"No matter what they think of me": Religious beliefs and practices of Gospel rappers in Buffalo, NY
Haygood Gault, Erika Dellise
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Late in the nineties and into the millennium, Buffalo witnessed a proliferation of Gospel rappers. Out of the clash of street sound and Christian based content, a new group of Christian rappers has emerged. As they did in the beginning, Gospel rappers continue to struggle to etch out an unconventional identity for themselves. They were aided in this quest by four factors. These factors compounded to create a new religious network in Buffalo: 1) The Reconfiguration of Space, 2) The Redefinition of `Church,' 3) The Creation of 'not a church' communities, 4) Social Media. The role of online social media and music sharing tools like MySpace, Reverbnation, Facebook, and YouTube has connected gospel rappers in ways before unimaginable for burgeoning artists. These are connections that far surpass Buffalo's eastside. Links to the wider Christian rap culture have blossomed both nationally and globally. In much the same way that the loss of industrial jobs lead South Bronx DJ's to re-appropriate their job training skills in creating sound systems and turntables, Buffalo rappers have used technology as a resistive tool against established hierarchy (i.e. black church and secular culture) and its inability to provide economic, social and spiritual stability. In this dissertation their story demonstrates the late 20 th century formation of black religion in Post-Civil Rights American cities. At the same time, the story reveals the connections such religious practices held to earlier black beliefs. Charles H. Long's work on signification and opacity/oppugnancy is used as a theoretical approach in this dissertation. As well, Anthony Pinn's concept of complex subjectivity is used to discuss the very nature of black religion. I argue that while rappers have lived into complex subjectivity in ways that are new and telling of interesting trajectories in this generation's religious beliefs and practices, they have also relied on earlier patterns in black religion.