Vatican Gets Good Rap

So, who would have thought that the Vatican could be so hip?

The blogosphere has been buzzing with news that the late rapper Tupac Shakur, gunned down in Las Vegas in 1996, has been included on the Vatican's official MySpace music playlist. His song, "Changes," has now been listened to more than 4.6 million times in just two days on the Web site.

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Shakur is joined on the list by Mozart, Muse, and Shirley Bassy, to name just a few of the more sedate entries. While Pope Benedict XVI's name sits atop the Alma Mater: Music From the Vatican list (a tacit imprimatur?), it was actually compiled by Fr. Giulio Neroni, artistic director of the church publisher of Saint Paul's Multimedia.

I wonder if Neroni is now feeling some heat for his atypical choice. I hope not, because the inclusion of Shakur could prove to be the most positive PR the Vatican has had in years.

Although Shakur led a notorious life -- he was, among other things, imprisoned for 11 months for sexual assault -- his music suggests that he cared deeply about social issues such as violence, drugs and racism. Born in East Harlem, the son of a Black Panther Party member, Shakur went on to sell more than 75 million albums, making him one of the best-selling musical artists in the world.

"Changes" was released in 1998 on a greatest hits album, two years after Shakur's shooting death. I joined the millions and went online to the MySpace Vatican playlist site to have a listen.

The song is listed with the warning EXPLICIT because of the no-holds-barred street language and racial epithets. But the message seems to be why the song made the list.

Explicit Lyrics, Powerful Message

"I got love for my brother but we can never go nowhere unless we share with each other. We gotta start makin' changes, learn to see me as a brother instead of two distant strangers and that's how it's supposed to be...We gotta make a change. It's time for us as a people to start makin' some changes. Let's change the way we eat, let's change the way we live and let's change the way we treat each other."

Those are the most positive of the lyrics, by the way. In typical Tupac fashion, he still rails against the racism and police brutality that he and other African Americans encounter daily. But still, there is a definite hope for change if we can simply start treating each other better: "You see the old way wasn't working so it's on us to do what we gotta do, to survive."

I can't help but think that Shakur's song makes a fine Advent anthem. This holiday season is all about change and renewal. That grasshopper-eating prophet of repentance, John the Baptist, takes center stage in the liturgical readings, exhorting his followers to make way for a new day. John's baptism was one of cleansing and forgiveness so that all would be ready to embrace the radical message of the Prince of Peace to come.

Shakur sings of a cleansing, too -- a cleansing from racism, brutality and drug addiction. While his own life may not have always reflected his expressed yearnings, he gave voice to a hope that one day we might be able to change and live differently. He lived before the message of CHANGE that a new president brought.

In fact, in "Changes," Shakur sings, "We ain't ready to see a black president..." Well, guess what, Tupac? We've now been to that mountain and we've climbed it.

Maybe real change is possible after all. Even for the Vatican.

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