Sunday, November 9, 2014

Top Ten Meditation Raps: An Introspective Look

By Adisa Banjoko


More than a decade back, I interviewed Russell Simmons, Afu-Ra, Shaolin Monk Shi-Yan Ming and others for Yoga Journal about the impact yoga and meditation were having in their lives.

Shi-Yan Ming told me, “When people dance and listen to Hip-Hop, they are happy. This is also meditation. RZA, when he writes songs, uses philosophy to help people. He is giving people meditation.”


Honestly, I didn’t understand it, or really believe it. That was a fault of my own immaturity and lack of knowledge.

At the time, I was (and still am) a rogue yogi. I use basic hatha postures and breathing methods. I took some formal classes and did the rest on my own. At times I fuse standard techniques with Tibetan Yantra postures.

I first began meditating in the quest to improve my jiu jitsu after watching Rickson Gracie in the movie Choke. I took a hatha yoga class and began meditating on my own, in silence with no instruction. I never told anyone about it, but recently I learned that I had inadvertently adopted the Zen way of meditation. Later, I meditated using the Islamic zikir method. Then, about two years ago, I began learning Transcendental Meditation. My main instructors are Matt Dixon and Matthew August. Mr. August is an avid hip-hop fan and a deeply dedicated Kung-Fu practitioner from New York. Since training in TM, I have attained a new sense of inner peace and grown mentally and spiritually.

Soon afterwards, I met technology icon Shawn Fanning. Fanning hipped me to the power of binaural beats, which led to me experimenting with Tibetan bowls. Over time, TM became the guiding force behind a book on jiu jitsu I wrote called The Iron Hook Scroll.

In the Holy Bible, Genesis 24:63 mentions Isaac meditating in a field in the evening. Psalm 104:34 says “May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.” Students of Islam also know that the Archangel Gabriel came to the the Prophet Muhammad with Qu’ranic revelation after Muhammad meditated consistently in a cave on Mount Hira. The Buddha’s many followers have found centruries of wisdom and peace through the art of meditation as well. In short, meditation is a global tradition with many variations, but the same goal: connection within and without.

Some meditate with the spoken word, others by writing with the pen or the paint brush. Some meditate to music, many meditate in complete silence. Stillness comes as it comes.

The funny thing is, hip-hop has been talking about the importance of meditation for many years. This came from the influence of martial arts movies. Some references are just in passing, others deeply sincere, but it’s always there. The words of Shi-Yan Ming ring even more true in 2013 than they did when I first heard them over a decade ago.

One day, Matthew August and I were were talking about all the rappers who mention the need and impact of meditation. I put this list together to thank him and all those who have influenced me in understanding the power of meditation.



For sure, mature, insight
Deep into the night
My man, meditate on beats
I rhyme right
Sunshine, beats and rhymes
Yo, we motivate while your mind state climbs

Zion I is always amazing, positive without [being] politically boring. They remain spiritually inviting without any off-putting dogmatism. This song is a perfect testament to hip-hop having a meditative purpose. Even the boom bap-style beat helps you zone in.

9. MF Doom, “Vomispit”

Well edjumacated, he heard it when he meditated
In deep theta had her hate the create plata

MF Doom is dope. He drops a line about meditation but, just to prove he’s got his knowledge on, he mentions “deep theta”. Sounds to me like MF Doom really gets his meditation on!

8. Black Star, “Definition”

My presence felt, my name is Kweli from the Eternal Reflection
People thinkin MC is shorthand for “misconception"
Let me meditate, set it straight, came to the conclusion
That most of these cats is featherweight, let me demonstrate

What’s not to like here? We’re talking Black Star! These two are so treacherous on the mic, its hard not to just jump around. Despite the fact that “meditation” here means something closer to “think deeply about” than a more formal practice, the lyric is still dope.

7. NWA, “Express Yourself”

I’m expressing with my full capabilities,
And now I’m livin' in correctional facilities,
Cause some don’t agree with how I do this.
I get straight, meditate like a Buddhist

Clearly we all see the irony of Dre moving from this to the Chronic — especially given the part of this song where he disavows marijuana. However, if you notice he explicitly mentioned meditation and Buddhism. I promise, you few people in the hood knew about meditation outside of those who watched Kung-Fu movies. One of the beautiful things about meditation is that it does make one more complete within themselves and willing to express themselves with less fear of judgement of being mocked. Much respect to Dre for being a pioneer in yet another aspect of hip-hop.

6. Shamako Noble, “The Quest”

Meditating on summits and in pastures
Facing trials blindfolded to disarm and resist masters
Grappled within, mastered the Zen to live with the yin yang
Slayed a renegade brigade because my teacher was betrayed

Shamako Noble is a nationally known battle MC. Over the past few years though, he has made quite a name for himself as a community activist. This track is from his first album, The Return of the Coming of the Aftermath. This particular track is simply one of the best battle related tracks out there. For the entire song, he speaks as the spirit of war itself taking you from ancient Egypt and India into Japan and China, Europe, America — its a masterful look at the history of battle itself.

The song is one of the finest examples of how the path of the battle MC and the way of the warrior are one in the same, and both require meditation to excel. If you are going to “grapple within, master the zen to live with the yin yang” you are one someKung Fu Panda 2 ish. You gotta respect that. This is something Bruce Lee would bump all day if he were still alive.

5. Game feat. Lil Wayne, “My Life”

I need some meditation so I can lead my people
They asking why? Why did John Lennon leave the Beatles?
And why every hood nigga feed off evil?

Game never quite gets enough props for his lyrical depth. A friend from my past first made me stop and take Game more seriously after he teamed with Nas for “Letter to the King”. But Game did not there. He gave us a pretty raw human moment right here. A lot of our pain in some way, is rooted in our parents treatment of us. Then we become parents and become the source of a new kind of pain. Game longed to have his fathers love, but that love was roadblocked by drug addiction. That loney state might lead some people to suicide. However, for Game, he wanted to look inside in hope of being a leader for others like him.

Though he follows the line with more questions, ultimately meditation over time removes the need for answers. Reality is is sufficient for the consistent meditator.

4. Big K.R.I.T. Meditate

Let’s hope this journey that we take
All these moves that we make
Are the right ones, while I meditate

This song is amazing. First of all the groove and the hook is so melodic that he could have rapped about anything! Life has a way of taking over our brains with so many distractions you simple cannot see straight. The opinions of doubters, feelings of being underrated, not enough love in the house, too many worthless items in your home, a quest for joy though alcohol and getting high (only to find out it does not help us in the end). After all those things come and go, some time alone meditating clears the way for us to find and maintain the true self, the one we are afraid to be 99% of the time. Big K.R.I.T. made it so plain here.

3. 50 Cent, United Nations

They thought I’m going down — now look I’m levitating
I’m with Deepak, meditating
In Somalia and Kenya with United Nations

50 Cent is a hard man to understand. He came in the game tearing the industry up and making everybody who claimed to be hard shook. He ended a lot of peoples careers with what he did to them on the mic and on the streets. The most interesting thing about him, though, is his ability to change. 50 was recently on Katie Couric’s show telling her how he learned to meditate from Deepak Chopra, who is a well-respected teacher of meditation. The transformative impact of meditation is what strikes me here. Despite all the money talk and gangster vibe that we expect, he closes the verse talking about eradicating world hunger. It makes me wonder how much meditation and connecting to his African roots could get him to use his money and influence towards doing something good for the world.

2. T.I. Hallelujah

I felt the panic when they locked me in that cell again
I had to pray and meditate, control my breath again*

Here, Tip speaks to two things that constantly come up in rap and in martial arts — meditation and breath control. Breath control comes up in the closing of Ghostface Killah’s “Mighty Healthy”, as we hear a Monk speaking to his pupils about its importance. Breath control is essential for jiu jitsu students as well as for anyone seeking to master their emotions.

1. RZA, Samurai Showdown

Kept his mind focused, meditation position half lotus
Abbot’s sword novas couldn’t match his magnum opus
Deluxe stroke, son move like a ghost
Struck in an instance, unnoticed like a lamp post
Radar sharp precision gunfire, explode
Till his clips unload, it’s a samurai code

The Abbot of Wu-Tang always delivers. This is a violent tale of urban samurai culture, something luckily many of us do not have to live in. Men like Miyamoto Musashi, Mas Oyama, and others simply could not have been the men they were without meditation. On the chessboard, in the dojo, in the hood we must meditate. It is the way of the warrior. You don’t believe me? Ask Ghost Dog.

Adisa Banjoko is founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation (http://www.facebook.com/hiphopchess). On May 8th he will host a panel in St. Louis with the World Chess Hall of Fame on chess, hip-hop and nonviolence. To see the live stream visit http://www.bishopchronicles.com./


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