When was the last time a familiar song sprang to life in your mind? Music is a powerful art form that can sear memories into your brain, shape the way you think, and ultimately influence the way you see the world.
Every time I hear someone say the name Ms. Jackson, I can’t help but hear the lyrics “I’m sorry Ms. Jackson (oh), I am for real,” from the hit song Ms. Jackson from OutKast.
Recently, I’ve listened to some of my favorite artists from high school and early college years and been appalled at the filth in their lyrics, their derogatory depiction of women, and the portrayal of a materialistic lifestyle. How could I have not seen the darkness before? The extravagant beats and the radio edit easily fooled me into thinking the music I listened too was clean.
Whenever I return home to visit family, I make an effort to ask my younger cousins who their favorite artists are and learn what music they are listening to. I like to be aware of what, good or bad, they are digesting into their soul, mind, and spirit.
So, after I recently returned from a family visit, I looked at the latest music releases, and the new album by Kanye West entitled JESUS IS KING stood out. Yes, this is the same artist who had a song entitled I Am A God in 2013.
I don’t track celebrities or keep up with the Kardashians (pun intended). So I did not know Kanye declared himself to be a born-again Christian. I was struck by a series of immediate internal questions:
- “Could he have changed?”
- “Is this a legitimate gospel album?”
- “Could there be genuine kingdom principles in his lyrics?”
I was skeptical of his apparent 180. I had no interest in listening to his music but I realized that if I had teenagers who came to me saying they wanted to hear or had listened to the album, it would be helpful to be aware of what they were encountering.
As I sat and listened to his album with an attentive ear, the scripture 2 Timothy 3:1-9 came to mind. This passage describes the inaccurate positions of the human heart in the last days and our requirement as believers to steer clear of such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-9 — 3 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. 6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.
Primed and ready to uncover the trickery of Kanye’s album, I was genuinely surprised by what I heard. From the first song to the last, the music was enjoyable. I noted the musical intertwining of gospel tunes and clean lyrics. The record does not have a single curse word. I repeat, I enjoyed the album. Musically, and from an artistic standpoint, I appreciated the album.
However, from a spiritual perspective, despite making specific references to Christ, following God, and particular books in the bible such as John, Luke, and Ephesians, the music lacks the frequency of honoring God in worship for me.
I discussed the album with my wife, and we noted two potential outcomes for young listeners. First, God could use the simple lyrics of following God embedded throughout the music to speak to a listener, and the music would be a tool to turn the hearts of the youth back to the Father. After all, Paul himself stated that he rejoiced whenever the gospel was preached, even if the motives of some preachers were questionable.
The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice. Philippians 1:18
But the second potential outcome is that the listener could be easily turned to following the artist and not God. It is easy to see how the celebrity of Kanye could overshadow the message within the music. Here lies the deceptive nature of music, no matter the genre.
The Bigger Picture
The bigger picture is not if Kanye’s conversion is authentic or if I enjoyed the album from an artistic standpoint. The crux of the situation is as adults, parents, and believers, are we aware of the music that our youth are digesting. Do we leave our children to navigate the world on their own, or are we an active part in monitoring their media, especially the music?
What if I assumed a record entitled JESUS IS KING, was a Christian album, but derogatory lyrics comprised 80% of the record. My child would be consuming everything that I oppose and I would be blindly endorsing it.
As adults, parents, and believers, we cannot control everything our children see, hear, and do. But we can be proactive and become ever more aware of what can easily deceive us. Music is just one way the world will try to imprint certain values into the rising generation. We combat that imprinting by becoming watchmen over our homes.
Watchmen discuss media influences with their children. Watchmen willingly ask questions. Watchmen allow their children to make mistakes, then coach them through those mistakes. Watchmen institute customs such as “Fun Fridays,” where the car radio is only turned on during Friday car rides. This system allows the family to dialogue about the lyrics and themes in the music.
Ultimately, watchmen are aware and supportive. They are not controlling but they are active participants in building the next generation to be healthy members of society.