Kendrick meets me in this space, divulging his troubled mind. Personal and sociopolitical concerns have troubled the Compton rapper throughout his career, but “FEEL.” lays bare the root of Kendrick’s every anxiety. Voices swirl around his head, taunting Kendrick with an echoing, fearful idea: “Ain’t nobody praying for me.” Kendrick can’t shake this idea throughout DAMN., his fourth studio album released on April 14, 2017. It eats away at him on every song, underscoring every lyric.
Kendrick’s plea for prayer is urgent like his life depends on the prayer of others, but it’s missing in his life. He vents this frustration on “ELEMENT.” when he snaps, “Bitch, all my grandmas dead / So ain’t nobody prayin’ for me / I’m on your head.” If Kendrick were the only one who felt this way, we could discuss and dissect his faith and anxieties as an isolated situation. But he’s not alone.
This plea for prayer echoes in the lyrics of so many rappers—devout in faith or not—who long for a better reality, for change, and peace. We hear it in the lyrics of Travis Scott and The Weeknd, who, despite rarely engaging in topics of faith in their music, shared the same plea in their 2015 collaboration, “Pray 4 Love.” After Travis laments personal and societal challenges (“Man, I can’t take no more of this lifestyle we been living / Man, I can’t take no more of the white powers in position”), Abel closes the song with the same fearful realization: “They never pray for us / Nobody pray for us / Nobody pray.”
Kendrick, Travis, and Abel sound dejected. They imply the interpersonal impact of not praying for each other leads to a breakdown in community spirit and security. This message is important. However, there’s an even higher stake.
Fabolous and Jadakiss, both more widely known more for club bangers and East Coast grit than introspective contemplations, address the widespread absence of prayer on their 2017 song “I Pray.” “Yeah, God forgive us, I know we don’t pray as much as we should / We call in bad times, don’t stay in touch when we good,” Fabolous begins. Prayer isn’t a vague “I got your back” sentiment shared over social media when tragedy strikes. As Fabolous points out over the Sean C and LV production, it’s an ongoing conversation. It’s a spiritual relationship built in the bad times and the good. Too often, we forget about the latter.
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As I meditate on these lyrics, I’m struck by how deeply ingrained in society, especially hip-hop culture, prayer remains. You’d be hard-pressed to find a rapper who hasn’t addressed the topic—seriously, Google the name of your favorite rapper and “pray,” and you’ll most likely find a lyric—from MC Hammer’s “Pray” (which ironically focuses more on Hammer’s success than prayer) to “Pray For Me” from the 2018 Black Panther soundtrack. Despite its prevalence in music, prayer is often thrown on the backburner with low heat to keep things just warm enough to catch fire when we need it again. It isn’t an urgent need.
I see this in my own life too often. I consider myself a follower of Christ, but prayer is a practice I yearn to understand better and participate in more often. I hardly pray for myself daily, let alone my family or friends or Kendrick Lamar or Travis Scott or Fabolous or… Though I’m not in any immediate circles surrounding those artists, my lack of prayer contributes to their resounding echo: “Ain’t nobody praying for me.”
Kendrick’s DAMN. was a wake-up call for me, one that I’ve snoozed for almost three years. I’d rather cling to the comfort of my status quo than address prayer. But the urgency with which many of our favorite rappers are actively asking for our prayers cannot and should not be ignored.
With this article, I’m beginning a seven-part series discussing The Rapper’s Prayer. The purpose of the series is to explore prayer through the lens of hip-hop—from those artists I mentioned above, along with Chance the Rapper, Scarface, The Lady of Rage, Kanye West, and many more. As we delve into these prayers, I hope to discover not just how, but why rappers pray, what they pray for, and when they pray. Though many prayers are undoubtedly flawed—what prayer isn’t?—our goal is to construct a broad, sturdy base of examples from which personal prayers can flourish. After all, prayer is not merely a recitation of others’ words but an expression of individual relationships.
To organize this discussion, I’ll be grouping the themes of The Rapper’s Prayer using the template of The Lord’s Prayer (taken from Matthew 6:9-13), perhaps the most well-known prayer in history. For those unfamiliar with the prayer or needing a refresher, here it is:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
Each line of the above prayer is packed with important themes and speaks to a specific form, intent, and attitude of worship. As we go line by line through the prayer, we’ll look at rappers who exhibit these themes—perhaps some who misuse them—through their lyrics. We’ll highlight rappers who turn to prayer in times of temptation and turmoil; who see prayer as a request for forgiveness and provision, and who see prayer as an opportunity for humility and thanksgiving.
You may not see a need for prayer. I don’t blame you. Over the past five years, the word “prayer” has been misused and misconstrued by those who tweet “thoughts & prayers,” those who promise wild dreams will come true, and those who preach prosperity theology. These abuses have shaken my faith in recent years as well. However, this distortion should not destroy hope. The echoing plea “Ain’t nobody praying for me” continues to resonate. I can’t ignore it.