Grits: The hip-hop duo now running the Revolution Art label

Wednesday 6th January 2010

Mike Rimmer met up with Teron 'Bonafide' Carter of pioneering Christian hip-hop act GRITS


Although you could argue that dc Talk were the popularisers of Christian rap music, those fans desiring a more authentic and, dare I say it, black version of hip-hop are more likely to name Grits as genuine Christian rap pioneers. Grits (their name supposedly an acronym for Grammatical Revolutions In The Spirit though I've always suspected it refers to the rather disgusting porridge-like breakfast much loved in the Southern States), consist of Teron 'Bonafide' Carter and Stacey 'Coffee' Jones. The duo met in 1991 when both were part of dc Talk's dance troupe. In 1995 they were offered a recording deal with dc Talk's Gotee Records and began releasing albums - 1995's 'Mental Release', 1997's 'Factors Of The Seven', 1999's 'Grammatical Revolution' and 2002's 'The Art Of Translation'. They won Dove Awards in the Rap/Hip-Hop Song category in 1999 for "Plagiarism" and "They All Fall Down" in 2000 but it wasn't until 2004 that they had a really big CCM hit when 'Dichotomy A' reached number 12 on the CCM album sales chart. A veritable shoal of albums followed (2004's 'Dichotomy B', 2006's 'The Art Of Translation Remix' and 2007's 'Redemption' and 'The Greatest Hits') before the duo announced they were leaving Gotee and starting their own record company, Revolution Art. The first release on the new label was Grit's 'Reiterate' album. I met up with Teron Carter in Nashville and began by asking him about another label, 5E, which he had started two or three years back.

Teron: 5E started as my personal boutique label and Coffee wanted to be a part of it and I was like that's cool. But as I started the process of getting the label together more and more people were going man, you should partner with our friend Mo Henderson who at the time had a gospel label. People were saying the things that he's doing, you guys are doing and you all should get together. We grew up together so it's kind of like a natural thing - that's why he was doing what he was doing over there and that's why we were doing what we were doing over here. It was a kinship anyway plus he's one of my best friends so us collaborating was a better thing than doing the 5E thing because I don't think that they are ready for what I want to do - stuff like spoken word albums and jazz albums. We're not ready for that yet and that's why I knew 5E was always going to be a boutique type label. Revolution Art is the more corporate foundation so we have pop artists and rock artists and hip-hop acts, so we can spread our wings.

Mike: The track "Reminds Me" on the 'Reiterate' CD shocked a lot of fans.

Teron: Well, the thing about it is in the last couple of years there's been a lot of our music in the market, on the airwaves. In order for people to be interested in some new Grits stuff we had to make sure we were coming fresh. But we don't want to come so fresh that it was turning people off but giving people who we are. Musically and culturally it was the perfect time to be able to sneak a little '80s type pop feel in there. But the beautiful thing about the '80s is, everything was pop. It didn't matter. Even underground hip-hop was pop in the '80s because there were no limitations. If people liked it they just liked it. There was no oh, you can't like that because that's weird. It wasn't like that. Duran Duran was hot; Def Leppard was hot at the same time. There were these collectives that everybody just loved. Everybody was singing this stuff, there were no boundaries. For us it was like, let's bring a little nostalgia of when you just loved music and update it a little bit.

Mike: I was googling trying to work out what "Reminds Me" reminded me of! It was a Breakfast Club melody, wasn't it?

Teron: It wasn't a Breakfast Club melody but that's where the inspiration came from - sitting around watching Breakfast Club which was one of my all time favourite movies. Back then Molly Ringwald was our Angelina Jolie. When you were in middle school or junior high Molly Ringwald was the bomb - anything she was in, that was it. It was really that nostalgia thing, to give them something different but not too different. We released that and then months later in the mainstream you got a song like John Legend's "Green Light" which is closer in vibe and even with "Beautiful Morning" but definitely with "Reminds Me". For us it was like, okay, we're not crazy. Musically, we still have the vision for is a sound that is hot, not us just going crazy. It's not only something that we personally liked. To hear some other stuff coming out in other formats like that was our confirmation of okay, you haven't lost your ear totally.

Mike: I meet a lot of artists who are unhappy with their record labels and complain about the way they're treated and everything. So it must be interesting for you to be on the other side of that and dealing with artists, having worked as an artist for so long.

Teron: Oh, yeah. We complained and did everything we could but the difference is that we had an opportunity to grow together with them. Because we were with Gotee from when they started, square one, didn't know nothing, let's just try this and see what happens. That was a good experience for us to go through, to be able to balance out that executive/artist relationship. Most people in the business would say our relationship with Gotee was unhealthy, businesswise, because we were the kind of artist that could go right into Joey's office and say we didn't like the way the song was going at the marketing plan. We'd just go right around the marketing director if they weren't listening - okay, cool. Hold on, I'll be back. Go out, make a phone call, talk to Joey. A lot of people didn't like that but at the same time every artist kind of needs that. They need that sense that the people who are actually running and are part of the company really do care as much as, you know what, if you have a problem, there's no problem with you calling me directly. You know what I'm saying? What we're doing is open door policy. Please come in and let me know, because if you don't do that then you have disgruntled artists and then you have a lot of ugliness that doesn't need to be there versus being on a label and being able to walk away and still have a relationship with the label on a whole other level. Like we have a whole other relationship with Gotee where we are actually partners on more than one level now. We're publishing partners because they still have a large amount of our catalogue, over a decade of catalogue from us. But we're partners in that so we work together on expanding that and we're also working with them on expanding with their artists. We want them to work with us on some of our artists possibly so that's the way it should be. I look at it like, wow! What if everybody in our industry would catch this concept? And if you really look back that's what Toby has in some way been able to achieve because Audio Adrenaline came from that camp too. I remember when we found Audio Adrenaline, when they were performing in high school gyms in Kentucky, in the sticks before they were audio Adrenaline. Then they signed with Forefront, then True Artist management guided their career and they've had a great career. It's just the sense of the diversity and them being able to go and they parley into a label then have Flicker and they're putting out - to me that's the way it's supposed to be. Not just have artists that you kind of throw out there and leave 'em to the vultures.

Mike: The first time I ever met you was in a caravan at the Greenbelt Festival in the mid-'90s when you had your debut album out, that was the first time that we talked. I wonder how the vision of what you're doing now differs from what you were doing 15 years ago and whether you've managed to stay true to what you first wanted to do?

Teron: Yes, we have been able to stay true. Then we were naive and young and just brand new artists with a vision, with not much clarity or as much strategy to accomplish what we wanted to do. We're still the same artists; smarter when it comes to strategically putting an album together, even with songwriting, what kind of songs to release, when to release those songs. We've just gotten smarter at what we do. As far as what we're trying to do that's never changed, that's why this album's called 'Reiterate', because that's never going to change. The only thing that's changed is definitely the art and art should change, it should grow. We definitely have grown in a lot of areas in our art. We've been blessed to be able to structuralize it but still let it be art - not put too many confines on it where it takes away that mystique of it being art. A lot of times I think that's why we bump heads with a lot of people in the industry because it's so art that they discount that art can also be a ministry or that it can appeal to people and still touch people even though it's art.

Mike: But it was like that right from the start because your debut album 'Mental Release' had all that really cool jazz kind of feel to it which was completely out there compared to everything else that was happening and the album bombed as a consequence because people didn't get it.

Teron: But we were happy with it. We didn't care; we knew people weren't going to like it because you didn't have nothing like what we was doing, even in the industry, even close.

Mike: Even in the mainstream there wasn't that kind of creativity.

Teron: That's true. It wasn't going that deep cos we were coming from that De La Soul mentality. Those guys are complete artists and fortunately we're friends with some of those guys now. It's crazy because they were one of our musical influences but yeah, nobody was doing that stuff. But it didn't matter to us because we were artists. We were going to put out what we feel, what we know so that we don't ever have to get pigeonholed into an image and have to live up to something we're not. In our industry there were a lot of guys doing that, being out there trying to be like an image of what a rapper should be, how hip-hop should sound especially when you're doing it for God. No, just do your music and if you live for God let your music speak that. If it's your lifestyle it's going to come out in everything you do anyway. So just do you and keep doing it. That's the attitude we've always kind of had. Sometimes it gets us in trouble but we still don't care.

Mike: The big debates continue about hip-hop and faith and the way to do it and the fact that hip-hop is still the dominant music force in the mainstream but isn't in Christian music which must be frustrating as to why radio and labels won't get behind the music form.

Teron: It is frustrating but at the same time you just get to a point where you have to use the gift that you've been given. As a businessperson now we have to take that same creative energy and use that in marketing and different ways to get our music out there, different outlets, different ways to do it - versus radio, versus video, whatever the opposition is we have to face. It is frustrating but at the same time it's how you look at it: either the glass is half empty or it's half full and you can go either way. We'd rather look at it as if it's half full; we've just got to do something else to get it full.

Mike: You of course are only one half of Grits. Stacey used to have a habit when I was interviewing you both of giving me a hard stare. He would sit there, silent and it was very intimidating, to be honest.

Teron: People think he does that on purpose but he's actually one of the funniest guys you could meet. We used to go to the mall and he'd fall on the ground on purpose to get people's reaction. That's the kind of guy he is. Or act like he was falling down the stairs in a public place to see what people would do. I can understand why you would feel like that but trust me, we'd be walking down the hall laughing and he'd be like I really got him this time, he probably thinks I'm crazy because I was looking at him. I'd say you can't be doing that because they don't know you like I know you. They don't know when you're playing or when you're joking. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Mike Rimmer
Mike RimmerMike Rimmer is a broadcaster and journalist based in Birmingham.


Reader Comments

Posted by Christian in North Carolina @ 04:55 on May 30 2016

Best music ever

Posted by Betel in Ethiopia @ 14:15 on Sep 3 2014

Grits are the best rappers ever

Posted by elijah in lakewood, NJ @ 22:15 on May 11 2010

im just commenting cuz i LOVE THE GRITS!!.. i am an artist myself (christian) but i dont like puttin myself in that catergory cuz all i do is MUSIC!.. as a matter of fact, im on a label called cross not sure if u ever heard of 22N..dats a group made up of artists sherry k and prophet minister..u can look us up on the GRITS are so inspirational and i would love to colab with them!

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