“I Thank God for my Profane Art”

“First off, all glory to God, that’s for sure!” This is how Kendrick Lamar opened his Grammy Award winning speech. I don’t know Kendrick Lamar. He could be a great guy. However, he confuses me when he gives God glory for the album that profanes much of what God stands for!?

His album, To Pimp a Butterfly looks at all manner of relationships and cultural issues. He addresses racial tension, friendships, violence and sexuality. All of these themes are fair game for any artist to explore. However, when one blurs the lines between the sacred and the profane while doing so, the artist has crossed the line.
Plugged-in music reviews give us a glimpse of the content:

A flood of f-words (frequently paired with “mother”), s-words and myriad instances of “n-gga” mar virtually every track. Graphic references to male and female genitalia are spit out, as well as allusions to oral and anal sex. We hear the sounds of a woman’s orgasm. On “Wesley’s Theory,” Lamar raps, “At first I did love you/But now I just wanna f—/Late nights thinkin’ of you/Until I got my nut.” “These Walls” is an extended metaphor for a woman’s anatomy.”

“Institutionalized” fantasizes about getting high at the White House… “The Blacker the Berry” accuses, “You hate me, don’t you?/You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture/You’re f—in’ evil/I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey.” Similarly, a repeated line on “i” could be heard as inciting fans to murder police officers (“Ahh, I put a bullet in the back of the back of the head of the police”). Worse, that line is quickly followed by another suggesting that such violence could be God’s idea (“Illuminated by the hand of God, boy don’t seem shy”). In similar territory, an imported recording of deceased rapper Tupac Shakur (on “Mortal”) has him saying blacks and whites are destined to fight it out in a winner-take-all race war (“I think that n-ggas is tired of grabbin’ s— out the stores, and next time it’s a riot there’s gonna be, like, uh, bloodshed for real. I don’t think America know that”).”

This gives glory to God? Often when an artist describes why they profane the sacred and glorify evil in their art they say, “I’m an artist.” or “I just reflect reality in my art.”

First, you are an artist. You are a creative agent with delegated talent and authority from God. You are not the Sovereign Creator. You don’t have the jurisdiction to re-define good and evil or desacralize the sacred things: life, sexuality, marriage and worship. You make art – not Art. Only God is God. Art is not God. So being an artist is no license for inciting or glorifying destructive tendencies and profaning the good.

Second, art not only reflects the culture, it has a hand in creating the culture. Music and art has power to influence and inspire. It’s what put Reese’s Pieces on the map (See E.T.) and why yellow Camaro’s sales bumped after Transformers debuted. Music helps create the sound track to our own personal movies. It channels thoughts, focuses attention and inspires action. People will live up to how they see themselves. This is why God tells us think about things that are true, lovely, and praiseworthy. So that our lives will stand upon the truth and our decisions will make the world better, not worse.

To Pimp a Butterfly does not inspire or influence the kind of culture God would desire. In fact, He watched his son die a gruesome death so that the kinds of things Kendrick sings about can be forgiven and forsaken, not wallowed in. So the “All glory to God,” statement is less than meaningless. It’s confusing and trite at best and blasphemous at worst. We should take care to listen to the words of the prophet when he encountered a disobedient king who justified his behavior by saying, “It’s all for God.” “To obey is better than sacrifice.” (I Samuel 15.)

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