Tony Cummings reports on the best selling MC from Philadelphia, TRIP LEE
With the exception of pop rapper Toby Mac American Christian radio has for decades shown a woeful disinclination to put hip-hop on its playlists. Gospel hip-hop has existed and even grown in quality and quantity but as an underground devoid of much, if any, radio support. Now, at long, long last, the sleepy gatekeepers of both CCM (white) and gospel (black) radio stations are awakening from their decades' long slumber. Leading the charge in confronting US radio's long entrenched prejudices is Philadelphia-based 22 year old rapper Trip Lee. His third album 'Between Two Worlds' made a bit of record industry history recently being the first ever hip-hop album to debut at number one on both Billboard's Christian and Gospel charts.
Trip told broadcaster Mike Rimmer how his 'Between Two Worlds' differed from his second, 2008 release '20/20'. "The last one was devoted to helping people to see God properly, talking about who God is from the Scriptures and see him clearly; this one is helping people see life properly, in light of who God is. So it's different in terms of the content, and I wanted it to be an album that could reach a broad span of people. It dealt with things that every single person deals with. Soundwise, it's more musical than the past albums, more live instrumentation, more strings, a little bit less synths. I think we did some really cool things musically, and I think the Lord really graced it."
Like previous projects 'Between Two Worlds' was made in Philadelphia. Said the MC, "I recorded the first half, mostly, with DJ Essence, who's part of Lamp Mode Recordings. Towards the end of the album, I actually recorded most of it at my house, in my basement, and I recorded it myself, on Pro Tools - bought a bunch of gear, and it made the end of the process a lot easier for me. It opened me up to be more creative: record whenever I wanted to, try whatever kind of weird stuff I wanted to."
Trip was asked where the ideas for the subjects of his raps came from. "Some of them come from conversations with people after the show. Some of them just come from conversations with people who have nothing to do with the music, but you say, 'I do want this to be able to mean something for them'. You talk to people, you hear them talk through certain issues, and you say, 'I really want this song to be able to reach those kinds of people, encourage those kind of people'. So it does come largely out of conversations with people - people that you've met, that you haven't met yet - even just seeing what's happening in the culture at large, I want to address those issues. All those things come into play."
Trip Lee was born William Lee Barefield III. He was raised in Dallas, Texas. After high school, he moved to inner-city Philadelphia where he attends Epiphany Fellowship (led by Eric Mason) and the Philadelphia Biblical University. He was the third artist to release a debut album with the label which has today become the leading company specialising in Christian hip-hop, Reach Records. In 2007 in support of the album 'If They Only Knew' and the '13 Letters' album by 116 Clique, Barefield and the rest of the 116 Clique toured extensively. The following year, he was co-nominated for a Dove Award for his contribution to Lecrae's "Jesus Muzik".
In 2008, '20/20' was released to strong sales and received better reviews than those of his previous album. It appeared on the Billboard Top 200 mainstream album chart and the Top Christian Albums chart. In the summer of 2008 Trip went on another tour, Unashamed, which visited the UK, with Lecrae, Tedashii and Sho Baraka. Now has come the record-breaking 'Between Two Worlds' set. In an interview with Justin Taylor, Trip spoke about one of the outstanding tracks on the album, "The Invasion (Hero)" featuring Jai. "This song is actually a response to another song entitled 'Invade'. 'Invade' is a song that laments the brokenness of our world and cries out for someone to save the day. It relates with the cry in all of our hearts for things to be better and asks the question, 'Who will save us?' And that particular song ends without any solution to the problem. I've found that people are always looking for someone or something new who can save the day, but they are always let down, because fallen solutions cannot fix fallen problems. They just make a bigger mess. 'The Invasion' points to the truth that the Hero already came, he already saved the day, and he is returning to make all things new.
"I wrote this song because most people don't associate the brokenness in our world with our separation from God. I wanted people to know that our world is fallen, wicked and chaotic and all of this chaos comes from our separation from God. But that God sent his Son, the Hero, to reconcile us to himself. And along with that reconciliation we get to benefit from his glorious work on the cross. We not only get to be reconciled to God in this life, but we look forward to an eternity with God. I wanted people to know that God is going to finally destroy his enemies and make all things new. My prayer is that it really connects with people and points to Jesus as the Hero."
Bible college student Trip is a long way from the hip-hop stereotypes of uneducated street thugs. He said, "I've been in Philly for around four years and I'm staying put for a while. I live in Northeast Philly with my beautiful wife of one year. In the future, my prayer and desire is to help pastor a church. So I see my schooling as preparation for that. I'll graduate within a year or so and I plan on doing seminary after that. I also try to take advantage of sitting under Pastor E at Epiphany. He trains all of the ministry leaders at Epiph regularly. And in addition to that, me and him get together often so I can learn from him and our other pastors. Music is what I'm giving myself to for this season, but ultimately I think the pastorate is my calling. I'm trying to be patient, but my heart yearns to help shepherd God's people. I'm praying God gives me the opportunity and the grace to serve well. I also want to write a lot, and I just began my first book on why doctrine matters and how to study it properly. I hope it reaches the kinds of people who don't visit the Gospel Coalition site every day. I'll continue to make music as long as God continues to transform lives, and as long as it is the best use of my time. My desire is to be faithful wherever the Lord places me."
One of the heartening thins about Trip Lee's output is the amount of sound theological teaching he crams into his raps. He enthused, "Hip-hop is such a unique art form. I was talking to a brother in Nashville the other day about the fact that words like 'propitiation' and 'eschatological' don't sound so great in praise and worship songs. Not that our goal is to use big words, but the nature of hip-hop gives us a bit more freedom and an amazing platform. A hip-hop song has a lot more words, therefore we can be more didactic and can be more thorough in our celebration. So, we are allowed to play a special role in the Christian music world."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.