Sunday, January 30, 2011

My 5 Favorite CHH Albums of 2010

Sure, we’re almost into the second month of 2011, but I’m just egotistical enough to think you might be interested in my selections for the top five Christian hip hop releases of last year.

So here we go. In no particular order (because I kinda hate the year-end-ranking thing):


Bizzle – The Messenger: Volume 2

Bizzle certainly made a mark in 2010 with his “Explaining to Do” Jay-Z shot from The Messenger: Volume 1. But I believe that The Messenger: Volume 2 really allowed him to shine and show that he was capable of crafting more than just songs addressed to celebrities.

On V2 he was also assisted by a handful of respected Christian rappers who had reached out to and clicked with him when the publicity storm hit shore. It’s a secular remake style offering, but a good one (witness Bizzle, Sevin, and KamBINO stomp on that stellar “Beamer, Benz, or Bently” beat.) You’ll also get a little bit more insight into the post-Jay-Z era (“From the Horse’s Mouth”) and an original cut like “Legal Money” with Von Won and Dre Murray.

Interested listeners can cop the free download here.

Braille – Weapon Aid

As I noted in April, Weapon Aid has a somber-but-hopeful mood which is surprising, yet expected, from a follower of Jesus who has experienced a mass of emotional turmoil the past few years.

Braille has spoken publicly about his father’s death, his painful divorce, moving from state to state, and caring for his young daughter. Add in the, then recent, demise of his Hip Hop is Music company and the public diss from a former labelmate and you’ve got a justifiable recipe for depression. Still, his lyrics 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 is heart-sleeve hip hop in the emotional vein of Kanye’s 808s & 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.

This is another great album you can download for free here.


Playdough – Writer Dye

Playdough has always impressed me on the mic but Writer Dye definitely took it up a few notches. A large part of it has to do with the hipster-cool concept – for this project the MC took lyrics from other bands and genres (including The White Stripes, Kings of Leon, The Violent Femmes, and Nirvana) and turned them into hip-hop songs.

The lifts aren’t always obvious and often depend on the depth of your own listening experience, but still, it’s quite a feat. Dude’s got a freestyle vibe on nearly every song that reminds me of an X Games snowboarder gliding from topic to topic and he infuses just about every rhyme with a Scripture story, theme, or reference.

And of course, there’s the ill cover image. What more can you ask for?

To download this project, name your price here.

If you dig it, you may also want to read two of my Q&A sessions with Playdough here:

5 Questions with Playdough

Q & A: Playdough Talks Writer Dye, Battle Rapping, and White Rappers


Sho Baraka – Lions and Liars

I’ll admit, I wasn’t a big Sho Baraka fan before, but I mos def am now. My appetite was mostly whet by Reach Records’ excellent advance promo which included the lion character, teaser music videos, and deluxe package options.

What I really appreciated was that L&L showed such a breadth of topics, from manhood to loving your wife to issues of social justice, and of course, the supremacy of Jesus the Christ.

How much did I cut for Lions and Liars? I bought a copy for my pastor to introduce him to Christian hip hop. ‘Nuff said.

Buy it now from Reach Records


Theory Hazit and Toni Shift - Modern Marvels

In some circles, this joker flew under the radar but it needs to be top shelf. Theo’s an impressive producer, but my man can rhyme as well. I was impressed by the brave nature of two songs in particular – “Concealed Sorrow” and “Marvelust.”

“Concealed Sorrow” is a gut-wrenching tale of a gay kid who faces bullies on every front and contemplates taking his own life. Mind you, this track was recorded and released before this became one of 2010’s biggest news stories.

Meanwhile, “Marvelust” shares the story of a Christian father in a blended family. The narrator is brutally honest about his own failings to his wife, kids, and Lord but still expresses hope and trust in his Savior.

Those two tracks are daring enough for any hip hop artist, much less one who claims to follow Christ. The rest of the album is just as good, but even if it were just mediocre, I probably still would have listed Modern Marvels here on the strength of “Concealed Sorrow” and “Marvelust.”

Buy it now from Illect Recordings


So there you have it, five of the albums I considered to be the best of 2010. Three of them are being offered as free downloads by the artists so don’t blame me if you’re still spinning an empty iPod.

Related: Top 5 CHH Releases of 2009

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

5 Questions with "All-American Felon" Von Won


I recently caught up with Houston-based Christian rapper Von Won via e-mail to discuss his new album, that Bun B "Hip Hop and Religion" class at his alma mater, and the city's secular and faith-based hip hop scenes.

Sketch: What's with the All American Felon album title? Are you saying you're an All-Star Thug?

Von Won: Ha! No All-American Thug. If I was any good at being a criminal or gangsta I wouldn't have a felony on my record, I'd have a huge house and a million people wondering what I do for a living.

For the people who are unaware of my story, I gained the "All-American" portion of the title while attending Rice University from 1999-2004. While earning my bachelor's degree in history I also found time to win the WAC conference twice and leaped 26 feet /1 inch at an NCAA indoor national meet becoming an All-American Long Jumper. During college I was ranked as high as #1 in the NCAA and #15 amongst professionals around the world.

The "Felon" part of the title I earned after college. Dealing with depression from my father passing from AIDS, I started smoking marijuana heavily, doing Ecstasy, and cocaine. Coming home from a secular concert I was stopped by police, tased multiple times, and later convicted on drug possession charges and evading with a vehicle.

So I brought together the thing I was most proud of and most ashamed of and created "All-American Felon." I can do all things through Christ! If you know the full context of this scripture you will understand that these titles have prepared me to handle everything life may bring.

Sketch: You recently left Houston to take on a full-time youth pastor role at a church in Roswell, New Mexico but have since moved back home. How would you describe that experience?

Von Won: I will describe the "Roswell Experience" as a serious eye opener. My wife and I made the decision to pack up our life in the city that we loved dearly to be obedient to the Lord and go minister in New Mexico. The church there asked for a verbal three to five year commitment and I gave it to them. They even mentioned that down the line, there existed the possibility of me becoming senior pastor of the church.

When we got there the youth group had about 15 kids and in less than three months some services would have over 60 in attendance. My wife, who is usually quiet, stepped up big and helped me lead the youth group. She prayed with the teens and was a positive female example for the girls to look up to. I was able to focus on Christ and my family without all the distractions that I was faced with as a Houstonian.

I visited Houston for Thanksgiving and shot the "High Beams On" music video. On the drive back to Roswell the next day my phone rang and the senior pastor said the church could not continue to pay my salary and I could only continue to work another week.

I was shocked! I gave them a three to five year commitment and was then let go after just three months! Families from the church were offering to pay my salary to keep me there, but we were unable to reconcile the situation.

In my time there I ministered to hundreds of teens at the church and at the Job Corps. I visited inmates at the jail and even lead a young lady to Christ in Target. (I got to play golf for the first time too!) There were plenty instances that could have been the single reason God brought me out there, but I'm happy for the experience. Overall, I look at the "Roswell Experience" as a paid, three month missions trip.

Sketch: The video you shot for the new album's "High Beams On" single shows you taking a helicopter to Tomball, Texas and then going to visit a retirement home. How did you decide to use that storyline for this clip?

Von Won: I get so much flack from Christian hip hop fans about the content about my music. The fact that I may still make references to cars, money, or jewelry really makes me a target for criticism.

"High Beams On" includes a sample from secular artist Drake and I'm talking about shining so I wanted to shine my light in a way that could display the love of Christ, not ice. If you notice, I didn't wear my earrings or [Jesus] piece and chain in this video.

My good friend Ronnie "Reconcile" Lillard, a fellow Rice University Christian rap artist, who directed and edited "Last Tear," and "Swagg Don't Matter," gave me the idea of going around and doing good deeds. My other good friend Pastor John Richardson hooked up the elderly home, limousine, and the helicopter. HD Publications did a great job of bringing the whole story together and I love this video. I've never seen anything like it. I pray I can continue to make visuals that trigger emotion. Big ups to everyone who helped out with that video, I believe it will be debuting on MTV, BET, JCTV and more in 2011!

Sketch: As a Rice University graduate, what's your take on U.G.K. rapper Bun B's role as a co-teacher in a "Hip Hop and Religion" class on campus there this semester?

Von Won: Making an "A" at Rice University was not a frequent thing for me. I believe I did it in some history classes and an anatomy class that I actually studied for. I feel that without a shadow of a doubt, if Bun B was co-teaching any of my classes I would have gotten an easy, easy, easy A!

I really wish they would have done that when I was an Owl. It goes to show that Rice is thinking outside the box these days. Back then I was a member of the Black Student Association and I'm always excited to see when the university takes strives to do something that can spark the interest of the African-American students on campus. I say next semester they bring me in to co-teach. Everybody gets an "A!"

Sketch: Given that you've been a part of both Houston's secular and Christian hip hop scenes, what differences do you see between the two?

Von Won: I am thankful that I've been a part of the secular and gospel side of the Houston hip hop scene. Working with Money Marc of Def Vibe and Kelly Cryer of Hybrid Marketing (who both seem to work with everyone in Houston,) I hear about what's going on even before it hits the radio. I know what artists are getting deals, who's making enemies, who's earning the most respect and more.

The biggest difference I see between the secular and Christian artists is grind. Christian artists refuse to get off their tails, get out of the church, and market their music to city of Houston. I still see no wrapped vehicles, posters flooding in the streets, heavy radio promo.. any of that.

Until we step up and start doing these things we will always be second rate. What the secular artists have is a 97.9 FM, once they get to that level, the entire city hears them. I thank God for DJ Revelation, DJ Wiz, Pastor Albert and DJ Wiz who gives us those once a week, one hour opportunities to get heard, but until we get an FM station that blasts our music all day long, the Christian rappers will be second rate here in the city.

I'm trying to break these secular artists down and show the city that a Christian rapper can be on top promoting music that isn't sending people to prison or Planned Parenthood - all in the name of Jesus!

To learn more about Von Won and purchase your copy of All-American Felon visit

B.Reith leaves Gotee Records, goes indie

Blue eyed soul brother B.Reith announced yesterday that he has ended his relationship with Gotee Records. In a blog post titled “Goodbye Record Labels, Hello Independence,” the rapper/singer said that the parting was mutual and mostly a result of the changing business models of the music industry.

He praised Gotee co-founders Toby Mac and Joey Elwood for their handling of the situation and said he cautiously looked forward to his newfound status as an indie.

On February 1 he’ll be hosting a live chat to talk with his fans about these changes in more depth. He later Tweeted that he needed to hurry and get offline so that he could lay down vocals for an upcoming Knine & KamBINO mixtape.

When B.Reith was in Houston last summer to shoot "The Comeback Kid" video I spoke to him about his hip hop connections and whether being on a big time record label was all that it's cracked up to be. Video of that conversation is posted below.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gifted da Flamethrowa's "My Grind" chosen for secular mixtape

Gifted da Flamethrowa's new song "My Grind" was recently selected to be a part of the new The Business Volume 1 mixtape by DJ Black N Mild.


Black N Mild is a part of the Go DJs Louisiana Music Group of mainstream DJs. This means that Gifted's inspirational message of "My Grind" will be played right before and after songs that cover the typical secular rap mindset.

You can stream and download this offering here.

Also be sure to pick up any of the Monsters Do Exist series of mixtapes Gifted is doing with various DJs. Grab those for free at his Bandcamp page.

On the most recent one, Volume 8: Fitteds, Jordans, and Nintendo with DJ Sermon, Gifted even worked my name into one of the verses. Can you identify the song and lyric?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Houston couple prevented from feeding the homeless due to permit issues appears before city council

On Wednesday, January 19 the Houston couple who was told they needed a permit in order to feed the homeless through their non-profit, grassroots ministry appeared before the City Council.

The story, which first appeared in the Houston Chronicle, made national headlines on sites like the Drudge Report, Huffington Post, and Additionally, Bobby and Amanda Herring were interviewed on Fox News, MSNBC, and other local stations.

During the City Council visit, Bobby Herring (who is also known as Christian rapper Tre9) explained what they do, apologized for any negative media attention their cause brought upon the city, and asked how they could work with the local government agencies to continue their work.

The Herrings were praised for their efforts by council members Mike Sullivan, Anne Clutterbuck, Jarvis Johnson, and Jolanda "Jo" Jones. There was also discussion of a new ordinance that would be drafted by council member Wanda Adams and the Health Department to accommodate situations like the one Feed a Friend is currently in. This will be examined more closely on February 7 by a committee to be steered by council member Jarvis Johnson.

Video from those sessions (also available on the HTV website) is posted below.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Free DL: theBREAX & DJ Wade-O "BREAX Over" mixtape


If you're anything as busy (and lazy) as me then you might have accidentally slept on the daily downloads from the G.O.O.D. Fridays, Dre' Murray's "12 Days of Christmas," or theBREAX's "Remix Wednesdays."

I prefer a more "boxed set" than "collect them all" approach, but to each his own.

Thankfully, theBREAX have cats like me in mind. This week, they dropped BREAX Over - a mixtape by DJ Wade-O (with real cuts, hosting, and blends) that puts many of those "Remix Wednesday" songs next to other originals.

If you follow my blog, you'll know I have a fondness for this crew. And while I may not esteem this project as highly as I did Ruslan's Right Out Loud, it's still a solid effort and something to appreciate for the standards it maintains.

Also impressive: the contributions from Beleaf Melanin. On multiple tracks, this Baltimore boy ripped his verses like Omar Little does stash houses.

Download your copy for FREE right here.

theBREAX – Breax Over track list:

1. Breax Over
2. More Of (produced by Lex Luthorz)
3. Rock With You (feat. Theory Hazit, Caressa Lynette, & Shaady G) produced by Sound Collage Musik
4. Brilliant Realness (feat. Sho Baraka) produced by Jruckers, co-produced by Vic Padilla
5. Beginning Again (feat. Shaady G) produced by CIK Productions
6. All Powerful
7. Right Above It (feat. Andy “C-Lite+ Mineo)
8. Duces / Devil in a New Dress
9. Ruslan Medley
10. 90′s Mix
11. Money Need Me
12. Beleaf Medley
13. Not of this World
14. Whip My Hair (feat. NomiS)
15. Monster (feat. Mikel Anthony)
16. 6 foot 7


I'm told there will be a video coming for the "Brilliant Realness" track with Sho Baraka you'll hear on this mixtape.

Also, as Wade-O points out at the end of the project, theBREAX occasionally touch on some mature topics with frank language here. It's clean, but not necessarily for Sunday morning youth group play.

Christian music doesn't always have to equal "family friendly," but it should always be based in truth. BREAX Over is.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

UPDATE: Feed a Friend's City Council Meeting


Feed a Friend update from today's Houston City Council Meeting:

I spoke to Tre9 earlier. He said the City Council meeting went well.

The main takeaway is that Wanda Adams will be heading a committee to review the regulations regarding public feedings vs. commercial feedings. It's the commercial feeding rules that are apparently being applied here which may be the issue.

Part of Tre9's argument was that he was simply feeding friends from private kitchens. The question would be how does the city define "friend" and under what authority could they tell a person they could not share a meal with their friends?

Tre said Jarvis Johnson and Michael Sullivan also publicly commended them from the council. That new committee should start on Feb 7 apparently.

He said someone else, Kathy Barton from the Health Department, also offered to help him get certified to work in kitchens and such.

Will keep you posted. I think there may be video available from the city's website as soon as they update the page.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

2011 Stellar Awards / The Ambassador & Da' T.R.U.T.H. sign to new record label

This past weekend the 2011 Stellar Awards were held in Nashville, Tennessee.

Nominees in the Rap Hip Hop Gospel category included DJ Official’s Entermission, Trip Lee’s Between Two Worlds, Sho Baraka’s Lions and Liars, and Everyday ProcessOuttadisworld with the young buck Trip Lee taking top honors. Congrats to him and all of the nominees.

The other big news coming out of the weekend was the surprise report from that both Ambassador and Da’ T.R.U.T.H. signed new record deals with the relatively unknown Xist Music, a division of the Xist Worldwide inspirational entertainment company founded by Terverius Black and Sean Simmonds.

Xist is also the company behind the upcoming STAND movie featuring Sean Simmonds, JR, and P-Dub. That flick’s trailer is now available online.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Preview: Wit & Dre Murray's Hell's Paradise 2


I told y'all it was coming. Wit & Dre Murray's Hell's Paradise 2 is almost here.

I've had an opportunity to sample a few of the tracks and can say you definitely won't be disappointed. I won't post them here (they'll hit all your favorite CHH news and blog sites on Tuesday, January 18) but I will give you some details and feedback.

First, the facts:
  • Release date: To be determined
  • Full title: Hell's Paradise II: Mask Parade
  • Number of tracks: 10-12
  • Features: Dre & Wit are treating this as more of a Watch the Throne type project so you'll hear more of Wit (who spits for the Frontlynaz crew too) on the mic. Also look for guys like: Sean Johnson, Eshon Burgundy and others
  • Cost: Although the first version was free, expect to pay a lil sumpin' sumpin' for this one. But don't act like it ain't worth it. Volume 1 was one of my Top 5 releases of 2009 and of Christian hip hop all-time. They gave you that one and a bonus version for nada so pay your respects (literally) and support the craft. Look for it at
Now, the music:

The tracks I've heard so far include "HP2" and "All Part of the Plan."
  • HP2: Definitely carries over the feel of HP1 but with some fresh updates to the sound and lyrics. The story continues...
  • All Part of the Plan: This one's mostly a Wit song with a nice sample from Coldplay's "X&Y." You get their moodiness with some boom bap and fast rap. This will be the one your girl will request you play first whenever you're on a trip in the whip together.
There's also a bonus track called "Ego" that's been floating around. It won't be a part of the project, but in case you get a chance to listen, here's what you'll find.
  • "Ego": Sounds like a G.O.O.D. Friday track with the beat, run time, multiple guests, and "Sean Legend." And S. Johnson surprised me, dude raps the first verse (I didn't even know he could flow) and it's cold.
The artwork above is supposed to be the cover joint so I'm guessing we can expect another theatrical type affair.

Get your popcorn ready. **T.O. voice**

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lecrae's "Overdose" hits #2 on iTunes


Just months after the release of his Grammy-nominated album Rehab, Houston-born Christian rapper Lecrae is once again topping the charts with his follow-up project - Rehab: The Overdose.

As of 1pm on January 11 the record was holding the #2 overall position on iTunes' charts and the #1 position on the Hip-Hop/Rap chart.

However, you won't find the artist doing much bragging about this on any of his social networks. Instead, following the pattern he used in September when Rehab dropped, he's Tweeting about his current mission trip to Haiti.

This is quite a success for an artist with little to no video or radio airplay.

's first week sales were reportedly better than notable hip hop acts such as Ice Cube (N.W.A.) and Soulja Boy. And while both mainstream and gospel music airwaves could benefit from the Good News presented in such a popular way, Christian rap is still mostly relegated to life and promotion through Internet media and the grassroots efforts of churches and young adult groups.

Perhaps sales records such as this will bring this message-music more attention.

SIDENOTE: If this theme and marketing feels familiar it's probably because Eminem used a similar approach with 2009's Relapse and Refill projects. (Sigh)