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New American Songbook

New American Songbook: Hip Hop's 'Sermon on the Mount'


To my mind, the question for 2017 is not so much what do we want, but how will we achieve what we want. The election of Donald Trump to the presidency has changed some things for some people, and has made more explicit the continued struggles of others. Racism, for instance, did not suddenly come into being on November 9or January 20, although perhaps a renewed sense of urgency towards addressing it did.

As usual, I turn to hip hop for most of my guidance. More words have been written in hip hop on the nature of self and the relationship to community than in maybe any other genre, if only by virtue of hip hop being an especially wordy art form. And, these days, I’m looking for sustenance more than ideology, or maybe better, an ideology of sustenance—when times are uncertain, how can we manage to be together? For that, Chicago emcee Mick Jenkins’ third and most recent release is perfect.

What Jenkins has produced in ‘The Healing Component’ is a radical, elemental thesis on love. The message is ranging and intense, and imbued with a deep and natural Christian ontology, but I don’t think Jenkins’ conception of love is complex, although his lyrical delivery certainly is. Where other recent music seeks to flip tables in the temple, this is hip hop’s Sermon on the Mount, if you have the ears to hear it.