Hip-hop is an inherently boastful genre of music. As it is the most lyrically dense genre, it also tends to be the most personal — and when people talk about themselves, their pride generally starts to come out. It can get somewhat tiring hearing rappers brag about their lyrical abilities (or their money or their women or their houses or their cars) over and over again in their music, but it simply comes with the territory. But when they start making claims to not only be a superior rapper, but to actually be God? That’s when it’s time to step back and really think about what they are saying. The thing is, it happens so often, that I don’t think most rappers give it a second thought; it doesn’t really mean anything to them. Some might genuinely believe themselves to be a higher power, while others say it just because it is a hip-hop tradition, or it just fits within their established rhyme scheme. So how seriously should we take it when a human being — seriously or not — claims to be God?
It’s All in the Name
Some hip-hop artists go past the point of claiming to be a god in their music, and actually make it part of their identity. Whether it is Rakim (“The God MC”), Kanye West (Yeezus), or Jay-Z (Jay-Hova, or Hova for short, or Hov for even shorter), there is an evident desire to be recognized by all as a supreme being. It makes sense that they would want to be known as the best at what they do, but why do they feel the need to be identified as gods?
Rakim seemed to truly believe that he deserved to be called “God,” due to his lyrical prowess and influence over the genre. I think Kanye is just playing a character at this point. Yeezus is too ridiculous a name for someone who expects to be taken seriously at face value. Jay-Z seems to be somewhere in between. But regardless of how genuine a God-claim is, it should not be taken lightly.
Looking At Some Lyrics
Let’s take a look at some recent examples from the last few years.
First up, the most blatantly obvious example: Kanye West – “I Am a God”
I am a god
Hurry up with my d*** massage
Hurry up with my d*** m…
Get the Porsche out the d*** garage
I am a god
Even though I’m a man of God
My whole life in the hand of God
So y’all better quit playin’ with God
In probably the most memorable hook of Kanye’s career, he follows up his claim to be a god with some demands for those beneath him to pamper him with earthly luxuries. He comes across as angry and disinterested, but as a “god,” he needs to maintain a certain standard of living whether he wants to or not.
The second half of the hook is where things get really interesting. He still acknowledges the existence of God (in order to stay consistent with the “Jesus Walks” past that he created for his character), but he claims to be on the same level as God. The last two lines basically mean, “I am a manifestation of God on earth, so if you mess with me, you’re messing with God.” This dichotomy of humanity and divinity is an obvious reference to Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man (as the much wiser emcee Shai Linne explains here). Thus, “Yeezus” is a modern Jesus in Kanye’s mind, and he expects to be treated as such.
Again, whether he truly believes he is a god or whether this is all some sort of broad artistic expression is up for debate. But the claim to be on the same level as Christ is a deeply serious one in any context. Defenders of this track often point to Psalm 82:6 (which Jesus quoted in John 10:34-35), which says, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you…” It is very clear in the context of the whole Bible, however, that there is only one God, and in the context of this specific Psalm, that “gods” refers to earthly rulers who judge unjustly, and will ultimately die because they are only men (Ps. 82:7). So, contrary to the top comment on this song’s YouTube page, Kanye West’s claim to be a god is not biblical.
Next, let’s examine a line from Royce da 5’9″ in the otherwise fantastic PRhyme – “You Should Know”
I don’t know why y’all so highly regarded
You rhyme like you’re borderline mildly retarded
I show you what my father done started
I rhyme on a god level, the godliest artist
Here, Royce, in a slightly less outlandish way, also claims to be “on a god level,” due to his perceived superior lyrical talent to other emcees. He is perplexed as to why certain artists are highly regarded by critics and fans when they are clearly not very talented. (I agree with him there. As a proud backpacker through and through, I simply don’t understand the appeal of trap rap… But that’s a think piece for another day.) But to put oneself on the level of God, just because he is a good rapper, is a foolish thing to do.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
(1 Corinthians 1:25 ESV)
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men.
(1 Corinthians 3:18-21 ESV)
The verses from 1 Corinthians listed above compare the perceived wisdom and greatness of man to the perfect, eternal wisdom and greatness of God. Even “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” And “the wisdom of this world is folly with God… So let no one boast in men.” Now, I think of myself as pretty conservative when it comes to biblical exegesis, and I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to use “rapping ability” interchangeably with “wisdom” here. The point that Paul makes in these passages is simple: human beings, no matter how wise or talented, are fallen people, created by God, who is infinitely greater than the greatest man you could ever imagine. So even in what feels like a throwaway line, it is downright foolish to claim to be on the level of God due to earthly talent or wisdom — because even that is a gift that God has granted us.
Lastly, we’ll look at this verse delivered by Juju from The Beatnuts on CZARFACE – “Junkyard Dogs”
Warning, n****s got no identity
I’m God though, I already know my enemy
I know your reaction’s just an act of jealousy
But you talkin’ to God so retract that heresy
Juju opens and closes this verse with direct claims to be God. In his mind, he is tougher and more masculine than whoever he is talking to, and is thus in a position of authoritative power over them. Being God is his “identity,” which gives him a sense of purpose in his music and in the way he interacts with others. This belief about himself causes him to boldly warn anyone who speaks ill of him that they are disrespecting a divine being, implying that he has the power to end them if he so chooses.
But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
(Matthew 5:39 ESV)
Jesus, who actually is God, took an opposite approach. He responded to threats and insults and physical attacks — even to the point of death — with grace and humility. If Juju wants to act more like the God that he thinks he is, he would be quick to forgive and slow to lash out in anger.
Again, it is important to note that Juju (and any artist who makes a claim of this nature) might be perfectly nice and respectful of others once they get off the mic. But that’s not the point. The point is, words have power, and the most powerful of all is the name of God. Taking His name in vain, or claiming to be on His level, whether in character, as satire, or as a genuine belief, is foolishness and it must be addressed.
The Attributes of God
So we have seen just a few examples of rappers claiming to be God (there are literally thousands more — much more could be said about Eminem’s “Rap God,” Drake’s “6 God,” Jay Z & Kanye West’s Watch the Throne, Game’s Jesus Piece, and many, many more), and they all have a few things in common. First of all, rappers love to brag about being the best rapper. Seriously, almost every single rapper in the world has made a claim to be the best rapper alive at one point or another. Secondly, they all place eternal value on temporary pleasures. Even the most conscious emcee will throw in a line or two about his material riches. And worst of all, most rappers who brag about these things actually think that they are suddenly entitled to power and respect among others, which leads them to make those “God” claims.
But who is God, really? (No, Rakim doesn’t have the answer.)
God is sovereign and omniscient.
And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
(Hebrews 4:13 ESV)
God is set apart from His creation.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:9 ESV)
God is holy.
And one [angel] called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
(Isaiah 6:3 ESV)
God is light.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
(1 John 1:5 ESV)
God is love.
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
(1 John 4:8 ESV)
God is faithful.
Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
(Psalm 119:90 ESV)
God is infinitely greater than everyone and everything in all creation; no one can compare to Him.
Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
(Exodus 15:11 ESV)
At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:10-11 ESV)
Eventually, everyone on earth — those who humble themselves before God in this life, and those who think they are greater than He is — will bow down and worship the Lord. All I can do is pray for their sake that they will repent and believe before it is too late.