While undoubtedly one of the front-runners of Christian hip hop, Reach Records recording artist Trip Lee is no longer content to dwell within the confines of the musical genre. On the heels of ‘Rise’ his fifth album release, he discuses the need to create music that is uniquely different, raising the bar for a new generation and why he no longer defines himself as a Christian rapper.
Q: Got a chance to listen to the album and I must say it really stretched my perception of the genre. What was the inspiration behind the project?
A: As always when I work on new music, part of what inspires me is my love of music. On the other hand, I really wanted to challenge people with the content of the album. People from my generation have such low expectations and I wanted to challenge them to rise above and live the way we were actually created to live, so that’s what I tried to do with the album.
Q: In your opinion, what are the expectations for your generation? What aren’t they living up to?
A: Well, [as I mentioned earlier], the expectations people have for us are very low. [We are told] You’re young, don’t worry about it, just have fun. You know, be carefree with no responsibilities… But what I want to say to those of us who are 40 and over and those of us who are 30 and younger is, God made us, we have a reason to be alive and be here. Instead of not really thinking deeply about life at all until we are much older, we should begin thinking deeply about life now and actually how to live the way we are expected to live. So while it’s O.K to have fun and we’re all gonna make mistakes, that doesn’t mean that we should pretend that we are not real people who’s decisions matter.
Q: I read that you are looking to be distinctly different from what we have seen, heard and felt in rap music and that you do not define yourself as a Christian rapper, tell us why?
A: Sometimes when people hear ‘Christian rapper,’ they think that it’s another genre of hip hop,’i.e, drug hip hop, gangster hip hop or Christian hip hop, causing non-Christians or others who don’t consider themselves strong Christians to think, oh well that’s not for me but that’s not what I want to do. Instead as a Christian, I want my world view to influence the way I approach music and that’s what you’re gonna hear in the way that I approach topics and the way that I try to carry myself as an artist, but I don’t want in any way to communicate to people that my music is not for them, because I want to make music for everybody. Music that inspires everybody, challenges everybody and encourages everybody.
Q: Has there been a negative stigma attached to Christian rap in the past?
A: Yeah, of course. Part of the negative stigma is the assumption that it will be terrible – or corny. [When they hear Christian rap] They assume that it’ll be these guys in choir robes rapping and a baptismal [laughing]. It makes me glad when people see me and go: he’s actually a serious Christian who believes every word of the Bible, but he loves hip hop and his music is actually dope… and so I don’t wanna be in a different category. I am a rapper and a hip hop artist with a distinct worldview. So for instance, I’m not gonna rap about all these bunch of girls that I have, because I’ve been actually married for five years and I have two kids, and if you listen to my record you’ll find a song written to my kids and a song [written] to my wife… And that’s part of the distinct worldview that you’re gonna hear from me that I hope is an encouragement and challenge to folks.
Q: Is there anything you hope other rap artists who happen to be ‘Christian’ would emulate or change in the way they represent the genre?
A: Yes, I want every artist to be themselves. I don’t want everyone to try to do music exactly the way that I do and I don’t want people to try to make me do it the way they do. The most important thing is to do it in excellence. Oftentimes people think: As long as I have a positive message, that’s all that matters. But No. If you just want to share a positive message then you should go write a book or talk to somebody about it. But if you want to do art, if you want to do music? You should do it in excellence. So that folks don’t assume that just because someone is a serious Christian that their music must be bad. And then I would encourage them to think about the challenge of incorporating their worldview into their music and how to engage with the kind of prevailing worldview when they do hip hop.
Q: Track 7 references your call to be a rapper and a pastor, but I get a sense that you are sort of torn between the two roles. How do you balance it all?
A: That’s a good question, and it’s something I have been trying to figure out for the last few years. I’m on staff part time at my church as a pastor and I’ve been trying to figure out that balance but it’s difficult, because when you travel you’re away from people and it’s harder to shepherd them and love them and care for them like pastors are called to do. That’s actually the balance I am still trying to find… which takes a lot of saying no to things, and not prioritizing big things over smaller more intimate things. We shouldn’t assume that because something is bigger that it will ended up having more impact. It takes a lot to balance things, and I am still trying to learn how to figure it out.
Q: Who inspires you musically and personally?
A: That’s a hard question. Musically I’m really inspired by everybody. Anytime I hear a good song… So it could be Stevie Wonder… The way he was able to render emotions and the way he was able to galvanize people to do good things… Or the way he was able to do this or that I could learn from that… And even though we approach music very differently and do different kinds of things, I can still be inspired by that. I am inspired by anyone who does what they do with excellence. It really does genuinely inspire me and I learn from them.
And spiritually… That’s another hard one… But one person that encourages me spiritually is my wife. It’s a very busy season for us… We have two little kids and to see her endurance, perseverance and love for them, to see her diligence, commitment and the sacrifices she makes is not about just being a strong person. There is something that has gone on inside of her heart, giving her the ability to love, to care for, to be strong and to persevere which I think is a deeply spiritual thing – and that’s an encouragement to me.
Q: Who are you listening to these days?
A: I’m kind of all over the place. I love discovering new stuff. One artist I’m listening to is Brooke Fraser. She is actually a pop artist from Brazil who used to be part of a worship group called Hillsong United. She just put out a new album with excellence and she is a great song writer. And there’s Derrick Minor, a rapper and friend of mine who put out a new song called “Who you know” that I’ve been listening to a lot too.
Q: On Track 2, Lights On, you are skilled in blending music, melody and rap and ending the track with instrumentation. Is this an example of where you would like to take the genre?
A: I’m a music lover and so I love when there are lots of dynamics to a song, or when rappers take the music to a different place. Rap is a really beautiful art form, and I like to blend other things into it, so in a sense [in this track] I was trying to push the boundaries a little by bringing a beautiful piano arrangement and beautiful vocals at the end and really taking the track somewhere you weren’t expecting. I like to do creative things that are different than what people expect, and that’s where I hope hip hop will go. I do hope that rappers push the boundaries, stay creative, think deeply and really do try to make great art. I know that people really don’t think hip hop is a great art form with beauty to it, but I couldn’t disagree more.
Q: In January you will be releasing ‘Rise: Get up and live in God’s great story’ to accompany the new album. Why create a companion book?
A: Well, the book can do the things I can’t do on the album. A song is only about 3 to 5 minutes long, and there is only so much I can say, and only so deep I can go into a topic, so the book is really a way for me to dive deeper into those topics that I talk about in the album. It [The book] really does focus in on young folks and encourages them to not wait till they get older but to get up and live now.
Q: Any other projects in the works?
A: Those are the two I’m focusing on now, the album and the book. And I’m doing a tour at the beginning of next year. It will be the Rise Tour and I’ll be making some announcement about that very soon.
Q: Where can we find more about your music and ministry?
A: You can always keep up with me at my website, which is builttobrag.com. There you can find stuff about my music, where I’ll be performing and some of my blogs and sermons.
Coy Brantley Curry