Ignored by the record companies, and sometimes treated with suspicion by the Church, a wave of British rappers and hip-hop groups are currently taking ground for Christ. Tony Cummings reports.
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"This is gospel," said Jubal. "On my way to a concert in Stratford once, I stopped by in this record shop and asked for some gospel music. This guy brings out Sounds Of Blackness. I said to him, 'You want to listen to some REAL gospel music,' and I gave him some hard stuff, by the Gospel Gangstas (US hip hop group). He couldn't believe it was gospel. He just said, 'Wow.'" Jubal is obviously no stripey-jumpered stereotype enforcer. Strongly motivated by a desire to create credible music that is as good as the secular stuff, he recalled his first brushes with the industry: "After I got saved I was still listening, for about a year, to my old music. Stuff like Public Enemy, N.W.A., 2 Live Crew - it was the same hard core music. Then my brother gave me some Christian hip hop, but the beats were wrong, the rapping was weak - I didn't want to listen to that!"
But instead of rejecting the Christian music industry, Jubal was inspired to play a hand in bringing it on. His work, and that of many other acts, has led to a vast improvement. "Now production is improving a lot - there are enough crews out there to represent properly. In the next few years all this stuff is really going to be coming through." So does he feel that things are already coming into line with the secular scene? "Stateside, things are definitely as good. The production quality is definitely happening. In the UK, the skills are all there but there's a lack of product so far. The scene is still in its early days, but it is definitely beginning to grow. All the ingredients are there, but we're all still learning. We've learned so much just from putting an EP out."
That EP, 'In Dayz Like These' (reviewed in CR58 under its earlier working title 'Gotta Be A Father 2 Your Child'), talks a lot about the challenges and pressures of today's society. Skilfully produced and with genuine lyrical quality, it seems to provide a pointer towards a deal of success for the pair. If their break does come, Jubal knows exactly what is coming next: "Hopefully I'll get out of this job! (He's in IT). We'll have an album out early next year, and if we're successful we want to be involved in working with lots of other artists. If we're going to make a big impact on the UK hip hop scene, there needs to be lots of us. But we believe we've got a genuine calling for this. So watch this space."
Aiming his music at the secular market, KMA REVEAL is still unflinchingly gospel. He was quizzed by Kwaku.
The first thing one's likely to find out about KMA Reveal is the story
behind the name of this Nottingham-based rapper who was born Leslie
Ayoola. "Well, the name KMA Reveal stands for 'Know Me As Reveal',"
reveals, erm, Reveal, who started out his rapping career in the early
1990s as MC Reveal in a group called True Security.
"I am mainly a hip hop head, but I have many musical influences, and I will draw upon any style of music I feel fits with the song I have written," says Reveal. Like many British rap acts, he uses reggae, R&B and hip hop. Tracks like "Raisin' A Nation" has a very street funk feel, whilst "Da Callin'" echoes of an early Soul II Soul type rhythm. "'Raisin' Up A Nation' came to me from reading about the concepts of black history and the Nation Of Islam where the idea is about supporting and having an economy and system designed to help blacks as the present system seems not to be working for black people. As in principle I agree with this, I used this theme to promote my ambition, which is to raise up a nation of people who will obey God's instructions for our lives as given by Jesus Christ," explains Reveal. '"Da Callin" is basically a follow up to 'Raisin' Up A Nation' stating that God is personally calling every individual to a new way of living and a new perspective on life ensuring that people then will see the true essence of life."
Reveal's aiming his music mainly at the secular market. "It is the sick that need a doctor, not the healthy," he says, adding, "however, I do minister to the Church market as and when the time arises." On tracks like 'Overtime', Reveal's delivery is quite reminiscent of 2Pac. "For real, 2Pac's style has had some influence on me," and a whole list of gangsta rappers he admires for their "hardcore beat and a unique way of rapping," though he eschews their often misguided lyrical content. The song itself is a hallowing biography of Reveal and his siblings' childhood, which also highlights the divisions between black people from different places. It's smoothed by the sweet R&B tones of Nottingham singer Brendan Guyatt.
Coming from Nottingham, it's not surprising that Reveal has worked with local hero Freddie Kofi. He rapped on Freddie's 'Everlasting Love' CD on Word. He has worked on upcoming material by Prodigal Son, another Nottingham-based rapper, and he has an unreleased track recorded for Nottingham producer Ridley E called "Who Gets The Biggest?". He also has a track on the 'Cypher 0.0' compilation, which highlights British and American gospel rappers. Reveal is looking for a recording deal. However, if it proves elusive, he intends to self-release an EP entitled 'Stand & Glare: The Revelation'.
Reveal admires Moses as a leader. "I want to lead people out of the economic, racial, political and spiritual slavery they are in, in order for them to come into a dynamic relationship with the one and only true liberator: Jesus Christ."
With his 'Da Preview1 EP getting radio play, G.I.F.T.E.D. met up with Peter Bate.
Seven years after he encountered God in a night club, established
Christian rapper G.I.F.T.E.D. (real name Gil Okyere) is getting ready
to release his first album. So why the wait? "As I got born again the
Lord just put everything away. I went for a year in the wilderness,
learning and allowing the Lord to help me re-write my lyrics.
"I had to learn how to write the Gospel in rap form because in 1993 there wasn't a lot of rap in the churches. I was told that rap was demonic but I believe when God anoints you he appoints you," he says. "A lot of us rush to put out product because we feel the need but it's not what he wants us to do because we haven't got the excellence to give him or convict the mainstream. Our music should be better than the mainstream because God is the God of excellence. I took my time."
Fans were eventually treated to a five-track EP, 'Da Preview', last year which led to an invite to appear on Radio One's Tim Westwood show plus national TV exposure. Gil Okyere's stage name, which stands for Going In Faith To Educate Disciples, signals the no-compromise lyrical offensive he is taking to the streets. "I don't believe the Gospel, the way I'm bringing it, is supposed to be stuck in the churches. It needs to be in the clubs, prisons and schools. The more mainstream I get, the more people can hear and that's where I believe Christ wants us to be. I respect Busta Rhymes and the likes as artists. I don't agree with their entire message but I respect their skill. I am supposed to be in the midst of them to bring a message."
Spirit Music has picked up 'Da Preview', which features G.I.F.T.E.D.'s long-standing partner in rhyme Watchman, for a second 1,000-copy pressing, delaying the release of his first full-length LP until next year. The London-based rapper, courted by the Nation Of Islam during his secular musical career, turned to God after the Holy Spirit tapped him on the shoulder on a night out.