By Kevin Howell
I used to be a big fan of Jay-Z. I’m talking the Reasonable Doubt, In My Lifetime vols. 1-3, Streets is Watching era — i.e. his early stuff. I stopped listening to secular music for a while in the early 2000s, so I can’t speak much of his discography during that time — though attending a historically black university where hip-hop was the soundtrack of the campus, I heard plenty of his music then.
Jay has gotten some backlash from the Christian community in recent years, particularly because lyrics to his hit Empire State of Mind. There’s a subtle line in the song, that really, if you aren’t a Christian you probably didn’t even notice it. But it ruffled some feathers when he rapped:
Hail Mary to the city, you’re a virgin
And Jesus can’t save you, life starts when the church ends
It didn’t help that he later released a song with Kanye West called No Church in the Wild. I remember seeing Christians ranting on blogs and social media about Jay’s blasphemous lyrics, his supposed connection to the Illuminati, and how he’s the anti-Christ. Seriously?
Jay’s been taking subtle jabs at religion for years — calling himself Jay-hova, and even making the song Izzo (H.O.V.A.), which is sacrilegious, but catchy as hell.
For some reason, I was interested in hearing his latest album, Magna Carta Holy Grail. His Samsung commercial for the album, despite being 10 minutes long, was intriguing because as big as a mogul Jay has become, you don’t hear him speak much. The commercial, and subsequent clips discussing the meaning of particular songs, gave us a peek into his mind. This clip for the song Heaven was particularly interesting.
As much bravado and swag Jay-Z boasts, as much as he’s worshiped by a generation, and as much as he angers some Christians for his lyrics, he’s simply human. Being so, he has the same questions, internal conflicts, and paradoxes we all experience.
He doesn’t come off anti-Christ in the commercial or the song, but rather agnostic. He’s someone who questions how “a just God could make you burn for eternity for free will that He gave you.” Or how can we not accept others’ ideas of God if none of us has ever been to Heaven. His thoughts are not much different from our neighbors, co-workers, classmates, family members, friends, and at some point, ourselves.
We’ve all had to face the tough questions of our faith.
How can a loving God send people to Hell?
How is the Bible relevant with scientific discoveries?
Is there really just one true way to God?
Even if you’ve found peace in the faith with these questions, we live in a secular, pluralistic society with many beliefs. People around you have these questions.
I love living in a diverse society. I love the fact most people are just seeking truth. And even if people aren’t convinced there’s a Heaven, they still want to go there.
Jay-Z is one of those people. I believe God loves him. I was one of those people. With baggage, with flaws, with unbelief, with questions. God loved me then. Before I knew Him. Before I recognized Him. Before I had faith in Him. The truth of His love and grace convinced me and changed me.
I’m hoping it does the same for Jay.
Kevin is a writer, editor and lover of old school hip-hop. He wasn’t impressed with “Magna Carta,” so he’ll go back listening to his old Tribe Called Quest, Outkast and Public Enemy CDs cassettes.
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