Tuesday, January 22, 2008

HanSoul interview (U-Zone Magazine)


Here's a an interview article I did with Philly's HanSoul this summer.

As my regular readers know, I generally don't post stuff I've written for other publications until it has actually been released.

It was supposed to be out in the July / Aug / Sept 2007 edition of the print version of U-Zone Magazine but I've only seen the cover online and not a hard copy yet. Still, since Hans' double album "Jesus Saves!" is out now and people are talking about it I thought I'd share this little piece.

U-Zone Magazine: http://www.myspace.com/uzone_mag


Growing up in the American church culture, I’ve occasionally heard people pray aloud for God to “hide” them “behind the cross” so that “only Christ may be seen.” For some, this is simply lip service designed to create an unusual mental image. For HanSoul it appears to be a way of life.

Seriously, this is a cat who says “Jesus Saves!” every time he approaches a mic. Every time. Nearly one in every three songs on his double CD has the word “Jesus” in the title – you can imagine how often the name is invoked in the lyrics. He actually got fired from his radio gig for too much on air preaching – and it was a gospel station!

Surely this dude dropped straight out of the sky and is too heavenly minded to be of no earthly good.

Well, maybe not.

Hans Nelson wasn’t always one who followed after Jesus. He might have been from the “City of Brotherly Love,” but this Philly fella was only in love with his music.

In the early 90’s he had a hit song (“Imagination”) that went to the top 10 on Billboard's rap charts. Hans was the second rap artist signed to Epic/Sony records in 1991. He also completed an album with Loud/RCA records in 1994. Despite massive amounts of exposure and success, Hans says it was not enough to put an end to his insatiable pain, depression, drug-usage and confusion.

“In my old life I was into some very dark stuff,” Hans said.

On a plane ride back from a video shoot and shows in St. Thomas, Nelson says he felt particularly depressed and called out to God for restoration. Once back home he started regularly attending church and praying when he felt God start to expose the evil spirits and personas that drenched his music’s beats, lyrics, and images.

Although there was a significant amount of investment into his art, Hans says he felt God telling him to act like Eminem and start cleaning out his closet.

“After coming to know Christ I knew I would only rap gospel. I had some nice production reels and beats from my previous work – features with jazz legends like Grover Washington, Jr. – that I still wanted to use. But God said ‘get new stuff’ or there would be consequences if I didn’t,” Hans said.

Today, he doesn’t even rap over beats made by Christians that contain samples from “secular” songs.

“I had to obey God. I wanted everything for him to be pure and to have peace in my conscious,” the artist said.


His post-conversion music career grabbed the ear of Matthew Knowles (Beyonce’s daddy) who wanted HanSoul for his upstart Music World Entertainment label. It also opened the door to a Sunday night radio show with the Cross Movement’s DJ Official on Philadelphia’s mainstream hip hop station.

Knowles’ business efforts eventually fell flat and left Hans in the lurch. But the radio gig had taken off. For several hours each Sunday night, Hans and Official spun gospel rap and interviewed artists, pastors, athletes and other entertainers who professed Christ. As Japhia Life name-dropped in several songs, Hans was the city’s “go-to” guy for holy hip hop.

For three years, Hans and his crew prayed for his listeners and the station. It eventually converted into an all-gospel outlet. While initially celebrated, the realities of the business of gospel music began to take their toll. There wasn’t room for the hip hop show Hans had developed and when he dared to actually share the Good News during the few times he was on the air, it angered management. Rather than compromise and remain silent, Hans accepted his pink slip.

“I realize that following Christ comes with a cost. Sometimes that means you have to take a stand,” Hans said.

Today, Nelson earns a paycheck teaching history and flipping houses. He’s also enrolled at the Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and is completing his Master's of Divinity/Master's of Business Administration degree in addition to carving out time to faithfully disciple 12 young men at his local church.


The music hasn’t stopped either. Through the Fishermen Ministry Group, Hans has released a multi-genre double CD titled "Jesus Saves!" The album features Japhia Life, J. Johnson, Da' T.R.U.T.H., and the legendary Dixie Hummingbirds.

Hans said he ran into the Grammy winning gospel group at his previous radio gig and kept in touch with their manager. After repeated calls, Hans was finally scheduled for a meeting to discuss a future collaboration. In order for the feature to happen, Hans had to “pledge” the group for nearly a month and agree to attend their rehearsal sessions three times a week.

“During that time I got to really appreciate their heart and passion. They’ve endured and are still doing true gospel music when they could have crossed over and sold out years ago,” Hans said. “I respect that.”

Gospel isn’t the only style of music “Jesus Saves!” explores. Throughout the two discs listeners will hear influences of rock, spoken word, reggae, soul, and even Christian Contemporary music (via a Michael W. Smith sample.)

“I want to be diverse,” Hans said. “Particularly when there are pastors out there teaching that hip hop is wrong, I want to show them that we can worship Christ through this style of music too.

“God doesn’t differentiate genres. Why should we?”

HanSoul will be the first to admit he’s not perfect and still has to own and repent from his mistakes. But talk to the guy for any length of time and, once you get past the constant Jesus references that can often clog our ears, you’ll sense a guy who is really in love with his Savior.

His passion for the Risen Christ is palatable. But to get to know Mr. Nelson you might have to look in the shadow of Christ’s cross – something I imagine is quite all right with Hans.


Listen to HanSoul's music at: http://www.myspace.com/hansoul

Buy "Jesus Saves!" downloads from 3hmp3.com by clicking here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

R.I.P. – The Procussions & CCM Mag


The latest victims of the Internet Revolution – M.B.U. (Music Business Unit) include hip hop band The Procussions and the print version of CCM Magazine.

Thursday afternoon brought the sad news (via MySpace and message boards) that the mighty, mighty Pros were giving up the ghost.

Mr. J pronounced the death with these words in an electronic bulletin to fans and Friends:

with everything we could say about the industry, the point is, piracy will destroy an independent's career.

we want to thank everyone who actually invested in this group and helped it to its last breath! we owe you so much! That’s why Stro and I will do our best to carry on our solo careers and work together when possible.


The procussions have been inevitably shipwrecked, blows taken in the lower deck from the most fierce of all pirates.

love you guys and gals!

Mr. J continued the convo on the Sphere of Hip Hop message boards where he vented and transparently shared his frustrations with the (s)Industry.

Late in ’07 it was announced that Rez had left the band to pursue other interests, so all of this isn’t a complete surprise.

Nonetheless, one of the most talented and musically developed faith-based MC collectives have said they are no more. Please keep their individual members in your prayers.


And on Friday we heard that CCM (Christian Contemporary Music) Magazine's parent company, Salem Publications, decided to stop production on the print version of the Nashville-based rag to focus on the development of its web-based incarnation.

The official statement can be found here.

What’s shocking for those of us in the holy hip hop community is that this isn’t just another gospel rap mag calling it quits (and we’ve seen our share of those come and go).

CCM covered it all from Tooth & Nail hard rock to Jeremy Camp pop to Third Day worship. I mean – they had Micheal W. Smith money! And they still couldn’t make it?!?

This was/is also disturbing because the mag was finally starting to cover more HHH artists and news. (See the cover above that was all about gospel rap and featured GRITS' Bonafied as the guest editor).

Hopefully they'll continue to do that via their website (http://www.ccmmagazine.com/) as we've seen recently with their reprints of info from Rapzilla.com.

In light of these two stories and the USA Today clips from earlier in the month that detailed 2007’s rapid decline of physical album sales, I wonder if there could possibly be anyone left that doesn’t believe this InterWeb thing is changing the music biz.

I guess that's why cats like Listener are resorting to infomercials to ask that you help "Save the CD."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Promo: Braille's “The IV Edition” on the way


Braille-Brizzy is about to hit us off with the "IV" and is getting some nice distro according to the press release below.

And if you haven't copped his "Box of History" mixtape download get it for free (or a donation) at the link below.

Box of History download - When you're there, click on the iPhone for the proper links and feel free to roll over the rest of the site for some nice treats.


Braille Releases His Fourth Solo Album This Spring

Rap artist and Hiphop IS Music mogul Braille Brizzy drops his forth album,The IV Edition, on April 15, 2008. While remaining under the Hiphop IS Musicumbrella, Braille has partnered with strong companies all over the world toassure that the album gets the proper distribution and marketing that itneeds.

Among the partners, Braille returns to his long-standing relationship withSyntax Records (Koch Distribution) for North America. Other partnersinclude P-Vine (Japan), C-Vibes (Australia) and Fat City (U.K./Europe).

“When I make records, I put everything I have into them. I invested a lotof personal time and resources into this record. Once it was done I knew Icouldn’t release it without a proper plan.” Braille says. " It’s an honorto have such a strong team behind me and I’m excited to have great peopleworking on my behalf in their local territories."

"The IV Edition is very special to be a part of. Normally, you don't get asecond chance to work with such a talented artist whom you have known foryears," says Tim Trudeau, President of Syntax Records. "This is by far thebest music Braille has ever made. The moment I heard the title track I feltlike throwing furniture through windows I was so hyped."

Braille has gained international success in the last decade, as both a solorecording artist and founding member of Lightheaded (with Othello and OhmegaWatts). Most recently, his highlights include dropping two solo albums(Shades of Grey in 2004 and Box of Rhymes in 2006), being named one of the"Next 100" by URB Magazine in 2005 and touring extensively across Japan,Europe and the U.S. (including 20 shows as the opening act for the lategreat James Brown).

“The IV Edition” features production and appearances from Marco Polo, RobSwift, OhNo, Speech (of Arrested Development), DJ Spinna, 88 Keys, Kno (ofCunninLynguists), S1 of Strange Fruit Project, Mr. J (of the Procussions)and many more.For more information on Braille, visit him at www.myspace.com/braillebrizzy

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Subscription Raps

Fans on the Mars Ill mailing list got an interesting note in their Inboxes today:

To all the Mars ILL Faithful:

I"m getting ready to launch http://www.manchildinsider.com/ Febuary 1st.

You can subscribe today by e-mailing me at gregowens@comcast.net

All paypal funds should be sent to the same address (gregowens@comcast.net).

It's a subscription only website, where I offer 5 new songs every month (AVAILABLE AS DOWNLOAD). Cost to you guys is $5 / month.

You can sign up for monthly debit or pay it all in one shot and it's $50 for the year instead of $60. If you lag and don't get your February installment in February, it gets taken down when the March installment goes up March 1st. At that point, February is only available in back issue form, which is $8 per episode.

It's a new concept in releasing music this way, but I feel confident it will keep me sharp and keep me giving you as much music as possible. Site will also include blogs and producer profiles on those that are involved. Big ups go Change and Fred B who have already become a huge help and asset to what I'm doing.

This was originally a Mars ILL concept (marsillinsider.com), but we thought it better to focus Mars ILL's collective attention on our next full length album, which we're working on right now.
Manchildinsider.com will feature production from Freddie B, Beat Rabbi, Dust (of course), as well as some up and comers you may not be familiar with.

If you have questions about getting your subscription locked in, hit me up. Whatever you need to do, hit me up.

My e-mail address is: gregowens@comcast.net

I look forward to hearing from each and every one of you and I hope you'll continue to feel what I bring to the table.


I have to say, it certainly is a creative way to make cake off of rap music - especially in this digital age of declining CD sales.

Peep these articles from USA Today for more facts and figures.
  • 2006 record sales down 15%
  • Rap sales down 30%
I've already hit up Manchild for more info and will be conducting and interview with him shortly. Stay tuned.

Need to know or hear more about Manchild and Mars Ill? Hit the links below.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Jay-Z's Honest Hypocrisy

I found this news blurb and link on Relevant Magazine's website and thought of this quote from Jay's "American Gangster" album.

News & photo:

"Here’s a picture of Jay-Z using a Mac. Nothing too out of the ordinary—expect for the fact he was recently featured in a commercial telling how he runs his media empire from an HP laptop."

Lyrics* from Jay's song "Kingdom Come" off the album of the same name:

"Ladies sayin' where you been Superman / well, n---as spending $10 million in media on my hands..."

Hewlett Packard's $10 million at work:

Lyrics from Jay's song "Ignorant S--t" off of the "American Gangster" album:

"Don't fear no rappers / they're all weirdos / DeNiro's in practice / so don't believe everything your earlobe captures / it's mostly backwards / unless it happens to be as accurate as me / and everything said in song you happen to see / none of what you hear / even if it's spat by me"

Hov's also rumored to be launching a digital record label with Apple after stepping down from his post as president of Def Jam last month.


At least he tells the truth about his lying.

*Props to my lil bro Jerome for recalling those words after I mentioned this story to him.

Promo: Teddy P / Review: Poems' "Blooming Sounds"

Producer Teddy P reached out to me a while back to make sure I knew about the instrumental album he's offering as a no-cost download. Yep, it's FREE-99. (Okay, so that joke works better when it's spoken vs. written.)

Anyway, I don't feel qualified to give it a full review (I have to cop to my limited knowledge in that arena) but I gotta say it is VERY nice. If you need some soulful and smooth, jazzy type backtracks be sure to grab this collection and hit your boy up with some cake when you need some original stuff for your next project.

Download your copy of "My Life Complete: Instrumentals" here.

Check out his production company here: 317 Media


Also, my first review for Illspot.net is now online.

Check out my critique of Poems' "Blooming Sounds" and let me know what you think.

Read it right here.

Sample Poems' "Blooming Sounds" here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Da' T.R.U.T.H. on MTV's Super Sweet 16

I think I threw up in my mouth a little. Then again, most of that stuff on MTV makes me do that these days.

They clown T.R.U.T.H. because nobody knows him, but some kids give him props at the end. Otherwise - ugh!

Watch for yourself:
(To catch Da' T.R.U.T.H. fast forward to just about 1 minute left in the clip.)

And post-party comments from her pastor/dad:

Full episode: Click here.

For a little more background, check out this story from the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper that appeared before the taping.

Read the article here.

It says the planned budget for the event was $10,000 (which it says is what most SS16 girls play for their dresses alone) and that Da' T.R.U.T.H. waived his normal fee for the appearance.

BOLD: 2007 Year in Review (U-Zone Mag)

Here's a little piece that you'll be able to read in the print version of U-Zone Magazine that will be released at the Holy Hip Hop Awards in Atlanta this month.

I generally don't post stuff I've written for other publications until it has actually been released. But due to the timely nature of this article, I figured I could make an exception.

Enjoy it and pick up your copy of U-Zone Magazine. In that same issue I also have feature story interviews with: Lil J Xavier (cover story), Urban D, and Lil Raskull.


You know how these “year-in-review” articles go, right? I, your author and annual tour guide, take a look back at the past 365 days of holy hip hop, point out some highlights, give you the good and bad, write a short summary, and then try and tie them all together with a nice little thematic thread.

You’ll remember a few, be reminded of others, and argue with yourself (or the page) about the things I missed, overlooked, or over hyped.

All right, as long as we both know our roles, let’s get started.


Did you think the introduction to this piece was a tad bit… BOLD? Well, it’s not half as brash as some of the moves made in Twenty-Oh-Seven. In no particular order:

Bold Professions from the Mainstream
Bushwick Bill goes gospel :: Pastor/Murda Ma$e Asks for Forgiveness

A former Geto Boy recording a full album of hard hitting gospel rap music?!?

Yep. Bushwick Bill, best known for his small stature, missing eye, and horrorcore lyrics, has rededicated his life to Christ and has been spitting Scripture over beats in several Houston studios. Mentored and aided by Tre9 and his manager, Double R, the Little Big Man has been putting together several songs for his upcoming “Testimonies of Redemption.” Side note: Bill’s first public performance of some of these tracks was at a U-Zone Magazine mixer in H-town.

And in January, after leaving his pulpit for greener pastures of 50 Cent’s G-Unit family, Pastor Mason Betha aka Murda Ma$e appeared at the Holy Hip Hop Awards in Atlanta, took the stage, and publicly apologized for past statements denouncing Christian rap ministry. He acknowledged it can be used as a tool to win the lost and asked the audience to pray for him.

In June, the Sugarhill Gang, Special Ed, and MTV’s Sway all appeared at the Texas Holy Hip Hop Achievement Awards in Houston. Sugarhill participated in a panel discussion about “Hip Hop AS Religion” and Ed and Sway presented the evening’s highest honors. From the stage, historian and journalist Sway stated that on that night he had seen what hip hop was missing (those that rep the cross) and that he wanted to do a feature on it for the landmark music and culture network.

Bold Activism
k-Drama yells “Cease Fire” :: Mr. J tells Constance’s story

In May, g-rap MC/producer and all-around hustler k-Drama joined “Cease Fire Cincinnati”, a comprehensive campaign to stop shootings and homicides in the city’s targeted neighborhoods. In addition to his active involvement in the movement’s rallies and marketing, Regis dropped a four-song “Cease Fire Cincinnati” EP that carried the theme throughout the album and returned its profits to the organization.

And throughout 2007, more and more people were alerted the horrors of the sex slave trade through Mr. J Medeiros’ song “Constance.” From his excellent of gods and girls album, the track (and accompanying video produced by XXX Church) told the story of the young girl named in the title. A perfect piece of Christian art, the song offered its listeners both chills and hope.

Bold Profiles
Da’ T.R.U.T.H. charts :: KJ-52 plays “Cold Case”

HHH had landed on two spots in particular that are sure to help it appear both professional and economically viable.

This summer, Da’ T.R.U.T.H. toured with Kirk Franklin, dropped a banging crossover single with Tye Tribbett, and saw his Open Book album debut at #2 on the Billboard Gospel chart.

And this fall, KJ-52’s song “You’re Gonna Make It” was licensed for the CBS crime-drama “Cold Case.” The track closed out the show, played in almost its entirety, and appeared to have a central role in the episode’s story.

Watch the clip below.

kj52 "your gonna make it" on cbs cold case

Add to My Profile More Videos

Bold DIY Attitudes
The Rise of Podcast Radio and the HHH Music Video

Tired of waiting, HHH took advantage of technological advances and adopted a “Do-It-Yourself” attitude when it came to promotion.

Want to hear the latest gospel rap singles, DJs, and remixes but can’t bear the thought of staying up until 1am to hear the half hour teen scream show on your local Christian AM station? Now you don’t have to. Plug into any of the high quality weekly or bi-monthly shows on Holy Culture Radio (HCR.fm) and the mixes will be downloaded right to your computer or iPod.

HCR offers DJ D-Lite’s “3rd Coast Fiyah,” the East Coast leaning “Corelink Radio,” DJ Wade-O’s mixshow, DJ Primo’s chopped, screwed, and remixed “StreetLife Radio,” and KJ’s “52 Radio” of talk and music. Sphere of Hip Hop also offers a show on XM Radio.

The emergence of YouTube also allowed more holy hip hop fans the chance to finally see their favorite artists’ live performances and professional music videos. The on-demand, instant access is enough to make any of us old school fans uber-jealous. Everyone from the Lecrae to Soul P, to KJ-52 to Lil Raskull to your little cousin BooBoo now has a clip on the net. Just peep the aforementioned YouTube, MySpace, or HHH collective sites like Sphereofhiphoptv.com for all your faves.

See my Top 10 HHH Videos of 2007 here.

Bold Goodbyes
CM drops final album :: John Reuben and Listener leave Christian rap alone

All good things must come to an end right? Apparently a few key figures within the HHH game think so.

In March, flagship artists the Cross Movement announced that HIStory would be their final album as a group and would also be their final tour. The demands of running a label, having families, and pursuing other ministry opportunities lead to the decision. Thankfully, we have their legacy, reputation, and understudies to hold us over.

The year also marked distinct musical changes for both John Reuben and Listener (of Labklik and deepspace5.) While still writing and performing from a Christian worldview, each artist decided to tip their toes in other waters. Johnny Reu is now on a Beck/Cake funk rock tip and Listener has transitioned into the Listener Project band that performs something he calls “talk music.” Part spoken word, part hip hop, part performance art - the noise is definitely unique.

Bold Falls
Tonex presents tells the Naked Truth :: Juanita Buynum battered :: Popular televangelists under investigation

It was also a sad year for several high-profile ministers who faced spiritual and natural attacks from their enemies.

Nureau Inkster Tonex vented his frustrations about gossip questions regarding his sexuality with an expletive-filled single called “The Naked Truth.” The song quickly spread across MySpace and the rest of the Net and caused many to worry about Tonex’s mental and spiritual health. The artist was also going through a divorce at the time. Thankfully, concerned Christians like Mark J and DJ Wade-O reached out and let Tonex share the back story. He later apologized and announced his restoration through his local church and ministry team.

Elsewhere, in August, Juanita Buynum split with her husband Bishop Thomas Weeks after claiming he had assaulted her in the parking lot of an airport hotel. Other notable falls from grace included Randy and Paula White and a United States Senate investigation into the financial statements and practices of church leaders like Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, and Benny Hinn.

Obviously such matters should be of grave concern and serious prayer to believers everywhere.

Bold Endeavor
Urban D releases “Un.Orthodox” book, DVD, and album

Which holy hip hopper is crazy enough to drop an album, documentary film, and narrative/resource book about urban church ministry all at the same time?

That would be Urban D, aka Tommy Kyllonen, of the world-renowned Crossover Community Church in Tampa, Florida. A constant servant-leader, Urban D took his “Un.Orthodox” methods and message across the multimedia gambit and gifted the movement with some of the best blueprints on how to reach the hip hop culture for Christ.


So here we are at the end. The year is over as so is this article. Let’s say we wrap it up with a cliché statement about how we could have never anticipated what transpired over the last twelve months how we’re looking forward to 2008.

Works for me. See you in the Cero Ocho.