Dar­ing plans to bounce holy hip hop up a notch

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

NASHVILLE: Terverius Black be­lieves in hip hop gospel so much he sold his first home to get the money needed to start his Chris­tian-themed en­ter­tain­ment com­pany.

It was a risky move, but the 34-year-old en­tre­pre­neur be­lieves the com­pany’s di­ver­sity, which is pro­duc­ing mu­sic, a film, a re­al­ity tele­vi­sion show and a gospel cruise, will help boost a strug­gling genre of Chris­tian mu­sic.

Sec­u­lar hip hop used ra­dio as a launch­ing pad, but holy hip hop gets lit­tle play on reg­u­lar hip hop sta­tions and nearly none on gospel or Chris­tian ra­dio.

“It’s tough, but we’ve got to get a lit­tle more creative,” says Black, who started Alabama-based Xist (pro­nounced “ex­ist”) World­wide Record La­bel three years ago with part­ner Sean Sim­monds.

Both men point to hip hop moguls like Sean “Diddy” Combs, Jay-Z and Rus­sell Sim­mons, who suc­ceeded branch­ing out­side the mu­sic in­dus­try. Even though their mes­sage is faith-based, Black and Sim­monds be­lieve they can find the same suc­cess.

So far this year, there have been more than 500 000 CD and dig­i­tal sales of hip hop gospel, ac­cord­ing to the Chris­tian Mu­sic Trade As­so­ci­a­tion, which op­er­ates Chris­tian SoundS­can.

“I think holy hip hop mu­sic is start­ing to make a move,” says Danny Wil­son, a for­mer road man­ager for rap­per-ac­tor LL Cool J and the main or­gan­iser of the Holy Hip Hop Awards in At­lanta.

“Look how long it took reg­u­lar hip hop to take. You’re talk­ing about 25 to 30 years for it to re­ally make an im­pact to the point that it’s a driv­ing cul­ture that’s known all over the world.”

Wil­son says bet­ter air play of hip hop gospel would make it a more ef­fec­tive tool in reach­ing the unchurched. He cites a syndicated two-hour ra­dio show spon­sored by Holy Hip Hop Awards that airs once a week in about 100 cities.

“We get let­ters from prison all the time,” Wil­son says. “One man wrote: ‘I wish I had this mu­sic when I was out on the street; it might have saved my life.’ “

Joey El­wood, pres­i­dent of Go­tee Records, agrees that hip hop gospel would ben­e­fit from more air play on both gospel and sec­u­lar out­lets, but he be­lieves “a lot of the out­lets are afraid of of­fend­ing peo­ple”.

Xist could cre­ate more aware­ness and de­mand for its mu­sic with its other ven­tures, says Kym­ber­lee Nor­swor­thy, di­rec­tor of pub­lic­ity for Ver­ity Gospel Mu­sic Group, a sub­sidiary of Sony.

“I think only time will tell, but I have faith and con­fi­dence that it will be suc­cess­ful,” she says of the com­pany.

Xist’s film, Stand, and its re­al­ity TV show fo­cus on three young hip hop gospel artists strug­gling in the in­dus­try who refuse to trade their be­liefs for fame.

Black says the gospel cruise, which al­lows fans to min­gle with their favourite artists, is also an op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple to en­joy them­selves “and not… worry about com­pro­mis­ing what they be­lieve in”.

The key will be stay­ing true to a Chris­tian mes­sage, says Vas­sal Ben­ford, a top record and movie pro­ducer. Xist needs to clearly dis­tin­guish the mu­sic from sec­u­lar hip hop, whose rep­u­ta­tion and lyrics are of­ten “cen­tred on a lot of dark­ness,” such as rob­bing and killing.

“Gospel mu­sic has a cer­tain whole­some­ness to it,” he said. “And whether it’s a hip hop beat or what­ever it is un­der it, the un­der­ly­ing cause of it should al­ways be about God and… cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive in­flu­ence.”

Trey Wil­liams is a Nashville gospel rap­per star­ring in Xist World­wide’s film. He be­lieves the movie will pro­vide valu­able ex­po­sure for hip hop gospel.

“If peo­ple know we’re here and they know the level of qual­ity we’re pre­sent­ing then they’ll pay at­ten­tion to it, but the trick is get­ting them to pay at­ten­tion,” says Wil­liams. “We have to get in their face, and a lot of times they just don’t know we ex­ist. I think this film will help with that.” – Sapa-AP

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