Thursday, August 23, 2012

INTERVIEW: Houston rap legend DJ DMD speaks on his Christian conversion and remaking “25 Lighters” into “25 Bibles”

I’ve heard about Houston rap legend DJ DMD‘s religious conversion for a little while now as well as the Christian reworking of his flagship hit “25 Lighters” into “25 Bibles.” I’d been meaning to catch up with him about it and it worked out that I was able to get a little bit of his time when the MOVE Tour hit our city last month.

We’ve had longer conversations that I’ll write about later, but here you can hear him tell his story in his own words and talk about how the remake came about.


He humbly downplays highlights like, you know, working with DJ Screw, Bun B, Pimp C, Lil Keke and Fat Pat. Oh yeah, there’s also a small comment about the fact that this track was also reinterpreted by Rick Rubin and ZZ Top for this summer’s “Battleship” movie. There’s a great piece about that in this month’s Texas Monthly magazine if you missed it.

Also, DJ DMD will be shooting a video for this track in Port Arthur this Saturday, August 25 with noted hip hop cinematographer Mr. Boomtown. For details on how to participate, click here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

INTERVIEW: Sean Simmonds talks about making Xist Music a label of 2nd chances

During the MOVE Tour stop in Houston last month I got the chance to sit down with Sean Simmonds to discuss his art and the process of building Xist Music into a label of second chances for guys like Da’ T.R.U.T.H. and The Ambassador.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

INTERVIEW: Heath McNease discusses his free C.S. Lewis-inspired album


I recently caught up with rapper/singer Heath McNease via e-mail to discuss his new album, the Disney “Narnia” movies, and whether or not we’ll ever see another C.S. Lewis.

Sketch: Which of C.S. Lewis’ books was the most challenging for you to write a song about? Why?

Heath: Definitely The Problem of Pain. I wrote “A Grief Observed” early on…and I was really conscience of trying to make clear distinctions between the two songs lyrically, because they deal with some overlapping themes.

I was just going about “Problem of Pain” all wrong sonically at first. I wanted it to have too much of a serious vibe musically. So I actually ended up writing it on the ukulele and then recording it on the piano. Musically it sounded far more upbeat. Once the sonic palette was brighter…it made the lyrics stand in stark contrast. I love how it turned out.

Sketch: What was your take on the recent film adaptations of the “Narnia” series?

Heath: I saw the first one and loved it. I thought it was great. I saw Prince Caspian once, and I thought it was fun. I haven’t seen Dawn Treader yet, but I’m sure I will at some point.

I think I was kinda upset at Disney letting go of the product. Disney handled the franchise so well. But I’m sure I’ll see it eventually. Obviously it’s hard to capture every detail from the books, so you hope to capture the spirit of the work which is what I tried to do with my songs.

Sketch: This album showcases more of your acoustic singer/songwriter side. Did you attempt any of these songs in hip hop first? Why or why not?

Heath: Well it’s not totally acoustic. I actually made a concerted effort for it to not be an acoustic album. It’s definitely more of an indie/folk rock record. I actually thought in the beginning about what it might sound like if it was a hip hop record. But I just feel like people try to capture the lyrical nature of Lewis all the time. I wanted to approach it from more of a “vibe” perspective. And it just came down to what style could best capture that. And for me…it lent itself to songwriting instead of rapping.

Sketch: Since I’m from Houston, I have to ask, are there any “chopped and screwed” sounds to be heard on your version of “The Screwtape Letters?” I’ve always thought that would be a natural take on the story from a hip hop perspective.

Heath: Haha. That’s actually a great idea. That was definitely not my interpretation of it. But I’d love to hear someone take that idea and run with it.

Sketch: Will our faith ever have another C.S. Lewis? Why or why not?

Heath: I don’t know, man. That’s an awesome question. I tend to think we will if we have another catastrophic war – which I certainly hope we don’t. But Lewis and Tolkein were both severely affected by the World Wars. It existed in the way they interpreted so many things. Just being soldiers, that informed so much. It did the same with Kurt Vonnegut.

And faith took a dramatic shift in England following World War II. I always thought Lewis fought against the current of the hatred and disbelief that ran rampant at the time. And he did it with depth, warmth, and humor. Sadly the best writers, thinkers, creators, etc. are usually products of terrible tragedies. So as much as I hope we get another C.S. Lewis…I hope we don’t need one.

The Weight of Glory: Songs Inspired by the Works of C.S. Lewis can be streamed and downloaded on a pay-what-you-want-basis (including FREE) at the artist’s Bandamp site.

Listeners can also choose from a variety of financial support options that offer rewards of signed CDs, personalized thank-you videos, and house concerts.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Why I’m not mad that rapper Slim Thug advocates abortion as birth control


Last week the online hip hop community was buzzing with news that mainstream rapper Slim Thug, in passages from his financial self-help book How to Survive in a Recession, called abortion “necessary” and likened it to birth control.

As a fellow Houstonian, rap fan, and Christian I’m not as up in arms about this as some might think.
In full disclosure, I’ve not had a chance to read the book or the chapter in question. But reports that I’ve seen quote Thug as saying/writing:
“I think abortion is necessary on some occasions. People be against it, but people don’t deal with the real life situations some people deal with. I don’t think it’s right, I don’t think it’s good to have a baby and not be with the father.”
“Even though I got three baby mamas … it’s working out. But it ain’t right. I ain’t saying wait three or four months. If it’s immediate, it’s like birth control to me.”
That being said, Slim is correct in stressing the importance and value of fathers being present in the lives of their kids. He’s incorrect in stating that abortion is a valid form of birth control.

But are people really taking this statement seriously? My understanding is that Slim uses a lot of humor and sarcasm in the book. In fact, it’s been indicated that his appearance in a similarly-themed skit on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in 2009 was the inspiration for this project.

To me, this abortion line comes off a satirical recommendation in the spirit of Jonathan Swift’s famous Modest Proposal that poor Irish citizens ease their financial woes by selling children as food to their rich countrymen.

In my experience, rappers are often a lot more intelligent than their public personas may indicate. And they’re exponentially more media-savvy than they are given credit for. Slim is out to sell books and with this type of statement he’s garnered the attention he wanted for its promotion.

Besides, if financial advice is the main theme of the manuscript, from a simply economic standpoint, isn’t an abortion a more expensive form of birth control than a box of condoms?!?

* Hat tip to Shea Serrano who prompted this blog post with a question posed to me on Twitter that didn’t get used in the Houston Press.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hip-Hop Worship artist Rawsrvnt teams with Jamaican reggae star St. Matthew for ‘Soul Deep’ hybrid EP


These days, some of the most popular music is built upon “dream team” collaborations of artists from different genres, geographies, or camps.

So it is with much delight that Soul Deep and Readyback Records, in association with Lion of Judah Sounds (DJ Frost/Monty G), announce that Hip-Hop Worship artist Rawsrvnt has teamed with Jamaican reggae star St. Matthew for a hybrid EP called Soul Deep that fuses both of their individual sounds.

The project also carries the momentum of one of its key tracks, “The Almighty,” winning the 2012 En Sound Music Award for Best Gospel Reggae Song.

Rawsrvnt met St. Matthew in 2011 while visiting Jamaica on a missions trip. The two instantly clicked and linked up soon after to record the song “The Almighty” for Rawsrvnt’s Love Deluxe album. Shortly after that release the duo reunited in Kingston, JA to film a music video for the cut.

“Part of my goal as an entertainer and music missionary has been to create great music that appeals to the masses and shares the love of Jesus,” Rawsrvnt said. “By partnering with St. Matthew we can add an international, island vibe to that mix and attract even more people to this life-changing message.”

Soul Deep will be available worldwide through all major digital outlets (iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, etc.) on Tuesday, August 7.

Both artists believe that if at least 1,000 fans download the EP on its release date they will make a Top 10 chart ranking on iTunes which can ultimately lead to new listeners experiencing this life-changing message through music.

“I would definitely love to see Soul Deep hit that goal and make Christ famous in a genre that, while spiritual and substantive, often pushes King Jesus to the background,” Rawsrvnt said.

The project can be purchased through most digital download sits including iTunes and

Fans who wish to support the project are urged to use the #SoulDeep hashtag on social media networks and visit for FREE electronic wallpapers and other goodies.

Monday, August 6, 2012

INTERVIEW: Lil Dre talks about his new album, Houston-ties, and how starting out as a Christian rapper has impacted his ministry

Lil Dre performs in Houston last year.
Photo by Sketch the Journalist

Under Construction, the second album from Oklahoma City-based Christian rap artist Lil Dre, was released July 31. I recently caught up with him via e-mail to discuss the project, his Houston ties, and how starting out Christian rapper has impacted his ministry.

Sketch: You were born in South Park and raised in Bryan, Texas. What is it about this part of the Lone Star State that fosters so many Christian rappers? 

Lil Dre: From what I’ve experienced, this part of the south is open to the diversity of individuals being themselves. The times I did hear cats like Bun B (a rapper from the mainstream group UGK) at school, they seemed to push the issue of “trill” which is all about being who you are. So it always seemed that as long as you kept it real, with who you are and what you spit…people would support you. Recognizing that really allowed me to confidently stay in my lane and try to represent Christ in all I do. In music, basketball, and just everyday life my friends would say I acted different but I was just trying to keep it “100” since our parents raised us in the word of God.

Sketch: You told me before that, unlike many in this genre, you actually started out as Christian rapper and didn’t attempt a secular music career before this. How do you think that has impacted your art and ministry?

Lil Dre: Honestly, I think it’s bittersweet because there was a negative and positive impact for me.

Knowing and accepting who I am in Christ at an early age allowed me to build the foundation I’d need later in life. So regardless of my shortcomings, I have no shame of sharing them with my friends and family to assist me with accountability and as a testimony to those in similar situations.

On the flip side I believe my craft could be that much better if I were to use multiple styles and genres of music to study. For instance, when I wanted to get better at basketball, I went to the hoods where I knew the ballers were…not just my church camps.


Sketch: Under Construction is your second album on Church Boy Entertainment. What’s changed since you dropped Strapped Up?

Lil Dre: Musically: my knowledge of the business. Being able to share with a broader audience has brought some joyous adventures and some situations I’d like to forget. Unfortunately it comes with the territory so it has grown me. Ced [Church Boy’s CEO], Aslan [the label’s resident DJ] and the older men on the team have always been there to teach and guide.

Personally: EVERYTHING! Ha! A new position on my job, marriage, new roles as a man (husband/father), and another baby girl due September 8.That’s what took so long from the last project, I was (still am) doing so much adjusting I had to lighten my load for a while until I learned how to properly balance.

Sketch: What’s your take on recently-revived “Christian rapper/rapper who is a Christian” label debate?

Lil Dre: On the cool I don’t have much of an opinion on the matter. I think there are more important issues to be tackled – like potty training my daughter! Help!

In all seriousness though, I say “to each his own.” It’s cliché, I know. Personally I just don’t want to try and determine what kind of tree it is without checking out its contents (or fruit). I’ve just always used the “Christian rapper” label because, no matter who hears my music, they can hold me accountable to it. I’ve been “called out” a few times.

Sketch: Be real, how hard did you pray for the OKC Thunder to win the NBA Championship and how hard did you cry afterward?

Lil Dre: Haha! Let me first say I love Oklahoma. They are amazing here. With that said, I’m a proud Miami Heat fan since 2004 when I left high school and D. Wade left Marquette.

Did I mention how much I LOVE Oklahoma? #HeatNation

To learn more about Lil Dre and Under Construction visit