by Sam Robinson
Derek Minor is making huge waves in the Christian hip-hop world at the moment. He is the rapper formerly known as Pro, and is also part of crews R.M.G. and 116 Clique. His latest album Minorville has just dropped worldwide, and I got to chat to Derek all about the album.
Sam: How are you Derek?
Derek: What’s good, what’s good Australia?
Sam: Australia is well… Where in the world are you at the moment?
Derek: I’m in America, baby… I’m in Nashville, Tennessee. Out here in the country where we got ah… the Grand Ole Opry, we got ah the Tennessee Titans, and we got Kentucky Fried Chicken (laughs).
Sam: Oh very nice, all the good things!
Derek: Yeah man, real good things man.
Sam: I want to ask you about the track… IGWT. You make some bold statements there – you point out the irony of the US being one nation under God but then you say that line – ‘we got the nerve to tell God we got it on our own.’ Are you trying to highlight the sinfulness of the world?
Derek: Well I guess the point of the song is how… at times, especially in America we’re very hypocritical. I think many times when there’s tragedy, or there’s big issues, we’ll sit back and say ‘Ah man, we need God’, or, ‘God help us all’, or, people if there is a big issue or a big tragedy will say ‘Where’s God at now?’ but then when things are going well, and our economy’s going good, and when we’re not in dire need, we just push God to the side. So, there’s many times when we do that, it shows how hypocritical we are many times as a country. And I think also at the same time, I think that God, my personal opinion is I believe that God is the answer to the issues of the world. I think that unless we submit our hearts to God like, it’s gonna be really really hard to… I guess, we know that ultimately Jesus is coming back and Jesus is gonna be the one that’s gonna make the world new. So, until he comes back, things won’t change. But we can have remnants of that now, if we put our heart and our trust in God. Because that’s what God wants us to do. Like, he wants us to keep pushing and keep fighting for a nation that is in love with God rather than a Godless nation… The whole idea of the IGWT record.
Sam: It’s the same for Australia as well. Exactly the same thing is going on here. Could you tell us a little bit about how you got to the point of becoming a Christian rapper?
Derek: Yeah man, uh, for me – what has been… it’s been a journey of… y’know when I was young I grew up in the church, and I grew up in a situation where my mom, she was one of the mothers that… Listen, whatever you did, you had to make sure you got up for church in the morning. She’s a very – to this day she is the most solid Christian I know. So I had a great example of what being a Christian is like. But then I also, I had my step-father who, he was addicted to drugs and different things like that. And, so there was this wrestle in my heart about what a man is, and what is a man of God? What does that really look like? So growing up in that crazy dichotomy with two different types of parents in the household, I just kinda made my own decisions about who I thought God was, so, throughout my life I always did music. I always tried to drop some Jesus in there because, my mom was a Christian, I wanted to make her proud – I didn’t want to do music that I felt that she couldn’t listen to. But then, my life wasn’t lining up with that. I just kinda did whatever because it was cultural. And y’know, I remember recording songs on a 8-track recorder and we were too poor to afford – well we weren’t poor – I couldn’t really afford it, and my mom, she invested in me as much as she could… One time I was just trying to use this ingenuity – I would take a hanger, and I would put my mom’s pantyhose on that hanger and that’s how I made a pop filter for the mic. Just different things like that. We would fight to kinda… kinda make music.
And I always kinda talked about God in my music, but it wasn’t til I got to college to where it wasn’t necessarily culturally cool to be a Christian, you just do your own thing – it wasn’t until then, to where my life kinda took a turn and it was one of those things where I just kinda […] wanted to be my own god pretty much, and I just lived my own life. So I did that for, probably the first two years of college and I just saw the vanity in it. One day in my dorm room the Lord brought me to him. So I was already rapping, so it just kinda made sense to write raps about God, y’see what I’m sayin’?
Derek: I kinda took you the long way through that but…
Sam: No that’s good… The album Minorville, it’s just come out… It seems like Minorville is a nice place to live. Where is Minorville?
Derek: (laughs) Minorville is – I wanna bring you into my world. Everybody has a ville. You got Minorville, you got Tom Bradyville, you got Obamaville, everybody has their own world that they live in and what I wanted to do was construct this world that – I wanted to bring you into my world and wanted to bring you into musically, y’know, the music that I love and wanted to bring you into – kinda gave you my testimony and my background, my ideas, my thoughts on what the world is like – so… The intro especially, if you listen to it, it’s really satirical and it’s really kinda poking fun. Really the intro [Lost in Minorville] is like ‘Man, it does sound like it’s a good place to live’, but if you listen to it, it’s so over-the-top, that there’s no way that there’s a city that’s like that. And I think that’s how when we meet people – that’s what we do.
If I was to meet you for the first time I gonna put my best foot forward. Just like if I was to bring you to Nashville, Tennessee, I’m gonna take you to the Grand Ole Opry, I’m gonna take you to the Tennessee Titans Stadium, I’m gonna take you to the nicest places in the city. But if you look around the city long enough you start seeing that there’s all types of different things. You start noticing the homeless guys, you start noticing the rough parts of town and all of that, and you start seeing that life is a lot more dynamic, so, the Minorville experience – I wanted to build a experience where it’s an album that dynamically takes you on a rollercoaster up and down. It takes you to the good places of the city, and it takes you to bad places of the city. But ultimately the thing that we know about Minorville and all of our worlds is without God, there’s no way we’ll be able to – there’s no way a city can stand without God. And that’s imaginary cities or real cities.
Sam: Yeah, totally. I think in Samville, no birds would poop on my car just like in [Lost In] Minorville.
Derek: (laughs) Yeah man.
Sam: The single Gimmie, it’s about greed, isn’t it?
Derek: Pretty much, greed.
Sam: There’s some bold statements in here, what can you tell us about this song?
Derek: So all I did [with] Gimmie, is I wanted to paint a picture of what just our cultures today look like. We’re never satisfied. I want to make it the equivalent of I have a two-year-old at home. And, my son, I could sit him up in his high chair, feed him until he’s almost about to pop and explode. He’ll be full, y’know, I’ll feed him, he won’t want anymore. But soon as I grab a plate of some food, and it could be the same as the thing that he has, what he does is he starts reaching out and saying ‘Gimmie more! Gimmie more!’
And I think that’s what we do in the world today. I guess it begs the question of ‘how much is enough?’ ‘How much money is enough?’ ‘How much company cars are enough?’ ‘How big of a house?’ ‘How much yard is enough?’ Like that’s the whole idea of Gimmie, is that, there should come a point in time where, y’know… And there’s nothing wrong with being rich… But I think there should come a point in time where we think ‘Man, what am I gonna do with these riches, what am I gonna do with them? Am I gonna just store it up in this house and die, and then my kids take it and spend the money and blow it on their girlfriend or boyfriend?’, or, ‘Am I gonna do something that matters with it?’
Sam: And the song was quoted by John Piper in a tweet. Was that a bit surreal?
Derek: Yeah it was crazy! I didn’t necessarily write it (laughs)… I didn’t necessarily write it thinking of the typical, like, church world. So, ah, it was cool that he tweeted it. It was really good, I just kinda, really was being myself and, watching the Lord put it on his heart to tweet it, it was really dope. It really was nice.
Sam: This is your first album under the name Derek Minor, you were formerly Pro… Did that have a different effect on how you went about making this record?
Derek: Yeah man. The name change is really a whole brand change. I’ve always been making music similar to this but I don’t think it was the music that was celebrated on my albums. So what I wanted to do was make – I wanted to fight, to push for my albums to… for the singles and the music that’s coming out… I wanted the singles and the songs that are celebrated. I wanted it to be the more songs with bigger depth, and the more musical songs – because I’m a musical person. I listen to classical music, I listen to jazz music, blues music, I listen to everything. So a lot of times people will put me in this box as this southern rapper and – I love southern music, I love 808 heavy music – but I also love the musical stuff. That’s more of who I am.
Sam: And there’s a huge list of collaborators on this album. How do you go about picking who to put on what track?
Derek: To be honest, it’s really what’s best for the song. So, I make a song… Usually the process is I start working with the beat. Like on this album I pretty much produced – out of the 15 tracks that’s on the record I had a hand in helping produce on 11 of them. Normally it starts with me, working through producing a record, or getting a record from someone else and then – I usually start with the hook. And once I’m finished with the hook then I’ll put a verse on it. And I’ll listen to it and I’ll think ‘well, do I wanna put another verse on it? Or do I wanna find a collaborator?’ And that’s usually how the process goes – ‘Wow! This guy will sound great on this record.’ or, ‘Wow! This girl, she’d sound great on the hook.’ or, ‘We should probably get this violin player.’ And that’s how the process works for me.
Sam: I don’t want to generalise about the mainstream hip-hop world, but often I find myself as a Christian sometimes struggling to enjoy it, with some of the things that are said. How do you, as a Christian, find a way of enjoying mainstream hip-hop but still stay grounded?
Derek: It’s funny, cos I was talking to my mom about this today. The way that I listen to music – it’s almost the equivalent of like… You work at a radio station. And you know the inner-workings of radio. So, when you listen to another radio station – I know for myself… I guess a better example would be I remember working at Ponderosa [Steakhouse]. I used to cook steaks as a chef. I would cook steaks and that’s what I did for eight hours of the day. And I was pretty good at it, people would tip me like, ten bucks. I’d get like huge tips, even when I was like ‘man, that’s not a really good steak.’ but people would like it so much. I was really good at it. But I remember when I started working there, before I started working there I was like ‘man! I love this steakhouse!’ But as I started working there, I started becoming less and less impressed with the steakhouse. I think because I saw the inner-workings of it.
So for me, as I listen to music, I don’t necessarily listen to it as – a lot of times music isn’t a soundtrack to my life, because I know how it’s made. When I listen to a songwriter write something, I know the point they’re trying to get across. I could pretty much dissect the whole mindset behind a lot of songs – or at least what I think it is – and the process because I create music. So a lot of times when I’m listening to artists who may not be a Christian or even when I’m listening to Christian art, my assessment of the art is a lot more technical than it is an emotion or attachment to it. I don’t listen to a song that says ‘Hey man, go and spend a whole lot of money’ and I listen to it like ‘That’s stupid… But oh the way he, the metaphor he used and using that, a very clever metaphor’ or ‘Wow! That producer – the way he used that snare and tweaked that snare – that’s an awesome way,’ so, for me, my musical experience is a lot different to other people. It’s really technical when I’m listening. It’s not really – there’s not really an emotional draw to it. There’s not really a lot of music that does that. When I hear a record that’s like that, usually it’s something that has great substance or meaning.
Sam: You’re also part of a crew called RMG which released an album last year. You’re also part of the 116 Clique which has Lecrae in it. Do you have a preference between being a solo artist and being in a crew like that?
Derek: Well not really. I love doing my solo art, but it’s so much fun when you do it together. Like, when you have these tours. Our last tour, we had like six artists on the tour and that’s fun to me. Where we all pile up on the bus – actually it was eight artists I’m sorry. Eight of us. And we all piled up on the bus and we just went from state to state rapping. Like that’s just fun because of the experiences you get with it. So I guess if I prefer anything I prefer being in a group, just because of the things that happen off the stage. But on the stage it doesn’t even matter, either way it’s fun for me.
Sam: I’ve gotta ask you Derek – you posted a photo on Facebook a few weeks ago of you – you were on stage and you’d ripped your pants. What happened?
Derek: (Laughs) So, I’m in Houston. If anyone in Australia has ever been to Houston, it’s probably one of the hottest places on earth. It’s probably a level – a couple of levels cooler than Hell. Man, Houston’s terrible. Not to mention that it’s really humid. So it might be 90 degrees [Fahrenheit] outside but it felt like 110 degrees outside because of the humidity. And you walk outside and you sweat – it’s weather-wise in the summer a terrible place. (Laughs) But I’m outta Houston and I’m like ‘Man – I can’t go out on stage in the clothes I got on. I gotta buy some clothes.’ So I bought some chinos, and if anybody knows anything about chinos – chinos are really thin. Like these chinos were like really thin, but that’s what I liked about them. Because it was almost like I was walking around in like board shorts or swim trunks. And I like my clothes fitted.
So I was jumping from the front of the stage, back of the stage, I’m almost doing backflips off the stage – and the stage was huge. I mean – it was huge – I could have lost about ten pounds running the stage. So I’m jumping from one part of the stage to the other part of the stage and when I jumped forward, I split the front of my pants. And I didn’t even split like a little bit, I mean they pretty much exploded and split right down from the top of the pant at my waist, all the way down to my knee. I ran to the back and yelled out ‘WARDROBE MALFUNCTION!’… Ran to the back and put on some basketball shorts. And then went to town, so it was really fun.
Sam: So you didn’t lose your flow mid-rhyme?
Derek: Nah I didn’t – but man, the struggle was real. Cos when you hear a (makes tearing sound) that’s not a good sign!
Sam: Derek… the track Making Me More which to me sounds like such a bluesy kind of rock song more than a typical hip-hop song. What can you tell us about it?
Derek: Yeah that record was dope. It’s by a guy – the original version of the record is by a guy named Mel Washington – and it’s called Whiskey Bent. And I was in the studio one day – I was at Reach [Records] office and my buddy Chad, who does a lot of stuff for as at Reach, was like ‘You need to check out my buddy Mel.’ Mel is cool, because as you know I like to listen to a lot of music and that hook came on – and I was like ‘Yo – this guy is amazing! He’s crazy!’ So, I was like ‘What is he doing with this record?’ so, he had it on Bandcamp at the time, and I was like ‘Yo, do you think he’d be interested in allowing me to take this record, kinda format it more for hip-hop, and then put my verses on it?’ He was like ‘I’ll ask him, we’ll see.’
So Chad made the call – reached out to Mel. Mel hit me up within an hour. And we talked about it and I was like ‘Man I’d love to mess with your record.’ So he sent me the session, I messed with it, did my Derek Minor thing to it and sent it back, and Mel loved it. So we put it together, mixed it, mastered it, and that’s what you got.
Sam: Derek, is there a big idea to Minorville as a record?
Derek: Yes there is. The whole idea, if you walk away with anything, walk away from Minorville knowing that everyone is broken. From the black guy, the white guy, the Australian guy, the American guy, the African guy, this whole globe is broken. And there’s a saying ‘you can’t fix something if… if it’s not broke don’t fix it’ – that’s a huge saying. But the reality is a lot of us are broke, we just don’t want to admit that we’re broke. But until we admit that we’re broke, that’s the only chance that we’ll have, an opportunity to be fixed. And that’s the whole goal that I want you to get from the record. Like, I’m being transparent, I’m being open with you. Not just so you can say ‘oh woe is Derek Minor’, or so you can be like ‘man this dude has this crazy life’ or ‘this guy has a cool life’, that’s not what I want. I want you to listen to the record and I want you to say ‘wow, because of his transparency man I’m hoping that I can be more transparent with people. And maybe my story will be able to affect people. I wanna start a movement, a movement of people being honest. Like the album is honest and it’s a real record. And that’s what I want to start – like, let’s just be real with one another. Let’s not sit down here and pretend that we got it all together, let’s just be honest.
Sam: Is there any chance you might tour this album to Australia?
Derek: Man, if you guys bring me out there I would love to tour Australia. I’ve been to Melbourne, and ah – I haven’t been to Brisbane. I’ve forgotten where else I’ve been… You guys have – what is it called – lemon lime and bitters?
Derek: That is the best drink in the world.
Sam: Great, well we’ll make sure that’s on your rider when you come out here.
Derek: Yes, please.
Sam: …Dear Mr. Christian features Lecrae. It’s a great song, again it’s a pretty bold one. What can you tell us about it?
Derek: Yeah I think as far as, when it comes to Christianity – the crazy thing about that is the story of the gospel is – when you look at it from Genesis you look at God gives humanity everything. He gives everything! And then humanity fails, and throughout, all the way from Genesis to Revelation we’re watching God draw humanity to himself. And he’s doing all of the work – we’re not doing any of the work. We don’t have the ability to draw ourselves to God. God is the one who is fixing the earth. He sends his son Jesus to fix the world. He’s gonna send his son Jesus ultimately to complete the work that was started while Jesus was on earth the first time. And, the crazy thing about Christianity is once we learn the truth there’s a propensity in us to just say ‘well, hey, I’m better than you because God has done something great in me’. And that’s the exact opposite of what God wanted us to do. What God wants us to do from the beginning is to see who we are in light of that, and to extend grace to one another.
I think because of our sinful nature a lot of times we forget. Like, we look at somebody and say – somebody may be dealing drugs and we’ll say oh, they’re this type of person, and they’re just a drug dealer. We label them as a title and we just move on. We don’t understand that there’s levels to every person and there’s layers to every person. And, just because somebody does something that’s the most wicked thing in the world, that doesn’t always necessarily mean they’re the most wicked person. You don’t know what necessarily brought them from that. I don’t think anyone was born, and anyone would say ‘you know what, as a child, I wanna grow up and become a drug dealer… I wanna grow up and be a drug addict’. No-one as a kid, as a little baby, when they come out of the womb is thinking ‘I wanna be the most evil thing that you could think of’. And I think that as Christians, we have the opportunity because we have hope and we have the gospel. We have the opportunity to engage people that are broken and hurt and the people that the world has rejected. We have the opportunity to engage them on a level because we actually have a solution to the issue. But many times instead of us taking a solution, and pushing it in grace, we take the solution and beat them over the head with it, and get mad when they don’t understand. Or, we might even extend grace but we only extend it up to a level. We don’t do what Jesus says. Jesus goes all the way to the end, he says ‘if your brother offends you, you should forgive him seventy times seventy times’ in a day, at least for that one offence. Pretty much saying that you should forgive them every time, you should always forgive people and extend a huge amount of grace to them, but I think we fail at that many times. And that’s because we haven’t tasted grace in the way we should taste it.
Sam: Thanks so much for your time.
Derek: Thanks so much Sam, I appreciate you man.