. He therefore wants to free Christians from throwing the theological baby out with the secular bathwater. Prefaced by a sound critique of commercialized rap’s ugly underbelly, a well-read Hodge expands on postmodern/post-soul images of Jesus, redeemable suffering, and community building in already found in rap music.


Encountering Jesus in each other

As a trainer for international urban missions and youth workers, Hodge brings to mind Paolo Freire’s classic Pedagogy of the Oppressed, calling Christians to a two-way missiology. Hodge believes the streets can be a place where the reader and hip-hoppers can encounter Jesus in each other, especially in disciple relationships. In some ways, this book might be considered a crash course for the mind and the heart to prepare for such encounters.

To be sure, this is not the first book to address hip hop culture and Christianity, but it may the first to build such a strong and multifaceted framework for approaching the subject. Like a true researcher, Hodge seems to have picked up on the conversation started by Ralph C. Watson and friends in their 2007 book, The Gospel Remix and added his doctoral research along with his own spin.


Citing ethnomusicologists, sociologists, theologians, philosophers, and musicians, Hodge analyzes the movements, regional differences, slang, and greater cultural impact of popular hip hop over the past 35 years. Because some of his salient points have been explored and somewhat dried out by other academicians, Hodge tries to stay personal and efficient enough in his writing style to keep the casual reader engaged. But Hodge does not dumb down anything and he obviously expects that readers interested enough to pick up his book are interested enough to be encouraged and challenged at deep level.


The Soul of Hip Hop is not a long read, and Hodge has a nice dexterity to his writing style. But newcomers interested in really absorbing the content will need to take their time with this read. Because this book is not necessarily directed at hip-hop aficionados, most readers won’t catch or gripe about the few inaccuracies that float around. And since it doesn’t seem written for stogy intellectuals, few will be overly bothered by the sparse use Hodge’s research findings. Soul of Hip Hop is a great read for the hearts and heads of anyone serious about truly embracing urban youth and maybe even getting some dap in return.




Anthony Barr-Jeffrey Anthony Barr-Jeffrey has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Seattle Pacific University. An academic advisor and counselor at Shoreline Community College, he is a freelance consultant for diversity and leadership issues, and offers business and life coaching. He and his family live in Seattle.


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