rap & redemption

redemption: a releasing effected by payment of a ransom; deliverance, liberation

restoration: to reconcile completely, bringing back to a former state of harmony

Last Sunday night I thought I’d turn on the Grammys for a few minutes, watch a few performances, and find out who’s hot and who’s not.  One performance I was unexpectantly captivated by was Eminem (along with Dr. Dre and Skylar Grey )singingI Need A Doctor.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m not a big fan of rap other than when it’s my good friend Isaiah Tate.   Yet I cannot deny that something about Eminem’s passion, intensity, and yes his talent drew me in and definitely drew in the audience at the Staples Center.  It’s no accident that his Recovery album was the top selling album for 2010.

What makes Eminem so popular? Quite honestly, I believe this goes way beyond music.  It appears that people are not only entertained by him, they are rooting for him to succeed.  So I decided to dig a little and ask why.  I don’t want to retell his story, but the guy has been through a lot of stuff: born into poverty, raised by a single mom, arrested a few times, and battled addictions with alcohol and prescription drugs.  He’s by no means an angel, sometimes a victim of circumstances, and often struggles with the consequences of his own decisions.  At the same time, he’s intensely transparent, passionate, and loyal.  He admits to coming back from a dark place and dedicated this past album to “anyone who’s in a dark place tryin’ to get out. Keep your head up… It does get better!”

So why is a 38 year old white rapper arguably the most influential hip-hop artist, have the #1 selling album, and get nominated for 10 Grammys?  I believe at least part of it is that we love to see redemption.  We want to see someone who has hit rock bottom bounce back.  Eminem is only one example of many in our pop culture: Robert Downey Jr., Michael Vick, Drew Barrymore to name a few. Something resonates… we see the depravity, the struggle with the consequences, the uncomfortable honesty, and the battle to bounce back bigger and better than before.  Maybe just maybe we see a picture of ourselves and our hope for ourselves.  We know we are broken.  We know we struggle to break free.  We know we stop short of true honesty.  We ultimately want to believe there is hope that we can be all we dreamed of being and more.

I realize this is only a shadow of the redemption and restoration that Jesus can bring to our lives.  Any redemption which focuses on our efforts and energy rather than the transforming grace of God will always be found sorely lacking.  At the same time even Eminem can provide us a tainted glimpse of the redemption our culture so badly wants and needs.

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