LDS hip hop mormons,Mormon hip hop

This is a thing that is real

For those of you who know me in real life, it will come as no surprise to know that in 1992 I bought Arrested Development’s first album the day it was released. And it will also not shock you to know that I listened to that on constant repeat, soaking up the positive hip hop vibe of elevated consciousness. If you’re not familiar (how?!) with this quintessential Afrocentric hip hop group from the ’90s, you should know that their music is about connecting spiritually and intellectually with the world around you.

When I was in the throes of religious passion myself, one song in particular stood out to me, and it was like it had reached into my aching heart yearning to understand why I was in Utah, sticking out like a sore thumb while trying to grow spiritually among ‘my people’. Naturally I tried to share this song with the students in my Gospel Doctrine class one Sunday.

Apparently this was shocking to my blond, white, square-jawed Mormon students. Hip-hop? In my church? 

Music is a huge part of the Mormon experience. I grew up sitting behind my father every Sunday as he conducted the congregational choir, later singing with them when I was older. My sisters and I took piano when we were young because, “What if there’s no pianist one Sunday, Laura?”

Fortunately, I didn’t have the talent for it and was able to focus on reading while my sisters squeezed oranges in their hands for strength and practiced with sheet music covering their fingers. Ha ha, suckers.

Special musical numbers–typically a piano piece, a song, stringed instruments all playing something either respectfully religious or banally classical in nature–would usually happen in a Sunday service after the sacrament had been passed, the final quiet notes sung or played fading into silence. Mormons don’t applaud during church. There might be a slightly passionate “amen” after someone sang, but that would be rare. Silence is solemnity, and solemness is what the Lord commands of his people. Evidently.

Fast forward to me, age twenty, preparing myself to go on a mission for the Lord by being as connected to His word as can be, a big-haired, full-bosomed Texan twanging her way through the Lord’s Word each and every Sunday for a bunch of white kids who had grown up in Utah, and who had heard all of this stuff ad nauseam since the day they were born. Plus, I was a mouthy chick with Opinions, so most of the guys didn’t really want to listen to me.

Oh, they listened, but it was typically them looking for a break in my speaking so they could jump in and “correct” me.

The day’s lesson was basically about letting the spirit of the Lord speak to you–for you to stop telling God what you were going to do and let Him tell you instead. Wow, “This so perfectly dovetailed with Arrested Development’s big hit Tennessee!” I thought.

I started the lesson with an opening prayer (as is the custom) and a brief breakdown of what we would be discussing. And then I pulled out my boombox (a fancy kind with a CD player built in! These were the Old Days, kids) and hit Play.

I turned to watch the class, smiling, excited for them to get a thrill at “Lord it’s obvious you’re the God of relationships/We talk to each other every night and day./ I know you’re superior over me/ we talk to each other in a friendship way” because that’s just how I felt about my Heavenly Father. He was literally, as I had been taught my whole life, my Father. I was His child. I could talk to Him, open up to Him, and listen to Him and His Wisdom. And wow, this song was all about that. [heart eyes]

Surely I would see these normally bland, white faces filled with joy and understanding.

Instead, silence.

Hmm. Maybe they just needed to get to the “I know you’re supposed to be my steering wheel/and not just my spare tire.” That had hit me back in the day as something fundamental. This was pre-Jesus Take The Wheel, by the way.

Except…when the chorus hit “Take me to another place” I could see people frowning, shifting uncomfortably in their seats. And then the worst thing ever: a guy stood up and said with pure derision in his voice, “This really appropriate in the house of the Lord.”

Oh, the shame I felt. (Confusion, too.) I was always feeling two steps behind everyone by virtue of growing up outside of Utah (the Mission Field, as it’s called), and had come to college there specifically to be “with my people”. And they didn’t like me. Wow, did they really not like me. More than that, they were disgusted with my methods. I was Doing It All Wrong. There were rules I didn’t inherently understand, rules about following the same lesson plan year after year, and if I did deviate from those plans, it should have been something far more gentle like passing out pretzel GORP with a scripture on construction paper and a pretty ribbon.

But playing…hip hop? There was nothing spiritually uplifting about that, nothing respectful to the Lord with that music, and in the Lord’s House, Laura Anne? Tsk. Well, what can you expect from her, she didn’t grow up here.

I was actually reprimanded by my bishop over that one. He kindly told me to stick to the lesson plans and to play “appropriate” music for the House of the Lord.

Now, I ask you: listen to this and tell me this isn’t something that –even if you aren’t a believer!–you can see how this would be perfect for a lesson on those of us struggling to understand God’s Will for us.


All that this experience served to teach me was that I continued to be an outsider in a place I desperately wanted to call home, and confused me as to what God wanted me to be doing in the first place. “Make me forget all that hurts me. Let me understand Your plan.”

I’m obviously no longer a believer, but seriously: that’s a great song. True, it’s particularly a song about a black man trying to come to terms with our nation’s racist past (ha, past??), but the overlying message is a great one: respect, understanding, listening to those who have gone before and taking what we can from that.

But you know, that’s not appropriate in a House of God. Apparently. *cough*

(And this is your reminder that the great Gladys Knight became a Mormon. How the HELL can they have that powerhouse of a singer in church on Sunday and tell her to keep quiet, to keep it “respectful?” I do NOT understand that one, not at all.)

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