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Historical rift between hip hop and the Black Church

Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil | 3/21/2012, 7:39 a.m.

The generational divide is nothing new.

Youths, wanting to set themselves apart from their parents and grandparents, adopt new styles, ways of speaking and even music.

In the African American community today, the Black Church and hip hop culture represent the two ends of this generational rift, says Emmett G. Price III — but this chasm goes deeper than it has in previous decades.

“No previous generational divide has been as extreme, volatile and destructive as the present divide between the Civil Rights Generation and the Hip Hop Generation,” Price writes in his new book, “The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture: Toward Bridging the Generational Divide.”

In this edited volume, Price, a professor of music and African American Studies at Northeastern University, calls for dialogue between the two camps, the only way he thinks the black community can “move forward together.”

The idea for his book emerged when Price noticed that young people between ages 18 and 40 were “missing” from the Black Church and that the same demographic was increasingly identifying with hip hop culture. “So many young people leave the Church at age 18 because it’s ‘old school’ — it doesn’t recognize new methods and new means of expression,” explained Price, who is also an ordained minister. “If the Black Church was more vigilant toward what was going on in the community, then it would have been more receptive of embracing the young people.”

In Price’s view, the shortcomings of the Church gave way to hip hop culture: “If the Black Church were more vigilant toward the needs, concerns of its youth and young people during the late 1960s and early 1970s, there probably would be no Hip Hop Culture,” he writes.

“When Dr. King was assassinated, when Kennedy was assassinated, when Malcolm X was assassinated, the movement in a sense just stopped abruptly,” Price explained. “And there were a whole bunch of kids who had been on the forefront of the movement who felt the need to continue, even though their parents didn’t know what the next move was. So kids in the boroughs of New York decided to take all their energy and create a culture around their particular needs.”

Despite the deep rift between the two, Price argues that the Black Church and hip hop share many values – and that this overlap can help bring the two generations together. “There’s a spiritual ethos in hip hop – a sense that we as human beings are relational, that we have a connectivity with each other,” he said. “The expressions of the young people are grounded in their desire for something to be a physical solution to the things they are dealing with.”

“Even the most derogatory and misogynistic stuff in hip hop, there’s a calling from the underbelly of American society that’s calling out to say, how come I can’t get a chance to be better than where I am?” Price continued.

But for Price, dialogue between the Black Church and hip hop is about more than culture: it’s about ensuring a better future for the next generation. “We have an issue in American society where we just let kids be defaults to decisions,” he said. “If you go to any town or city in the country, and there’s a deficit in the budget ­— what do we do? We cut music and physical education. And these kids will grow up and ask, ‘how come you didn’t care about us to provide a stable foundation and infrastructure so that we can grow and have an opportunity to be good citizens and innovative thinkers?’ ”

“Our goal is to say that young people matter, and we need to have more integrity in terms of our ability to embrace them, honor them, empower them and inspire them,” Price said.

Emmett G. Price III will be speaking about his new book, “The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture,” at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 24, at Northeastern University’s John D. O’Bryant African American Institute.