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Black History Month Convocation Connects Religion and Rap Music

January 25, 2013
By Jacob Cohn '13

Dr. Ebony Utley, an assistant professor of communication studies at California State University, Long Beach, whose work focuses on popular culture, race and interpersonal relationships, will deliver Carleton College’s convocation address on Friday, Feb. 1. Utley’s address, “The Rap On Rap And Religion,” will look at references to God in rap music and the religious roots prevalent in urban communities. Convocation is held from 10:50-11:50 a.m. in the Skinner Memorial Chapel, and it is free and open to the public. Convocations are also streamed live and can be viewed online at

Utley’s address will be based on her book, Rap and Religion: The Gangsta’s God (Praeger, 2012), which looks at the juxtaposition—and seeming hypocrisy—of references to God within hip hop culture and rap music. Religious themes such as the struggle of good against evil have long played a role in rap music; Utley examines over three decades of mainstream hip-hop culture in America by looking at how and why rappers talk about God, along with the origins and meaning of the “gangsta” identity. Despite widespread hostility towards rap for promoting a culture of violence, misogyny and blasphemy, Utley attempts to show how a “God-sanctioned gangsta identity” can be empowering.

Utley’s research also focuses on references to love within the rap genre, tying the subject to broader themes of infidelity and marriage in African American communities as well as race and racism in America. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Truthdig and Ms. Magazine, among other publications, and she has spoken at universities across the country. Utley, a graduate of Indiana University and Northwestern University, taught at Marquette University before coming to CSU Long Beach in 2006. Learn more about Dr. Utley online at

This Black History Month Convocation is sponsored by Carleton’s Office of Intercultural and International Life. For more information about this event, including disability accommodations, contact the Carleton College Office of College Relations at (507) 222-4308. The Skinner Memorial Chapel is located on First Street between College and Winona Streets in Northfield.