Friday, January 23, 2015

Seems like everybody in the Christian Rap industry is either leaving the “Christian” label behind, or is a “Rapper, who just happens to be a Christian, but not a “Christian Rapper”, or whatever. Seems like everyone is getting bent out of shape about it. Seems like rock music has already been through this phase, and now Rap & Hip-Hop are just now catching up. Seems like a bunch of whiny non-sense to the average listener, but to a musician who’s in the thick of it, it’s kind of a big deal.

So why is the label such a big deal?

Well the answer to that question is debatable. It really depends of the motives of the artist. But in my case, (as is most things I talk about) there are layers to this issue. Lots and lots of layers and dynamics to it, with no real discernible root.

My decision to leave the Christian music market was a difficult one that has left me in torment and agony ever since. Why? Because there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. But the world only seems to work one way, and there seems to be no room for idealists like me.

So here’s the deal.

I feel bad about my decision to stop being XERO. I actually really, really regret it sometimes, because XERO stood for something. He stood for the Word of God, first of all. He told people to fight for their holiness, and to persevere in their relationship with God. He said that you could always look to him and people like him for clear examples of people who had passion for God, and truth, and justice. He wasn’t afraid to poke holes in bad theology, or to tell people that a certain path was wrong and WHY! He talked a great deal about standing up to the enemy in the fullness and power of God, and never backing down.

He aspired to become a hero in the faith. He was everything I wanted to be, and then some. But, I couldn’t live up to my own legacy, because the bills were coming in faster than my income, my day job was growing harder and more distracting by the day, and I had another baby on the way. My rent was behind, bookings were way down, and my ride was late for the next show.

There was always some real world reason why I couldn’t make ends meet…why I couldn’t do what a man was supposed to do. No matter how many hours I worked. No matter how much I was getting paid. The tide was too strong and I lost the will to fight it anymore.

And, that wasn’t the reason I quit being XERO. No, that was simply the source of my anxiety, and the source of many of my songs.

Like I said before, there are layers. I’ve been having a really, really hard time explaining it to myself, so it’s gonna come out as total bologna to you folks. But I’ll try my best to write it out for the sake of other young, zealous rappers out there.

I should also preface that my views here are quite skewed, and that these are the experiences that I (and some of my colleagues) have actually lived through. It’s not the glory story you hear on MTV, but it’s closer to the stories you hear in the trenches by “Average Joe” Rapper-Folk like me.

1. The Fervor

When the fervor is gone, there’s no more reason to fight. At least, that’s how I felt a lot of days. I used to experience this wave of DREAD on show day! Sometimes it would last for HOURS! I just loathed the idea of going up on that stage and doing another (literal) song and dance for these people who were growing less and less responsive.

Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful that anyone would even TOLERATE me and my music. But in the final days, I started to feel like a total buffoon once I put on my uniform. (Remember, XERO was a Superhero/Knight). Much of this dread was caused by to culmination of the following points, but some of it was caused by the fact that I was not in my 20’s anymore, and things hadn’t really gotten much better than when I was rollin’ with ICRIS.

2. Misunderstandings (Marketing)

One of my biggest frustrations I’ve always had with people is the fact that I was never marketed the way I wanted to be. XERO was supposed to be theatrical, thought provoking, and deeply spiritual. I envisioned myself taking people down the path of some Spiritual theme or topic, and driving the show with songs, praise, prayer, and then at the end, everyone would feel like they had a deeper connection with God. I would use my skills as a producer to create this atmosphere using Hip-Hop and electronics, video, intense imagery, and a really cool light show.

What actually happened was (more times than not) I was thrown on stage with a poorly mic’d acoustic guitar so that I could fumble through whatever popular worship songs were on the radio. Or, I was (again) thrown out in front of a crowd who didn’t even know who I was, or what I was supposed to do. They didn’t know why I was dressed the way I was. They didn’t even like the music sometimes.

I’d often fumble around guitar pedals and drum sets of the next (or previous) bands, and sometimes….*you’re not gonna believe this* sometimes, I would have to perform WHILE THE BAND WAS SETTING UP BEHIND ME!!! I’m talking testing guitar levels, tuning strings, mic checking the drums…the full Monty! I was literally a sideshow act.

3. Lack of Support

I had spoken of giving up on music more than once in my life, but my friends and family would always push me to keep doing it, try harder, and don’t give up. But (with the exception of my wife) I can literally count on one hand how many times those people actually came to see me perform.

It’s lonely out there on the road, and when you have to drive 100 miles by yourself, because your buddies wouldn’t take the free trip, you get…well, lonely.

4. Theology

There’s nothing more embarrassing then having to denounce your old superstitions after you’ve put them into a song. But I’ve had to do that a few times. Furthermore, there are WAY too many protestant groups to satisfy. You’d do better to stick to either 1 specific kind of group, denomination, or belief system (like Charismatics, Calvinists, etc.) or become the “Official Rapper” or “Worship Leader” at your church.

Theology is a bigger deal to some Christian than Jesus is, and if you don’t know the in’s and out’s of the group you’re dealing with, you could end up trapped in a corner with Brian from Ripped Heart, jumping down your throat about why he thinks the Old Testament Laws, Diet, and Holidays are still binding. No, seriously though…One time I sat my drink down on some sacred table in this Lutheran church, and we lost the entire crowd. KNOW YOUR THEOLOGY GUYS!

5. Hip-Hop

Is it just me, or has Hip-Hop gotten to be almost as pretentious as Hipsters? Especially in the realm of Christian Hip-Hop. There are few who have their own style and sense of identity. And I am grateful for those few. But to the rest of them: Not everyone is impressed with your relating"Leading people to The Rock" to "slinging rock". Not everybody wants to"chop it up"! The Gospel is not drugs! You’re not a "Hope Dealer"!<—-#SeeWhatIDidThere It’s so lame! This may come as a surprise to some of you, but there are actually Black People out there who DON’T talk like that. Like, a lot of us…double digits even… in the high 2’s!

Hip-Hop USED to be about self expression, dancing, beats and shoes, stuff like that, but now things have changed. Basically, Hip-Hop (in the dumbest way possible) likes to take whatever you’re good at, or have a lot of, and then get really aggressive about it, because that said "thing" is what sets you apart from everyone else and makes you better than everybody else. So if your said "thing" is your swag, then you need to rap about your swag, and how your swag is better than mine. If your thing isgirls, then you rap about all the girls you get, and how you get more girls than me, and so forth and so on.

Well it was starting to feel like that’s what was happening to Christian Hip-Hop (CHH), except instead of swag, you’d have a “Jesus-Lean” (that’s actually a song), or instead of putting your hands up in the air, you were encouraged to throw your bibles in the air, or instead of slinging dopenow you sling Hope<—-#SeeWhatIDidThere , or you’d just beat up on everybody with whatever theology you learned to regurgitate in your first year of seminary. This was all pretty standard stuff. It wasn’t until rappers like Bizzle, Andy Mineo, Social Club, and Lecrae actually started doing what Christians are supposed to do with this platform that I’ve started to see a downward trend in the douche-baggery I mentioned prior.

6. Bookings (or lack thereof)

This should be a no-brainer, but it wasn’t in the early days, and i had to learn the hard way. Booking for Christian acts SUX big-time! You’d think that with forty-gazillion churches per capita, you’d have a decent amount of shows lined up through out the year. My experience has always been otherwise.

First of all, a lot of churches have money to spend on events, but they don’t want to spent ANY OF IT. So a lot of the people I talked to about shows were either already looking for acts for a fundraiser/ministry thing, or they needed a last minute replacement for some already set show…but also not a paying gig. Not to mention the organization and planning of these events were terrible.

But I can’t blame the churches for my problems, here. I’m just really bad at closing the deal. I needed someone who had connections to work on my behalf, and I was never able to find anyone who was plugged in enough, or motivated enough to do it. You can’t survived on 12 shows a year, ESPECIALLY when most of them don’t pay.

7. Youth Groups

I will probably never perform at another youth group. Ever! Period. I hate youth groups like I hate mosquitoe bites. I have NEVER been to a youth group that could pick up on even the simplest biblical references. I’m actually convinced that youth groups exist so that parents don’t have to be parents during the Sunday Morning Church-Show.

Youth groups never have money to buy stuff, so all that work I did in the beginning setting up a merch table….pointless! It’s better to give away free CD’s. Kids just want to dance. So the best acts for a youth group is going to be someone who just wants to get the kids hype for 45 minutes, and nothing more. Now, I have friends who like to call all the kids up on stage and do a big alter call, and then they like to claim that 30 kids got saved (or re-dedicated themselves), but we all know that ain’t right. They go up to the stage because they don’t wanna get in trouble for not participating. Now if you have a really fun show, with no real thinking involved, then youth groups can be fun….sometimes. But for the most part, it’s total and utter CHAOS! Especially lock-ins.

The last lock-in I was hired for turned out to be 50 screaming 1st-3rd graders, throwing giant balloons around and smashing each other over the heads with those “wacky noodles” you get at the swimming pool. On the plus side, I almost had enough to cover the gas for the other acts I brought with me.

Obviously, I’m not an act you’d bring out for youth groups, but we established that in the “marketing” portion of my large complaint here.

Now, there were times when I’d perform at a festival, where there were adults present, and had a great time. I’d engaged the crowd, I had great conversation afterwards, I’d get to minister to a few people, All that stuff. I’d even sell some CD’s and t-Shirts. But that’s when adults were present, because i write for adults.

I’ve preached to Adults and seen life changing things happen. but high-school kids, deer-in-the-headlights, middle school kids, deer-in-the-headlights, elementary kids will throw stuff at you if they don’t like you.

I hate youth groups.

8. The Church Agenda

Needless to say, every church has an agenda. They might call it a vision, but it’s an agenda with a churchy name. Most churches don’t want any outsiders coming into their flock and stirring up things with their crazy ideas about how the bible works. I actually had a church securitary tell me that unless I was a part of one of the churches in their network, she wouldn’t even let me SPEAK to a pastor about performing there.

Most churches have a set event schedule, and it’s all part of the current theme that the church is running. The bigger the congregation, the more air tight the agenda, and rightly so. When you’re responsible for that many people, you want to manage your time wisely. It just sucks for anyone who’s not Hillsong United!

If you get lucky, you MIGHT get along with the pastor enough to do a solo/special performance at church service, but that’s a far cry from the Church that hosted a 116 Clique concert and seminar for over 1500 people. I always assumed that if you had a worship team of 20 really talented artists, that you’d be allowed to host a concert from time-to-time. It turns out that those kinds of things only ever happen when they fit the predetermined church agenda, and you either need to be brought in by someone on leadership, or just happen to attend that particular church….or have a record deal with Toby Mac.

Like I said before; just try to become the Official Church Rapper and you shouldn’t have too much trouble.

9. The Radio Agenda

I’m not really sure if this is true, and I’m too lazy to look it up, but i’m told that Christian radio only really ever caters to middle aged women who may or may not be mothers. I’m also not really sure if Christian radio is supposed to build you up with its depressing selection of feminized music, or simply comfort me when i’m feeling low. I’m also not really sure why every song on CCM radio (in Michigan at least) seems like it’s trying to convince Jesus that he’s the prettiest girl in school. It all just seems so shallow and soft, and doesn’t seem to be all that concerned with being theologically sound.

On the other hand, Christian Hip-Hop seems to be male dominated and male driven, but with it’s own agenda. I haven’t quite figured out what that agenda is yet. Right now, it seems to be geared towards getting a lot of hits via controversy.

Either way, as a Male singer who does predominantly electronic style pop music, I find it hard to fit in either of those camps. I’m currently waiting for someone to invent a website that features my style of music, whilst I wait to be discovered…or whatever. To be honest, there aren’t any secular websites out there who cater to my style either. But da interwebs is a big place. I’m hoping to find a home soon.

10. Real Life

Finally, my most sober reasoning for quitting the Christian music market. Real life. Because, in my mind, I’m helping to entertain Christians who are looking for music about Christian life. I’m not so sure about that now that I’ve gone a near-decade without feedback from most of them.

What I HAVE seen is people who never take the time to check out new downloads, and who don’t support shows. The same people who I used to go to church with are listening to Jay-Z and Lady Gaga’s raunchiest songs as they drive out of the church parking lot. They know more about their favorite sports teams than they do the Apostles. Even worse, many of the people I meet at shows don’t even agree with the Christian Worldview of many prominent topics. I’m not trying to make myself out to be perfect…But I AM trying to be better than I am right now.

So why did I go to bat for these people for so long?

I really don’t know. I guess it’s because I’m a dreamer. I thought that if I kept pressing forward, I’d one day find others like myself, pressing right along. But that didn’t happen. I’ve remained an outcast in the realm since i started, and I just don’t want to do it anymore. I can be a Christian without being a Christian Rapper. Let somebody else go through all that drama.

In real life, I don’t like to charge for ministry, I don’t feel like the people in the Church are “the lost”, I really hate playing politics, and I have kids to feed……EVERYDAY. If the churches up here won’t support to movement, then who will? Why rap for people who either don’t want to hear the message, or who is just being polite while you finish talking?

I’ve put 7 good years of my life into this, and I have NOTHING to show for my trouble. I sincerely hope that I’ve built up treasure in heaven, cuz I gots nothin’ down here.

So what about You guys out there? Have you had some of the same troubles that I’ve had? Do any of these points resonate with you? Am I just being too whiny and negative about the whole thing?

Leave me a comment and let me know.

Pray for me y’all.

I have followed up on this issue in the months following this post.  Below are the updates as the developed.

Update 3/21/15 - Knowing When to Repent

Update 3/24/15 - Rap Talk

Update 5/12/15 - Mid-Week Rant about Radio

Update 10/15/15


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