This is entry four in our micro-series, The Rapper’s Prayer. To read the first three entries in the series, click here.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
At Lakewood Church, nearly 17,000 hands are stretched out toward Pastor Joel Osteen, hoping to catch a blessing emanating from the hem of his neatly-pressed suit jacket. Osteen encourages his congregation to pray boldly: “God can make things happen that you could never make happen. He’ll make you famous so you can use your influence to reach your goals and help others along the way—no more weak prayers. Get rid of that slave mentality. Go to God like it’s your birthday. If you do this, I believe and declare God is going to give you more influence, more resources, more notoriety.” It’s no wonder he and Kanye get along.
The faults of this type of prayer may seem obvious. It’s a distortion of the prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” which stems from need and provision. Daily bread isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. It’s the thing you need to make it to tomorrow. It’s breath. It’s water. It’s love. It’s hope. These are the things the Rapper’s Prayer seeks. These are the things which are taken for granted when life is beautiful, but which become essential in times of need.
We see these gifts taken for granted in MC Hammer’s self-congratulatory smash hit “Pray.” While the chorus reminds us prayer is necessary “just to make it today,” Hammer spends the majority of the song praising his grind on the road to fame. “All my life I wanted to make it to the top / Some said I wouldn’t, they told me no, but I didn’t stop / Working hard, making those moves every day / And on my knees, every night you know I pray.” Hammer isn’t really praying “just to make it.” In his eyes, he’s already made it. Hammer doesn’t need to pray for daily bread. Instead, he treats prayer like insurance, like a 401(k), to ensure the daily bread he earned never spoils.
Thirty years later, Hammer still maintains some semblance of sanctity with his hit song, but others, like A$AP Ferg on Smokepurpp’s “Pray,” entirely misuse the prayer for daily bread: “Pray for the gliss, pray to get rich, pray for the car / Pray for the clique, pray for my n**s, pray for the lords / Pray on your bitch, she on my dick, she for the cause.” While the irreverence is apparent, Ferg’s theology of hedonistic materialism isn’t too far removed from the pulpit-sourced advice to “Go to God like it’s your birthday.”
Prayer is often misunderstood as an opportunity for wish fulfillment. God is treated like a genie, like on YBN Cordae’s “Have Mercy” when he tells God, “I know I’ve used up my three favors” before talking about a new car and crib. In the Genius commentary, Cordae expands on his prayer, saying, “I’m sayin’, this the shit I need. Like when I cop a crib, I need fuckin’ acres. I don’t need, like, no small shit.” This misunderstanding of prayer is inevitable in a society where we celebrate materialism, and the line between need and desire is willfully blurred and smudged into oblivion. We don’t want the new car; we need it to fit the lifestyle.
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Like everyone reading this article, I am, of course, a hypocrite. I have done this all my life. I did it as a kid growing up in Los Angeles when I prayed for a subpar Dodgers team to win ballgames. (I admit, I probably prayed the same prayer in secret when they let me down in back-to-back World Series a few years ago!) I thought the happiness from a hometown victory was my daily bread. This example is childish. However, it represents the heart with which I often approach prayer—simply wanting something from God instead of seeking God’s will and asking for the provision and sustenance to fulfill that will.
Chance the Rapper addresses this divide in his own life on “Blessings” when he raps, “I know the difference in blessings and worldly possessions / Like my ex-girl getting pregnant / And her becoming my everything.” Fatherhood was undoubtedly not in the plans for Chance, who was just beginning to explode after the release of Acid Rap. “I think most people go into denial if you’re a dude. You know what I’m saying? I’m not shy in saying it: I didn’t expect to become a father when I was 22,” he told Complex in 2017. However, through prayer, through praising God, who “ordered [his] steps,” Chance found his daily bread in the form of overwhelming joy and the closeness of family.
Chance sees a direct correlation between prayer and God’s provision, which you might say, sounds the same as Cordae and Ferg’s wish-fulfillment philosophy or Joel Osteen’s prosperity gospel. However, there’s a distinct difference in Chance’s attitude toward prayer because of his understanding of “daily bread.” He’s not asking for things to fill his life. He’s asking for what he already has to sustain him.
In a bleaker example of provisional prayer, Talib Kweli prays for daily bread in his 2007 song “Eat To Live.” “This a ghetto prayer / Prayin’ for all those who ain’t got it,” he begins. Talib continues to lay out a scene of a young boy who is beaten and ridiculed and unable to overcome because he’s weak with hunger. Talib’s prayer is for literal food and strength to sustain the youth around him. If you look closer, his prayer for provision asks for more than just food.
“Nuttin’ in the freezer, nuttin’ in the fridge / Couple of 40 ounces but nuttin’ for the kids,” Talib raps, praying for the provision necessary to escape a cycle of alcoholism. “Little man know to eat to live, but he don’t wanna leave the crib / The kid who punched him in his face house right down the street from his,” he continues, praying for the strength to persevere through abuse. In the second verse, he concludes his prayer by asking for truth to persist and offer freedom to the youth: “Lies never set you free, but the truth will.”
Truth. Freedom. These things are the ultimate forms of daily bread, Talib believes. Without them, all kinds of sustenance—food, money, security—will only be temporary. In a world where lies and bondage perpetually attack our freedom, the Rapper’s Prayer for daily bread indeed must be a daily prayer. Each day requires a renewed sense of dependence and repeated blessing. As God told Kojey Radical in 2019’s “Last Night,” “The right time might not always fall on the right day.” Even when that’s true, the rapper believes God will provide the strength necessary to persevere.
In part, the rapper finds this strength through the camaraderie of others. In her 2001 song “Life Is So Hard,” Eve opens with, “This song is a dedication to those strugglin’ and livin’ on / For those who can’t see the light, it’s comin’ / Stay strong, feel me.” God often works through people, the Rapper’s Prayer believes. Thus Eve praises God for provision as she raps, “Got a family that holds me down / Real friends ‘cause the other ones claim they don’t know me now / But long as God with me, I’mma be good for sure.” She thanks God for the real, life-giving people in her life: family, close friends, even her fans who support her music.
People, more than anything on Earth, have the power to fill our lives with strength, hope, and love. Perhaps that’s why the Bible offers the picture of Jesus as the “bread of life.” The Rapper’s Prayer for daily bread, then, is a prayer for our community. It’s a prayer that the people who enrich our lives would also be enriched, even that we would be the source of this enrichment. It’s a prayer at the very heart of hip-hop, isn’t it? Beyond the music, beyond the beef, beyond fame, hip-hop exists because of its strength in the community. I pray it always stays strong.