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In the 1990s, Los Angeles was home to numerous radical social and environmental eruptions. In the face of several major earthquakes and floods, riots and economic insecurity, police brutality and mass incarceration, some young black Angelenos turned to holy hip hop—a movement merging Christianity and hip hop culture—to “save” themselves and the city. Converting street corners to open-air churches and gangsta rap beats into anthems of praise, holy hip hoppers used gospel rap to navigate complicated social and spiritual realities and to transform the Southland’s fractured terrains into musical Zions. Armed with beats, rhymes, and bibles, they journeyed through black Lutheran congregations, prison ministries, African churches, reggae dancehalls, hip hop clubs, Nation of Islam meetings, and Black Lives Matter marches. Zanfagna’s fascinating ethnography provides a contemporary and unique view of black LA, offering a much-needed perspective on how music and religion intertwine in people's everyday experiences.
Introduction: Earthquake Music and the Politics of Conversion
1. “Now I Bang for Christ”: Rites/Rights of Passage
2. Hip Hop Church L.A.: Shifting Grounds in Inglewood
3. Beyond Babylon: Geographies of Conversion
4. The Evangelical Hustle: Selling Music, Saving Souls
5. Roads to Zion: Hip Hop’s Search for the City Yet to Come
Christina Zanfagna is Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology and Ethnic Studies at Santa Clara University.
"Holy Hip Hop is an extraordinary book: a treasure trove of information and a tour de force of original research about an intertextual nexus of music, religion, and social practice. Christina Zanfagna reveals how religious rappers negotiate the intersections of the sacred and the secular and the moral and the material as they forge new forms of fabulation and faith inside urban underscapes."—George Lipsitz, author of How Racism Takes Place
"Biblical metaphors of catastrophe and apocalypse shape the Black gospel rap underground in the 'fallen city' of Los Angeles. Speaking from the edges of the church, community, and hip-hop, these artists work out what it means to save their city and themselves. Christina Zanfagna's intimate and nuanced work outlines what she calls 'geographies of conversion.' She reveals people moving toward 'Zyon', where they might encounter trouble, contradiction, and conflict, but also ecstasy, flight, and freedom. An often surprising, subtly transformative book."—Jeff Chang, author of Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation
"Zanfagna graces readers with a deeply engaged and intimately observed unveiling of a Jesus-worshipping West Coast hiphop scene. Through determined, industrious research and wise reflection she provides an exposed view of a pop-savvy form of missionary work that combines social justice motivations with a beat-driven imperative to 'flipping the script(ures)'."—Gregory Tate, musician, and producer, and author of Midnight Lightning: Jimi Hendrix and the Black Experience