posted: 05-24-03

interview: tadah

Christian Rap is a no-term. Not appreciated by anyone, it's still forced on anyone talking about it, as well as anybody who's doing something that's considered, well, Christian Rap. In a series of interviews, urbansmarts delves into the subject, to hear the people talk the talk, that walk the walk.
Today we travel to Atlanta to meet up with Listener of the mighty Deepspace5 collective and Labklik, as well as newly signed Mush artist.
Please introduce yourself.
I'm Listener.
Where are you from?
I'm from all over the US, but I currently live in Atlanta, Georgia.

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How do you like it there?
I grew up in Missouri, so it feels like home. Same weather temperament and landscape. Good people.
What records have you put out?
Independently I've put out 8 albums, with my friend illtrip, as a group called Labklik.. Last year I put out an album with my friends on Uprok/EMI records called "The Night We Called it a Day". The group is Deepspace5.
Eight records is a lot of material. Do you see a continues thread that ran through those records? Maybe also a way of progress?
There are definitely themes that go from record to record. We have always tried to put out positive, sensitive, interesting hip-hop. Not all our songs have been groundbreaking, but there is nothing I would dismiss about those recordings. It was a definite learning and growing process, not only as a person, but as an artist. It was the best thing for me in making me who I am today.
What records have you been on?
I was on Mars ILL's "Raw Material" album. I did a track with Sev on his latest solo project. I did a track with Future Shock on their album "The Art of Xenos". I did a song with 2Mex for the next "Underground Rise" album, and I'm on the current "Undergorund Rise" album with Sev. There are several more, but...
What's coming next?
I'm doing a couple songs with a group in Finland called the Ceebrolistics in June. I have a new album coming out in July on Mush records called "Whispermoon".
What can you tell us about those releases: who are you working with, what's to expect, etc?
"Whispermoon" is an album that I've been recording over the past year. I recorded half of it in LA, and the other half at the Mars ILL Studio in Atlanta. Dust produced about half of the beats. Various others on the rest. I did one, illtrip1, Freddie Bruno, Ohmega Watts, E.O. And I have my friends from DeepSpace5 on a song, Manchild on another, and illtrip1 on a third. I'm not too big on collaboration songs. It's a solo album, and it is rap music.
How did you 'hook up' with Mush?
I sent them a copy of the finished album, and they liked it. They had heard me on the Deepspace5 record, and we talked for a little bit, and it just fit. I was needing a label to put some muscle behind my album and they were looking for an artist to fill up there July 21st date. Really they just liked my music, and I respect what they've done in the past so it was a mutual thing.
Mush is out there as far as with the music they release. And they also want the artists to go as far as they can. So how do you think you'll fit into their roaster?
Well, I don't see myself as 'out there'. I'm just trying to be a good hip-hop artist, whatever that is. Some of the people on their roster could be considered as 'out there'. But the thing about Mush is that they don't put out only one style. So I think I'll fit in fine. I'm an artist just like the other cats. I'm a new guy to so many people, so I have my time coming of paying plenty of dues. But it's a good fit. I'm ready, I'm poised for the work load.
But in what way do you 'go all out'?
Uhm, I dyed my hair white once. It's all who you compare me to. To some who uphold a strict rule book on rap music I might seem cryptic, dark and artsy. But you have others who are so far past all of the rules that might see it as a normal hip-hop album. It's all up to the perspective you're looking from.
The 'scene', is most often referred to as 'Christian Hip Hop'. Now, as I understand it, this term is not really enjoyed. Why?
I've know about the 'Christian Rap' scene for almost 15 years. I've heard a lot of the stuff that gets released, and too often it's subpar compared to the regular hip-hop scene. It's mostly because the artists goals are only to please their Christian record label. I think the best way is to just be a part of all of hip-hop and be a Christian in it. It's good to come together and be around other Christians who do music, but why limit your music to just Christians?
Is that part of the idea why to go with Mush that is completely separate from the Christian hip-hop scene?
I'm an artist. I make raps. I do hip-hop, whatever you want to call it. I'm also a Christian, but I'm a rap artist. My faith will be talked about. I'm not against talking about faith, but I'm an artist. I want to make art for everyone who will listen, and not limit myself to only a portion of heads out there who share the same beliefs I do. Christians will listen too, hopefully, and everyone will be happy. I don't see a need to separate my music from people who don't share in the same beliefs as I do.
At the same time, there seems to be a need to identify the music as 'Christian Rap'. Why do you think that is?
Who knows? Every other rapper who attaches themselves to a religion doesn't get labeled with their religion before the word rap. I think because there has been this side-subgenre going for so long that people who are Christian artists are getting lumped in there too. There is an entirely separate Christian music industry and it's a multi billion dollar a year industry. I'm not a part of that industry and yet I'll probably get lumped there. Who knows, maybe I'll be surprised.
Do you feel like there's a 'circle' or a 'scene' of like minded people?
Like minded in faith, yes, but not necessarily in method. There are many different speeds of Christianity in the US, different divisions. They teach anywhere from traditional views to more radical free thinking. It's all up to the type of Christian church you attend, about the denomination. The main points of the faith are the same, but the methods are different.
In what way do you see this in the 'Christian rap' circle?
Some people think that if you're a Christian and you rap or do any kind of art, you should use it as a radical evangelistic tool to tell everyone how to join the faith. Others are on the opposite side of the spectrum and they wish to go about their music, talking about their lives, which includes Christian thinking, but just connect to people on a personal level.
Is it just a 'circle' or an actual 'support network'?
Well, the Christian music industry, just like any other industry in general, is jaded in my opinion. I really don't think it's a good idea to separate themselves like they have and live in the bubble that they've created. It is good to be around other Christians, but not to the point that it is a separation from the rest of society.
In what way does this 'network' function: means of communication, means of meeting, etc.?
There are several websites where people talk on message boards. Touring groups visit youth groups all over the US and meet with people, and there are the occasional Christian Rap convention type events where people get together and meet and network.
How do we have to imagine such a convention?
Well, it's usually a bunch of artists and fans and people wanting to be artists mingling about, attending seminars on music and such. And there are always showcases and rap shows where groups perform. It's just like any other convention, but with rappers and fans who are all of the same religion.
Do you think this network makes 'it' easier for you?
It makes it easier to stay in the bubble, but it can be a positive thing too. If there were a happy medium I'd be more fond of the whole thing.
What do you mean by 'happy medium'?
Maybe a happy medium in the way people view what goes on. I think everyone can understand though. It's a scene where people of like faith can get together and be themselves and not worry about stuff that would go against their belief system. Everyone likes to go where everybody knows their name, and is on the same page as them. To some people it's more important to be on the same page with religion, to others it's just the music. I think this scene wants to focus on both.
Does beef exist in this 'scene'?
I think so, but mostly on how different groups go about their music. Mostly about the methods.
Who do you see as the pioneers of it?
Chris Cooper (Soup from SFC), Gospel Gansters, Future Shock, LPG, and P.I.D.
Who do you see as leading figures today?
Maybe I'm biased, but all the members of Deepspace5. We got Mars ILL, Playdough, Sev from the Tunnel Rats, Sintax, ill harmonics, labklik. Most of us though don't really have a tunnel vision target on just putting our music out for people of like faith. I would say a group called the Cross Movement runs thing in the "Christian Rap" world.
How do you see your role in it?
I try and make good music for everyone, not just Christians. I am an artist who is a Christian, but I try to make the best music I can. As we discussed, I'm signed to Mush Records that is home to Aesop Rock, Busdriver, Awol One, and several Anticon members, and I'm a guy who makes music and happens to be a Christian.
How do you see the level of attention that your music, and the one of the 'scene' receives?
I don't have any comparisons as of yet.
Does the 'scene' impose restrictions on the way you do your music (i.e. obligation of a certain positivity, etc.)?
Not for me. There might be some labels trying to do that. It's my life choice that restricts me from certain subjects. But I really don't see it as a restriction. People rap about their life. If eating teeth were a part of my life, I'd rap about teeth eating.
I know that you are not to curse. For those that don't understand why, what's bad about a curse word?
Cuss words are just words, like any other words. But what's so good about them? I guess I was just raised to not cuss. I don't see the need for it, it's not in my vocabulary, so it doesn't come up in my writing.
Does being a believing person prevent you from centering your mind around bling bling, and other evils of today's mainstream hip-hop?
Some people write about that. Personally, as said, I just write about my life, and that's just not a part of it. So it's not a part of my music.
Does this mean, that this could be a reason, why your rap seems to be upholding the values of hip hop more than the mainstream rap?
You could say that, but I also think that it holds people back from being original and creative. If you truly know your boundaries, you can be extremely original and be creative within those boundaries. A lot of Christian artists only mimic what everyone else is doing, but with a Christian twist. That's where it all goes down the toilet.
Do you think that your music, also considering the strength of the Christian movement in politics, that in terms of major success, will be getting very big, very soon?
No. Mostly because of the money that is put into the industry. There really isn't a huge market for it. There is a market, but it isn't enough to be big and see major success.
You don't think that considering the bible belt, as well as how widespread strong Christianity is in the US compared to many European countries, that the market is actually big? It isn't, maybe because the regular Christian doesn't listen to rap?
Exactly. Not only does the Industry limit themselves in only targeting Christian people, they are limited to the number of people who actually listen to rap. And it's even more watered down to the fans who like their specific style of rap. Historically the bible belt doesn't like rap music, no matter what they are saying.
How do you view the current political influence of conservative Christianity?
I see it as a positive thing, but then again our country was based on Christian principles and beliefs.
Do you feel that the youth has some misconceptions about Christianity and about being a Christian?
If I were to take a stab at how 'youth' misconceive Christianity I would say it is because of all the rules and how it limits their fun and experiences. I think a lot of people hold on to things that are bad for them because they feel good to do. Abusing alcohol and sex, putting harmful drugs inside their body, etc. It feels good to do that stuff. It isn't until you are 35 and addicted to crack, or have lost your brain from cocaine, or are beating your wife in an alcoholic rage that you realize the things that you held the highest in your life have taken over your life. Christianity isn't about a set of man made rules. It's a way of life, and you don't have to give up having fun. There are boundaries, but those boundaries allow you to live a more fulfilling life. Amongst other things it helps me live a clean life.
You mention sex. Now a young buck out there will quite likely have a problem to understand why sex is so bad, or at least isn't to be practiced before marriage. So what do they not get?
There are the normal answers of STDs, and pregnancy. Which, to me, are setbacks to practicing sex with anyone you meet. A lot of people don't practice sex with anyone they meet, and only engage in it when inside of a more meaningful, long term relationship. This type of sex comes with a lot of emotional baggage. Either way there are risks, but people will do what they want. We don't always weigh out the circumstances. If you aren't a Christian you might not understand a lot of these 'rules'.
How important is it to you to work with likeminded people, as far as the strength of faith concerns?
I don't require someone to change their life to rap on my record. I want to work with artists who I think are good. Sometimes they share the same faith.
Do you think it's possible to write sermons as raps? Or raps as sermons?
You can rap about anything. For me personally, no, I'm not a preacher, but my raps might be sermons for some people though, that's up to them. I talk about my boring life, I don't preach in my raps.
While many speak about their faith and beliefs, few seem to give something like a Bible studies rhyme. How come and how do you see that?
It's creative license I guess.
A lot of people seem to separate between faith and religion. Do you?
Yes, I am Christian by faith, I do not really subscribe to the religious, man made aspect to it all. I do go to church, but Christianity in the US is set up in so may different denominations, divisions, that believe slightly different from the next church. It's this division, or religion, that I can't be about. As far as faith goes I'm just about my faith in Jesus Christ.
How much of an awareness is there about the differences of people's religious background: Methodist, Catholic, Baptists, etc?
There is quite a bit of awareness of the different denominations, but as you can tell from my other answers I think a lot of it is silly little divisions. Different strokes for different folks I guess. It's a free country.
But are the denominations something you discuss in say Deepspace5?
It's not really that important.
And also considering the answers of some of the Deepspace5 members, they are at times moderate, and other times very firm. Does this show in discussions you might have?
We are all Christians. Some people have different views or convictions. Some might be loose, some very strict. It's all up to how they choose to live their life. We talk about it, but it isn't a problem.
What's your opinion on other religions like Islam, Buddhism, etc?
Well, God created the earth, and the purpose for man is to worship him with everything He gives us. In a nutshell the main purpose is to believe in Him so that we will be accepted into heaven after we die, and not be sent to hell. He gives everyone a choice to serve Him or not. I feel like people who are a part of other religions have the same choice. Those religions are man made, although a lot of religions require a morally good lifestyle. It is still man made and how can you follow another person whom God created? There is only one true God.
Now to word it very harshly: Christians don't have to be tolerant with other religions, because they're right?
I'm very tolerant of other religions. I'm all about somebody practicing what they want to, because they have the same choice as I do. God gives everyone in the world a choice as to whom they want to serve Also remember what I sad about following a man-made religion.
How do you deal with scientific findings that dispute what's written in the bible?
I'm not sure what scientific findings those are. I haven't heard any.
Let's put it like this: as much as creationism disputes the evolution, other findings dispute creationism. Are you willing to consider their arguments?
Well I studied art and broadcasting in college. I'm not well equipped to debate on scientific arguments. I know that faith in what the bible says to be true is a part of being a Christian, and that's what I go by. I believe God created the earth. I don't hate people who think otherwise.
Do you feel like an alien in your circles: in the circle of hip hop as well as your circle of faith as being hip hoppers?
No. I honestly want to be a part of any hip-hop scene no matter what religion. Hip-hop, or rap, is about music and art. The fact that I'm a Christian is extra to the music I do.
Do you listen to rap that's outside of the 'faith hip hop'?
Would you be doing rap, if there'd not be this 'faith rap' that you could do?
Of course. Like I've said before: Being a Christian has nothing to do with me being a hip-hop artist. God gave me the talents I have, and what I write about is my life. And I happen to be a Christian, so those raps are going to be from my perspective. From the outside it may look like a whole other set of limits I have when it comes to the topics I can discuss, but I don't see it that way. Why would I want to rap about drugs, or how much money I have, that's not who I am. Besides those topics have all been done before and the people that rap about them are usually controlled by their vices.
A lot of you are married? Do you think that's a coincidence?
I don't know. I met the right girl.
Aight, thanks a lot for your time. Let us wrap this up with you speaking on what I missed to ask you about, as well as shout outs if you'd like to do those.
I think we hit it all. I don't do shout outs.
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