Rap vs. Religion: Meek Mill Takes on Rev. Jomo K. JohnsonJuly 12th, 2012
By Gee King
It wasn’t quite Bill O’Reilly vs. Cam’ron, but yesterday’s debate between Meek Mill and Rev. Jomo K. Johnson was definitely the most purely entertaining thing that’s happened in hip hop this week. Johnson, the Philadelphia pastor who called for a ban of Meek’s music on Tuesday [July 10], argued for almost 15 minutes with the MMG hot boy on Q Deezy’s Hot 107.9 radio show. No new ground was broken in the eternal debate between hip hop and its righteous critics, but their shouting match provided some hilarious sound bites and rehashed important points from both sides of the debate.
Meek’s initial reaction to the situation was pretty rational; he suggested that Johnson’s motivations weren’t genuine. “This looking like you trying to get famous, or you need some attention, because you could have came to me and said anything you wanted to say,” said Meek. The pastor’s rebuttal was a hilarious sign of things to come. Quoting Mark 8:36, Johnson took Mill to task over the content of his music saying, “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”
Whether you feel his message is valid or not, Johnson’s routine was clearly prepared for Mill, showing that there was a level of calculation to his approach. As Meek and Q Deezy both point out however, if his goal was true progress it may have been better to contact Mill directly. The way Meek attempts to rise above the spectacle and get to the issue is reminiscent of Damon Dash and Cam owning Bill O’Reilly in 2003. But he doesn’t address the issue as eloquently, partly because he’s understandably upset. But his main reply to Johnson’s criticism — that his good deeds in his hood free him of responsibility for some of his negative content — can sound arrogant and naïve in the wrong context. The good deeds of MCs are rarely reported on in the media, and dedicating more than the occasional bar to acknowledge philanthropic work isn’t very cool, but this conundrum has existed for decades and the smart MCs have learned how to deal with it.
As absurd as Johnson’s approach to the situation was, Meek lost points for letting the pastor’s silly games get under his skin. After yelling “Where was you at?” — asking why he’d never heard of Johnson or met him while he was servicing the community — for almost a minute straight, host Q Deezy couldn’t help weighing in to address the humor in the surreal situation. “I think he wants to know where you are,” he said sarcastically to Johnson.
But Johnson’s core message is still something that hip hop will have to deal with if it continues to lead global youth culture. Putting the responsibility off on other artists — Meek asked why Johnson doesn’t go after Eminem or filmmakers who trade in equally negative content — is getting to be a tired argument. “Why are you zeroing in on me?” asks Meek. “Because I’m the most famous and most current,” he said, answering his own question. “I’ve never seen you say this about no other rapper in Philly,” shouted Meek, “and it’s 100 more of them right now.” The truth is, Meek will have to learn that with great power comes great responsibility. As silly of a character as Rev. Johnson appears to be, he is voicing a perspective that’s lingered since hip hop first became commercially viable, and it’s hard to dismiss it morally. Meek has no responsibility to Johnson to confess his sins, but he does have a never-ending responsibility to the people who’ve made it possible for him to chase his dreams. By moving with humility and continuing to prove critics wrong with his actions, he won’t even have to address claims like this in the future.