Wednesday, September 28, 2011

INTERVIEW: Gifted da Flamethrowa talks about going back & graduating college while working a day job

Photo courtesy of Gifted da Flamethrowa - obviously!

A few weeks ago my man Gifted da Flamethrowa graduated college with a business management degree.

A few days before he crossed the stage I sat down with him in The Woodlands, Texas to discuss his return to school, balancing that with family and church obligations, and how sometimes a "day job" is the right thing to do despite a person's "full-time music minister" dream title.

See the three previous segments of this interview here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lecrae films testimony video for "I Am Second" organization


Houston-born, top-selling Christian rapper Lecrae has filmed a testimony video for I Am Second.

The organization describes itself as "a movement meant to inspire people of all kinds to live for God and for others" and utilizes online multimedia (including these iconic interviews with subjects - often athletes or entertainers - wearing black clothing and sitting in a white chair) to mobilize its members locally.


I Am Second is even being used by some churches, like The Loft campus of The Woodlands United Methodist Church, as a message theme series.

The short film, which was released last night (Sept 26), can be viewed at the link below.
Lecrae - I Am Second

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lecrae joins local artists for Christian rap love letter to Houston


Lecrae, the Houston-born rapper at the top of the Christian hip hop genre, recently joined local artists Von Won and Shei Atkins for a remix of Wit & Dre Murray's (also from Houston) "Welcome to H-town" song.

The sequel is a part of the Episode 2: Welcome Home series of the duo's Hell's Paradise II: Mask Parade project.

Peep the lyrics below and see how many Houston-specific shoutouts and slang you can identify. There's even an audio "Easter egg" of sorts in Lecrae's verse if you catch it.

Sung refrain: Von Won
(from first version of song, with some slight changes):

Welcome to H-Town, yeah; welcome to H-Town, whoa;
Said ‘em boys ridin’ clean…but without the King, what does it really mean?
Cup full of lean, got a Sweet full of green, wake up, boy, this ain’t a dream!
Welcome to H-Town, yeah; welcome to H-Town, whoa;
I’m prayin’ for H-Town, yeah, yeah; welcome to H-Town, whoa, yeah.

Verse 1: (Dre Murray)
Roamin’ round the earth, thinkin’ bout my city, yeah, the place of my birth
Every time I hear that name, I feel this pain in my shirt
Right next to my heart, like a flame, and it hurts!
Ignored it at first, but now I think it’s something I must address

The right spot to get this thing off a my chest,
The caged bird won’t be able to sing until it rest;
You just gimme a chance to explain, I do my best;
Explain to you why I left—He orders my steps;

To expound any further would be a waste of breath.
This story’s a little bit more than it seems; it has some depth
It’s like I haven’t waken up from a dream, quiet as kept
Nevertheless, baby, I love H-Town; pray for my city when my knees hit the ground;
I pray you find a Savior like I did, H-Town, ‘cuz when He come through,
[chopped and screwed effect] man, it’s goin’ down.

Verse 2: (Lecrae)
I was born in H-town, starched down, way back,
When them slabs in the city, beat that Screw off in the back
Pokin’ out, keep them spinners, eatin’ Frenchy’s chicken dinner
Family came from 3rd ward, Scott Street on up to Ennis,

Hangin’ out in Sunnyside, with my cousin Corey,
They was on that purple Sprite, I was still sippin’ 40s,
Keke’s “Still Pimpin’” stories as I’m passing by Yates, stop and wonderin’ if I'll land at heaven’s gates,
I told my cousin D at TSU while smokin’ trees,
“I think the Lord is calling me”; both of us agree.

And man, I love the city of my birth, that’s why I plead
That God would change the “H” same way he’s changing me.

(sung, from 1st version of song):
‘Cause All I cared about was ridin’ clean, a pocket full of green,
And find a bad yella I can put up on my team,
My bros ridin’ dirty, you know your soul ain’t clean—
Go on, let the Lord intervene.

(sung refrain, from 1st version of song, Von Won w/Shei Atkins):
Welcome to H-Town, yeah [Lecrae speaks over the singing, “What up H-town? I still love you, baby”];
Welcome to H-Town, whoa, yeah;
They say them boys ridin’ clean, fresh up on the scene, but without the King, what does it really mean?
Cup full a lean, Sweet full of green, wake up, boy, this ain’t a dream!
Welcome to H-Town, yeah ; welcome to H-Town, whoa, yeah;
I’m prayin’ for H-Town, yeah, yeah; welcome to H-Town, whoa, yeah

Verse 3 (Dre Murray)
I had a dream on the plane that I was sitting in the slab
Seat back, bass up, chuckin’ deuce and giving dab
Talkin’ to my partners ‘bout these plans that I have,
When I told ‘em Oklahoma, man, dem boys just laughed, like,

“Where dat at, folk? Man, stop the joking! Yeah, you hoop, but you ain’t that dope!,”
It’s like they couldn’t understand me having that hope,
Tryin to serve God, they want me serving fiends with that dope,
A job where we flat broke. Pass the kill

And as I got higher, death is what I started to feel—“Dawg, we smokin’ kill!”
Hah. I backed away from The Killer, and as He picked up my life, and my vision got clearer
Destiny is screaming; it’s faint, but I hear her;
Things are bad right now, but the man in the mirror
Is tryin’ to make a change, rearrange some things. H-town, I still love ya, hold up mayne

(sung refrain, from 1st version of song; Shei Atkins only)
Welcome to H-Town (4x)
(sung refrain, from 1st version of song; Von Won only)
Welcome to H-Town, yeah; welcome to H-Town, whoa; yeah
Said ‘em boys ridin’ clean…but without the King, what does it really mean?
Got a cup full a lean, Sweet full of green, wake up, boy, this ain’t a dream!
Welcome to H-Town, yeah; welcome to H-Town, whoa; yeah
I’m prayin’ for H-Town, yeah, yeah; welcome to H-Town, whoa, yeah

(sung refrain, from 1st version of song; Shei Atkins only)
Welcome to H-Town (4x)

HP2 - Episode 2: Welcome Home can be purchased through iTunes or at

Monday, September 19, 2011

Part 1 of my "Bulldoze City" interviews with Gifted da Flamethrowa

A few weeks ago I met up with Houston's Gifted da Flamethrowa for a series of interview videos about a range of topics related to hip hop ministry.

Gifted's new album, Bulldoze City, drops tomorrow, Tuesday, September 20 on iTunes and other digital download spots.

Here's the first half.

Part 1 of 7
Gifted on:
  • His new album/new label and
  • What he's learned from other artists

Part 2 of 7
Gifted on:
  • Online promotion
  • Answering his critics and
  • His animated "Reaper" video

Part 3 of 7
Gifted on:
  • His New Orleans-to-Houston story
  • The Lil Wayne impact and
  • How he prepares to minister in hoods, prisons, and overseas

Part 2 of this series will cover Gifted speaking about going back to college, whether or not he would battle rap, what it means to be a servant, and the humble question he was asked by Malice of The Clipse.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Joey The Jerk “Dreams” of a less hip-hop, more CCM sound with new album


I recently caught up with former L.A. Symphony hip hop collective member Sarpong Boateng (aka Joey Lawrence, aka Joey L, aka Joey The Jerk) via e-mail to discuss his new musical direction as Joey’s Dream, whether or not he took a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach to the Christian Contemporary Music scene, and if he thinks he’d ever return to recording rap music.

Sketch: With the new "Joey's Dream" sound, you've also changed up your stage name. When exactly did you quit being a "Jerk?"

Joey: Honestly, I never quit being "Joey The Jerk", I just really wanted my project to sound more like a band and less like a dude. So you have examples like Owl City. That's just one guy, but it sounds like a band.

Joey’s Dream was and is my attempt to make it sound like a band, especially for people who have no concept of who I am. They don't know that Joey The Jerk existed.

And Joey The Jerk is a little harsh for the Christian market, or at least I always thought it was. I was always in fear that someone would scold me at a church event because of it.

Sketch: You mentioned in your interview that you felt like there was only room for about two rappers within the CCM (Christian Contemporary Music) industry.

Given that, I find it interesting that your action as a result of that observation was more of a "if you can't beat 'em; join 'em" approach than to simply divorce the scene and keep pursuing hip hop in a more independent way. What drove you stick it out in the CCM arena? Am I even reading your reaction correctly?

Joey: Wow, that’s a big question, maybe not that big of a question, but so many things go on in my head in trying to answer it.

It wasn't “if you can’t beat em...” it was more like, umm... I was looking at it more like I loved doing Christian shows and it was so encouraging to see young Christians across the country. Living in L.A. you don't see a gang of Christians. It’s few and far between. Or you see people at your church and maybe you are too close to them, so you see all of them, their flaws, and their great character traits as well.

The culture here is far from Christian. This is not the “Bible Belt” so you have so many people who go to church and are not even halfway getting it because all of the concepts are new to them, they’re in “seeker-friendly” churches with watered down sermons, and they aren't reading theology and doctrine books. So you gotta understand that real Christianity is in the minority here. And to go on the road and see so many Christians my age or younger, that was like wow! So fresh! It was super encouraging for me.

There were the club/bar shows we would do and the underground hip hop shows we would do in L.A. and out and about, so when we were on the road there were like in two totally, completely different worlds. One night we’d be in front of a youth group with happy Christian kids putting on their best Christian face and the next night we’d be at a club show with drugs and drunk people.

I made [my solo hip hop album called] Average Joe and liked the way it came about and we as L.A. Symphony were making new music. And probably from 2003 until we stopped making songs there was an ongoing question or underlying conversation about our reinvention. We let some dudes go, so that probably had a little bit to do with it. On The End Is Now [group member] Flynn Adam Atkins did most of the production and that was a new look for us.

We were always trying to make the best albums we could collectively make, but in that context, you have to look at your capacity and say "Well, how much can we change or switch up?" And in the context of L.A.S. there wasn't much we could have done to reinvent what we did for a lot of reasons. But I knew I could as an individual. I wanted to do different things musically, but I couldn't do them in the L.A.S. machine because it looked like what it was going to look like.

I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder and New Edition as well as tons of R&B, rap, and Christian music – artists like Russ Taff, Michael W. Smith, and DC Talk. So I always loved singing, particularly extra loud in the car extra, but I wouldn't say I was a singer because I'm black and grew up listening to R&B dudes who could really sing like Luther and them. But I could maybe carry a tune so I always thought in my mind I would end up writing songs for some reason.

I remember having a conversation with Flynn in his apartment in Sherman Oaks in like 1999 about doing more than just rapping, in the long run, in the big picture, in the context of my artistry. So as a CCM fan, or an eclectic music fan, I felt like I could do this and it was time to switch it up. I had been joking since 2003 when I put out Average Joe, that my next record was going to be called Joey Sings, then [former L.A.S. group member Pigeon] John put out Pigeon John Sings the Blues and stole part of my title. So that took the wind out of my sails a little because I didn’t want to look like a John biter.

So time goes by and you get married and have kids, and you’re looking at both of these worlds saying to yourself, “Where do I want to live?” It’s funny because I think musically I still have a lot of experiments in me and you make what you make. I feel like if I am honest with myself in the process of making music and I keep honest people around me the music will never get wack.

So in saying that, I loved Disappear Here, and felt like it was a good record, but the kind of rap music I want to make, or that I make, I feel like there is no potential home for it. The CCM market doesn’t want it and can’t do anything with it. That was my take away from doing that album. And the college hip-hop or underground market was and is full of ills and lifestyles that I don’t want to be around, and take my wife around, and raise my kids around.

So taking all of that into consideration, I’m not motivated to want to make another rap album. I write raps randomly and what not, but I don’t think those worlds want what I have to offer. And it wouldn't be me doing something new, in my eyes at least, it would be me doing L.A.S. but by myself. That’s not appealing to me.

For me music has always been fun, because of the relationships and what not. So I saw this [Joey’s Dream] as a new adventure and a great opportunity to grow as an artist and work with dudes who were cool but weren’t L.A.S. dudes. This music is something I guess would have been a natural progression for L.A.S. had we had the capacity to do more than rap music.

Look at Flynn and the stuff he's done. It is what it is, but it’s not "rap" music, you know? To me this isn’t and wasn’t a new idea in my head, it was more something that I had been playing with in my mind for some time.


Sketch: When people ask you what type of music you do what do you tell them?

Joey: Honestly, I say something like, "I used to make rap music and now I do this kind of singy, rappy, I don't know, you know, rappy singy, it is what it is, I don’t know." That is literally how I answer the question.

Sketch: Who are some of the influences for "Joey's Dream?" I'm hearing a little bit of Weezer and maybe Owl City as well as your former LA Symphony bandmates Flynn Adam Atkins and Pigeon John.

Joey: I don’t know how to answer this, umm... I am not really into Weezer or Owl City. Not like a diss, just you know, I know some Weezer, and only know the “Fireflies” song from Owl City.

As far as Flynn, and John, nah, I was honestly writing singing songs before either one of them went in that direction. They just have put out more music than me and they got their stuff out before I did. And that’s not a diss or saying they bit my styles or anything, I think it was a natural progression. We all are eclectic dudes with wide ranges of influences. We all listen to different styles of music. No one would call myself, Flynn, or John a “rap head.” So when you write songs, raps, whatever, you write what you write and go where it’s going.

It's hard to say where your influence is coming from musically. I listen to all kinds of stuff from Micheal Franks to Mute Math, from Eric B and Rakim to Jennifer Knapp, from Bell Biv Devoe to Oasis, from Kanye West to Kendall Payne, from Chris Rice to Jodeci. You know the list goes on and on.

I once saw Amos Lee in an interview and he was talking about how he loved KRS One. I still think that’s weird, but you know, how can you tell? You write what you write.

I think depending on the song and the writer, most of the stuff [on this album] I wrote with Matt Dally from Superchik. So while we came out of different music scenes, we joined together in the same direction for the sake of writing songs we liked and were totally happy with. Because if we didn’t like it we were real honest with each other about that.

Joey The Jerk’s previous hip hop sound

Sketch: Do you think you'll ever return to writing and performing hip hop music - especially from a faith-based perspective? Why or why not?

Joey: I don’t know. I love rap music. Anything I do I want to do it from a faith-based perspective, so yes and no.

I still write raps, and eventually I will have enough material for an album, but that could be 6-7 years down the line at this rate. I don’t know that I will have time for an expensive, time-consuming hobby like that in the future. Part of me is convinced that I could make the best rap record that I could make and I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

I think the climate has changed a little also. In the Christian arenas the rappers are becoming more like teaching-rapper-evangelists and that’s not how I write or what I make and I would be a phony if I tried to make music that isn’t genuinely from me. I think my rap style is more braggadocios, silly, introspective, lifestyle kind of rap. I don’t know how to put it words exactly.

With a singy song I can write lyrics first. Where with a rap, I won’t write raps without a beat and the beat leads me to a topic. That’s probably why I won’t make another rap album anytime soon - I don’t get beat CDs anymore.

The Mold Me EP by Joey’s Dream can be downloaded from Illect Recordings at the following online retailers: $ 6.99 at iTunes / $6.23 at Amazon / $6.00 at Bandcamp

Joey’s Dream

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Should Christians battle rap? Playdough competes in EmSee Houston - Red Bull Battle this Thursday


This Thursday night rapper Playdough will compete in the EmSee Houston Red Bull Battle at Warehouse Live. I recently caught up with the MC, a 5-time winner of Dallas’ 97.9 The Beat’s Freestyle Fridays challenge, via e-mail to get his thoughts on what can be considered a controversial practice for some Christians in the hip hop culture.

Sketch: When I interviewed you last year, we discussed battle rapping and you told me that “Some Christians have made it into such a weird thing, but at the end of the day it’s about competing and wanting to win a contest.”

But these things can get pretty vulgar, pretty fast. As a Christian, do you set limits on what you will and won’t say in the heat of a battle? If so, does that handcuff or handicap your ability to win?

Playdough: I'm not a very vulgar guy so it's pretty hard for something that vulgar to come out of my mouth. I do try to represent who I am and maintain how I want to be represented. It probably doesn't help my ability to win, but it's better exercise for my brain.

While most people would just come out and say something straight to the point, I like to dance around it a little bit more and bring home the point in a more creative way. I like to leave more to the imagination of the audience and paint some imagery rather than just coming out and saying it.

It's freestyle, though. I can't predict what I'll say and sometimes in the moment only certain rhymes come to your head. Sometimes things come out and you didn't intend the line to sound the way it did.

It's all about being in the moment and it's hard to predict what will go down. I do try to stay in a place that makes me feel comfortable with who I am and how I want to be looked at.

Sketch: I’ve actually heard of Christian rappers “reverse battling” where, instead of tossing insults and verbal jabs at their opponent, they use compliments and try to build up the person holding the mic in front of them.

What’s your take on that? If it’s just a competition and about “iron sharpening iron,” could turning the negative aspects of this activity on its ear actually work?

Playdough: This has always sounded like the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. If you're talking about getting better and finding a more creative way to stay on your toes and rap about spontaneous things then I do agree that it could be an exercise to sharpen your wit.

My issue is that it's only in Christian circles because they don't want to insult someone else. At the end of the day the "building up" is just as fake as "tearing down." If you're talking about someone's shoes and flow being awful or their jeans and shirt looking really nice and very in style, it's both saying things that you probably don't think are actually true.

"Your mom is super fat" or "Those jeans look really good on you and fit your body style great" are both things that you'd say to get a response, but may or may not be true. The jab is just as false as the props. All Christians ever want to do is take something and make the "Christian" version of it. That's never creative and is embarrassing to me.


Sketch: UGK rapper Bun B will be hosting this event. As a rapper who is known in some Christian music circles, do you feel any added pressure to come correct in front of “Professor Trill” who taught a “Religion & Hip Hop Culture” class at Rice University last year?

Playdough: I want to come correct for sure, but he doesn't add any pressure to the situation for me. Game recognize game and as long as I'm doing me I'm sure I'll get respect.

As much as I'd like to kill it and impress the judges, my main goal is to impress the crowd and gain some new fans. I want people to realize I'm not just a battle rapper and that I have a catalog of good recorded music. I never look to impress one person, he's just like you and me at the end of the day.

Sketch: You appear to be the only Caucasian out of the eight contestants slotted for Thursday night’s event.

How quickly do you think your race will be referenced by an opponent as a sign of your lack of talent? Or did Eminem’s Rap Olympics showing and 8 Mile movie help shatter that perception?

He hasn't shattered a thing from what I've experienced. People won't even make fun of me being white because they actually think white people are wack. They'll say it because it's an effective way to get the crowd response.

I'd be willing to bet that something will be said about my race in the first round.

Sketch: You’re in a group called deepspace5 with a rapper named Manchild. He’s also an accomplished MC and was even asked to judge the Red Bull Battle when it made a stop in Atlanta last year.

The obvious question here is who would win if you two squared off against each other?

He's the dopest. I wouldn't want to battle him ever. He's a great friend of mine and shares in my day to day struggle more than almost anyone. He's an incredible emcee on paper and off the top. My pride would want to tell you reasons that I'm better and why I'd win against him, but if I'm being real, I don't know if I'd win.

But honestly that's how battling is. Winning one or two battles against someone doesn't necessarily mean that you're the better emcee. Not to overplay the basketball example, but freestyling is like shooting the ball. Sometimes your jumper is on and sometimes it's off. Sometimes your freestyle is rusty and sometimes it's super focused. Multiple battles on different days would probably end in different results every time.

The EmSee Houston Red Bull Battle kicks off at 9pm at Warehouse Live on Thursday, September 8, 2011. Judges/performers include: ESG, Trae tha Truth, and Alchemist. Bun B will host.

Admission is free. For more details.

Here’s a clip of one of Playdough’s less-combative raps from his new Hotdoggin’ album.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Bun B opens "Religion & Hip Hop Culture" course to the public starting September 13

Professor Bun B and Dr. Anthony Pinn speak to last semester's
"Religion and Hip Hop Culture" class at Rice University.
Photo by Erik Quinn from the course Facebook page

UGK rapper Bun B is full of interesting news this week.

On Tuesday, August 30 it was the proclamation of an official “Bun B Day” by Mayor Annise Parker and the City of Houston. And now, it’s the announcement that he’ll be donning his professor’s cap once again for a public session of the fascinating “Religion and Hip Hop Culture” course he taught at Rice last spring.

However, this time around, the class will be open to the general public through the university’s School of Continuing Studies.

The course will be held on eight Tuesday nights at 7pm – 8:30pm from September 13 through November 1, 2011. The cost is $170 ($150 for Rice alumni) and offers 1.2 CEUs (Continuing Education Unit credits.)

As with last semester’s session, it will be co-taught by Bernard “Bun B” Freeman and Dr. Anthony Pinn, the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and professor of religious studies at Rice University.

Topics will include the following:

• What is religion? - A theoretical grounding
• What is hip hop? - Break dancing and visual art, and the look and language of hip hop
• Religious traditions and rap music: Islam, Christianity and rap
• Hip hop as a critique of religious institutions
• Hip hop and life meaning
• Hip hop, a “new” religion - Works of artists who argue hip hop is a unique religious language and experience

I’m told the classroom holds 100 student and that they’d like to, but don't yet, have every seat filled. Also, there will not be any required work to complete outside of the class which certainly makes it a more attractive opportunity for potential students who may already be managing busy day jobs and homes.

Those interested can find more details and sign up for the course online through the school’s website.

Here’s what Bun B told me about the class at the end of last semester.

UPDATE 09/07/11 (11am CST) - I'm told the class has been cancelled due to low enrollment. No word yet on whether or not it will be offered at a later date.