Friday, December 31, 2010

Remembering the life and passion of Richie "s/ave" Douglas

slave Pictures, Images and Photos
Richie "s/ave" Douglas

If this story sucks, it’s most likely because I didn’t let my editor give it an “anti-wack” review first. It’s not because I didn’t meet a deadline or was too lazy or too busy to submit it for critique. It’s because he’s gone.

On the morning of December 31, 2009, I received a phone call with the tragic news that my friend and writing mentor, Richie “s/ave” Douglas, had died in his sleep the night before – a result of the epilepsy he battled all his life. He was only 36 years old.

As I gathered the details from Tee, his rock-solid wife, my heart sank because it all seemed so familiar. Just two months earlier, the gospel rap community also lost Juan “Enock” James – the 35 year old former Cross Movement member who moved to Houston from Philly as a result of his friendship with s/ave. It definitely felt like the proverbial punch to the gut.

The last story s/ave edited for me (just a week or so before) was my Enock memorial. Now I knew I had to write another one, that it wouldn’t be nearly as good without his input, and that it would be twice as difficult to author because it was about him.


Sketch, Ambassador, DJ Official, Tonic, s/ave, and Bad Luck

s/ave was the original Christian hip hop journalist. He was writing about the genre before I even considered publishing a piece.

As an early consumer of the music, his “Real Criticisms” column in Heaven’s Hip Hop Magazine guided my otherwise blind purchases and proved that coverage of faith-based rap records did not require a rubber-stamp approach.

The “Unsigned Hype” issue of that same periodical is what spurred my introduction to Houston’s Christian hip hop scene. Because of s/ave’s research and writing, I had the snail mail addresses of guys like C.I.A. and Blackseed. I wrote them letters about my interest in their work and several responded. Nuwine even called to introduce himself and invited me to my first gospel rap concert at a church near the Astrodome where his buddy Lil Raskull would also be performing.

In my senior year of college, Rich mailed me a copy of the inaugural issue of the ONEMIND newsletter he started in his one-bedroom apartment in northwest Houston. I didn’t know how he got my address or knew me, but I was deeply interested.

I contacted him about writing for OM and we arranged to meet face to face at an upcoming Cross Movement show. That was the night I learned he was Caucasian. This came as quite a surprise. After all, what self-respecting white man would have the gall to call himself “s/ave?” (In actuality, he gained the nickname as an MC when he co-opted a lyric about being a “slave to the rhythm.”)


s/ave freestyles with Blackseed and Optix at Club 360

s/ave’s memorial service brought out a slew of “heads” from Houston’s old school Christian rap scene. Bad Luck and Optix reminisced about the Bonafide Zealots (aka Bon-zee aka Bon-Z) crew and all their different lineups and spellings. We even listened to their “Throw You a Curve” cut from 1999 that reminded me of grimy, early Labklik recordings.

Ras told us how Rich gave him the hook for his “One Fo’ the Sick” song from Controverse All-Star, his debut Christian rap album. He said it was the first time he ever accepted lyrics written by someone besides himself.

Grapetree Records’ Knolly Williams shared the tale of a 21 year old “s/ave” sending him unsolicited album reviews for Heaven’s Hip Hop Magazine. He was just three years older than Rich but loved his passion and eventually hired him to be the editorial voice of his side publication.

Interspersed with the hip hop stories were memories from family and friends in the deaf and education communities he grew to love in his later years.

Dusty Douglas told us how much he admired his older brother, how s/ave always stood up for the underspoken minority, and how “Christianity fit him like a glove.” Others remembered Mr. Richie’s kindness toward the special needs kids at the elementary school where he worked or talked about their friend by making the two-finger, forehead-to-crown sign they crafted to symbolize his shaved head.


s/ave signs off

I mentioned Knolly Williams recognizing s/ave’s passion. It was something I picked up on too and noted in a recommendation letter Rich asked me to write when he was in between jobs.

Whether it was self-taught web design, how to properly write his pen name (“All lower case letters with the ‘l’ as a forward slash mark,”) animation, healthy eating, or simple living - when s/avey had an idea he chased after it full bore.

And that may be what I miss and want to emulate about him most.


Click here to read more about s/ave's founding of

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top 10 Christian Hip Hop Stories of 2010

Y’all know how we do. The end of the year equals countdown lists and I’m teeing up the Top 10 Christian Hip Hop Stories of 2010.

Let’s go!

slave Pictures, Images and Photos

10. Richie “s/ave” Douglas passes

This one is deeply personal but also carries great significance for the entire faith-based genre. We entered 2010 by losing one of the greats – Richie “s/ave” Douglas. He was the man who founded, was the original Christian hip hop journalist, and my dear friend.

s/ave was only 36 years old and died in his sleep as a result of an epileptic seizure. He was, and still is, sorely missed.


9. Oklahoma on the rise for Christian hip hop

As you know, I’m a Texan and we tend to have just a little bit of state pride, okay, who am I kidding? A LOT of state pride.

Still, I gotta keep it real and tip my hat to our northern border neighbors in Oklahoma. They’ve got guys like Dre’ Murray, Fedel, Kadence, Cam, and Sean C. Johnson going hard body lately.

All these cats seem to really be putting a professional shine on their art and represent well. They’ve also got the collective force of an organization like Positive Hip pushing them to the forefront and are hosting events like the Oklahoma Hip Hop Hope Unity Conference.

Is O-K the new Christian hip hop hot spot?


8. The Houston Chronicle covers Christian hip hop on the regular

This June, after several months of relationship building, I was invited to become a regular blogger for the Houston Chronicle’s Belief subsite. I retain full editorial control over what I cover and average about two or three posts a week about news and events in our genre.

Several of those stories get featured on the front page of the Chronicle’s main website and a handful have even made it into their weekly print edition. Houston is the nation’s fourth largest city, but only a one newspaper town. All that means is that this opportunity is definitely bringing some much needed exposure to what God is doing through hip hop as a whole and in my city in particular.


7. Rawsrvnt attempts “The Ultimate Merger”

A Donald Trump-produced reality dating show with previous Apprentice villain Omarosa as its focus doesn't seem like a place where you'd find a Christian rapper as a contestant.

Then again, it's probably the exact reason one was added to the cast. We're talking about it here, aren't we?

Yep, Eddy “Rawsrvnt” Puyol was one of 12 eligible bachelors looking to win Omarosa’s heart on “The Ultimate Merger.”

The story goes that Trump’s people hit up looking for candidates and the Florida-based worship-hop artist was nominated.

Raw told me his goal in going on the show was to demonstrate what the walk of a true man of God looks like and to show how he treats and relates to women.

He only lasted three episodes, but anyone who saw the show can’t deny that Raw accomplished his task.

6. RedCloud torches Christian hip hop

"Evandalism," RedCloud’s firebomb diss track, hit YouTube on Good Friday. In it, he vented about his break up with his former label and his disappointment with many of the spiritual leaders within whom he had placed some trust.

What was obvious in this track was that he was hurting. The lyrics were laid over Diddy’s “Angels” beat and the original hook lines of “love don’t live here no more” and “I need someone to trust” that bled through were haunting. Cloud also screamed out “Lord, deliver me from your followers” and “Somebody feel my pain!”

His pain was indeed felt. And thankfully, after several individuals reached out to him, Cloud removed the clip from the net the next day. Still, the damage was done.

We’re still praying for you Cloud.

5. Braille’s Weapon Aid provides catharsis

Braille had spoken publicly about his father’s death, his painful divorce, moving from state to state, and caring for his young daughter. Add in the demise of his Hip Hop is Music company and the public diss from a former labelmate (see RedCloud's outburst above) and you’ve got a justifiable recipe for depression. Still, his lyrics on Weapon Aid convey an air of ultimate trust and rescue through Christ the King.

They process the concerns of a “Blessed Man,” admit periods of doubt, darkness, and defeat, but never lash out. Instead, Braille seems to seize the opportunity for self-examination.

On record, betrayal never leads to bitterness. This is the route we wish RedCloud would have taken.

Weapon Aid was heart-sleeve hip hop in the emotional vein of Kanye’s 808’s & Heartbreak. I’m guessing that five to ten years from now we’ll look back on this dark period in Christian hip hop and say that this album was a healing catharsis for us all.


4. Bizzle goes at Jay-Z

Admit it, you weren’t aware of Bizzle before his “Explaining To Do” track directed at Jay-Z became a hip hop gossip site staple. Heck, dude lived in my own city and I didn’t even know his name before this.

What some saw as a mere publicity stunt was really just the passionate outcry from a relatively new believer. He saw the game’s top dog dissing his Savior and felt the need to vocalize his frustrations with some righteous anger.

What was great about it all was that it got a conversation started and shed light in a traditionally dark area. And if you still have doubts about Bizzle’s motives, I urge you to download his Messenger and Best of Both Worlds mixtapes and witness his expanded topical focus.


3. Ambassador and Da’ T.R.U.T.H. break their silence

If 2009 was the year of shame then 2010 was the year of restoration. After publicly admitting failures in their marriage in unrelated incidents, both Ambassador and Da’ T.R.U.T.H. eventually broke their silence after a period of retreat.

Ambassador opened up via a video blog, proclaimed reconciliation with his wife, and later led a weekly Bible study on Shortly after, Da’ T.R.U.T.H. renewed his wedding vows on his 8th anniversary. DJ Wade-O brought us audio from that ceremony and later sat down with the artist and his wife to share their testimony.

By all appearances, we might even see both guys return to the booth for full albums that will no doubt be dripping with stories of grace.


2. Flavor Fest celebrates 10 years and a new building

The weekend of 10/10/10 in Tampa, Florida ushered in a celebration of two great things. First, it was the 10 year anniversary of Flavor Fest – an event designed to encourage, empower, and equip churches, ministry workers, and artists to better communicate the Gospel through hip hop.

Secondly, it was the grand opening of the new building and campus for Crossover Church – largely recognized as the leading and most vibrant all-out hip hop congregation.

Although I had visited Crossover before, this was my first ever Flavor Fest. I was definitely impressed. If you consider yourself a member of the Christian hip hop community you owe it to yourself to make a trip to Tampa and witness firsthand how God is using that church and that event to make Him famous.

Congrats Urban D and the Crossover Community. We love and celebrate this milestone with you.


1. Reach Records' Unashamed Tour raises the bar for CHH events

With nearly 30 shows and 25 plus cities, the crew from Reach Records raised the bar for a traveling Christian hip hop concert. Aided by the record-setting sales success of Lecrae's Rehab album and the momentum of a handful of other releases from their flagship artists, the Unashamed Tour brought out the masses.

Attendance reports started in the 1,000 person range (as it was in Houston) and continued to grow as the tour went on. Three thousand, 3,500, then close to 5,000.

The stage was set with Reach-provided screens and lights. There were pre-song and artist transitions videos and choreographed moments that perfectly meshed with the DJ Official and a live drummer's accents. But most importantly, the message of the Gospel was expressed and reinforced throughout the event.

When I interviewed the Reach Records team at Flavor Fest, Lecrae told me that he envisioned the Unashamed Tour as a hip-hop like Passion Conference, designed to introduce people to Jesus and lead those who already follow him in worship through hip hop. What a beautiful and well-executed vision.


For more of my thoughts on the year in Christian hip hop (including my nominees for the best newcomer, video, interview, album, artist, and moment) check out my conversation with DJ Wade-O on Episodes 189 and 190 of the The Wade-O Radio Show.

Stream or download them for free right here.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dre' Murray's (Free) "12 Days of Christmas"

Former Houstonian Dre' Murray has been celebrating the "12 Days of Christmas" by giving away a free, original song download every 24 hours since December 13.

I connected with the Christian rapper via e-mail to ask a few questions about this piecemeal project.

1. First off, why are you basically giving away a full album's worth of songs as part of your "12 Days of Christmas" project? Also, how did you miss the using the obvious "Murray Christmas" pun for your title?

Basically, I had a lot of unheard material sitting on my hard drive and a lot of new ideas for some dope collaborations. I thought that this would be the perfect time to give something away to the people.

I'm really kicking myself about missing the "Murray Christmas" pun title. I think we were so focused on the "12 Days of Christmas" theme that we didn't really dig for anything else. On top of that, the idea for doing this didn't come together until the last week of November, so there wasn't much time to plan. It's not over yet though.

2. Why aren't any of these actual Christmas songs?

In my opinion they are Christmas songs. They may not be what people would call "traditional" Christmas songs, but essentially each song has content that uplifts the very reason we celebrate Christmas which is Jesus coming into this world to save men from sin. Each song deals with that in some way, so technically they are Christmas songs.

Don't get it twisted though, I like some of the traditional Christmas songs just like the next man. So, don't think that I forgot about those. I still may try to sneak something in there.

3. You were born and raised in Houston. What's your favorite H-town Christmas memory or story?

I don't think I have a favorite memory per se. I just remember everyone stopping by my house because my grandmother lived with us. I looked forward to seeing each family member whether they bought me a gift or not.

I just loved have everybody together in one place, and that was something that usually happened on Christmas. I don't really get to see my family that often anymore, so that is something that I miss.

Download all 12 songs at:

This song isn't a part of the dozen mentioned above, but gives you a good idea of Dre's style nonetheless.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

KJ-52 & Goldinchild reunite for a 22 minute "Sons of Illmatic" freestyle session

As is KJ’s habit, he solicited topics from fans on his social networks and then used an iPhone to record the session shortly afterward.

As the title suggests, the former Sons of Intellect partners took turns weaving the suggestions into their rhymes over instrumentals from the NaS classic.

Peep the goodness below.

What other rappers would you like to see attempt this stunt?

Which hip hop classic would you like to hear them spit over?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"Tumbling Down" - Compliments and a Complaint

On Tuesday, December 14 the online Christian hip hop world was atwitter about Mark J’s video for “Tumbling Down.” Here’s my take:

First, the compliments:
  • The clip is nice – real nice.
    Space Cherry Films
    provides a clean look, crisp and not overly flashy edits, and great locations.
  • It fits.
    The video also craftily illustrates the storyline of the dramatic track. Making a music video a literal interpretation is always risky, but for a narrative song like this, it’s a nice marriage of lyrics and visuals.
  • It’s well acted.
    The central character’s face reveals both fear and strength in a moment we can fully imagine. The actor playing his younger self and many of the extras also carry their weight.
  • It’s creative.
    The camera tumbling to the ground as a first-person perspective of the clip’s climax was a nice choice that was used in a measured, yet powerful, dosage.
And now, the complaint:

Although I know it was somewhat of a highlight and a definite marketing hook, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the cameos – both listed and unlisted.

Before the release, we were given a teaser clip that highly touted the fact that 116 Clique member Sho Baraka would play the lead role. Shortly after, there were promotional Tweets and online campaigns asking us to guess which other Christian rappers (Brinson and Eshon Burgundy) were behind masks as the story’s villains.

As a result, even upon my first viewing, I couldn’t get past the fact that in the back of my mind I was watching people I know as MCs instead of characters committed to a plot.

Don’t get me wrong, cameos from other artists on record or in a video can be a great add. It’s when they’re asked to become someone else that I start to get hesitant.

Maybe it’s just the music nerd in me. I felt the same way when I saw Trip Lee’s “Invasion” piece. Instead of thinking, “Hey, here’s a guy looking for ‘The Hero’” I thought, “Oh look, there’s Sho, there’s Knowdaverbs.”

Bottom line:

It’s a great storytelling song from Mark J and very good video. I just wish that going into it I wasn’t prepped to play a “Spot the Rapper” trivia game.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Believin' Stephen releases album focused on Christ's suffering

Philly rapper Believin' Stephen's new album, The Suffering Servant, focuses on the trials of Christ and his followers. We recently caught up with him via e-mail for this Q&A.

1. Don't you know this is Christmas time and we're only supposed to be focused on the happy, "sweet little baby Jesus?" Why tackle this topic at this time?

Great question. I’ve been working on this project all year and am strategically putting it out during the Christmas season. I’m all about celebrating the birth of “sweet little baby Jesus.” However, I’m also about celebrating Jesus who was “acquainted with grief” and a “man of many sorrows.”

Everyone knows that we celebrate Christmas because of Jesus’ birthday. But the reason we celebrate Jesus’ birthday is because of what he accomplished while he was on earth! And what he accomplished for us was done through a life of suffering; namely suffering death on a cross so that we wouldn’t have to suffer for eternity in hell. He showed us how to suffer rightly and can sympathize with our weaknesses. When we’re tempted, afflicted, mocked, or physically wounded; Christ can relate.

I think it is very fitting to release a project called The Suffering Servant which highlights Christ’s sufferings during the Christmas season. If he didn’t suffer for us there would be no reason to even celebrate Christmas.

2. Last year you released the free Perseverance mixtape. What type of things have you personally had to persevere and is this a central theme of your music ministry?

I don’t want my response to this question to make it seem like I’ve had some horrible life and that I’m not thankful for the blessings I’ve had in my life. I will just state some of the obstacles I’ve had to overcome and am still overcoming. I talk a lot about this in my new song called “My Life Story.”

One great thing about the Lord is that He doesn’t give up on me. My parents divorced at a very young age. This was real tough on me emotionally. I was real close with my dad but he remarried and moved all the way to Hawaii when I was ten. I would cry all the time because I missed him so bad.

In middle school and early high school I suffered from depressive episodes. I wouldn’t be able to sleep and would go into a funk where my mind was cloudy and I couldn’t think straight. I would dread life during these times and contemplated suicide. Even in the darkest moments somehow I knew things would get better eventually and they did. I get down sometimes but haven’t had a bad depressive episode in over six years now.

Since then I’ve faced other obstacles though. At times it’s been tough being in my brother [who is also a Christian rapper] Timothy’s shadow. I get messages from people all the time asking how he’s doing and what not. Sometimes it makes me feel like no one cares about me and the struggles I am going through - they only care about him. Sometimes it’s made me feel like no one cared about my music.

In addition, while literally everyone around me has been getting married over the past several years I’ve had some rocky relationships. I’ve had one break-up where the person just totally stopped talking to me unexpectedly and then gave me the silent treatment for an entire year. That was incredibly painful man. There have also been a couple of other situations more recently where I’ve tried to do things right but things just didn’t work out with the girl.

I’ve also had some broken friendships with some of my closer guy friends recently too. This has caused me to doubt God at times and struggle with things like jealousy, pride, and sexual sin. It’s safe to say that I “wrestle with God” as I say in one of my new songs.

He’s so faithful even when I’m faithless though Sketch. The gospel gives me hope. It gives me hope because I don’t have to trust in my own performance but I trust in Christ’s finished work on the cross. I know He hears my prayers and all His promises are true. He’ll answer in His timing. Other people have gone through way more than I have but God has still given me a heart for hurting people and so perseverance is definitely a theme of my music.

3. You also work as a strength coach at the University of Pennsylvania. Do the college kids you work with know about your music? If so, what's your impression of their opinion about it?

I didn’t talk about hip-hop at all when I first arrived there but one day all these football kids started saying they saw my “Back In Da Burgh” video! I guess they must have searched me on Google or YouTube. It caught me off guard. They started chanting the hook and saying some of the lines from the song and mimicking my mannerisms in the video. Once the football team found out all my co-workers found out and then pretty much all the athletes at the school found out that I’m a rapper.

I’ve gotten great responses from them and they are definitely feeling the music. I just pray some more of them will be convicted and live for Christ instead of self. For most of them it was the first time they’ve ever been exposed to Christian hip-hop. It’s helped open some opportunities for me to share my testimony and tell them why I rap about Christ instead of rapping about garbage.

One track athlete here at Penn actually dressed up as “Believin' Stephen” for Halloween!

4. You and Philly rapper Japhia Life are known for your "repeat rhyme" flows. Can you explain how that got started and why you use it in your lyrics?

Some rappers were using the repeat lines in the early 2000s but when I heard Japhia on J-Silas song “Waas Good Philly” I lost it. He said “cannon” like three or four times in a row and each time it had a DIFFERENT MEANING!

When me and some friends would be kickin' it sometimes we would come up with different repeat lines for fun. An example is:

“I like to build up, I like to encourage. / Don’t wanna get you mad, don’t wanna incur rage!”

I’m fascinated with words and so it became a fun game for me to play. After that I started writing these repeat lines down. Other rappers have done these type of lines before but I had never heard someone do it for a whole jam! (Braille did it for a whole verse on “Double Dose” which I heard after I wrote the “Repeat Rhyme” song.) So I decided I would do a whole song and coined the term “Repeat Rhymes” for that rhyme structure.

Some people may think that it’s easy to come up with those type of lines because you use a similar phrase. But it’s actually mad hard to come up with them and make it so the next line you are saying is something that sounds the same but MEANS something totally different. If you just repeat yourself and mean the same thing it’s just being lazy in my book; and lots of cats do that but it’s wack.

5. You guys on the East Coast have some different slang than we do down here in the South so I have to ask: What's a "bol?"

Ha! People ask me that all the time. I might have to do a jam about that! We have different slang up here and I’ve always been into slang since I was like 7 years old. I have different phrases I say all the time that only people who are close with me would understand. Me and my brother call them “flavors.”

I moved from Pittsburgh to the Philadelphia area almost ten years ago and I noticed that cats would pronounce “boy” with a “L” and say “bol.” Everywhere you go in Philly you will hear people say “bol.” It stuck with me and I’ve been saying it ever since. I have a ton of slang words but here are some you may hear me say the most:

cannon - Just used for a dude who is wild “loose cannon”

gametime - Said if something good is about to happen or your team won the game

antigametime - Said if something wack is happening

What it cook like?! - Means “What’s up?” or “What’s it looking like?”

Whoo whoo whooo! - Sound I make after I say "gametime"

Believin' Stephen's The Suffering Servant is available on iTunes and Amazon and other online outlets starting Tuesday, December 14.

The Suffering Servant Promo // Believin Stephen from shot by esso™ on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lecrae's "Rehab" Gets Grammy Nod

On Wednesday it was announced that Houston-born Christian rapper Lecrae's Rehab album was nominated for a Grammy.

Congrats are in order. And so is the annual holy hip hop rant aimed at this whole ordeal.

For some reason, the Grammys only offer a blended "Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album" category for non-church service type Christian music. In fact, the word "rap" wasn't even added to the title until 2006. This year there's only one hip hop album nominated out of the five projects selected.

Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album (Category 52)

[Reach Records]

Church Music
David Crowder Band
[Sparrow Records / Sixstepsrecords]

For Those Who Wait
[Flicker Records]

Beautiful Things
[Brash Music]

Hello Hurricane
[Atlantic Recording Corp/ Credential Recordings]

Lecrae's Rebel album is deserving (though certainly not the best of the year) and garnered record sales for our sub-genre, but it's doubtful he'll beat either Switchfoot or the Dave Crowder Band who are also worthy.

I'll have to research it, but I don't think a rap act has ever won this category. If they did, it was either a hip-pop group on a Nashville-based label or someone on rap's outer fringe like Kirk Franklin..

I know that cats in our community would really appreciate the category being separated and given its own slot. But alas, in the eyes of most we're still in that early infant stage of acceptance that hip hop (as a whole) was back in the 80's.

*** Soapbox shout done. Rinse and repeat in 365 Days ***

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Vidz: Von Won & D-MAUB "Shine Their Light" in Houston

D-MAUB & Von Won

The young CUT-T D-MAUB was in Houston just after Thanksgiving and hit the city full force. On the cool, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a cat come to my town with such a full agenda.

Let me see if I can run it down for you – first off was the Black Friday video shoot in Tomball (of all places) for Von Won’s “High Beams On” single. This joint included some classic rides and a fully functional helicopter they used for some aerial shots and as part of the story line.

Gifted da Flamethrowa, Tre9, & Narrow Brown at the video shoot

Then, he did an interview with 92.1 FM – Houston’s gospel station (and home of the Yolanda Adams morning show), and after that D-MAUB helped served the homeless as part of the Feed a Friend ministry.

Later, the dudes hit up a local retirement home, homie got a break to attend a Rockets game, then he did some prison ministry, spoke to the Houston Hip Hop Alliance meeting about full-time ministry, and ended with a set at Hip Hop Hope Tuesdays in 5th Ward.

My man was beyond gracious, appreciative, and giving and the video turned out super hot. Peep it and some behind the scenes footage below.

"High Beams On" appears on Von Won's All-American Felon album which drops December 21.

Official video:

Von Won - High Beams On ft. D-Maub "Official Video" from Kyle Lamar/HD Publications on Vimeo.

Behind the scenes:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Former 5th Ward Boyz Gangsta Rapper Gives Back to Community Through This Weekend's Bless Fest 2010


This weekend, a former gangsta rapper who served time for armed robbery will demonstrate that he is a completely new man by giving back to the community through an event called Bless Fest. The activities will commence at 3pm on Sunday, November 21 at 10009 Homestead Road, Houston, TX 77016.

Andre “007” Barnes, known for his music career as a member of Rap-A-Lot Records’ 5th Ward Boyz group, has partnered with Impact Ministries to offer an afternoon of food, music, and various “blessings.” Residents in some of the neediest parts of Houston can register to win one month’s paid rent, one month’s paid light bill, one of 25 turkey baskets, and over 100 children’s toys.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Barnes said. “Jesus met the needs of all who came in contact with him physically. So we don’t want to preach to you, we just want to bless you as God has blessed us.”

For Bless Fest 2010, Barnes has secured partners such as All Eyes On Me Inc., Fiesta, Kohl’s, Street Life Ministries, CFC Church, G Tech Solutions, and Blessings Christian Bookstore.


Andre “007” Barnes is a 5th Ward native whose story is a perfect example of how positive opportunities and role models can lead to dramatic life change.

In the mid-90’s 007 gained fame and notoriety as a founding member of the hard core gangsta rap crew the 5th Ward Boyz. Unlike many of today’s street rappers, 007 was never a “studio gangsta.” His lyrics reflected his actual life. That included a murder case for shooting and killing a man trying to steal his car (later ruled a justifiable homicide) and armed robbery as well as selling and abusing drugs.

Eventually greed consumed 007. After a European tour in the year 2000, he was caught robbing three banks and sentenced to more than four years in prison. Upon release he caught another case that earned him an additional 15 months behind bars.

It was there, in jail once again, that Andre Barnes had his “Road to Damascus” experience. Finally encountering and understanding the true grace of God through the sacrifice of His one and only son, Barnes began to change.

When he walked out of the yard this time around, it was with a renewed mind. Barnes pursued ministry, established Taking Back the Streets, and opened Blessings Christian Bookstore with his wife and family.

Now a new creature, 007 has returned to the mic with a much different message.

“I’m just trying to show young people that you don’t have to let street life consume and define you,” Barnes said.

Here's what 007 sounds like today:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jerry Falwell's Liberty University Turns to Hip Hop To Promote Enrollment

Jerry Falwell's Liberty University is turning to hip hop to promote enrollment and raise visibility for the conservative college.

In September, Washington D.C.'s Humble Tip, (real name Jason Lewis), recorded and released a song called "LU Anthem." Its video version was posted online just a few weeks ago.

The track has recently gotten some run (and mocking) on sites like The Huffington Post, Jesus Needs New PR, and Christian Nightmares.

Say what you will, at least the university acknowledges hip hop culture and is doing something to change the perception that the school is only for rich, Republican, white males.

Sure it's a little cheesy, but what college promo video isn't? At least it's not Freekbass' "We Are Notre Dame."

Plus, Tip's an established Christian hip hop artist and this isn't his only claim to fame.

In actuality, it's his day job. Lewis, an LU graduate, is currently working as an admissions counselor for the college.

To give you a taste of Tip's other (better) work, check out "Lethal PoiSIN"

Friday, November 5, 2010

Saturday's Old School Hip Hop Tour Brings Several Acts with Christian Rap Connections


This Saturday’s Fresh Fest Old School Reunion Tour will bring several acts to Houston who are now, or who have recently been, involved with Christian hip hop.

Kurtis Blow

Kurtis Blow is a rapper with a lot of “firsts.” He is largely regarded as one of the first commercially successful rappers, the first to sign with a major record label, and “The Breaks” single from his 1980 debut album is the first certified gold record rap song.

Now, he’s better known as the founder of The Hip Hop Church in New York and for his recordings with gospel hip hop acts like The Trinity and Young Chozen.

Cheryl "Salt" James from Salt N Pepa

Salt N Pepa has sold over 15 million albums and singles worldwide. Known for songs like “Push It” and “Let’s Talk About Sex,” SnP is the best selling female rap act, and six of their singles have been certified either platinum or gold.

The group disbanded in 2002 and Salt moved on, finding God and providing a few guest appearances on several Christian hip-hop flavored songs like the remix to Kirk Franklin’s smash hit “Stomp.”

Other collaborations:
Knine’s “Never Alone,” from Born Again
Salt City Six's "Shine", from Holy South: World Wide, a compilation of Christian rap and Christian R&P (Rhythm & Praise) songs

Christopher “Play” Martin from Kid ‘n Play

As one-half of Kid ‘n Play, Martin recorded three successful albums and starred in four hip-hop based comedy films: House Party, House Party 2, Class Act, and House Party 3. After the duo split in 1995, Play became a born-again Christian and focused on gospel rap.

Today, Play is the founder and CEO of HP4 Digital, a pre and post production multimedia company for film, digital media, and theater. In 2006, he released a documentary film titled Holy Hip Hop with the Atlanta-based company of the same name.

Primary source:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

5 Questions with Playdough: Dallas-based MC mashes lyrics from different genres on free "Writer Dye" album


Today, deepspace5 member Playdough drops his free Writer Dye concept album online. I recently connected with him for this quick Q&A.

Sketch: What inspired your new project Writer Dye - a concept album where you take lyrics from other bands and genres (including The White Stripes, Kings of Leon, The Violent Femmes, and Nirvana) and turn them into hip-hop songs?

Playdough: I usually put a lot of thought and effort into my hooks and song concepts. I knew this album was going to be a freebie so I didn't want to spend too much time conceptualizing these songs. I played with the idea of using other bands and genres lyrics and making them my chorus. I tried it and certain songs worked great. Then it became really fun and somewhat challenging to find a piece of someone else's song that I liked and try to make it work on another song that was totally different than the original.

If you think about it, it's the same thing as sampling when you're making a track. I took the part that I thought would work best and squeezed it into the place that I wanted it to go. I'm already used to doing that when I make beats.

Sketch: My perception is that Christians often have a limited music diet. As an MC who is known for your faith and has experience in the Christian music scene, would you agree with this statement? If so, why do you think that is the case?

Playdough: I think that's a fair statement for some Christians that are more casual music listeners. I tend to know a lot of musicians and people that are passionate about the arts. The Christians who are really into the arts have a very diverse musical pallet.

The more casual listeners seem to only have knowledge on what they listened to before they started following Christ. Or at least until they've gone through the phase of throwing away their music collection after hearing someone preach about how it's wrong to listen to worldly music only to buy it all again years later when they're a little stronger in their faith.

Sketch: You’ve given this and your last couple of projects (The Bible Bus and Who Is Harry Krum? mix and beat tapes) out for free. Why is that?

Playdough: I gave my beat tape away for free because I was doing it to promote my production and sell a few beats. The Bible Bus was a mixtape with beats that had been spit on by some of rap's greats, there's no way I could charge for that.

But honestly, the goal for The Bible Bus and now Writer Dye has been very strategic for me. It's been four years since I released a full length solo album. I realize there are a lot of people who don't know my music yet I can honestly say that when most people hear my music, they like it.

I wanted to gain as many new fans as possible. I wanted to do a mixtape to show fans I'm still on my game and still getting better while making new fans at the same time.

Writer Dye is supposed to be a step up from the mixtape, but still free so that people who are unfamiliar with me have nothing to lose by listening to my album. All of this is done as lead up to my official, real deal, you-have-to-buy-it album called Hotdoggin coming out in the Spring.


Sketch: You’re mostly known for the hip hop music you’ve released with collectives like Phonetic Composition and deepspace5. But your ill harmonics group has also released acoustic worship sets like Modern Heart Exhibit. When people find out about this side of your craft are they puzzled? How do you explain it to those who might be skeptical of such a dichotomy?

Playdough: Actually, more people know about my ill harmonics material than anything else I've done. As crazy as it sounds, the trickiest part is getting them to connect that ill harmonics is me.

People come to my shows and are blown away when they find out that the ill harmonics stuff is me. Folks will spend a lot of time telling me about how much they love ill harmonics, but have no clue what Playdough music sounds like.

To answer your second question, I've never felt I had to explain it and have never really been asked to. I hope my musical taste and body of work speaks for itself to the point that it's not surprising. I'm a very musical cat and always try to keep my hip-hop music with good song structure and good writing.

Sketch: Although you’re from Dallas, you don’t have the typical Texas rap sound heard on local radio. Is it a challenge to find support for your style of hip hop and have you ever been tempted to do something that may be more commercially-viable?

Playdough: It's challenging to find support on a large scale. The masses love the dirty south, "D-Town Boogie" dance music. A very small percentage of them like to think about life and eternity and knowledge and wisdom. I've flirted with some more southern style production that's a little different than what people are used to from me, but still very much my steez.

Honestly if I haven't sold out yet then I never will. I've been doing this too long to just now decide I want to get some real cash off this thing.

Download your free copy of Writer Dye right ‘chere.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Scribbling Idiot JustMe Pushes the Envelope with "Tragedy & Dope"


Veteran Christian hip hop rapper JustMe gets gritty on his latest project. I recently connected with him for this quick Q&A.

Sketch: You named your new album Tragedy & Dope and in your lyrics you say that God made both. To clarify, are you using the word “dope” to mean drugs or “dope” as slang for something positive? Is it like Run-DMC’s “not bad meaning bad, but bad meaning good” line from the song “Peter Piper”?

JustMe: Absolutely! "Dope" as in hip hop slang for good.

Sketch: You’re a part of the Scribbling Idiots collective of mid-west MCs. How would you describe the hip hop scene where you’re at in Lexington, Kentucky and what’s the value for you as a solo artist linking up with a team like SI?

JustMe: There's actually a pretty good scene here in Lexington. Lextown is small, so the scene is small, but it is full of talent. We have shows nearly every week.

The Album is the name of a local hip-hop shop that supports the local scene and the college radio really supports.

As far as SI, it is a huge blessing to be part of such a talented crew. Those guys really push me to be sharp and creative and we really celebrate each other’s achievements.

Sketch: When we spoke recently, you told me you felt like this album was going to push the envelope as far as faith-based rap releases go. Listening to it, I definitely hear some words (either said or implied) and content matter that I believe would definitely keep it from being sold in Christian bookstores. Why did you feel the need to express yourself this way on this project?

JustMe: I have always tried to be really honest in my music. I've been repping Christ in hip-hop for 15 years and I don't feel like I've ever been accepted in that scene, so why censor myself now? I use some strong language on the album, but there is strong language used in the Bible. It’s all real and honest.

Sketch: The song “Sexual Confessional” seems to describe both your frustrations and fantasies about intimate physical intimacy with your wife – a topic rarely discussed in Christian music of any genre. Why do you think that is?

JustMe: I don't know. I touched on this a little on my last album too, on a song called "Third Round KO," and when the worship director heard it, she asked me to perform it at church. I did and everyone felt it.

It’s out there. Men and women are different. We have a hard time communicating sometimes and I think that it should reflect in the arts.

Sketch: Tragedy & Dope was entirely produced by Deacon The Villain of the underground hip hop group CunninLynguists and, to me, has a real, Whitey Ford Sings the Blues feel on the hooks. Tell me about how and why you connected with Deacon for the album and is that you singing the choruses?

JustMe: Nah, that's Deacon singing most of the hooks. I do sing on "Sexual Confessional" though.

Deacon and I have been friends since I moved to Kentucky eight years ago. We've worked together several times, but this was different.

Deacon reached out to me about a year ago and said that he wanted to produce my next record. I was overjoyed! He's an extremely talented human being.

Deacon is a Christian. His dad is pastor of a very large church here in Lexington. I think that through this record, he was able to communicate some things that he hasn't so much on CL records.

His involvement helps me to reach a new audience as well. I think it’s been great for both of us.

Sketch: The “Serenity Prayer” seems to be a recurring theme on Tragedy and Dope. Have you found that prayer becoming a regular part of your dialogue with God lately? If so, why?

JustMe: That prayer (spoken and applied) has been a recurring part of my relationship with God for years. If I couldn't let go and lay my baggage at His feet, I would literally go crazy.

Likewise, I want to be a man of action whenever I can make a change for the better. There is a difference between contentment and complacency. I want to be content in every situation, but I don't EVER want to be complacent.

Tragedy & Dope is available now for just $5 via JustMe’s Bandcamp site (where you can also sample each track) and will be offered via other traditional digital outlets on Tuesday, November 2.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Katrina Evacuee Ill Phil Brings His Crescent City Christian Rap Style to Houston

Get to know Houston Christian rapper Ill Phil, whose album Soul Food releases today.


Sketch: You're originally from New Orleans and evacuated to Houston during Hurricane Katrina. Five years later, how do you remember that time and how would you describe the transition from the Crescent City to the Bayou City?

Ill Phil: Well, I think it was obviously a devastating moment in my life like it was for so many others. But to be honest, it actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

When I first moved to Houston I was still into clubbing and alcoholism. In that sense I missed New Orleans. But when I came to know the Lord in 2006 I was glad to be where I was.

New Orleans has a lot of issues from violence to the corrupt judicial and police departments. The wild partying only scratches the surface. I believe Houston is a better place for me not only to avoid the temptation to sin, but also to raise a family.

Sketch: You attended the same school as Lil Wayne in New Orleans. Has his popularity in the mainstream rap world hurt or helped your own music ministry?

Ill Phil: It definitely hasn’t hurt my music ministry. I used to really admire him back in the late 90's, especially when we shared the same class. And being such a big Ca$h Money [Records] fan when I was younger has probably played a part in my rap style today.

But in 2006 I stopped listening to secular rap all together. I guess you can say I traded in my Lil Wayne CD in exchange for my new favorite artist - Da’ T.R.U.T.H.


Sketch: I've read that you were rapping before you became a Christian and stopped afterward because your church didn't accept the art form - even in its redeemed state. How did you overcome that adversity and what would you say to members of the hip hop culture who find themselves in similar situations?

Ill Phil: Well, I continued to study The Word and eventually I just came to the conclusion that the reasons they were giving me to refrain from listening to some of the music I wanted to was not supported by Scripture.

I had cut out rap and R&B, but when I was told I shouldn’t listen to jazz I knew that I couldn’t overlook the legalism in the church anymore. I know they meant well, but they were missing the big picture.

I would advise anyone going through the same circumstance to continue to study their Bible. God will reveal to you what is His will and what is just a man-made rule.

Sketch: How would you rate Houston's Christian rap community?

Ill Phil: Honestly, I haven’t seen enough to really give a fair report. I had planned to attend a few concerts before, but for one reason or another I wasn’t able to make it. Amazingly, I’ve only been to one Christian rap event and that was recently. I really enjoyed it and of course I plan to start attending events much more often. But at the moment, I can’t say that I have seen enough in person to have a strong opinion.

Sketch: Your song "I Don't Hate Him" on the Soul Food album addresses the forgiveness you extended to your absent father. How difficult was that song to write and why did you feel like it needed to be shared on this project?

Ill Phil: The forgiveness God has granted to all who believe in Him is a wonderful thing. There is so much wrong that I have done in my past that all I can do is admire the Lord for his mercy.

I wanted to create a song that I felt a lot of people could relate to and that demonstrates heartfelt forgiveness. I wanted people to get a glimpse of what it means to be merciful. I thought that pouring out my heart with details of my own life just might inspire others to see how important it is to forgive regardless of the situation.

Soul Food by Ill Phil can be purchased at all digital download outlets such as iTunes, Amazon MP3, and more beginning Oct. 26. You can contact Ill Phil via his website or by emailing

Jesus Loves Juggalos Too - A Christian Response to the Insane Clown Posse's claims that their music has always pointed people to God

When I read the guys from Insane Clown Posse were telling people their horrorcore brand of hip hop music had always contained an underlying Christian message, I thought it was a joke.

I also believed it could be just another outrageous celebrity statement designed for maximum pub.

It might be both.

But what if they were being serious?

What if, after nearly 20 years of embodying the darkness, they’re actually seeking the Light?

That’s the tact I recently took with a post called “Jesus Loves Juggalos Too” for a mainstream hip hop blog.

If you’re interested in reading the rest of my thoughts, along with the original story that sparked the brief essay, head over to The Rap Up.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Year Later - Remembering the Life of Juan "Enock" James

Normally I take pride in breaking news stories. October 17, 2009 was not one of those days.

That was when I had to tell the world my friend died unexpectedly.

You may know him as Enock - a member of Christian hip hop’s flagship group The Cross Movement. He helped found and, in fact, gave them that title.

That seems like a lifetime ago. Another name, another city.

On this day, he was simply Juan James – husband to Natalie and father to then 4-year-old Jana.

The word I received was that, despite his youthful 35 years, Juan had an apparent heart attack at his overnight job. I was on the road at the time – traveling through the winding mountain roads of Arkansas to visit family.

Well, Enock was my family, too.

With spotty cell reception, Twitter seemed the best way to let the largest number of people know about our loss in the quickest way possible. One hundred forty characters and 30 tear-shedding seconds later, the word was spreading as well as prayers for his surviving family.

How I wished it were a mistake; a terrible, gossipy rumor that we are known for all too often.

When I arrived at my destination I was finally able to muster up the courage to call his wife. Unfortunately, Natalie’s sobs told me I had been a faithful journalist.


Houston got to know Enock at the turn of the millennium. In 1999 my man s/ave was running ONEMIND Magazine out of his apartment. When he found Enock through an instant messenger search they became kindred friends, chatting freely, sharing stories, and talking about the sacredness of music and life.

At this time Enock had been asked to/decided to step away from the mic after dealing with sexual addiction and divorce – two seemingly “Scarlet Letter” sins for anyone involved in gospel music ministry.

A year later OM’s operations were moved to the offices of Much Luvv Records, where s/ave worked closely with Tre9. There, he established long distance ties between Nock and Tre and the trio built with one another through several late-night phone conversations. Seeking friendship, accountability, and a fresh start - Enock then decided to move from Philadelphia to Houston.

To me, as Sketch, I saw Enock as a rock star during our first face-to-face meeting. After all, this was THE Enock from THE Cross Movement. He deflected the admiration. Even though we knew him as the booming voice from “Introducin’” his own self introduction was always just “Juan” and usually not even audible. A man of considerable size and build, (CM members remember calling him “Cell Block ‘Nock”) he still seemed shy, contrite, and gentle.


Part of Enock’s healing process came through the helping of others. Here in Houston, he started what were called R.A.M. Sessions – monthly Bible study and accountability meetings designed to “Restore All Men.”

Approximately a dozen guys devoted themselves to this group – praying for one another, asking tough questions, and allowing themselves to be vulnerable.

At Enock’s memorial service, these gatherings garnered nearly as many mentions as his song titles. Years later the legacy and impact of those studies survive its founder.


Imagine if Trip Lee, the talented young bol from Reach Records’ 116 Clique, decided to switch camps, move to Florida, and make music for the independent, less lyrical theology-driven GodChaserz Entertainment label.

That’s akin to what took place when it was announced that Enock’s next project would be released on Much Luvv Records.

And it was bound to happen. Several months of living with and working for Tre9 had surely stoked his creative fires. With a renewed confidence, Enock expressed a desire to “take off the mask” of a professional Christian and share his story. His next album would honestly discuss his failures as well as the battle and temptations that plague full time music ministers.

The result was AWEthentic – a meaningful collection of tracks some deemed too raw for release. Enough that, a few short weeks before the project was scheduled to be the first title submitted to a new distributor, a key studio technician decided it best to pull his music off of the unconventional record.

Thankfully, the selfless Stephan “Stikk” Oran came to the artist’s aid, producing the perfect backdrop for Enock’s truth tales. The deadline was met and the Christian hip hop community got a peek behind the curtain they thought they’d never see.

AWEthentic illuminated imperfections, challenged co-laborers, and shouted warnings of similar, sin-inviting situations. Too bad not everyone took notice.

In the wake of last year’s public admissions of “moral failings” by Ambassador and Da’ T.R.U.T.H. (two artists at the heart of The Cross Movement collective and its associated record label), the album seems eerily prophetic.

If true art always retains its relevance, the AWEthentic album is looking ready for the Louvre.



The more I hung out with Enock the more he just became Juan. And the more I just became Jason.

He always asked about things that many do not. About my family. How was the wife? How were things at home? He became a person, not a persona.

We related on several levels. Aside from a love of hip hop and Jesus, we also had our frustrations with His bride. He introduced me to The Message paraphrase translation of Scripture. I turned him on to Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz and singer/songwriter Derek Webb. He told me several times that I needed to read Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna.

Our deconstructions of traditional church were not mean spirited or ill founded. We were simply two guys trying to reconcile the Christian life we read about in the Bible with what we saw under steeples each Sunday. It was community. It was friendship. Something I miss now.


The most unforgettable part of Enock’s memorial service was indeed when Natalie James took the stage. With a strength that shielded her pain, she opened Juan’s prayer journal and began to read aloud its entries.

She shared moments of hope and joy: His 30th birthday. The birth of his new daughter. A recent job promotion.

But she also gave a voice to his frustrations and fears: How he couldn’t seem to leave hip hop alone despite the toll it took on his family. How he prayed to better manage his finances. How he questioned the quality of spiritual leadership he offered his wife and child.

It was a bit jarring. Who in their right mind would discuss such intimate details in such a public setting – especially when they might be the last words spoken or remembered about this soul?

But in hindsight, there was no better way to honor one of the realest people to ever approach a microphone.

May he rest in eternal bliss with his Father. We will see you soon my friend.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Houston’s Kingdom Media Group Partners With Swishahouse to Distribute Gritty, Christian Hip Hop Flavored Films


If a mainstream rap label like Swishahouse is distributing Christian movies, it’s a pretty safe bet that those films will be a little more “street” than Left Behind or Facing the Giants.

The first title to be released through their new partnership with Kingdom Media Group (also a Houston-based company) is PAIN: The Movie. Its story centers on a street hustler whose days are filled with drugs, guns, money, and threats of brutal violence. And increasingly, they begin and end with stress-filled smoke sessions that attempt to numb his inner turmoil.

As you might surmise, PAIN: The Movie is not your average church flick.

PAIN’s co-writer/co-director/producer/supporting actor is Terrance Levi. He said he birthed the vision for this and a multitude of other multi-media projects after praying about his displeasure with programs that were targeted to people of faith.

“I remember standing at the sink washing dishes and saying ‘God, why do Christians have to have the cheesiest shows on TV?” Levi recalls. “And not to be negative about Christian programming, but I look at things through the eyes of the unchurched quite a bit and I just really felt a tug on my spirit to do something about it.”

Soon after, Levi said he believed God was bringing specific people into his life with talent sets and passions that could help him fulfill this dream. From there, he developed a script and plan for PAIN along with a case-study drama called Tales from the Player’s Manual Volume 1.

Although there is no cursing, nudity, or sex scenes in the straight-to-DVD films, Levi is hesitant to call them “family friendly.” Neither title has been through the official Motion Picture Association of America process, but he believes that if his movies were to be graded, they would earn between a PG-13 and R rating due to the amount of gunplay and illegal drug content in their narratives.

“If I have a definite point and target that I’m aiming at, I’ll smoke a cigar or two on a movie set and take a whiskey glass and pour some Diet Dr. Pepper in it to make it look like I’m drinking alcohol,” Levi said.

He said such steps were necessary to illustrate his character’s hypocrisy which plays a critical role in the story.

The Swishahouse connection came as a result of a relationship that began because of misdelivered mail – something Kingdom Media Group members believe was more “divine appointment” than “happy accident.”

Levi said that Swishahouse (who helped give Paul Wall and Mike Jones nationwide exposure) is launching their independent movie venture with his films and had absolutely no issues with the content or message. The same couldn’t be said for all of the Christian businesses he spoke to about similar distribution options.

Houston’s Delbert Harris (known by his stage name of Lil Raskull) has known Levi since high school and acts in PAIN along side Yung Ro, Beau Williams, and Baby Bash who were able to bring their audiences to the project from the worlds of mainstream hip hop and traditional gospel music.

“Levi has always been a street evangelist and to do this type of movie certainly takes a certain level of maturity,” Harris said. “I see this as The Cross and the Switchblade of our time.”

PAIN: The Movie will be available through Swishahouse in U.S. stores on October 12 and through Integrity Distribution to Christian bookstores in South Africa later this November. For more information, visit

PAIN THE MOVIE: Trailer from Robert Taylor on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Rick Warren Headlines This Weekend's Flavor Fest Urban Ministry Conference in Tampa


Rappin’ Rick Warren and The Purpose Driven Posse?

Maybe not. But that doesn’t mean the high-profile pastor of California’s Saddleback Church doesn’t see the validity of using that genre of music to spread the Gospel to members of the hip hop culture. In fact, this weekend he’ll be a keynote speaker at an event called Flavor Fest designed to educate, train, and provide resources to ministers and “urban missionaries” dedicated to that specific community.

It started over ten years ago when Pastor Tommy Kyllonen aka Urban D included a photograph and couple of paragraphs about his Tampa Bay youth group in the liner notes of his first nationally distributed CD. Shortly after The Missin’ Element was released, Kyllonen said he began to receive an influx of calls, e-mails, and on-site visit requests from people around the country who wanted to replicate the success of his hip hop-saturated Crossover Church.

“Eventually it just became overwhelming,” Kyllonen said. “So we sat down with our leadership team and said ‘Man, wouldn’t it be great to just have everyone here at one time where we could provide training and they could see a youth service, a Sunday service, and several all-out Christian hip hop concerts with lights and media done in excellence so they could go back and do that themselves?’ Flavor Fest really just emerged out of that need.”

The conference boasts five separate workshop tracks geared toward church planters, youth workers, outreach coordinators, and artists. Presenters will include the likes of the aforementioned Rick Warren, Efrem Smith, and DC Curry (a Houston-native and former NFL star who is now the Director of Student Ministry at Granger Community Church in Indiana.) Hip hop artists such as Lecrae, KJ-52, and Houston’s Tre-9 will also be conducting panel discussions and training sessions related to their craft and areas of expertise. Kyllonen said he has approximately 400 pre-registrants and expects over 1,500 people at each of the evening’s multi-artist, festival-like concerts.

An added stress to this year’s Flavor Fest planning and organizing was Crossover Church’s move to a new, larger location. There were the expected headaches of construction and decoration and unplanned complications like uninstalled Internet service and minor car accidents involving Kyllonen’s wife Lucy.

“Thankfully she’s is fine and our communication lines appear like they’ll be up and running and allow us to stream everything online at We also have over 200 volunteers from our church that are willing to serve and carry much of the burden,” Kyllonen said. “Our God always protects and provides.”

Flavor Fest is taking advantage of their “Decade of Purpose” anniversary theme and holding the event over the weekend of 10/10/10 at Crossover Community Church in Tampa, Florida. Details can be found online at

Friday, October 1, 2010

Why Canton Jones Should NOT Explain “In Da Club”


On Friday, October 1 Canton Jones leaked an intriguing new track titled “In Da Club” to various online Christian music media outlets.

Its chorus goes “They done let them ______ in the club! Oh my God! They done let them ______ in the club!” As the song continues, several other words are muted in the same way that TV and radio stations offer “clean” versions of explicit mainstream rap records.

The effect is jarring. And just three days later, the Internet world is promised an explanation by Jones via DJ Will from Jacksonville’s radio show.

This will be a mistake.

1. It’s highly doubtful CaJo is covering up curse words.

If you hear this song and mentally fill in the blanks with that type of verbiage it says more about you than it does Canton Jones.

Didn’t Luke record Jesus telling us “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks”?

Are those negative words a part of your daily vocabulary or regular media diet? If so, then maybe it’s time to consider a change.

Also, it’s not like Canton has ever held his tongue before. Just months ago he dropped the God the Father mixtape that contained un-bleeped verses with the words “nigga” and “faggot” in the lyrics. (Two word choices I considered a mistake.) Has he just recently taken up the practice of self-censorship?

2. Good art can speak for itself.

Too often, exhaustive and detailed explanations by artists do a disservice to their work. Christians are especially guilty of this - perhaps out of a fear they’ll be misinterpreted or not seen as being holy enough for their peers.

One of this summer’s biggest movies was Inception. A large part of what made it great was that it didn’t give its viewers a neatly wrapped, tidy ending. Instead, it was left up to them to decide what the closing scene meant to the story as a whole.

The same goes for the highly-regarded TV drama LOST. Before May’s series finale the creators specifically stated that they would go on “radio silence” for six months after the last episode aired to allow time for fans to digest, discuss, and debate the episode’s contribution to the show’s overall canon.

Instead of talking about what Canton intended “In Da Club” and its missing lyrics to mean, why don’t we start conversations about how they resonated with each one of us?

• Was he trying to hide his faith with the goal of securing mainstream airplay?
• Was he making a statement about how his music would be edited on a secular station?
• Did he really say something like “nigga,” remember how people reacted to it on God the Father, and change his mind about including that word here?
• Is he trying to get us to consider what words we would use to fill in those blanks?
• Will he release an un-edited version of the song in the future?

All of those questions and their subsequent answers by listeners of all walks of life are infinitely more interesting than hearing Jones explain what he wanted us to hear.

Mystery often adds beauty and a deeper layer of interest to a narrative. Jesus didn’t spell out all of his parables to his disciples. It’s part of the reason why they’re some of the most interesting and thought-provoking sections of Scripture. Why can’t we follow a similar example in Christian hip hop?

And from a sheer marketing perspective, leaving a bit of ambiguity on the table can also drive interest. You didn’t see Lecrae tossing out an easy explanation for that Rehab symbol two days after it appeared online did you?

No, the anticipation for that announcement built and added to the intrigue of his album (which subsequently took the third overall chart position on iTunes the day it dropped.)

I’m not saying “In Da Club” doesn’t ever deserve an explanation. I’m simply advocating for a little more space.

Let it breathe Canton. Let it breathe. I think we’ll all be better off for it.