Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Trip Lee: The Journey (Thus Far)

By Bob Marovich for The Black Gospel Blog.

This coming weekend, Trip Lee will learn whether his third album, Between Two Worlds, earns a Stellar Award for Rap Hip Hop Gospel CD of the Year.

Whether or not Lee wins, the Stellar nomination is the latest milestone in the journey of the young Christian rapper from his birthplace of Dallas, Texas to Reach Records, one of the premier Christian hip hop labels.

“Dallas is a really churchy place,” Lee (born William Lee Barefield III) told TBGB during a telephone interview recently. “Pretty much everybody identified themselves as Christians, but from a young age, I had a misunderstanding of what it meant to be a Christian. I thought repeating a prayer made me a Christian. It didn’t bother me that I had sinned against God, that I didn’t have any affection for Jesus whatsoever and hadn’t put my faith in Him.”

Lee gave his life to Christ at fourteen. “I got involved in youth ministry when I was young, but it was really for social reasons. But we went to an event where the gospel was preached. Although it wasn’t the first time I heard the gospel, it was the first time I realized I had offended God and that Christ paid the penalty for sins I had committed. I turned away from my sins and put my faith in Jesus. I entrusted my life to Him.

“That’s when my life started to change,” Lee continued. “I realized my music should be submitted to Jesus, too. I wanted to help people celebrate Jesus and celebrate the gospel through my music. I was around 15 or 16 when I started rapping Christian. It started in my church, and the Lord kept opening doors for me from there.”

One was the backstage door at a Da T.R.U.T.H. concert, where Lee met Lecrae. “Da T.R.U.T.H. was my favorite artist,” Lee said. “I went to the concert with someone who knew him, and we went backstage. Lecrae was there because he opened up for T.R.U.T.H. that night. So I talked to Lecrae a little bit, bought his CD and reconnected with him after a couple of weeks. We just built a relationship from there.”

The relationship turned into a full-blown mentorship. Eventually other artists poured into Lee’s music ministry. “I’m grateful for all of them in my life: Lecrae, Tedashii, Sho [Baraka] and BJ, another guy who was around. God used them to mature me during that time.”

Lee signed with Reach Records and in 2006 released his debut album, If They Only Knew. The album was described as having a “southern sound.”

"Southern sound has always been a little less polished,” Lee explained. “It has heavier bass, and is more about the delivery than the lyricism. I grew up in the south, but I love east coast music too, so I have the southern sound with east coast lyricism.”

Lee’s second album, 20/20 (2008), reached as high as #4 on the Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart.  His third, Between Two Worlds, went all the way to number one.  Trip Lee and Lecrae are the first Christian rap artists to top the Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart.

“On my first album, there was a line where I said, ‘I don’t care if I ever get a Billboard hit,’" Lee said. "I meant it, because I thought there was no possible way I would ever have an album that would do anything on anybody’s chart. I was one hundred percent surprised and shocked! The real reason I was excited was because so many people were hearing the truth I worked so hard to put into the album.”

Lee’s inspiration “comes from a lot of different places. Content wise, it happens when I’m in the Scriptures, or when I’m reading a book that refers back to the Scriptures. There’s a weight on my heart that says I have to help people understand this. Sometimes I’ll be out somewhere and see a situation in my life, or in the lives of my friends, and I think, ‘What does the Bible have to say about this?’ I want to understand this and I want other people to understand it.”

Musically, “I’m a music junkie, I’m always listening to music, always buying new music from jazz to pop to hip hop to R&B to soul – I’m always listening and learning, never copying, just learning from the people who do it well.”

Regarding the state of Christian hip hop, Lee commented, “I think Christian hip hop is becoming better known. More people are buying the music. But I also think Christian hip hop is still kind of marginalized. Nobody knows where to put it. Mainstream hip hop doesn’t want to have much to do with us. Christian and gospel music, a lot of the time, doesn’t know what to do with us. There’s still a ways to go before we are accepted by both mainstream hip hop and the Christian and gospel world. But God keeps doing things and we’re grateful.”

Lee added. “I think there are a lot of people who do not attend church because it doesn’t fit them. They don’t like choirs, they don’t like the rhythm that preachers speak in, they just can’t connect with it. But then they hear us and say, ‘These dudes look like me, they speak my language.’

“On the other hand, we love the church. We are involved in our local churches and believe church is the primary way God plans to reach the world and spread the gospel. There’s a movement of churches that look more like us and that’s a good thing, because God wants the gospel to go to all nations and all cultures.”

Speaking of church, Lee is taking five months off in early 2011 to complete a pastoral internship. “I’m also working on an EP, just five songs. I will release one song each month while I’m away, and then release the EP in its entirety in May or June. I’m also gearing up for the release of a full-length album in the fall.

“At the end of the day, what we really want more than anything is for more people to know Christ. So if we never hit a chart again and our platform never gets any larger, we live in faith that God is using us to help people know Christ.”

For more information about Trip Lee, visit http://www.reachrecords.com/.


burdens_lifted said...

Everything well said and more importantly Christ-centered. Be encouraged Trip Lee, continue to be that sweet savor of Christ unto the Father

Anonymous said...

Through your music, the holy spirit really speaks to my heart! I actually grew up NOT liking any sort of rap, but I only ever heard negativity. I just dont feel that way anymore when Christ is the center.. and I feel good hearing the Lord through your creative expression. Thank you Trip :)