Monday, February 28, 2011
Sketch: I've noticed that you often given credit to the original Christian hip hop journalist, Richie "s/ave" Douglas (founder of ONEMIND Magazine and DaSouth.com), for providing some early guidance to your music career. Can you share a little bit more about that relationship and your thoughts on his legacy?
Fab: s/ave was the first person I ever sent one of my beats to. I had heard of ONEMIND, and heard that they were the "guys" I needed to send my music to if I was to get heard. s/ave was very cool and kind in critiquing my music, but also blunt and gave me some good pointers. I often sent beats to him for his approval. If s/ave thought it was wack, I tossed it and started over again. That's how highly I thought of him.
Over the years, we exchanged emails. In the last email I got from him he told me that I had turned into a very solid beat maker and that I'd go far. That meant a great deal to me. I believe Richie was a very integral part of helping me understand how to make solid hip hop music. I wish I had the opportunity to sit down with him one more time and let him know just how much he meant to me personally. Christian hip hop lost a good guy when we lost Richie.
Sketch: In the past, you've done a lot of hip hop production and vocals but Bombshell finds you heading in a more pop-music direction. Why the switch?
Fab: I had been sitting on lots of songs that were just gathering dust coupled with the fact that I was a little disenchanted with the 16 bar spoken hook. I wanted really to make something that I would enjoy listening to by myself. So I decided this time around to put those songs to music and make them catchy. I figured, maybe a hand full of folks might like some laid back, catchy acoustic hip pop. But honestly, I just wanted to do something different...something...chill.
Sketch: Bombshell appears to be collection of relationship story songs. What drove you toward that theme?
Fab: The first song I wrote for this record was the title cut which is about my wife. I played it for her and she cried! And then I thought, "You know, everyone relates to relationship songs." So I took some of the ones I had written, changed them up a bit and recorded them.
I thought if I put together catchy hooks, someone out there could relate to at least one of the songs. Everyone's had a break up. Everyone's felt pain. Everyone's had a moment where they miss someone. What better way to grab the listener than to write a song about something they're familiar with? It just so happens that I've had quite a few folks email me and tell me "Oh my gosh, that song is about ME!" So perhaps it worked.
Sketch: You have some high profile production credits on your resume’ including spots on "CSI," ESPN, and HBO. As a Christian, did you/do you ever have any fear about the lyrics/images/stories that will be told in conjunction with your music? Just curious if you have any qualms (or even much control) over violent or sexual images and dialogue that might be tied to your work.
Fab: Not really. I believe God puts us on a path and opportunities lie along those paths everywhere. God is good and I believe we have several choices along the way. I believe if we are truly set apart and predestined, whatever path we take is God's will in the long run. I was given opportunities and I took them. Who knows what's going on behind the scenes with the music? Perhaps someone may hear one of my songs on TV, search for me, find Bombshell and have a song speak to them. I make the music and let God do with it what he chooses.
Sketch: Your song "Goodnight" tips its hat toward Christian rap pioneers but also seems to be your "Dear John" letter to hip hop? How did those trailblazers impact both your faith and music and are you really done with this genre?
Fab: Gosh....Soup, PID, Stephen Wiley, and Michael Peace were the first tapes I had in my collection. I am forever indebted to them for their ministry and music. I played those tapes until they were worn out, they impacted me so much! Those four in particular inspired me, not only to make music but what they were saying MEANT something. In a time where hair bands saturated radio, I had a little slice of something I could relate to when Christian hip hop hit. I have never been fortunate enough to work with any of them, but that would be a dream. I'd love to sit down with them all and just say "Thank you."
Done with the genre? You know, I don't really know. I know I'm done making "hip hop" records. I want to move into a more musical and catchy genre. I also want to make music that sells...music that radio will play. I know we're all tired of being broke with our music. Well, then we need to start making music that pays us back.
I love hip hop. Hip hop is in the blood. I'm sure I'll drop a beat or two here or there in the future! Just not sure when. Perhaps I'll try to push other artists to make their hip hop a little more musical.
Bombshell was released on February 15, 2011 and is available now on iTunes, Bandcamp, and Amazon.
Friday, February 25, 2011
On Tuesday night, February 22 several hundred people gathered at St. John’s United Methodist Church to hear a panel discussion based on the “Religion and Hip Hop Culture” course currently being co-taught by rapper Bernard “Bun B” Freeman (of the group UGK) at Rice University.
The class session was free and open to the public as part of The Houston Enriches Rice Education (H.E.R.E.) Project and sought to answer the question: “Should Rap Be In The Church?”
Invited participants included:
• Rudy Rasmus – Pastor of St. John’s United Methodist Church and Houston Belief blogger
• Marlon Hall – Co-author of Wake Up: Hip Hop Christianity and the Black Church and “Cultural Provocateur/Pastor” of Houston’s non-denominational fellowship The Awakenings Movement
• Crazy C/DJ Revelation – Hip-hop producer (for notable rappers like Scarface, The Wu-Tang Clan, and Outkast) and current on-air gospel radio personality for Houston’s Praise 92.1 FM
• Von Won – Rice University alumnus and local inspirational rapper
"Professor Trill," as some have called him, using a play off of Bun B’s frequently used hip-hop slang for "authenticity," moderated the discussion and asked each panelist pointed, thoughtful questions about the role of rap music within the Christian church. Often his inquiries were better than the answers he received.
For the most part, all of the participants agreed that hip hop culture and its members are already in the church at-large. They also felt that most congregations would be wise to acknowledge and embrace the movement as a way of maintaining relevance with an increasingly disinterested audience.
The panel was often critical of Christianity as it is currently expressed in America. Rudy Rasmus said that many pastors are simply “would-be car salesman” and that most are “breaking Jesus’ heart.” Such statements drew cheers and agreement “amens” from an audience mostly comprised of students and St. John’s parishioners.
Bun B asked if the hip hop generation was leaving the church to simply find a different path to Christ or if they were leaving Christ all together.
In response, Marlon Hall noted that many people in that target demographic are seeking answers and direction from other cultural leaders like Oprah Winfrey, Malcolm Gladwell, or Kanye West. However, he concluded that most are not leaving Jesus, but a “stanky Christianity that only seeks to make them comfortable” instead.
Photo by Sketch the Journalist
Von Won was asked if he views himself as a hip hop artist who creates gospel music or a Christian who raps.
“I’m just speak truth and about my life circumstances through hip hop,” he said. He also noted that MCs who share his faith are often labeled “Christian rappers” and, while perhaps less visible than their secular counterparts on mass media scale, are often more active in their communities doing things like ministering in prisons, feeding the homeless, and mentoring at-risk youth.
In the third hour the event livened up when the conversation turned to what type of language and subject matter is acceptable in rap music – particularly from those that claim to be Christians and members of the Church.
The following video clip illustrates the heart of that back and forth:
After this debate, the event was opened for a freestyle question and answer session. Its less structured style led to several audience members taking the mic to simply share the story of the intersection of faith and hip hop in their own lives. However, a few solid questions were directed toward Bun B (regarding accountability for his lyrics) and toward Rudy Rasmus (requesting his opinion on a rap-in-the-church-is-no-different-than-Michelangelo’s-Sistine Chapel-paintings analogy.)
St. John’s pastor seemed weary at the end though, concluding that the night’s discussion may have unproductively dissolved into a “Who’s In? / Who’s Out?” argument akin to talk radio. He reminded the crowd that Christians should instead be known for their selfless concern for others.
As Rasmus told a TV station interviewer before the event began: “God loves you and I love you and there’s nothing you can do about that!”
This week the “Religion and Hip Hop Culture” class at Rice University completed mid-term exams and will hold a second public session later this semester. The date and location have yet to be announced.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
I recently caught up with Georgia-based Christian rapper Heath McNease via e-mail to discuss his new album, the art of freestyling, and the how he keeps his faith when on the road for over 300 gigs a year.
Sketch: When somebody asks what kind of music you do what do you tell them?
Heath: I tell them I'm an emcee and a singer songwriter. I do hip hop and I do singer/songwriter solo material.
Sketch: You do both worship music and hip hop. Do you find much crossover between those audiences?
Heath: Definitely sometimes. I honestly think some people are more impressed by that than they should be. I never set out to do two different styles of music because I wanted to be "different" or to have a comfortable niche to rest in..."look he raps AND he plays instruments AND he sings." I don't think that's a cool concept to lean on, because you can do all three and be mediocre at them and it doesn't help your cause.
Wyclef Jean [from The Fugees] was doing this before anybody, so it's not an original idea. My goal has always been to make great music - to make great rap and great acoustic stuff, so I definitely find a lot of crossover, but I think sometimes it isn't for the right reasons. We’re in a time where people listen to every different genre under the moon and stars and they can go from rap to pop or folk in seconds. So it isn't impressive that I do multiple things musically because their iPod does the same thing.
I think I could possibly see how they find it impressive live when I'm freestyling/playing guitar, piano, and harmonica/doing worship/covering songs, but I don't think that being a fan of an artist because they can do multiple things musically is necessarily the best promotional tool to use.
Sketch: Do see some of the same faces at both types of shows or do you perform both types of music at one show?
Heath: I definitely see some of the same faces. I integrate and keep it separate depending on what the venue wants. I play rap clubs and venues where I mostly just rap. I do coffee shops and lead worship and only play and sing. But most of my regular concerts include a heavy selection of both.
Sketch: Often your hip hop seems to lean heavily on humor and "nerdcore" type references. Why is that?
Heath: I'm not sure I've ever truly understood the "nerd core" deduction. I'm not saying I disagree with it when people say it...or take exception to it. I'm just not sure I understand it. It comes up in a lot of reviews and it's always used in a positive light but I'm not sure what the end game is there. I mean, on a rap album of mine with 15 tracks, probably seven or eight of them are feel good songs, three or four are more serious bangers, and the rest is usually incredibly serious and lyrically dense subject matter that exposes a lot of urgent and pressing material. I think sometimes it is easier for people to put me in the "clown prince, nerdcore, silly" category because I have a lot of fun on my albums and when playing live but I think that is sometimes a function of the fact that 98% of hip hop is far too serious/bland/uninteresting/formulaic/safe and because everything sounds the same
My material tends to stick out a little more for its humorous approach because there aren't a lot of emcees or artists who really tackle humorous material without going into full out cartoonish devices which I avoid with a few exceptions here or there because there are definitely times for blatant silliness.
But I like to make people laugh. I like to give people a great time a show and have them leave feeling optimistic about life for five minutes before the next war breaks out or celebrity gets arrested or family member gets sick, etc. We need to escape sometimes. But all the humor really does is serve in the process of opening people up to the serious things I'd like to share. It is a give and take.
My music is a lot like someone's life would sound - tons of joy...tons of happiness...lots of sorrow...lots of worry. So I don't think I've ever "leaned" on humor or any other device. It's just a natural manifestation of how I choose to communicate both musically and interpersonally.
Sketch: Why did you decide to take a break from hip hop on The House Always Wins?
Heath: I definitely wasn't taking a break from it. It just seemed like the right time for me. When I am writing/producing/recording/mixing/mastering hip hop projects it takes so much out of me. The creative process can be a long one, because I never allow myself to come with anything less than my absolute best.
It takes time to really build songs with the heavy syllabic structure that I have in cooperation with the mixture of both live and sampled instrumentation and then the engineering phase is ten times as brutal with none of the fun. So while I'm working on hip hop or while I'm on the road these acoustic songs just find their way out of my heart.
I think the greatest difference between any other kind of music and hip hop is that with hip hop your words tell a vivid story. You can describe every detail down to the last thread. You can sometimes beat a dead horse before you even get to the third verse. With acoustic/pop/rock/indie music there is so much more of an opportunity to abstract your thoughts and ideas. You can try to capture a "mood" without thoroughly expressing a full idea and I've found that sometimes that speaks to me louder than 48 bars worth of storytelling.
It's just a great blessing that I have been given the opportunity to explore both sides of that communication musically. I just thought it was time for less lyrics and more mood. So this album essentially wrote itself.
Sketch: Which type of music do you find more challenging to write: hip hop or acoustic pop? Why is that?
Heath: Hip hop because of the lyrical content. It's just a lot more difficult to be both deep, interesting, stylish, and captivating when your words are your entire form of communication than in pop or indie music where music, lyric, and sometimes just sounds like "ooooh", "ahhh", and "dah dah dah" and can take on a character of their own. That's a lot less writing. It's more about feeling it out and a lot like the saying in poetry classes -"Less words, more poem." That's how pop is.
Sketch: Which comparison do you get and hate more: "the Christian Eminem" or "the Christian Jack Johnson?"
Heath: Geez, I'd say it's about equal. Although the "Christian" part doesn't come up so much, especially when I'm playing outside of a church which I do a lot of. I think comparisons make some artists upset but I understand that we as people have it built in our system to want to classify and qualify. It's just a shorthand that we all speak.
Sketch: You're a part of the "Whose Rhyme Is Is Anyway?" hip hop improv tour with Atlanta's Manchild (of Mars Ill) and Dallas' Playdough. Tell me a little bit about how that got started and how it's been received so far.
Heath: It has been received so well. It's just a ton of fun, man, getting to freestyle and play shows with two guys that I grew up listening to. I mean. I was in high school idolizing these guys. Now I get to swap freestyles back and forth with them? It's amazing.
Audiences love it, dude. They eat it up. Fans of rap, newbies, old, and young, colleges, clubs, churches, etc. we play everywhere and it's a blast. Having a show build solely on the art of freestyle and improv is just a great experience because the audience gets to not only help dictate what you rhyme about, but they get to watch you sweat it out. Manchild and Playdough are two of the dopest freestylers out there and I would put their skill up against anybody's. I'm just happy to be a part of it.
I'm not necessarily the biggest "purist" when it comes to hip hop, but I do feel the art of freestyle has truly been forgotten. I guarantee that 99% of the guys that rap in the mainstream couldn't hold down a topic-based or centrally-themed freestyle for more than four bars. They would go into the clutches of "rippin the mic" or "gettin paid" or whatever it is that rappers say. Freestyle is both a gift and a chore. You have to work at it to continue to be comfortable enough to just let your mind take over. The three of us do that very well at this point.
Sketch: You told me you've done about 300 shows in a year and I know you have a hectic travel schedule. How do you maintain your faith and grounding when you're on the road so often?
Heath: Great question, man. Sometimes it's tough...just like a regular 9 to 5 life is tough. But I think the greatest asset for me is that I get to have a church home multiple days a week even though it's not MY church. I get to see how God is working in the lives of cities and towns all across the country and that increases my faith in a way that being stationary couldn't.
Seeing the church truly be a haven and shelter for people who are broken, sick, poor, and just in general need...that's been awesome. Watching the body of Christ help others because we were mandated to LOVE...not just to try to convert people.
That's one of the toughest parts of Christianity for some people - learning how to love people for their sake without trying to use your means as an end to "save" them. "Let your light so shine so that they might see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
We are supposed to shine and love and that makes being on the road incredibly uplifting instead of negatively distracting. Plus, having close, air tight accountability with some very close friends in my life keeps me focused on the true goal.
The House Always Wins is available today at all major digital outlets including iTunes where it is listed as an extremely affordable $4.99.
And right now SphereOfHipHop.com is offering Heath's The Gun Show rap album as a free download. Click here to grab your copy.
Monday, February 21, 2011
South by Southwest (SXSW), the premier Austin-based company dedicated to building and delivering conference and festival events for entertainment and related media industry professionals, has, for the third year in a row, invited several Houstonians to organize its Christian hip hop showcase.
Taking place March 17-19, DaSouth.com presents The Life in Hip Hop will showcase performances from some of gospel hip hop’s most polished performers and offer an expanded schedule of informative and interactive artist development workshops and networking opportunities.
The events include:
Thursday, March 17
- Artist Fellowship Dinner and Open Mic
- 6:30pm – 10pm
- Victory Outreach Center - 3701 Drossett Dr. Ste #100, Austin, TX 78744
- Unity Conference Artist Showcase and Concert
- 7pm – 11pm
- Victory Outreach Center - 3701 Drossett Dr. Ste #100, Austin, TX 78744
- The official SXSW Hip Hop Hope Unity Workshops, Film Preview, Panel Discussion and Pre-Show
- 11am – 3pm
- The Carver Cultural Center - 1165 Angelina Street, Austin, TX 78702
- DaSouth.com presents The Life in Hip Hop Concert
- 5pm to 10pm
- Promiseland Church located at 1504 East 51st Street, Austin, TX 78723
Houston’s Bobby “Tre9” Herring, Jimmie McDowell, and Jason “Sketch the Journalist” Bellini were personally offered the opportunity by Matt Sonzala, a respected independent rap promoter who is the official hip hop booker for SXSW, and asked to help organize this unique platform.
“The last two years have been a great success and we’re excited that this year we’ll be able to offer more activities and in areas that can truly accommodate our crowd. The last two years we’ve actually had to turn people away,” Tre9 said. “This year’s theme is all about unity which we hope people can see through our workshops, panel discussions, and variety of music ministers.”
This year’s roster of performers for the DaSouth.com Presents The Life in Hip Hop stage includes:
- Co-host: DJ D-Lite - Austin, TX
- Co-host: Chris Chicago - Nashville, TN
- One’s & Two’s: DJ Promote - San Angelo, TX
- One’s & Two’s: DJ Wade-O - Newark, NJ
- Guest speaker: Scott Free – Atlanta, GA
- Guest speaker: Tre9 – Houston, TX
- Da’ T.R.U.T.H. – Philadelphia, PA
- Ambassador – Philadelphia, PA
- Jai – St. Louis, MO
- JR – St. Louis, MO
- Thi’sl – St. Louis, MO
- theBREAX – San Diego, CA
- Cheno Lyfe – Miami, FL
- Gospel Gangstaz – Los Angeles, CA
- Pro- Memphis, TN
- Fedel –Tulsa, OK
- D-Maub - Cincinnati, OH
- big Al - Monroe, LA
- Dre Murray – Tulsa, OK
- 007 (of the 5th Ward Boyz) - Houston, TX
- Lil Raskull – Houston, TX
- CY – Houston, TX
- Martay – Boston, MA
- The WARRIORS ATX - Austin, TX
- S.OM. (Soldiers On A Mission) – Houston, TX
- Von Won – Houston, TX
- Gifted Da Flamethrowa – Houston, TX
- Corey Paul – Houston, TX
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Saturday night in Stafford, Texas a unified group of musicians and professional speakers attempted to motivate teenagers to lead a rebellion against sexually explicit songs being played on Houston radio stations.
The free "Youth Can Lead" conference took place from 6pm to midnight at Triumph Church and included performances and breakout sessions from local Christian rappers Tre9, Von Won, Gifted da Flamethrowa, 007 (from the 5th Ward Boyz), Frontline Movement, Governor, and Bless'T.Hip hop segment organizer Bobby "Tre9" Herring said there were over 700 people in attendance and the crowd maintained a high energy throughout the night.
A key focus of the rally included a call to target the song "Let's Make a Movie" by Chicago rapper Twista and R&B artist Chris Brown.
Many attendees signed up to make a formal complaint to the FCC
Several event participants said they were surprised by the amount of negative comments their efforts received after an article about the campaign was featured on Chron.com.
"We definitely have a lot of work to do," Ronnie "Reconcile" Lillard said.
Friday, February 18, 2011
This Saturday in Stafford, Texas a unified group of musicians and professional speakers will attempt to motivate teenagers to lead a rebellion against sexually explicit songs being played on Houston radio stations.
The free “Youth Can Lead” conference will take place from 6pm to midnight at Triumph Church and include performances and breakout sessions from local Christian rappers Tre9, Von Won, Gifted da Flamethrowa, 007 (from the 5th Ward Boyz), Frontline Movement, Governor, and Bless’T.
Bobby “Tre9” Herring (whom you might remember from the recent Feed a Friend/City of Houston permit dust-up) is in charge of the hip hop portion of the event and said he will be specifically targeting the song “Let’s Make a Movie” by Chicago rapper Twista and R&B artist Chris Brown.
The track, which is in rotation at both 97.9 KBXX and Hot 95.7, is about the narrators’ attempts to persuade a female to film their sexual tryst.
"And you know I think you a hell of an actress
Especially when I'm shooting you on a mattress
Shawty, straight to the top, that's where we headed
And I'ma see my name in the credits
and be the sh-t if you let it"
“We’re not even asking these stations to play anybody else instead. There are plenty of positive artists they can choose from,” Herring said. “We simply want them to stop spinning songs that promote pornography and sexual immorality.”
Herring said he would like to get at least 1,000 complaints against “Let’s Make a Movie” to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC.) If that doesn’t get the song pulled the next step would be to get a group of teens to bring the issue before Houston City Council. A third step would be a protest outside of the radio outlets that play the song and a fourth effort would involve a boycott of advertisers to the stations.
Herring ran across the song when preparing for a recent sermon. He said when he read the lyrics to a group of adults, many were shocked.
“I’m finding a lot of people are concerned, but no one wants to lead the effort to get this stuff off of our airwaves,” Herring said. “Maybe we can get the kids to do it instead.”
Monday, February 14, 2011
Bun B discusses church, Pimp C's death, and teaching "Religion & Hip Hop Culture" at Rice University
In an article in Friday's Houston Chronicle, mainstream rapper Bun B (of UGK) spoke to me about his faith and teaching "Religion and Hip Hop Culture" at Rice University.
The article also looks at how Christian hip hop is being researched at another college within the city and how that subject was sparked by CHH veteran Lil Raskull.
- How Bun B defines his faith
- The impact that UGK partner Pimp C's incarceration and death had on his life
- Why he considers some of his music to be spiritual
- Whether or not some of his lyrics align with his faith
- How the Rice University class defines "religion"
- What messages hip hop offers
- How Houston's Christian hip hop scene is drawing additional academic interest
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
The good folks at Syntax recently inked a deal to digitally distribute that catalog and asked that I record a short video about what Frontline Records means to me.
So, here's my contribution.
For far more entertaining clips, check out Tim and Steve Trudeau's videos on the Frontline Records YouTube channel.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
In a statement published on their website on January 31, the Passion 4 Christ Movement announced that Justin Cox had "willingly stepped down from his office of Senior Pastor of the Passion for Christ Movement due to a pattern of sin including sexual immorality and a lack of respect for the authority of the office of pastor indicating he no longer meets the qualifications for an elder as laid out in 1 Timothy 3:1-5."
The sentence that follows it reads: "While working through this issue, our Assistant Pastor Chris Facey confessed that he also fell into a pattern of disqualifying sin and needed to step down from his office as assistant pastor. We know this news comes as a shock and disappointment to many and as you may imagine it has dealt a heavy blow to the local church members here at P4CM."
The statement went on to describe the Biblical process the leaders of the church went through in making this decision and included a joint statement from both Justin Cox and Chris Facey.
As you might remember, Cox and PC4M have often been a topic of debate within the Christian hip hop community for their provocatively titled YouTube clips (including: "How to Game Up a Girl At Church," "The Best Place to Have SEX," and "Kanye West Says He Sold His Soul To The Devil") and their bold “Ex-Fornicator / Ex-Liar / Ex-Jay-Z Fan” line of T-shirts.
As we’ve done recently for Ambassador, RedCloud, and Da’ T.R.U.T.H. please keep these men and this church in your prayers.