New God Flow: Where Biggie, MLK and Rodney King’s Dreams Collide
By Mark A. Jefferson
On The Mark
Kanye West has the lyrical gift to utilize common words to articulate feelings that many share. In his attention-grabbing verse on the song “New God Flow,” on the new album Cruel Summer with his G.O.O.D. Music label mates, Ye plainly articulates the angst of many people when he says:
Went from most hated to the champion God flow/ I guess that’s a feeling only me and LeBron know / I’m living three dreams - Biggie Smalls, Dr. King, Rodney King’s/ Uh, cause we can’t get along, no resolution / Till we drown all these haters; rest in peace to Whitney Houston
The crisis of soul that afflicts those who are open to life is simple: how do I reconcile my aspirations of material success (Biggie’s Dream), pushing the world around me into living more righteously (Dr. King), and to find peace in or reconstruct the toxic environment that seeks my violent destruction (Rodney King)? What kind of friction occurs living three distinct but overlapping dreams? I feel like a conflicted soul, at times, because at every turn I am presented images that seek to seduce my senses and dull my overall impact. I do not have any answers or solutions but these are some of the thoughts I wrestle with now and probably will far into the future.
The interesting thing about Biggie’s dream (as I interpret it) is that it stresses the fact that no matter how bad the situation, you can succeed. Now, success in many of Biggie’s rhymes rotated around material aspiration. This is not uncommon because songs of material excess are sung in churches and clubs alike. Too many people are dying in the streets trying to get rich and others are drowning to death, using their Gucci duffel bag as a life preserver. There is nothing wrong with getting stuff, but what many cannot figure out is how can they keep the stuff from getting them? Many people do not love money but the constant flirtation with it is growing too strong to ignore. Excess is often a symbol of resilience. Though seemingly shortsighted, wanting more than what you have is one of the reasons of human advancement. Biggie, the Coogie-downed dreamer.
Many think Biggie’s dream is antithetical to Dr. King’s dream, but I would like to see their differences differently. I can see King’s dream in many ways but, for this post, I see King’s dream as a call to living more righteously with one another. Simply stated, King sees us living differently in the world. Biggie’s dream is the needed dirt under the fingernails of King’s lofty ideals. If King’s approach is real, we must take the rawness and dirt of the urban experience seriously. How can conservatives use Dr. King’s words to sanction social and economic regression? How can liberals continue to hitch their ideological wagon to King but make little inroads to help the poor and underserved? The question that looms over many of us is clear: in a world in which many were not extended the short end of the stick but, rather, no stick at all, how can they hope and strive to come up in the world while changing it at the same time? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the dreamer’s dreamer.
Rodney King, for many people, was a far more accessible “King” than Martin. Many remember the infamous videotape, the farce of a trial, the riot turned inferno, and the aftermath. When Rodney King died, I was saddened because the man who survived a savage, state-administered, terroristic beating ended up killing himself with alcohol and drugs. Rodney King’s dream for all of us to get along was a major moment in our culture. How does a man survive a beating and still seek that we reconcile? What does it also say about a man who endured physical scars and survived ultimately died because of the emotional and spiritual ones. Rodney King, the afflicted dreamer.
I understand Kanye more than I thought I did. He places three dreams in concert because they are needed. I struggle to pray, love my neighbor, and aspire to change the world – a world that conspires to enslave the poor and lead the blind into bottomless ditches of deception. Every time I turn on the TV, I need the “newest this” and “the next version of that.” I’ve been harassed by police and stalked by storeowners, wondering if I am buying a soda or casing the place for a stick-up. The world I live in presents present realities that seek to dismantle my ability to dream. No matter how complex the dreamers’ personalities, I am grateful that they forecasted a future better than the ones many of us are contented with.
I know some will be offended that Kanye mixed the “saintly” Dr. King with Rodney King and the Notorious B.I.G. but, honestly, I hear those same voices. Each dream and dreamer require that I live with the tension between these three dreams. Biggie is asking me to understand that those who have nothing aspire for more as well. My role is to help people broaden that scope beyond things. Dr. King’s dream always asks me to live righteously. My role is to remind the “righteous” that a step up in life is to gain perspective and leverage to pull someone up, not to look down on others. Rodney King’s dream tells me that I must survive and love anyway. I must take inventory of my soul because if that is broken, nothing else matters.
As long as we live in tension with sometimes colliding dreams, we can assure that we are constantly fighting to make sense and keep balance of our own dreams as well.Mark Jefferson is a native of Hampton, Virginia. He played football at Norfolk State University and graduated magna cum laude in 2005. He graduated from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in 2008 with a Master of Divinity with a certificate in Black Church Studies. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. at Emory University in Religion, focusing on homiletics and hip-hop culture. He is an ordained Baptist minister and resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Check his blog out on markajefferson.tumblr.com and follow him on Twitter at @MarkAJefferson
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