Sunday, February 26, 2012

Merge Summit Showcase seeking submissions for chance at BET's Music Matters


ReRoute Records' SaulPaul is hosting the Merge Summit Showcase in Austin, Texas during SXSW 2012 where the winner of the positive/inspirational talent competition will have a chance to perform for BET's Music Matters - a program by the network that helped get Mali Music interview and performance spots on their awards and "106 & Park" shows.

Artists should send a video performance link to to be considered and receive further details. The deadline to submit is this Wednesday, February 29, 2012. Acceptable genres include Neo-Soul, R&B, Contemporary Gospel, Hip-Hop/Rap and/or Spoken Word. All content must be positive and inspirational.

More details from the press release:

ReRoute Record’s Recording Artist SaulPaul will be hosting The Merge Summit Showcase taking place at the historic Victory Grill on Sunday, March 11th, 2012.

Austin’s own “Musician with a Message” has just concluded a 21 city national tour. While on tour, he was always looking for opportunities for his fellow musicians back home in Austin, Texas. Realizing he couldn’t bring his peers along on tour with him, he decided to bring the opportunities back to Texas.

The first one that he has unveiled is Sunday, March 11th, 2012 at 6pm. ReRoute Records, SaulPaul’s record label, has partnered with RelevĂ© Entertainment and Praise Break Live to produce a showcase unlike anything Austin’s urban music scene has experienced.

The winner of this showcase gets to compete in Los Angeles alongside 11 other artists from all across the US for the chance to win a record deal as well as an all expense paid trip to New York City to participate in a BET Music Matters Showcase.

When asked about why SaulPaul does what he does, he replies that he has always been helping other people. Now through his newly formed record label, he has decided to artists live their dreams. In addition to releasing music, ReRoute Records hosts numerous workshops that educate artists on how to cultivate a career in the music industry.

The workshop ReRoute Records will host will be during the RISE Austin 2012 week on Wednesday, March 28th at Noon. This workshop will also take place at the Historic Victory Grill.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Houston singer/songwriter Shellee Coley discusses rap connections and music as prayer

Photo by Trish Badger

On February 28, Houston’s Shellee Coley will be releasing her new album Where It Began.

I recently caught up with the rootsy, “Texas pop” singer via e-mail to discuss her how music can be a form of prayer, how her love songs differ from many you hear on the radio, and if her approach to teaching songwriting changes when one of her students is an aspiring hip hop artist.

Bonus trivia: Shellee sang a guest feature on Houston Christian rapper CY’s album last year after the two met at one of her local “house show” concerts.

Shellee: People have asked me, "If you are a folk singer songwriter, why would you want to participate on a rap project?" I think it's funny in today's vast collection of available music that someone would ask me something like that. If you look at anyone’s iPod library, nobody listens to just one genre anymore.

We have the freedom to download just one song form an artist without committing to their whole record. So as a musician, I love being a part of other genres and pushing myself out of my comfort zone so that I can grow as an artist and not get bored.

I would even prefer not to label myself in a particular genre, but iTunes has a little box that says I have to.

Sketch: On “Cotton Dress” you have a line that says “music is the way I pray.” Can you expound upon that a little bit?

Shellee: “Cotton Dress” started out as a song that was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend of mine about him buying a record player from a pawn shop and people starting to listen to vinyl again.

On my drive home after that talk I was flooded with the memories of lying on the floor listening to records over and over again and loving the feeling I had when I successfully got the needle into the right grove of the song I was looking for on the record. Vinyl listening is such an aesthetic experience and I thought that was what the song was going to be about.

But as the song came to life over the next few weeks, I realized how throughout my life music has been such a "healer" to me on so many occasions. Especially through my toughest times of questioning my own beliefs and personal spirituality, music was a steady for me, a way to feel God, even when I had a hard time believing in him.

That is how the "music is the way I pray" line showed up in the song. Because even when I could not muster up the desire to pray, music filled my ears and my soul and I believe kept me connected to God in a way that nothing tangible could have done.

Sketch: You teach songwriting classes and I know that one of your students is an aspiring rapper. How different is your approach to teaching the craft for hip hop as opposed to other genres of music?

Shellee: Well, I just want an honest story. I don't care what my students write about as long as it is honest to them. They roll their eyes at me a lot, when I won't let them just rhyme stuff for the sake of rhyming, but I have a 13-year-old so I am used to that!

I approach rap lyrics the same way I approach lyrics with my students that love Taylor Swift - with honesty and a good hook. We began by spending a lot of time talking about his story and how he wanted to be perceived as a story teller and then we put it to music.

Also, I am a big fan of having a "team" of people around you that supports you in your process. So if I can't give my students the direction I need then I will bring in other people in that field of expertise or genre to help them. So since I am a white girl with not much rhythm, I called in some help on this one with my friend and co-teacher, Gerritt Tisdale.


Sketch: You provide a lot of detail (lyrics & story background) in the liner notes to your new album. In the era of mp3s, why did you decide to include that as part of your packaging?

Shellee: Because I am a story teller and I have to jam the overview of the story into two verses and a chorus, but if I was sitting and talking to a friend and telling the story, they would see and hear and feel so much more of what I went through to get to the end of that story.

I enjoy telling people the “why” behind the song, because I think it connects me to my listeners and gives them a sense of "me too" and allows them to relate on a different level. I want people to feel like I am in a conversation with them, not talking AT them.

Sketch: Your love songs appear to be about relationships and the realities of that emotion while love songs on the radio and in pop culture seem to be almost exclusively about sex. Why is that? Do you perceive it as an imbalance?

Shellee: I just think that most songs on the radio are one extreme to another, of either "I love you" or "I hate you." There is a lot of life that goes on in between those really big emotions and though I did not set out to write songs about the "in between", apparently that is what I do.

I think the space in between the big stuff is where we learn all the lessons and then grow and change from there. I like music that moves me and makes me feel identified with, so that is what I tend to write.

But there is nothing wrong with a fun pop song that you roll the windows down to and sing at the top of your lungs just because it feel good. Like I said though, I have kids and they are listening to music for themselves and learning what they like and don't like, so I gotta roll with the punches when Selena Gomez and Skrillex dominate my car. I just always tell my kids, that for every one song they pick, they have to trade me for Bob Dylan tune...which they HATE!

Sketch: I recently read an interview with Lyle Lovett where he said: “I’ve always thought that writing isn’t really that hard. It’s having a good idea that’s hard.” As a singer/songwriter would you agree or disagree with this statement? Why?

Shellee: Hhmmm..that question makes my brain hurt, Sketch! It's kinda chicken/egg-esque.

But I would have to say that I am not the type of writer who sits around thinking of ideas to write songs about. I do have writer friends like that and they will say, "I have this idea for a song..." But I think writing is a lot like therapy for me and when there is something to write about, I write about it. And honestly, I don't really care if it is a "good idea", as much as if it is a story people can relate to.

But in the early stages, I never think about if it is a good idea or if people will like it. I just start writing and see where it goes. Then when I am close to finished, I start asking myself about how other will perceive this and relate to it.

Shellee Coley’s Where It Began will hit digital outlets like iTunes on Tuesday, February 28. She has has two CD release concerts scheduled. The first will be on March 2 at Warehouse Live. The second will at Sparkle Event Hall in Conroe, Texas on March 3. For more information visit

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"Linsanity"’s Christian rap connections

Hip hop and basketball go together like nerds and comic book conventions. So it’s no surprise that the hero of this year's biggest NBA story – Jeremy Lin, an outspoken Christian, has connections to gospel rap music.

Last week, Jin, the former Freestyle Friday champ, Ruff Ryder, and 2 Fast 2 Furious actor, released a Christian rap song in honor of Mr. Lincredible. (With a game-winning 3-point shot over the Toronto Raptors, the athlete surpassed Shaquille O’Neal for the most points scored in his first five professional starts.)

Jin, who now includes his faith in most of his rhymes, obviously finds kinship with Lin on a few levels given that the New York Knick phenom is being heralded as the League’s version of Tim Tebow.

And on a related note, as fans across the nation are getting hip to “Linsanity,” the FUSE music network recently caught up with the kid to ask what’s in his iPod. The two names he dropped included worship band Hillsong United and Christian hip hop chart topper Lecrae.

Time will tell if his skills can propel the team to the playoffs, but for now, don’t be surprised if you see basketball fans across the world holding up signs that say “All He Does Is Lin!”

Sidenote: Some on Twitter have joked that God seems to favor a blue and orange color combo since it is used in the Knicks uniforms and in those of both Tebow’s college and professional sports teams. Perhaps those will be our robe colors when we get to heaven?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Grammy performance reminds us to pray for Nicki Minaj

Earlier in the evening Nicki's "priest" appeared to be her red carpet date and dressed as the Pope
- Photo via

I hesitate to post anything about the horrid performance piece by Nicki Minaj on last night's Grammy Awards telecast since it's simply giving her/it the publicity it so desperately attempted to capture.

Still, if anything needs to be said about the talented rapper's cheesy, offensive, and sad stage "exorcism" of Roman Zolanski (the gay male/demon alter ego subject of her upcoming album) it's that we need to remember to pray for entertainers like her.

In fact, Houston Christian rapper Bizzle reminded of this months ago when he penned "Plead With You (Letter to Nicki)" about the influence he saw her peddling to young children like his niece.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Israel Houghton talks about working on T-Bone's new album, adds different rapper to New Breed

Cross-cultural worship leader Israel Houghton recently traded services with Christian rap veteran T-Bone where each will perform on the other artist's upcoming album.

Just last week T-Bone was in Houston to record with Houghton at Lakewood Church for New Breed's Jesus At The Center live DVD/album. Here, Houghton discusses that event and returning the favor for Bone's Return of the Bionic Man project.

And in other hip hop/Houghton related news, the group recently added Christian rapper/singer Ryan Horton from La Familia Muzik.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bizzle's 2nd album hits #5 on iTunes Rap chart


Bizzle, the Houston Christian rapper whose debut album hit #7 on iTunes Hip Hop/Rap charts last June, has done it again. This time around it's a collaboration album with St. Louis hip hop singer Pretty Willie (aka P-Dub.)

At the time of this post (on its drop day at 3pm) the album currently sits in the #5 position of Hip Hop/Rap chart of Apple's digital music store.

The project is titled Best of Both Worlds: The Album and is a follow-up to their Best of Both Worlds free mixtape that also blended rap with R&B.

Interestingly enough, it's a setup that brought similar success to R. Kelly and Jay-Z (Bizzle's previously verbal target) with their own Best of Both Worlds and Unfinished Business collaboration albums in the early 2000's.

Christian hip hop returns to SXSW in 2012 - Reach Records & have showcases

Reach Records will host its own showcase at SXSW this year

Christian hip hop returns to SXSW in 2012.

Yesterday the world-renowned Austin-based music and arts festival announced that gospel rap’s top label, Reach Records, will have their own showcase featuring the likes of Lecrae, Trip Lee, Tedashii*, PRo, Andy Mineo, and KB.

Their event will take place on Saturday, March 17 from 9:30-12:30am at La Zona Rosa located at 612 W 4th Street, Austin, TX 78701.

Christian rappers have been a part of's SXSW stage since 2009

This will follow the Hip Hop Hope Unity Conference and CityTakers Weekend held earlier in the day at the Carver Cultural Center (1165 Angelina Street, Austin, TX 78702) from 10am to 4pm.

As it has in years past, the stage will feature workshop sessions and panel discussions related to the functional realities of urban music ministry. And this year, instead of a mega-concert, the event will also contain a skills exhibition between MCs and DJs who will engage one another in friendly freestyle competitions for regional bragging rights.

Artists lined up for that event include Saul Paul, Gifted da Flamethrowa, J Kwest, Jerrell Johnson, Omega Sparx, Enlitenment, Too Phliy, and theBREAX. DJs include DJ Promote, DJ Wade-O, DJ Aslan, DJ Efechto, DJ Dort Vader, and DJ Stibs. Other special guests are also expected.

Finally, I’m told there will be a kickoff concert at a local church (Horizon Worship Center 1006 E. Yager Ln. Suite 115-A Austin, Texas 78753) on Friday, March 16 and that guys like J’son, Canon, High Society, and Thi’sl will be in town for performances before the Reach Records event.

Here's a sample of the panel discussion that took place at last year's event. Will you be there this year?

* UPDATE (02/07/12 - 2pm): This post originally reported that Tedashii would not be a part of the Reach showcase due to a prior commitment. I've since learned that the label is planning for him to be able to make this event.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Acoustic hip hop "musician with a message" from Houston performs at official Super Bowl event

SaulPaul presents his acoustic hip hop "music with a message"

On Thursday, February 2 SaulPaul, an acoustic hip hop “musician with a message,” participated and performed at the NFL PREP: Sports Career Expo, an official Super Bowl XLVI event held in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The native Houstonian shared his “Tower to Tower” story of being locked away in a state prison in Huntsville, Texas (with a view of the guard tower) to changing his life and graduating from the University of Texas (which is known for its iconic clock tower.)

The expo was part of the NFL’s community outreach program and enlists professionals from all aspects of the sports industry to inform, educate, and enlighten over 1,300 high school student athletes about a myriad of career opportunities available within the professional sports industry. James Brown, the sportscaster from CBS Sports as well as Troy Vincent, Vice President of the NFL Player Engagement Organization, were in attendance.

SaulPaul, who currently resides in Atlanta, is no stranger to the sports world having previously performed at events around Super Bowl XLIII in 2009 and by offering his daily freestyle recaps of sports new for ESPN Radio in Austin.

His next project, #ShineRightNow, will be released this spring on ReRoute Records. Watch the video below for footage from yesterday's Super Bowl event with SaulPaul.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Tre9 & Scott Free create 11-city tour to train other gospel MCs how to make disciples

Bobby "Tre9" Herring ministers at a local prison

Houston Christian rapper Bobby “Tre9” Herring and Scott Free, founder of the Atlanta-based Freestyle Missions, are planning an 11-city tour designed to strengthen the gospel hip hop community in 2012. Beginning in Nashville, TN this weekend and ending in Chicago, IL mid-December, this tour aims to unite more than just the music artists it serves.

The Hip Hop Hope Unity Conference and City Takers event will travel through Nashville, Austin, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Alaska, Detroit, Los Angeles, Portland, New York, Oklahoma City and Chicago. Its mission is to unite, serve, train, and equip Christian hip hop artists in daytime workshops, then to minister to the lost and saved in the evening City Takers services.


“This is a tour that will multiply disciples into disciple makers, taking the focus back to the Great Commission. It is often difficult in the Christian hip hop music industry to promote your music and avoid losing sight of the mission. We address this issue and give artists the tools necessary to build the Kingdom of God,” Tre9 explained.

Two Christian hip hop websites, (co-owned by Tre9) and, are both working together to push the vision. Artists such as Donny “D-MAUB” Harper, one of the main Christian rappers slotted for the City Takers evening service portion of the tour, were quick to respond to this unified effort.

“I am 100 percent behind Scott and Tre9 who have been instrumental in directing me towards a more mission-minded mentality. As a result, I’ve seen God bring an increase in opportunities for me to serve and grow,” said the 2011 KCA Award Winner D-MAUB.

Scott Free preaches on Atlanta's streets

City Takers services in Atlanta, GA and Hip Hop Hope Tuesdays in Houston, TX have both been around for well over two years, serving faithfully in their communities.

“For us this is more than rapping on the mic. It stretches into feeding the homeless, looking after orphans, mentoring at-risk youth, visiting those in prison, providing toys or school supplies to under-served families, being active in schools with positive assemblies, remodeling homes for the elderly and more," Scott Free said.

"Tre and I have been fortunate enough to establish non-profit organizations that keep us in full time ministry. We want to share that with our fellow brothers who we know have a calling of their own."