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Spitting Rhymes 'til Mourning Comes: an Exploration of Hip-Hop, Suicidal Thoughts, and Spiritual Lament

Abstract

This essay explores how the poetics of hip-hop—spitting rhymes—gives form to spiritual lament. Hip-hop is criticized, and rightfully so, for promoting misogyny, greed, violence, and nihilism—but does it do something else? Using hip-hop artist Biggie Smalls’s song “Suicidal Thoughts,” the author argues that spitting rhymes is a way that African Americans salvage lost aspects of the self, that is, parts of the self that have been silenced and, at times, terminated—by the self—because of trauma. He engages in an interdisciplinary study of African American history to discuss the ways in which the Sambo figure was constructed and utilized to deny the reality of Black suffering; sociologist Émile Durkheim’s On Suicide to delineate the various forms of suicide, some of which are the direct result of social regulation; biblical scholarship, for example, the work of Walter Brueggemann, to demonstrate that spiritual lament functions to protect a community from overwhelming despair; and psychoanalysis to address how the loss of ways to creatively confront our sorrow is harmful to the self.

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Notes

  1. Journalist Cheo Hodari Coker (2013), in his book Unbelievable: The Life, Death, and Afterlife of the Notorious B.I.G., explains that Christopher Wallace’s rap persona went through a series of iterations during his career. His persona of Biggie Smalls, unlike his later persona of the Notorious B.I.G., was the one that garnered Mr. Wallace underground affection, that is to say, the admiration of young urban Blacks whose own lives resonated with the real-life stories depicted in his music.

  2. Two brief points on contemporaneity: (1) In Truth and Method, Gadamer credits philosopher Soren Kierkegaard with introducing the concept of contemporaneity in Philosophical Fragments, and (2) in Philosophical Hermeneutics, Gadamer (1977) speaks of the life-changing intimacy that is facilitated through the contemporaneity of a work of art when he remarks that “the intimacy with which the work of art touches us is at the same time, in enigmatic fashion, a shattering and a demolition of the familiar. It is not only the ‘This art thou!’ disclosed in a joyous and frightening shock; it also says to us, ‘Thou must alter thy life!’” (p. 104).

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Correspondence to Jay-Paul Hinds.

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Hinds, JP. Spitting Rhymes 'til Mourning Comes: an Exploration of Hip-Hop, Suicidal Thoughts, and Spiritual Lament. Pastoral Psychol 70, 315–334 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11089-021-00957-2

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Keywords

  • Biggie smalls
  • Suicide
  • Lament
  • Sambo
  • Spitting rhymes
  • Mourning
  • Creativity