Thursday, July 21, 2011

15 minutes of highlights from Lecrae's 10k Kemah show

Here's a killer compilation of highlights from last week's Lecrae show in Kemah, Texas that reportedly drew 10,000 people to the boardwalk.

Video courtesy of the Frontline Movement's Ronnie "Reconcile" Lillard.

Look for cameos by DJ Promote and Cannon (the drumming/back flipping hypeman.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Recap: Rap-A-Lot Records' J. Prince & Hip Hop Hope Tuesdays celebrate 2 years of 5th Ward ministry

Bobby "Tre9" and Amanda Herring hosted the Hip Hop Hop Tuesdays event

The Prince Complex gymnasium in the heart of Houston's 5th Ward that serves as the home of the weekly Hip Hop Hope Tuesday youth services was remarkably cooler than when the event celebrated its first 365 days of existence.

At last year’s affair, (with Rap-A-Lot Records and community center founder J. Prince, former Geto Boy Willie D, street king Trae tha Truth, and Street Flava TV in attendance) the heat was unbearable, the air conditioning quit working, and a fire alarm had been accidentally set off causing the crowd to disperse sooner than planned. But now, after two full years of dedication, there was more cool air and excitement than expected.

Much Luvv Records founder Bobby “Tre9″ Herring launched the first Hip Hop Hope event (before the regular Tuesday gatherings) in partnership with Rap-A-Lot on Easter weekend 2009. Now, it’s a weekly outreach of his Eyes On Me Ministries that focuses on uplifting, enlightening, and encouraging young people entrenched in urban rap music culture.

For the last two years J. Prince has offered his space to Eyes On Me for the events and made a brief appearance at Hip Hop Hope Tuesday's July 5 celebration. Speaking to and about Tre9, he said “I’m thankful to have a brother in Christ who loves the hood the way that I love the hood and loves all of Houston I believe.”

“I’d like him to know that I’m going to continue to support him. As long as God keeps blessing me, I’m going to continue to extend the love and the blessings that I have.”

Cy, Gifted, Von Won, and bigAL helped celebrate

After that, the audience was treated to some lighthearted videos, a short Bible lesson about overcoming fear, and a performance from rapper/singer bigAL from Monroe, Louisiana. It was followed by testimonies of the ministry’s impact from rappers CY, Von Won, and Gifted da Flamethrowa as well as pastor Ricky Bradshaw and J. Prince’s wife Mary.

“We hope that established churches see us as missionaries,” Tre9 said. “Instead of sending hundreds of thousands of dollars overseas to sometimes do field trips, we want them to see that we’re here, we’ve been here two years, and we need help.”

“This isn’t an operation that brings in $200 a month. We make it and God provides, but He’s the one who really does this.”

Mary Prince spoke at the Hip Hop Hop Tuesdays anniversary

The night was also a celebration of Tre9’s 30-something birthday and Eyes On Me’s recent acquisition of a pre-owned, 22-person shuttle bus for transporting kids and parents to Hip Hop Hope Tuesdays and for use with the Feed a Friend homeless ministry they run every night in downtown Houston.

“Now we can go and pick up kids who can’t get here,” Tre9 said. “We know there’s a harvest field out here in 5th Ward. There are a lot of young people.”

“And we’re not trying to save them, because we know only Jesus can do that, but we are trying to present the Gospel to them. At least they’ll have that choice.”

The evening ended, as it always does, with an open mic freestyle rap session with the house DJ (in this case, Wiz from Praise 92.1).

Lots of Christian rappers showed up for the Hip Hop Hop Tuesdays anniversary

Although it had considerably less mainstream rap star power than in 2010, Hip Hop Hope Tuesdays’ second anniversary celebration seemed to relay more of a spiritual impact and significance than the year before.

NOTE: Eyes On Me and Rap-A-Lot Records will be hosting and celebrating their Hip Hop Hope Family Fun Day at the Prince Complex on Saturday, August 6.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

First Baptist's Houston Project utilizes Christian rappers for city-wide ministry

Some of this year's Houston Project Christian rap ministers
From left to right: 1-God, Tony Whoa, Brinson, Excelsius, Educator, Mahogany Jones

Yesterday, I blogged about a Christian rap concert by solo artist Lecrae in Kemah, Texas that reportedly drew 10,000 people.

While that’s cool and I’m very happy for both him and Reach Records - I’m equally, if not more impressed, with a guy like Educator, a rapper you probably don’t know, who was also serving my city through hip hop ministry on the same night as Crayola as part of First Baptist Church’s Houston Project.

Through that initiative, over 1,400 volunteers are challenged to share the love of Christ in 13 different locations via vacation bible schools, youth events, adult ministry, food distribution, sports ministry, evangelism, and prayer. Aside from the next-door neighbor focus, many will also find uniqueness in the large role that Christian hip hop is playing in this movement.

Coordinated by Malcolm “Excelsius” Marshall, guys like Educator, 1-God, IBC, Tony Whoa, Brinson and Mahogany Jones have hit the streets four days and nights this week to share the gospel.

They face the challenge of small crowds who don’t know them or their music or even care about their message. And yet, they’re still out loving on Houstonians and telling them about the inconceivable grace of Jesus the Christ.

H-town is blessed to have hip hop ministers of the gospel, with platforms of all sizes, serving us this way. Salute!

Thursday, July 14 marks the final day of the Houston Project. Learn more about it at

Here's Excelsius telling me more about the event from last year.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lecrae concert in Kemah reportedly draws a crowd of 10,000


No, that's not a typo. I was told by someone close to the event that there were 10,000 people at Lecrae's Boomin' by the Bay show last night.

Unfortunately, I got stuck in traffic and didn't make it to the gate until it was over.

It wasn't a ticketed event and amateur crowd estimates can be dicey, but yeah, 10k to see the dude flow solo. It was a free concert put on by the local CCM outlet (89.3 KSBJ) and their digital N-GEN youth-oriented station.


- It was just Lecrae (with DJ Promote) and opener Jamie Grace - not a festival with a ton of varied artists or some other draw. The rest of the 116 camp was not there. Crayola was THE headliner.

- It was at a public amusement center (the Kemah Boardwalk) and not a mega church.

- It was an outdoor event in the summer in Houston. (Hot and humid)

- It was on a Tuesday night.

- For many, Kemah is about an hour's drive outside of H-town.

Crazy I tell ya. I hope it helps open up some eyes about the popularity of this genre and benefits other Christian hip hop ministries around the city and country.

I didn't get any pics or video, but a few like the ones below are starting to pop up online.

If you're like me and missed out on this one, don't sweat. Lecrae and the Reach Records crew will be back in town October 22 for the Man Up tour. Given the crowd last night, you might wanna go ahead and secure those seats pronto!

This video's quality isn't that great, but it does give an indication of the crowd size.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thoughts on Ambassador’s post-fall & restoration "Stop the Funeral" album


These days I don’t really write album reviews, but occasionally there are projects I feel deserve some commentary. Xist Records sent me an advance copy of Ambassador’s Stop the Funeral record and after a few spins this weekend, here are my thoughts:

The Scarlet Letter on the Sleeve:

After admitting a “non-sexual but very inappropriate relationship with a woman other than my wife” and stepping away from the spotlight for spiritual restoration, we’re all no doubt curious how much space that topic takes up on his first album since it all went public.

The answer is: Some, but not all.

Throughout Stop the Funeral, Ambassador often references his fall from grace. It’s not in terms as clearly muddy as his official statement from April of 2010, but those who have followed the artist know exactly what he is talking about.

And months before the release of this album, he dropped “For Your Love” that hit upon all of those topics. In my opinion, it was a great way to speak to the obvious and get it out of the way. But honestly, I’m wondering if he shouldn’t have still included it and more songs that discuss this issue on the album.

Is that my carnal nature looking to feed the flesh with music derived from pain? (Often, the most artistically satisfying sort.) Do I really need to know all the down dirty details?

Or has what William Branch II offered on Stop the Funeral more than enough to let me see him as a sinful human who, like me, doesn’t deserve the redemptive grace God offers through the sacrifice of his only son - Jesus the Christ?

I’m still wrestling with that one.

• Sonically, the project is professional. Glossy production abounds; mostly in a robot-like, radio-friendly direction. Unfortunately, there are times when that sound dominates with very little distinction. Sequenced back to back, can you really tell where “Get With Us” ends and “Mind Made Up” begins?

• Although professionally executed, it can all begin to sound pretty bland. But then you’ll stumble across the oddly compelling flow of “Pop, Pop, Pop” or “Put It Down” and be reminded that Duece can still spit.

• “Bring You Out” rings true with callbacks to both the Jay-Z-tag-turned-T.I.-hit and the Biblical story of Jesus asking the previously-dead Lazarus to come out of his tomb. (Again, another excellent employment of the Stop the Funeral theme.)

• The “controversial” Canton Jones collaboration is pretty much wasted. With so many other over-produced singers on the choruses, it’s difficult to tell the Domionaire is even riding the hook. It’s not until you hit the last few bars that CaJo’s voice actually bleeds through.

And Canton’s not doing himself any “Favors” in deflecting his he-talks-too-much-about-money critics with silly lines like: “I don’t even worry cuz I know that You are able / You even blessed my neighbor / he didn’t even have TV, but now he has cable.”

• I find it an interesting contrast (artistically, not theologically) that on Ambassador’s last album (The Chop Chop) he was screaming “Gimmie Dat” in regards to all of God’s blessings and goodness and now he’s willing to settle for just the “Crumbs” from His table. Here again, we hear the heart of a man who has been humbled before his Creator.

• “Your Love” featuring KJ-52 and Michelle Bonilla isn’t a club banger, but could certainly fit into your church’s Sunday morning worship set.

• “The Reunion Cypha” with God’s Servant, J.A.Z., shai linne, C-Lite, and Cruz Cordero will definitely get you hypa.

• In the late 90’s and early 2000’s Cross Movement (Ambassador’s former group/label) was the face of the Christian hip hop movement. They were what Reach Records is today.

So it’ll be interesting to see how this album sells now that the 116 Clique fanboys largely determine iTunes’ chart positions on drop day.

Stop the Funeral released on Tuesday, July 12 and can be purchased on iTunes,, or at

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Chicago's Bruh Luuh on, the life of a producer, and whether or not he would have voted for Rhymefest


I recently caught up with Bruh Luuh via e-mail to discuss his connection, his music, and his thoughts on Muslim rapper Rhymefest running for office in his Chicago hometown.

Sketch: Your connection to goes back to founder Richie “s/ave” Douglas and ONEMIND Magazine/ How’d a Chicago-based MC like yourself get hooked up with s/ave and his media endeavors?

Bruh Luuh: First of all, rest in peace to my big homie, Richie a.k.a. "Slavey-Gravy Train" b.k.a. "s/ave" Douglas and my prayers are forever with his wife "Tee."

I've been accepted as a "Chicago-based MC" as of late, but a lot of people don't know that I'm from Foley/Mobile, Alabama but I was born in Pascagoula/Gautier, Mississippi.

I hooked up with s/ave back in 1999/2000-ish when I got saved and was keystyling and battling MCs on the net. It was awesome and divine intervention because he was doing all things Christian hip hop at the time. He reached out and told me, with brutal honesty, everything that he loved and hated about the music that I was putting out. I loved and appreciated that and we became instant friends.

I have a lot of respect for s/ave's vision because he wanted all Christian MCs to be of "One Mind." That's what the "O.M." stood for in "" I remember when I asked him what the name “s/ave” meant. He told me that the empathy that he had for us as black people during the period of slavery and the civil rights movement drove him to take the name, plus the fact that ALL humans are slaves to sin and only Christ makes us free. As you can see today, he was a true servant to God.

I watched the message board evolve into a place where you could get good advice, beats, or music. Before the secular industry had caught on to mp3 technology (Napster was a free song file sharing site and there was no such thing as iTunes), he and James "BL" Parry were showing me how to tag my songs with metadata. BL ran the production section of the site and had a Christian channel on called the “Bru HA.” Those two were a dynamite team. I remember s/ave being excited about getting the Corey Red cover/interview for the magazine and 4th Avenue Jones to cover the debut. I still have my OM media in mint condition. I miss my homie.

Years before s/ave’s homegoing, his obedience to God led him to a school for the deaf. He told me that a close friend of his, Bobby "Tre9" Herring, had a dope vision for Tre9 deserves a lot of credit for what he has done with the site and in the industry period. He kept the culture of the site edgy, high-tech, and competitive with any hip-hop site that you can name on the internet.

Sketch: You’ve been grinding in the Christian rap game for quite a while as both a rapper and producer. Which artistic outlet have you found most challenging? Most rewarding?

Bruh Luuh: Selling beats is rewarding. Hmmm... I've been spitting for a long time too, but I find both equally rewarding because of the final product. I love coming up with new rhyme patterns and flows in the studio, but I was forced to learn production because the price of beats were insane. Add studio rates on top of that…

There weren't any of these beat licensing sites that we have today where you can license a track for $11.00. I got serious about production and copped my first keyboard in 2002. Production was the most challenging because I actually made myself sit down and read each manual in its entirety when I bought a new piece of gear before I even turned it on.

Making beats is easy if you have the basic concept of sequencing music, but then you need to learn to track it out, mix, and then master. Learning to mix and master was a beast, but here I am.

The “producer” title also has a dual meaning in my eyes. Anybody can rap and there are a million beat makers on this planet. I can honestly say that I can take an artist and a budget from lyrics on paper to a captured sound on a professionally mastered CD in a jewel case with shrink-wrap and a barcode. That's rewarding.

Sketch: Where does your latest release, Pen to the Paper, rank in the Bruh Luuh catalog?

Bruh Luuh: I wrote, produced, mixed, mastered & released Pen to the Paper underground in 2002. This is a re-release for my new album. It's timeless in a sense. I rank it pretty high because cats are just now catching up. I'm like that cartoon kid "Dexter" formulating my next invention in my secret lab.

When you say the name Bruh Luuh, it's like you're talking about and speaking to a new artist. I have people in my fan base that have been following my music since I dropped my first project, Fresh Manna, in 2001 then The Maxi-Single then Spiritual Advisory under the handle "Brother Love." If you dig, you can find all of my underground releases. I stopped writing to learn production and now that I'm a beast on the beats, I'm back. Automaticity is the name of my next album. That’s an exclusive for you, Sketch.

Sketch: Mainstream rapper Rhymefest (a professing Muslim who won a Grammy for co-authoring Kanye West’s hit record “Jesus Walks”) recently ran for an alderman position in Chicago. As a member of both the hip hop and Christian communities in that city, what was your take on his campaign? Would you have voted for him if given the chance?

Bruh Luuh: I'm familiar. I met Rhymefest through a company here in Chicago called He was about to go on stage for a charity benefit for the Haiti tragedy called "Every Drop Counts" when he made time for me. That was brief, but I got a chance to see 'Fest move a crowd live from behind the stage.

Outside of the music arena though, I try to govern myself as Dr. Martin Luther King did and judge people by the content of their character. As a member of the hip hop community and being a Chicago resident, yes... I would vote for Fest 100%.

Unfortunately, I don't live in the ward that he ran in so I couldn't vote for him and although I received some invites, my schedule was in conflict with his campaign outreach dates. He got a lot of media coverage, although I wish there was more.

When you live here and when you've been shot at by these little gang-bangers like I have, you realize that they need to see an ex gang-banger in a respectable position of authority. So many small children and random people here in Chicago die every year as a result of gang violence. He would have been the voice that could have changed that, but he was robbed of that chance by shady politics. He should run for office again.

Being a part of the Christian community, I must say that I try my best to pick the best candidates when dealing with politics.

Sketch: What’s your take on the current Christian hip hop scene? Does anything in particular excite or disappoint you?

I'm overwhelmed by the leaps and bounds that I've seen Christian rappers take in the last 10 years. Most Christian rappers' production is sounding better than the secular ones and that's what is needed in these last days.

The only things that disappoint me are when I see or hear a carbon copy of Lil' Wayne, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, etc. I call them "Gospel Groupies."

I love the fact that God's MCs are becoming more and more commercialized. But at the same time, I hope that "newly converted" or born-again believers get our messages in the midst of our popularity, profiles, and budgets.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Houston band goes from 'rapcore' backups of Bushwick Bill's Christian hip hop to a newfound Folk Family Revival

Courtesy photo - Justin Trapp

On Saturday night, Houston’s Folk Family Revival will be releasing their new album Unfolding. I recently caught up with FFR lead singer Mason Lankford via e-mail to discuss the band’s connection to Christian hip hop, how their sound has evolved, and why they weave Biblical themes into their lyrics.

Sketch: Where did the Folk Family Revival name come from?

Mason Lankford: When my brothers and I first started playing music together I was around 10 years old. And like most young musicians, we tried our hand in plenty of different styles.

When I turned 13 or 14, I started writing these kind of folky songs, and by the time I was 15 I started performing as a sort of side project.

When someone asked me what I was writing, I told them it was kind of a "folk family revival" sound or something like that. I didn't even think of using it for a band name until my brothers later decided to jump on the folk wagon. It fits very well even still.

Bushwick Bill with FFR drummer Lincoln Lankford at the 2008 All Eyes On Me Achievement Awards in Houston - Photo by Sketch the Journalist

Sketch: My first interaction with your band was seeing you support a few local Christian hip hop acts. However, your sound has changed since then.

So tell me, how do you go from recording screamo backgrounds on (former Geto Boy) Bushwick Bill’s gospel rap album to the Texas country / Americana vibe of Unfolding?

Mason Lankford: One of our former groups was a band that involved a lot of large amps and loud yelling. We were branded as a Christian heavy-rock band.

At the time, Bushwick Bill had just gone through a life-changing experience that resulted in his salvation, and he started writing Christian rap. He wanted to do a "rapcore" number, so he called me to do a screaming track. That was pretty cool. I wrote a rap too but they scratched it, which, in retrospect, was a good call.

So, on to how we switched. At this point, we had changed styles to southern rock and found Red Tree Recording Studio in Magnolia where we went in to record a single. I played some of my folk stuff for Jeffery Armstreet (our producer), and he had me come back up the next day and play him everything I had. He urged us to start playing that style. I was very happy I had someone saying that, and my brothers felt is was the better choice, so we did it… and the Folk Family was born.

Sketch: I know you’re a big fan of Bob Dylan – an enormously respected artist who had a well-publicized “Jesus Muzik” phase of his career. What about his poetry inspires or speaks to you?

Mason Lankford: That’s just it. He is a poet, and even as one of the world’s most well-rounded songwriters, he is still a poet. He is known as a poet. That’s not what I'm going for, but that’s one of the things I respect about him. His reputation is who he is, as well as how many different styles he covers. I believe "Subterranean Homesick Blues" was one of the first written rap songs.

Courtesy photo - Jonathan Barrick

Sketch: Although you’re not making music for the Christian market, your lyrics still often employ Biblical lyrics and imagery. Why have you decided to continue to weave those themes into your work?

Mason Lankford: I’m just not branded as a Christian. Mostly because I don't like the word itself. I like to sing what I believe.

Sketch: You guys are still building the “sweat equity” part of your career - hustling to get in front of as many different audiences as possible all while doing the grunt work of road travel and equipment setup and such. What’s the appeal of this as a full-time gig?

Mason Lankford: I’m sure at some point we will need some extra people to help with our stuff so we can make it to the next gig on time, but for now, it’s all good. We like to do the work, and I really have no intentions of having someone carry my stuff for me. Honestly, it was a hobby that turned into a career.

Folk Family Revival plays its CD release show this Saturday night, 7.9.11 at Dosey Doe Coffeeshop & Restaurant in The Woodlands. The band also performed Friday, 7.8.11 on FOX 26‘s morning program. The album will be available on 7.12.11.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Houston's Hip Hop Hope Tuesdays celebrates 2 year anniversary


Next week, Houston’s Eyes On Me ministries will celebrate its second year of Hip Hop Hope Tuesdays events at the Prince Complex in 5th Ward.

Hip Hop Hope Tuesdays (HHHT) is a weekly youth service designed to uplift, enlighten, and encourage young people entrenched in urban rap music culture. Much Luvv Records founder Bobby “Tre9″ Herring launched the first Hip Hop Hope event in partnership with Rap-a-Lot Records on Easter weekend 2009.

DJ Primo shows kids how to mix and scratch

“A lot of rappers mention giving back to the neighborhoods they came from but very few actually do,” Herring told me before last year’s anniversary event. “Talk is cheap, so with Hip Hop Hope Tuesdays, we want to show that the Houston rap community can make good on our word and bring positivity to the parts of our city that need it most.”

This year’s affair will include a performance by rapper/singer bigAL from Monroe, Louisiana along with various prizes, dancers, and food. Rap-A-Lot’s founder James “J” Prince and hip hop star/Rice University professor Bun B (UGK) have also been invited to attend.

All parts of the evening are free of charge. It takes place July 5, from 7:30 – 9pm at the Prince Complex located at 3000 Jensen Drive.


Earlier this week Eyes On Me also announced they had purchased a used, 22-passenger shuttle bus for transporting kids and parents to their Hip Hop Hope Tuesday events and for use with the Feed a Friend homeless ministry they run every night in downtown Houston.

At last year’s anniversary party Rap-A-Lot Records’ somewhat reclusive founder talked to me about why hosting Hip Hop Hope Tuesdays at his community center means so much to him. My conversation with J.Prince is posted below.