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: