For Jordan Monge
For some time now I have wanted to do a second theological analysis of a piece of popular music; the religious thought of Top 40 musicians is so deep, and so little appreciated, that it seems incumbent on me to expose its hidden treasures to the public gaze. Today, I would like to direct my readers to a song that is a joyous exultation in God’s power to sustain all of creation: “Like a G6.”
“Like a G6,” by Far East Movement, is not the easiest piece to understand, because its layers of Biblical reference are so deep. In a way, listening to this song is like reading the richest scholarly writing of the Middle Ages, when the great church fathers assumed such a great familiarity with the Scriptures that they could make faint gestures towards particular verses and still be confident that their readers caught the references. Alas, our own age is not so well-versed in the Word; nevertheless, Far East Movement is doing an admirable job of urging us back to the scholarship of an earlier and wiser day.
The complex layers of reference hinge on the title of the song, “Like a G6.” The popular belief that ‘G6’ refers to a jet plane is, in fact, wrong; rather ‘G6’ clearly means the sixth chapter in the book of Genesis. This is the chapter in which Noah is introduced, and in which God commands Noah to build an ark in which to protect every kind of animal from the judgment on human wickedness that was rapidly approaching. Clearly, then, when the group sings, “Now I’m feeling so fly like a G6,” what they mean is, “My soul is suffused with hope, because I remember that God has made a covenant with me not to destroy me, just as he did with Noah (Genesis 6:18).” The singers rejoice that, despite their sin and weakness, God continues to preserve them, and proclaim that they feel like “a G6” (that is, Noah) who was similarly preserved.
The other key verse that this song refers to is Psalm 104:15: “He makes…wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.” This is the verse that should immediately spring to mind when Far East Movement sings, “Popping bottles in the ice, like a blizzard / When we drink we do it right gettin slizzard.” Far East Movement is reveling in the ‘wine’ of Psalm 104—that is, by extension, the whole creation that the psalm lovingly describes and praises God for making. Psalm 104 is perfectly paired with the story of Noah, because it emphasizes God’s wonderful creation of all things, from the wild donkeys (11) to the great leviathan (26)—just as Genesis 6 emphasizes God’s preservation of all he has made.
The singers do not lightly gloss over the reality of sin, however. Although they can metaphorically “get slizzard”—that is, they can rejoice whole-heartedly in God’s creation—the very next line points us to the problem of setting all the pleasures of creation higher than creation’s Lord. “Sippin sizzurp in my ride, like Three 6” points us back to Genesis 3:6, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Just as Eve ate the apple because she thought that ‘wisdom’ from the tree was preferable to God’s wisdom, the singers confess that sometimes they “sip sizzurp” (i.e. sin) when they think that it could give them more than could obedience. However, the singers refuse to despair; in the next line they remind us, once again, that they “feel so fly like a G6,” saved from the floods of God’s judgment like Noah. Our God is a forgiving God, and he will not hold our sins against us forever.
And it is not simply our creation and salvation that we have to thank God for, Far East Movement reminds us, but also his final victory over all sin and death. The bridge consists of one line, repeated over and over: “It’s that 808 bump, make you put yo hands up.” In this short sentence is an amazingly complex set of concepts. It points to Genesis 8:8, which reads, “Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground.” This line calls to mind God’s faithfulness in saving his people, because we know that in the end the dove does find solid ground, and Noah and his family is able to live on dry land once more; but 8:8 is only the first time that Noah sends the dove out. This first time, the dove returns with nothing; it must be sent a second time before it brings an olive branch. This reminds us of the interstitial nature of the Christian life. We know how our story will end: Christ will come back and right all wrongs. However, for now we are still living in patient expectation, waiting for God’s final victory, just as Noah patiently waited on the ark for the waters to recede. To add a further layer of complexity, the image of the dove inevitably reminds us of the Holy Spirit, and the fact that we have been sent a Comforter to be with us until Christ returns. It is all of these ideas, sparked by Genesis 8:8, that cause the singers to “put their hands up” in worship. They cannot help but praise God for his mighty works, and exhort all around them to do the same.