Rap and Religion

Understanding the Gangsta's God

by Ebony A. Utley

Print Flyer
Abortion in the United States

June 2012


Pages 190
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Race and Ethnicity/African American Studies

This book provides an enlightening, representative account of how rappers talk about God in their lyrics—and why a sense of religion plays an intrinsic role within hip hop culture.

Why is the battle between good and evil a recurring theme in rap lyrics? What role does the devil play in hip hop? What exactly does it mean when rappers wear a diamond-encrusted "Jesus" around their necks? Why do rappers acknowledge God during award shows and frequently include prayers in their albums? Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta's God tackles a sensitive and controversial topic: the juxtaposition—and seeming hypocrisy—of references to God within hip hop culture and rap music.

This book provides a focused examination of the intersection of God and religion with hip hop and rap music. Author Ebony A. Utley, PhD, references selected rap lyrics and videos that span three decades of mainstream hip hop culture in America, representing the East Coast, the West Coast, and the South in order to account for how and why rappers talk about God. Utley also describes the complex urban environments that birthed rap music and sources interviews, award acceptance speeches, magazine and website content, and liner notes to further explain how God became entrenched in hip hop.


  • A bibliography of cited sources on rap music and hip hop culture
  • An index of key terms and artists
  • A discography of rap songs with religious themes


  • Applies urban history to explain why rappers concurrently embrace God and rap about murder, misogyny, and mayhem without defending the oppressive aspects of the music
  • Offers a representative sample of lyrics and videos with religious themes
  • Covers all genres of rap from each distinct region from the 1990s through the 2010s
  • Devotes an entire chapter to women and their relationship to God
Author Info

Ebony A. Utley, PhD, is assistant professor of communication studies at California State University, Long Beach, CA. Her published works include coediting Hip Hop's Languages of Love, a special issue of Women and Language, as well as articles in Critical Studies in Media Communication, Rhetoric & Public Affairs, The Journal of Men's Studies, and The Western Journal of Black Studies.



"Rap and Religion is a compelling read. It will provoke the reader to examine their attitude to a genre that arguably has hegemony in popular culture. Utley vividly describes some of the video footage referred to, enabling the reader to follow the line of academic argument. But there are times when you will simply need to ‘‘YouTube’’ a track. Utley enables the reader to recognize that the Hip Hop genre has reinterpreted a Jesus with a strong survival/elevation ethic as opposed to a liberation ethic, helping the gangsta 'to make it through' and embrace success. An outstanding book and a must-read for every academic and practitioner serious about engaging popular culture in an urban context."—Black Theology

"Utley . . . presents a unique study of the cultural and sociological context in which religion and hard-edged rap intersect, mainly from the mid 1990s to the present. Also, the book's laid-back prose offers a quick read. . . . Summing Up: Recommended."—Choice

Other Titles of Interest

How Do Hurricane Katrina's Winds Blow? cover imageGenocide? cover imageAfrican American Folktales cover image
Thurgood Marshall cover imageBlack Women Novelists cover imageAfrican Americans on Television cover image

Product Search

Product Search

Publication Year



Need Help? Try our Search Tips