Few would argue that hip-hop's is at least partially rooted in the belief that financial prosperity is the ultimate measure of success. Given this market-driven logic, it is no wonder that hip-hop narratives abound with rags to riches stories that celebrate the individual over the collective and the material over the spiritual.
Artists such as Notorious B.I.G., who once rapped that "God meant me to drive a Bentley," argue that their enormous wealth is a divine reward, or what Jay-Z has termed "pro-jetic justice" for their impoverished pasts. And where would they get such convoluted values? A look at the New Black Church, whose good news has been reduced to "God wants you to be rich," provides a good answer.
Through their curious readings of Bible scriptures, depictions of Jesus as wealthy and belief that people are poor because they "ain't living right," the New Black Church reinforces the tired conservative argument that the problems of the disadvantaged are self-inflicted.
While gospels of prosperity have always been commonplace within the black religious tradition -- leaders from Sweet Daddy Grace to Elijah Muhammad have, to varying degrees, promised wealth as a consequence of religious devotion -- "name it and claim it" mantras have moved from the margins to the center of the New Black Church community.
Word-faith pastors no longer preach the virtues of struggle, sacrifice, or redemptive suffering, instead exhorting the poor to "get right" with God by accumulating capital for themselves. As word-faith preacher Creflo Dollar explains on his website, "When you find out how to live your life according to the word of God you will become a money magnet."
Of course, becoming a money magnet requires the congregation to share their bounty with the church. Dollar tells his congregation, "God is not coming back to a church in debt. [T]hat would be against his word" ("Changing Your World," 27 March, 2000). In other words, salvation comes with a price.
To ensure that the people pay it, many New Black Church pastors are beginning to ask their members to bring in tax returns to guarantee appropriate tithing. Others request that members submit their entire checks and allow the church to manage their finances in order to certify that they are appropriately sharing God's grace with their spiritual shepherds.
The connection between New Black Church theology and hip-hop's materialism became no more apparent than when rapper Mase staged his 2004 comeback. As one of the pioneers of the shiny suit era, Mase was the poster child for hip-hop's bling-bling agenda. Disillusioned with the immoral underside of the music industry after becoming born-again, Mase retired from music to devote his entire life to the ministry that he built and modeled after his mentor and pastor, Creflo Dollar.
After being called back to the game (by God or his accountant, depending on who you ask), Mase dropped the disappointing Welcome Back LP. While the album was devoid of profanity, violence and sex, it remained chock full of pro forma references to his wealth of money, cars, homes, and jewelry. Although it was a commercial flop, the album was celebrated by the gospel community for its "positive message," which can be summed up by the final line to his verse on Kanye West's "Jesus Walks" remix: "I'm healed, I'm delivered, I'm rich. And it's all because of Him." What do you think, have the New Black Church hurt our Youth of today?