Natasha Trethewey may be the poet laureate of the U.S., but the unofficial poet laureate of the masses is hip-hop artist Jay-Z. More so than any other performer, Jay-Z carries a cultural weight that can move mountains of fashion, hip-hop and showmanship. His newest album release is Magna Carta Holy Grail.
Two tracks stand out as pillars holding up the concept and theme of the album: “Heaven” and “Holy Grail.”
In the track "Heaven," Jay quotes Michael Stipe (of the band R.E.M.) who once sang, "That's me in the corner, that's me in the spotlight, losing my religion." But for Jay-Z the lyric is a lie.
When you listen to the "Holy Grail" track, it is clear: Jay has found his religion, and it is destroying him. Jay and Justin Timberlake sing a hymn to fame: "And baby, it's amazing I'm in this maze with you, I just can't crack your code. One day you’re screaming you love me loud, the next day you're so cold. One day you’re here, one day you’re there, one day you care, you're so unfair sipping from your cup. Till it runneth over, Holy Grail."
You probably remember learning about the history of the Holy Grail in that rare, cinematographic masterpiece, The Last Crusade. For those who haven't seen The Last Crusade, what are you doing reading this article? Go buy all of the Indiana Jones movies, watch the first three, and burn the one with the kid from Holes in it. The Holy Grail is a mythical chalice that Christ supposedly drank from at the Lord's Supper that promises immortality. Jay has bought into the idea that fame, the "woman" he is singing to in "Holy Grail," will grant him immortality.
Jay raps about the love/hate relationship he has with fame. Fame promises both immortality and destruction. He decides that he will "take the good with the bad" and "won't throw the baby out with the bathwater." Yet, at the same time, he quotes Kurt Cobain when he says, "And we are all just entertainers, and we're stupid and contagious." Cobain was the quintessential rock martyr, sacrificing his life on the altar of fame. Is Jay-Z willing to do the same? Are we?
If "Holy Grail" is Jay wrestling with being famous, "Heaven" is Jay asserting why he is famous: he is God. Here are a few examples:
"Have you bowed unto your highness?"
"God is my chauffeur, boy they love Hova…"
"I confess, God in the flesh, live among the serpent, turn arenas into churches."
Unlike Stipe, Jay hasn't lost his religion—he has created a religion, one in which he is God, arenas of people gather to worship him, and his lyrics are scripture. Yet "Holy Grail" reveals that the pressure of being God is crushing him.
He loves the very thing that is destroying him. He can't quit sipping from a beautiful cup of poison. He has chosen poorly. Will you join him?
You may not be chasing fame, but you are chasing something. The human heart does not drift toward holiness. The oft-quoted Calvin statement that our heart is an idol factory is absolutely true. We must always be involved in the business of calling sin what it is and putting it to death.
So, what are you enslaved to? Are you a slave to your religious accomplishments, wearing them proudly like a diamond necklace while they silently suffocate you? Are you a slave to your lusts, hiding in the darkness and claiming you live in the light?
Paul reminds us in Romans 6:18 that we who have been rescued from slavery unto sin, “have been set free from sin and have become slaves of righteousness.” Only Christ is worthy of your worship, for when you are made a slave of righteousness, you are chained to freedom.