I wrote in my review of Sho Baraka’s Talented 10th about the song “Chapter 9: Jim Crow”, a song that featured several unedited use of the word “n*****”. A few months have passed since the album dropped but now Sho Baraka is starting to get some heat for this controversial stance. Several bloggers have weighed in with their opinions about the controversial song, some supporting it while others questioning the wisdom of it. The main rub that has come with the charge that it could compromise Sho’s witness (one blogger pointed out that Sho is an elder of his church) and the message of the Gospel could be undermined. Opinions and viewpoints vary greatly, but I saw a remark that Amisho “Sho Baraka” made that gives greater weight to his sticky song.
CNN reported a crucial point in this subject that I think needs to be emphasized. “Sho Baraka” said in the article that “Jesus stood for more than keeping people out of hell; he wanted to change their lives here on earth.” I think that in this statement makes a crucial point on how this song must be viewed. The transforming work of the Gospel is a work that begins in a place that is blackened to the point of no return – the human heart. To talk about the transforming work of the Gospel while minimizing, cleaning up, or misrepresenting the initial condition of the person receiving the Gospel is to blur how powerful the Gospel is. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to those who believe it (Romans 1:16); who are the people that believe it, and what are they like? They are dead in their sins and trespasses, a statement that requires deep contemplation and meditation in order to understand how screwed up we really are and how much we have screwed up the world as a result.
Sho Baraka’s use of “n*****” in his song is shocking. It catches us off guard and makes us feel uncomfortable. But then again, isn’t that how the world makes us feel anyway? Read the first verse and chorus of the song: “I feel I’m trapped in a crazy place/Asking the Lord for amazing grace/I see the masses wanna change me/ I’m waiting for someone to save me/ Until then, until then/ I guess I’m stuck here on ni**ga island/Yeah, when ni**ga’s be wildin’/ Yeah, and color is violence/ Yeah, know that it’s silence.” Sho is painting a picture of a place tainted with one of the ugliest expressions of our sin: racism. “N*****” is a historically loaded word that draws the listener back to the times where racism was a legitimate stain on the church and on culture. He isn’t throwing the word out there for the sake of trying to be cool, hip, or relative – he is using it to give weight to a serious topic as he paints a picture of a life and society where it’s inhabitants have yet to be transformed by the Gospel. Starting with this song, the Gospel comes in and takes a place like “n***a island”and changes it’s deadness to life. If we are going to write and sing about the life that comes from the Gospel, we should all the same write and sing about our deadness before the Gospel comes in – without engaging in sin in the process.
I believe that what Sho Baraka has done is something that has needed to be done for some time. We can tolerate mediocre music with questionable theology but our feathers get ruffled when a Christian writes some satire on racism while using a historically related word to give weight to his song. We must be real with reality if we are serious about the Gospel – if we are going to make art about the Gospel, we must make art that reflects the world apart from the Gospel in conjunction with art that reflects the new life in Jesus Christ. The Bible clearly communicates our condition before the Gospel transforms us; lets make art that clearly communicates the same truth.
(This post originally appeared on Another Ascending Lark on 4/3/13)