Where All the Christian Emcees At?

Where All the Christian Emcees At?

While casually scanning what’s new in gospel music releases on iTunes, I came across a gem. THR3E, Theory Hazit’s latest release, sounds like something you’d listen to back in ’95 while sitting on the porch of a Brownstone in Brooklyn. It’s a classic. I’ve yet to hear this sound from the Christian rap scene, so I made it my mission to find this guy and introduce him to you.

Listen to a clip of the interview below:
Theory Hazit Interview Clip Final

Stephanie LaFlora: What message were you trying to communicate with this album?

Theory Hazit: I was really just trying to define, or let everybody know that we’re human and that in order to do anything you need the Holy Spirit. It’s about being in a fallen world; we live in a messed-up world.

LaFlora: So were you in a dark place?

Theory: Yes, I would say it was a dark place. You know, searching; trying to come up out of a dark place and shine a light in a dark place. Exposing some dark things and bringing it to the light for people to see, reminding people that it’s still here and you can’t ignore it.

LaFlora: You do that a lot. I saw your video for the song “Concealed Sorrow.” It packs a pretty powerful and equally controversial message about homosexuality among Christians. Did you get good feedback from that?

Watch “Concealed Sorrow” video below:

Theory: I got a lot of good feedback and a lot of negative feedback, but not the type of negative feedback that you would think. The good feedback was cool. “Christian rapper makes song about something that’s not addressed all the time or that the church usually ignores.” The negative feedback is that it was on some gay websites, and they were looking at it like me defending them in the wrong way.

LaFlora: What were you trying to communicate with that song?

Theory: I was trying to communicate that we need to address that issue in love instead of waving our fingers like “OH, THAT’S AN ABOMMINATION!” We definitely need to address it in love because it’s still a struggle; no matter what sin it is, they need help too.

LaFlora: Your sound is one of the most crossover sounds that I’ve heard. Why Christian rap?

Listen to a “Old D3rty Hazit” from his new album below:

Theory: I believe it’s a calling. I grew up in the church and I strayed away from the church and I always prayed regardless of my situation, but I know Christian rap helps me in my walk. It helps other people as well. How other people receive it encourages me. Plus, I can’t really sing. (Laughs)

LaFlora: Do you think Christian rap has a suitable platform?

Theory: I think it does. I might catch some flack for this but I don’t think it should be called “Christian” rap.

LaFlora: What would you prefer that we call it?

Theory: I really don’t care, honestly. I understand why things are labeled; it’s for other people to identify. I totally get that, but I’m not the one to put a stamp on it because I give songs to the Christian market and I give songs to the general market and it’s the same stuff — they both dig it. I have Muslims saying they like it and people supporting me at my own church. If it were up to me I wouldn’t put any label on it. It’s hip-hop music; its just music to me. You don’t call Mos Def or Talib Kwali Muslim rap. They just do rap.

LaFlora: How do you measure success?

Theory: By being consistent. If there’s a demand for what you do, just put your material out there, and if people like it and demand it more … I measure it based on that. The opportunity for God to use you like that … God choosing you. I’ve been getting messages asking me how many records I’ve sold or how did the numbers do for my newest album and I told them I don’t know! I don’t know because I don’t care! The only time I’d be concerned about record sales is if I ran a music label. As far as being an artist, I just want to get out there and do what I do and come back home. (Laughs)

LaFlora: Do you feel like you’ve had the exposure that you want?

Theory: Honestly, I’m going to be real human right now and say I don’t think so. I think everything had its time. I think Extra Credit got really good exposure. It actually put me on the map. All the other stuff that I’ve done in between that album and this album, except for Lord Fire, didn’t really do anything. I felt like I was just making music and not really investing enough time into my projects or into my writing in order to be better exposed. And on top of that, people weren’t really doing what they were supposed to as far as getting the music out there. I just put it in other people’s hands hoping for it to do something. I think it will come in time as I continue to invest quality time into a project. Just make something really dope. It’s really all on me. It’s my fault that I’m not out there.

LaFlora: How does the gospel music industry respond to you? There are a couple of Christian rappers that are getting more exposure than in the past, like Mali Music, D.A. Truth, and people like that. How do you fit into that puzzle?

Theory: I don’t think I fit in that at all. Well, I think I do, but there’s a group of people that don’t think I belong there.

LaFlora: Why not?

Theory: I have no idea. Maybe it’s because I need to have a particular Scripture-based album? Maybe that’s what it is. Ultimately, I know what it is. I know that it’s God’s plan. I feel like I am one of the guys that are a bridge for rappers that are Christians and Christians that are rappers. I’m the in-between guy; I wouldn’t call it lukewarm, I’m just trying to bring cats together. I’m trying to do a song with D.A. Truth and then mess around and have him on a Dert beat. Dert is known for his work for The Tunnel Rap, and they were Christian rappers but they talked a lot about situations and how to handle them and not line for line out of the New Testament.

LaFlora: Perhaps, the industry does prefer more overtly scriptural lyrics, but you seem to enjoy doing you. How do you maintain your momentum?

Theory: It’s a desire; it’s a passion. If you love to draw, you’ll probably be drawing until you die. It’s really a passion I have. I love to do it. I love the challenge of making you like something.

To buy his latest release, click here.

Whitney’s Homegoing Gives God the Glory

Whitney’s Homegoing Gives God the Glory

GOODBYE: Flowers and memorial tributes were abundant outside New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, where Whitney Houston's funeral was held. (Photo: Dennis Van Tine/Newscom)

There is no doubt that God was glorified on Saturday afternoon at pop icon Whitney Houston’s emotional homegoing service. Rev. Marvin Winans preached to nearly 1 million online viewers via UStream and millions more on CNN. If you followed the Twitter feed, it was as if the entire world sat down together for one powerful church service, and it was utterly beautiful.

There were performances from gospel singers Kim Burrell, CeCe Winans, as well as Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, and R. Kelly.

Watch Stevie Wonder’s touching performance below:

Watch R. Kelly’s performance of the song he wrote for Whitney’s final album, “I Look to You”

One of the most interesting takeaways was the power of God’s public glorification. Twitter was flooded with an overwhelming sense of humility and genuine appreciation of life. Though some expressed concern about a hint of “prosperity gospel” preaching in Rev. Winans’ eulogy, for the most part the twitterverse and blogosphere seemed genuinely stirred by the presentation of God’s Word. Many people tweeted that they hadn’t been to church in a while and that they were grateful to hear the Word today. Others seemed proud, like they were watching their favorite team playing in the Super Bowl. God was #winning.

God’s presence is so real, so tangible that it can be delivered even via the Internet. But there’s something about corporate worship that brings believers and non-believers to their knees. I am grateful that Whitney’s family didn’t allow Hollywood to dictate the service, and I am certain today that God was pleased. To God be the glory.

Sister, Sister

Sister, Sister

A TALE OF 2 DIVAS: The notoriously private Beyonce (right) only shares things designed to enhance her brand; Solange exults in her flaws and has no problem speaking her mind.

We spend most of our adolescent life, mimicking people we admire and then we enter the real world and find out that all along being “us” is actually what we do best. Unfortunately, shortly after that, we find out that our careers demand us to not fully be ourselves. Even the wild career path of celebrity requires an art-directed image. I’m fascinated by the choices that celebrities make to craft their image, not only because their decisions influence the world, but also because their image makes a profound statement on what they (and their fans) think “living” really means.

I consider myself a student of the sociology of fame and I see two very distinct life choices in two celebrity sisters — Beyonce and Solange Knowles — that is reflected in every group of girlfriends I know. They both pack a healthy dose of raunchiness, and I would hesitate suggesting that young girls adopt them as role models. However, their comfort in their own skin as young African American women is worth discussing.

Beyonce’s brand is infallible. This woman does not make mistakes; everything you see from her supports what she wants you to believe. The downside to this is that you rarely, if ever, witness a “human” moment from her; she’s notoriously private about her personal life. Most people that aren’t fans of hers dislike her for this reason. They want a flawed celebrity, not a robot. But that doesn’t stop Bey from tearing down the house every time she hits the stage. Nobody can question her talent; they just want her to be more “real.”

Below, Beyonce talks about opening up after accomplishing her life goals.

I’d like to consider myself to be poised; an individual whose flaws are carefully concealed and behaviors consistently managed but then I’d be Beyonce, and that’s simply not who I am.  Like Solange, I am the proud owner of a personality that is out-spoken, confident, and at times, inescapably rough around the edges.

Below, Solange sets herself apart from Beyonce and discusses her mother’s concern for her blunt interviews.

Solange didn’t have an opportunity to create such a carefully crafted image. She was destined to be in the shadows of her mega-star big sister from the start. And after getting pregnant at only 17, married at 18, and divorced at 19, there was no way she’d ever be a “Beyonce.” But I love Solange. She perhaps exudes self-confidence at a more profound level because she lets the world interpret her flaws and all. She believes living means being true to you at whatever cost and learning from the journey.

The evidence of Beyonce and Solange’s differences is not just in their public persona, it’s also in their music. Beyonce’s soulful voice is often masked by the latest pop sound and, as a result, she tops the mainstream charts.

Watch Beyonce’s ‘Girls Run the World’ video below!

Solange’s gumbo albums include soulful melodies that are obviously challenging for her voice and retro tracks that are equally challenging for album sales. She openly admits that she is not concerned with industry expectations; “everything from my artwork to my video to the music itself has to have a message and not because it’s hot or it looks sexy.”

Watch Solange’s 60’s inspired hit single, ‘I Decided’ below!

I admire Beyonce’s approach. As a businesswoman, she is more focused on the “ends” than the “means.” Whatever it takes for her to accomplish her goals is what she’ll do without divulging too much of her private life. Even Kelly Rowland, the fellow ex-Destiny’s Child member who calls Beyonce a sister, envies Beyonce’s determination. Rowland admitted that her first album flopped because she wasn’t well-prepared and told Stylist Magazine that “(Beyonce) plans everything.”

On the contrary, Solange told an interviewer, “I stopped trying to prove and undo misconceptions a while ago. I’m unexplainable. Most humans are.” In another interview she went deeper; I think confidence is one of the best qualities to have. I’m not making apologies or begging for people to like me. I’m very optimistic that God has plans for me. When you truly find peace with yourself and who you are becoming it’s a beautiful moment.”

I respect both of these approaches to life, but the latter is more “me.” Beyonce is a master at poise and machinelike professionalism, but that’s a hard role to play for a lifetime. Solange may suffer due to her honesty, but I’d argue that her triumphs are more satisfying. What do you think?

10 Steps to Finally Leave a Toxic Relationship

10 Steps to Finally Leave a Toxic Relationship

With such a passionate response to my last article, 10 Ways to Recognize a Good Guy,” I felt the need to do a followup that addressed the other side of the coin. Many women may have read the “Good Guy” list and thought, “Well, I guess it’s time I admit my man is no good.” I’d hate to leave that reader hanging, since I believe firmly in presenting solutions and not just pointing out problems.

Toxic relationships inhibit peace, destroy self-confidence, and hinder your ability to make wise choices. In extreme cases, these relationships can include emotional or physical abuse. But, wherever they fall on the spectrum, all toxic relationships lead to unhappiness — and they are difficult to leave. There comes a point, however, where you have to decide that your happiness is more important than the irrational security of a dysfunctional situation. I’m here to tell you how I ditched my own toxic relationship. Before I could move on, I had to accept the fact that despite my positive self-image, I had allowed myself to plunge deep into a place where I did not belong. I’ve been there, so I share this list with the utmost sincerity and sensitivity.

1. Seek God! 

When you are in a toxic relationship, you usually have begun ignoring God altogether. You figure you already know what He thinks about your situation while in reality God is not burdening you or even making you feel guilty. You know all He wants to say to you right now? I LOVE YOU! That’s it. Stop beating yourself up. Get in the Word and see what He really thinks about you. Remind yourself that you are beautifully and wonderfully made! It won’t feel right at first, but if you meditate on that thing, it will grow and develop. I remember what God told me when I was really in deep: “I will restore you to a point even better than you ever once were.” And He did! I would have never believed that in the thick of it, but God WILL hear your cry and He will always give you a  fresh start, if you REALLY want it.

2. Reconnect with People Who Have Known You Longer

It wasn’t until I started spending more time with family, that I realized something had really happened to me and the change wasn’t positive. Being around people that knew me before my corrupt relationship not only put into perspective how much I had changed, but also how awesomely happy I used to be. This was a crucial part of my process because one of the first changes that usually happens in a toxic relationship is you begin to distance yourself from friends and family. Call up an old friend, spend a day shopping with a family member you haven’t spent time with in a while. This will provide healing, although it may be uncomfortable because this is likely to bring conviction.

3. Stop Making Excuses

This may be the hardest one to do. By now you’ve probably been told by a few people that your relationship is having a negative impact on your life, and you’ve probably told a few, if not all, of those people off. So, it’s certainly not going to be easy for you to swallow a few of those statements and digest them. The next time you catch yourself defending your relationship or your man, don’t! Ask yourself, if this person NEVER changes a single thing about himself, the way he treats you, or the way he treats others, will you be able to be at peace? If the answer is no, start accepting that you have to leave.

4. Have a “Me Day”

In a toxic relationship, you feel completely consumed with making things better. You absolutely never consider yourself, and the guy always takes priority. Take a day to do all the things you never do for yourself. Go out with your girlfriends, go to the spa, or spend some time relaxing without him!

5. Get in Shape!

This may seem like an odd suggestion, but you will be surprised how disciplined you can become in other areas of your life when you discipline yourself to workout. Getting in shape will also boost your self-confidence and help relieve stress. This is not superficial at all; you’ve spent enough time taking care of “project relationship,” next goal = project me!

6. Make a List of Pros and Cons

In Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?, Janet Jackson’s character dropped some good advice when she told her girlfriend to write a list of reasons to stay and reasons to leave. I took that advice! By the time I got done with the list, I had three pages of cons and a pitiful half-page list of pros. Man, was that mind blowing! How on earth did I even want to stay? I learned that the main reason was because I felt leaving was losing rather than gaining “me” back. I put a lot of time and effort into that relationship, I wasn’t about to give up now! Obviously, my perspective was WAY off. Thank God for grace!

7. Tell Him NO! Rinse. Repeat.

At this point, your man is so used to getting his way, he doesn’t even think he has to ask for it! I think Beyoncé said it best in her lyrics, “The first time I said no, it’s like I never said yes.” He throws tantrums when he doesn’t get his way and spends a great deal of his time trying to tell you what to do with every aspect of your life. Decide today to stop letting him act out. You have a good head on your shoulders and you have the Holy Spirit inside of you, desperately trying to get your attention. You’ve changed a lot of your normal activities to cater to his mood swings and you tell him what he needs to hear. Here’s a revelation: Tell him NO! And then do it again, and again. You will see just how little he loves you, and how much he loves himself!

8. Take Inventory of Your “Friend Zone”

I consider myself a pretty confident person, but after a few consecutive failed relationships even I had begun to lose faith that an “ideal” man existed. Looking back, ironically enough I had several examples of good men close to me, and chances are you do too. The funny thing is that those men cared very deeply for me. I called them when things went wrong, and they were always there with a listening ear. (Don’t go jumping into their arms, carelessly thinking you’ve fallen in love because you’re wounded, but do take inventory of all the good men around you — friends and family — to remind yourself that your high standard does exist.)

9. Reject Guilt

Guilt is a dangerously powerful emotion. It’s absolutely imperative that you forgive yourself for falling in love with that fool in the first place. Depending on how toxic your toxic relationship was, this step can take years. Unfortunately, even though you may have taken a huge step towards your future by leaving the relationship, the people around you may not be as supportive and sensitive as you need them to be. It amazed me how vocal people were in support of me leaving him, but how unhelpful they were when I needed to talk. You may be the only one to forgive you for your past, so make sure you do it!

10. NEVER LOOK BACK!

Say this out loud: “We can never be friends!” Keep practicing it until you can say it to him. Don’t fool yourself into believing your situation is different. No, it’s not! Never looking back was the best thing I ever did. Despite all of my regrets and embarrassments over my past, never looking back is one thing I can actually be proud of. Going cold turkey is like an honor badge that anyone that’s ever kicked an addiction can understand. Somehow it restores some of your pride. It’s like all of the sudden, the lights turned on and I could finally see the door! I just walked out; and it was the best feeling I’ve ever had. I knew it was the right thing to do, although I had tried to leave before and had quite a different experience. I was miserable and depressed. You know what made the difference? God! I tried to do it on my own the first time and failed. The second time, it was like the welcome-back party for the prodigal son. It was beautiful.

I say this with love in my heart. This is for all of the women I have known in toxic situations, and for the ones that I know right now who are struggling. That toxic situation is trying its best to take you out, but it’s not too late. God’s power to transform and redeem is so amazing that you’ll hardly recognize your old self once you allow Him to work in you. Forgive yourself and move on; there’s more living for you to do.