Lil Baby Follows the Path of Proverbs
In 2015, Kendrick Lamar supplied us with “Alright,” an anthem for the nascent Black Lives Matter movement. Five years later, as protests and conversations demanding racial justice have hit an unforeseen tipping point, Lil Baby, an Atlanta-based rap star with minimal precedence for politically conscious music, has crafted a new social anthem for this critical cultural moment: “The Bigger Picture.”
Known best for his hit “Drip Too Hard,” a catchy trap record built on generic braggadocio, it’s neither an understatement nor a dig to say Lil Baby is an unlikely candidate to leverage his voice for the cause of justice. For this reason, Lil Baby’s earnest cries against police brutality on “The Bigger Picture” highlight the Bible’s demand that all people—even the unlikely—speak out against injustice.
Over a moody trap piano melody, the song opens with news coverage of protests in response to the police killing of George Floyd, before breaking into chants of “I can’t breathe.” Lil Baby applies his sing-song cadence to the problems of racism and police brutality. His style is the same but his substance is markedly different:
"Seems like we losing our country
But we gotta stand up for something, so this what it comes to
Every video I see on my conscience
I got power, now I gotta say somethin'
Corrupted police been the problem where I'm from
But I'd be lying if I said it was all of them "
This sharp turn in Lil Baby’s subject matter reflects a profoundly biblical impulse. Proverbs 31:8-9 demonstrates the Bible’s widespread concern with justice by demanding God’s people speak out against injustice:
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
In this way, “The Bigger Picture” illustrates the moral obligation of God’s people: rejecting apathy and silence, we use our voices to speak out against injustice.
In the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, the importance of Proverbs 31 is painfully apparent. In fact, it’s a tragedy that Lil Baby’s most emotional line—“every video I see on my conscience”—needs no further explanation. Over the last several years, we’ve become accustomed to tragic injustice: far too many Black people have received hashtag eulogies on social media after their God-given lives were taken by police, all on video.
When Lil Baby declares “Every video I see on my conscience,” he reminds us that injustice carries the latent potential to expose the bigger picture of our moral responsibility. Injustice has transformative power to shake us out of our moral slumber. To be confronted with injustice in our world is to stare dead-eyed at two divergent paths: we can choose to stifle our voices in apathy or speak and act for righteousness.
Lil Baby's style is the same, but his substance is markedly different.
In the face of injustice, Christianity declares that all people, as God’s image bearers, have an inescapable obligation to speak for righteousness and denounce injustice. This obligation is a familial trait. It reflects the very heart and character of God, in whose image we were made and whose image we are to reflect.
What Lil Baby feels in his conscience is therefore especially resonant for Christians. The Bible’s call for social justice, God’s Spirit in us, and the testimony of our conscience as image bearers collaborate to put courage upon our lips to speak and compassion in our hearts to act. When Lil Baby rhymes “Every video I see on my conscience,” one can only hope our nation as a whole might feel in our collective conscience the same weight of responsibility and sting of injustice.
Such a time as this requires voices, including ones deemed unlikely, to speak out against injustice. The Bible imagines and calls forth a chorus of voices speaking for the type of justice and righteousness that dignifies all image bearers and honors the God who made them. Until then, as Lil Baby proclaims on the chorus, “It's a problem with the whole way of life.”
Yet, it’s both naive and unbiblical to think that speaking against injustice is the totality of our task. We must also reckon with the bigger picture of our own complicity with injustice, whether through comfortable silence or flagrant participation. A robust grasp of sin and injustice speaks of the unrighteousness around us as well as the unrighteousness in us. Surprisingly, “The Bigger Picture” hints at a thorough concern for justice that includes this sort of honest introspection. The song reveals a version of Lil Baby more attuned to the injustice around him and consequently more aware of his own brokenness and complicity. In a moment of bold transparency, teetering on the brink of confession, Lil Baby speaks to the contradictions those familiar with his music might think of his vocal activism:
"I can't lie like I don't rap about killing and dope, but I'm telling my youngins to vote
I did what I did 'cause I didn't have no choice or no hope, I was forced to just jump in and go
This bull**** is all that we know, but it's time for a change"
As we speak out for justice, we come to grips with our own sin, complicity, and error. The power of raising our voices for the cause of righteousness is that God’s vision of justice is bigger than ours: it shows the divine depths of our responsibility to humanity and includes a critical gaze turned upon our own complicity. It’s good and right to declare that “Black lives matter.” But seeing the bigger picture of God’s justice calls us to consider and turn from the ways in which our actions and apathy have betrayed our well-intentioned words.
Our voices must speak against injustice, not for the sake of brand-building, but because God demands so. We know that God calls us not simply to speak but to act, to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with our God. Speaking out is not the full solution, but as Lil Baby exhorts us, “we gotta start somewhere / Might as well gon' 'head start here.”