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Post Soul Theology: Reversing The Hermeneutic with Tupac Amaru Shakur

Today marks the 13-year anniversary of Tupac’s violent and shocking exit of this world. He died September 13, 1996. His death was in no way short of controversy—as was almost his entire life. Yet, in death, his message became even stronger and global. Tupac has touched the lives of many and, as many people that I have interviewed told me, brought them closer to an understanding of who God was, is, and can be. Tupac presented a conundrum of sorts. On one hand, he represents the hope, vigor, and excitement of a post soul generation. Yet, on the other, he represents the despair, depression, and marginalization of several generations all gathered into one person. Tupac presented both sides. His half brother asserts that he represented both the good and evil in people.

Tupac spoke of the harsh realities of the street, and connected those realities to larger societal issues. If you were to sum up Tupac’s major “fault” it was that he “kept it real.” Tupac spoke about things as they were, and did not hold back. In the song “Blasphemy,” he calls out the pastor, the church, and urban Christians as he pushes for a new understanding of Jesuz.

First, beginning with Larry Krietzer’s concept of reversing the hermeneutical flow, we see how Tupac and his musical message can interpret the Bible and Jesuz. Krietzer uses film to analyze and study scripture; in essence, to interpret the Bible as opposed to using the Bible to interpret culture—hence, reversing the hermeneutical flow. In this work, he views several films to interpret different biblical messages from the Old Testament to the New Testament.

Often when we hold the Canon of God in comparison with pop culture, we can—at first glance—not find any “Christological message” within the “mess.” However, if we were to hold that the meaning of a text is not some invisible substance inserted in at the moment of its origin (rather like the immortal soul that mysteriously appears in a human fetus), but rather that the meaning of the text must be negotiated and continually re-negotiated between that text and its reader, then Tupac’s crucifixion and image of Black Jesuz becomes a more interesting theme in order to study. And the hermeneutics could therefore be reversed using Tupac to study the Bible. The meaning, therefore, lies between the texts, within culture, and not ‘in’ the text at all. This, Krietzer would argue, is reversing the hermeneutical flow. We can apply not only the stories of Christ to interpret Tupac, but we can shift and use Tupac’s stories to interpret Jesuz.

Songs such as:

  • Young Black Male
  • Brendas Got A Baby
    How Long will They Mourn Me?
  • Cradle to the Grave
  • I Ain’t Mad at Ya
  • Hail Mary
  • Black Jesuz


These particular songs deal with issues such as death, social justice, poverty, life after death, and the connection between man and God—in other words a Christ figure for the Ghetto. These songs also deal with the fact that things in the ghetto are “different” and cannot be looked at with the same lens that someone could look at regular issues in, say, suburban America. Tupac uses scripture and his theological understanding of Christ to bring illumination to a Christ that has been muddied and marred by a colonialistic theology; a theology that states you have to be “perfect” and “act like us” in order to enter Heaven. Therefore, Tupac asks the question, “Does Heaven got a Ghetto, and if so, can I come, because it sucks down here?” These songs can be used to better understand the Bible, salvation, Jesuz’ deity, and Heaven.

Does it not behoove us to find Jesuz in contextual ways? Should we not listen to a new generation of post soul youth asking for a new path to Jesuz? Should we not listen to the good, the bad, and the ugly of Tupac and begin to connect not just his material to Christ, but also our own lives to Christ? Krietzer’s position is similar in that he suggests we find God in contextual ways that bring us closer to Him using culture—in this case, Tupac.

Krietzer’s view of “reversing the hermeneutical flow” is exactly what Tupac’s message is about. Using everyday life to interpret what God is trying to tell us. This lays the basic groundwork for understanding Tupac’s theological message.

While some would argue that this is a blasphemous way to interpret who Jesuz was and is, and a heretical way to interpret the Bible, I would add what are we doing when we read commentaries written by “sinful” people? What are we doing when we simply “Believe” what some writer is saying about their interpretation of Christ? Are they any better than Pac? Do they look better? Do they fit the big 3 criteria for believability: old, White, and male? What do we do when we go to church, do we listen to an all-perfect pastor tell us about heaven and hell? What makes us so different from Tupac? Tupac had the courage to step out and put all his “sin” out on the table for all to view, inspect, and contend with; that was, and still is, his greatest sin. But we’re all “sinners,” some of us just know how to look, talk, and act “better” to hide it.

Most of Tupac’s songs were connected to a greater narrative in some shape or sort—both good and “bad.” None of his music was ever done haphazardly or by coincidence. In order to gain a basic understanding of Tupac’s theological message, we are impressed to reverse the flow of hermeneutics and peer closely and deeper into that theological meaning from the “outside” in. To get a closer look at God, let’s take a closer look at Pac’s theology, which was baptized in dirty water.

Check out Pac’s thoughts here on life, God, & death:


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About
Daniel White Hodge, PhD, a Hip Hop scholar & cultural theorist focuses on race relations, film, cultural trends, and spirituality. His book, The Soul Of Hip Hop (IVP) deals with the theological gospel of Hip Hop culture & its people.


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