Author’s Note: Every attempt has been made to capture the accuracy of the quotes and facts noted in the recap articles that follow. However, as a planning committee member and coordinator, I was often directly involved in the events or occasionally pulled away to handle related issues. As such, the information below is obviously somewhat biased, and quotes may not be word-for-word verbatim. Please charge that to my head and not my heart though. Enjoy. – Sketch
Not content to simply celebrate and honor holy hiphop’s recent local achievements, the Texas Holy Hip Hop Achievement Awards has always had an added educational element. This year’s 5th annual weekend was no different.
The night before the awards ceremony, several informational workshops and one cutting edge panel discussion were offered to anyone involved in hiphop ministry.
The first hour included a short discussion and question and answer session with entertainment lawyer Dedra Davis. Attorney Davis made the world take notice several years ago when she began independently representing Saregama India Limited (located in Bombay, India) against Dr. Dre, Aftermath Records, Interscope Records, and Universal Records in a copyright infringement case. She also regularly gives back to her community via efforts such as this workshop and her Listen and Exchange Conference.
During this presentation, artists were able to get a brief overview of legal issues commonly facing hiphop musicians (such as sampling and publishing requirements) and ask Attorney Davis some specific questions from their own experiences.
“Dude, I could sit and listen to her for another three hours,” Houston-based emcee Ethek commented. Another participant only half-jokingly noted that another three hours would certainly cost him several hundred times more than the $8 admission he paid for the evening.
After a brief break for networking and dinner by Chic-Fil-A, a second hour was spent with D-Solo. He is the host, producer, and all around hustler for Houston’s long-running, independent hip hop video show. After a career in radio and other TV gigs, Solo’s show is currently aired on Saturday and Sunday nights on UPN Channel 20. Solo was also this year’s THHHAA host.
Solo’s session was advertised as: “Professional Music Video Production: What it takes to get your music video aired on television” and he certainly delivered. The format was similar to Attorney Davis’ in that the invited expert gave an introductory overview of his professional experience and then opened the discussion up to audience questions.
“Street Flava” is a mainstream show on a mainstream network. Solo is a professed Christian and said he is open to featuring holy hiphop on his show provided there is an audience demand for it and it is a quality production. He noted the success and impact of Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” song and videos and gave his opinion on whether or not a video is a worthwhile investment for an independent hiphop artist / label. (A category that would define the majority of the gospel rap community.)
Solo’s session was another crowd-pleaser. His wife / co-producer also joined in and the discussion and idea exchange was flowing so well he actually ran over his allotted time. In fact, he had to be asked repeatedly to wrap up so that the next discussion could begin. Luckily he was a part of that panel so he could keep the momentum going.
Next was the highlight of the night, if not the entire weekend. With this year’s focus on building a bridge to and with the mainstream rap community, several artists from that arena and members of the holy hiphop industry were invited to be a part of an eight-person panel convened to discuss “Perspectives on Christians in Mainstream Hiphop.” The talk would be moderated by awards founder Tre9 and workshop coordinator Sketch the Journalist.
When it was announced that mainstream rappers Lil Keke, Big Mike, and even D-Solo were going to be a part of the awards weekend, there were several detractors who viewed the move as a sell-out of convictions and compromise of faith. To illustrate that this was not the case and provide an avenue to execute the true motives behind the invitations, Tre and Sketch decided to bring representatives of all sides of the discussion together to simply talk.
- Mark J – Veteran gospel rapper
- DJ MVP – Founder and host of Holy Culture Mixtape Radio and 3hmp3.com holy hiphop download site
- Carlon Scott – Manager for legendary funk musician George Clinton
- Sam Harris – Father / manager of Lil J Xavier who recently signed to Music World Entertainment and has been touring with Chris Brown. Sam is also a pastor with connections throughout the urban music landscape.
- Pastor Levi – Street Life Worldwide founder and executive producer of “Pain: The Movie”
- D-Solo – “Street Flava” video show producer and host
- Big Mike – Former member of Houston’s trailblazing Geto Boys
- Lil Keke – Screwed Up Click member, currently on mainstream radio cuts by Bun B and Paul Wall
Invitations were also extended to members of the Cross Movement, Reach Records, Jah Word, Madd Hatta, Nuwine aka Wine-O, Mike Jones, and Scarface, but not everyone was able to attend.
Unlike the previous sessions, this part was scheduled for two hours and would not be open to audience participation or questions. Sketch explained that he and Tre had researched the most common issues and debates the Christian hiphop community had with mainstream rappers and that their combined questions were designed to illicit the answers.
After the ground rules were established, Tre9 lead the group in prayer and the pointed questions were verbalized. To begin, the group was asked what defines “Christian music” and what defines “secular music.” Follow-up questions wondered if there were specific topics that music made by Christians should address or should not cover.
At this point, the discussion got a heated. Some of the mainstream artists felt they were being attacked and Tre9 reminded all of the panelists to answer the questions in the first person – explaining why he/she made the choices they did on a personal level only.
The talk then moved on to Christians in the mainstream and how or what they should consider as blessings in their life. Lil Keke, expected to be the most reserved member of the panel, turned out to be the most vocal. He became very animated during the discussion and said he was there to learn. He said he also had questions for the Christian artists and other panelists.
As the group continued to unpack the topic of blessings, Keke shared a very personal story regarding his sister’s inability to conceive a child with her husband. He said he didn’t care about material things and wondered if later, when his family’s prayers for her child bearing were answered, should be considered a blessing by God. Everything was silent at this moment as a heart’s ache, and later joy, was shared with a room full of strangers.
The discussion flowed to ask whether or not mainstream rap’s content was all that different than TV and films where actors (perhaps even Christ followers) were just telling a story.
Big Mike contended that some of his content was no different than that of Mel Gibson, who one day may be playing a murderous villain and the next, be directing the church-supported “Passion of the Christ.”
He also shared a personal story of his cry to God when, at the height of his career, he received word that his life was in danger. As he stressed about the death threat one night at his home, he moved to the living room and stared out his window. Praying for God’s intercession in his life, he leaned down to flick the ashes off his cigarette and just missed a buckshot through his window and over his shoulder where his head was just seconds ago. Again, the crowd collectively held its breath as such a remarkable encounter was relayed.
Several other topics were addressed as the time drew to an end. Tre and Sketch pulled the panel together and asked them to provide a final thought. Many took the time to compliment their fellow panelists and Keke said that Mark J and DJ MVP’s recall of Scripture and explanation made him want to get closer to God. Finally, Pastor Levi asked everyone in the room to hold hands as he prayed for the panelists and their spiritual journeys. They were then given time to exchange pounds and contact numbers before the audience was allowed to address them one-on-one for photos, autographs, or further questioning.
“The panel was cool. I'm glad the Pastor was there, he kinda helped smooth it out,” producer Lostbeatz, who was in the audience, said. “Levi brought that street mentality but kept it real with Christ. I loved hearing him talk. I'm happy that D-Solo, Big Mike, and Lil Keke came up there to listen to us and we listened to them. I hope they felt the love and not condemnation, because it's about winning the lost with love. I wouldn't mind having them again.”
Epilogue: Obviously, a blow-by-blow recap of the entire panel discussion could not be contained here. The talk was professionally recorded and video taped though so look for a DVD of the weekend, with this particular event included, to be released to the public shortly.
With the expressed intent to glamorize holy hip hop, this year’s red carpet affair was the best yet. Artists arriving at Copperfield Church were greeted curbside by over 100 feet of red carpet leading into the main foyer area. As they approached the doorway, a red carpet coordinator announced their name and accomplishments/nominations to the various journalists and photographers camped out on Media Row.
After each one was announced he was ushered over to a photo area with an awards logo filled banner backdrop. With flashes and clicks going on in several directions, artists on the red carpet had to look in several directions to make eye contact with each representative. Then they were moved over to do an interview or audio drop shoutout with Holy Culture Radio, Vertical 713 video, 11th Hour Video Productions or any one of the online or print magazines and newspapers.
Fans were kept behind a red rope just within earshot of the artists and nominees. Fifty of them were lucky enough to arrive early (with a flash camera) that earned a ticket to the awards and a prime position on the receiving line.
Some brought an entire entourage in a white stretch limo. Others opted for more humble arrival in a generic ride and were thrilled just to walk the carpet and mix with media and other artists.
This was definitely the time to show off the latest in hiphop fashion and formal urban attire. Artists like Alliance By Faith (A.B.F.) sported matching polo shirts and jeans sponsored by Don Language. Others like H2G and DJ Special K wore a knee-length suit coats and shined up gators. The majority though went for a mix and match approach – often accenting a tuxedo or blazer with a fresh, oversized baseball cap and gold/iced out grill or chain.
With jazz versions of hiphop favorites providing ambient background music, the conversations and media generated an audible buzz. And although the main auditorium’s doors were closed, the large windowpanes leading into it displayed the awesome lighting and video screen set on the stage. The anticipation was clearly building.
“From what I’ve seen already, this is going to be bigger and better than any other holy hip event I’ve been to,” Atlanta’s Khul Rhema (former Ziklag Boy) said.
As nearly 1,000 artists and fans were filing into the main room for the start of the awards ceremony, Houston’s DJ Wiz was spinning a mix of hottest southern fried gospel funk that was definitely thumping out of the eight-foot tall speaker wall on each side of the stage.
Austin’s DJ Special K kicked off the show with an energetic invitation and announced performances from Zee and the West Coast’s Tha Gim. As nominees were mentioned for each award, their name and details were animated on multimedia cuts shown on the 20-foot screens on each side and above the stage. Two large big screen televisions were also on the floor and several tall rigs of intelligent lights moved with the music and splashed color through the smoke onto the tall white cloth backdrops hanging from the ceiling.
After about an hour, the evening’s special guest host, D-Solo, hit the stage. Interspersed between awards were performances by artists such as Tragedy, B.L.U.E. and Gary Mays and Nu Era. Some, like Icece, had street video footage to go along with their set. Special presenter George Clinton could be seen sitting (then standing) in the front row during this set with his arms raised and bobbing his head to the beat.
Unfortunately, there were some dead spots in the show and overpowering sound issues that curbed the momentum of the crowd. This was due to last minute changes by artists and communication equipment problems with the backstage crew. But sets like Much Luvv’s skit that included video, props, and live action and Soulfruit’s entire band performance with choreography really stood out. Groups like this really raised the bar and communicated to their peers that they have to elevate their stage show if they want to command (and keep) an audience’s attention.
Other performance highlights included Big Mike’s solo New Orleans tribute track and the multi-media set by the New Orleans All-Stars. This group was made up of fifteen or so independent gospel rap artists who were all evacuees to Houston due to Hurricane Katrina. Once relocated to the Lone Star State, they reconnected and continued with their ministries. For the TXHHHAA they all came together on one track that was accentuated with video footage of the horrific events the Crescent City experienced last summer.
Included in this set were the Foundation (Shiloh and Lil Pudge,) Govenor, and Bound 4 Glory Records artists Gifted, Zeeda, Mukes, Prozpera “D”, and Anointed.
“New Orleans did they thing,” attendee/producer Lostbeatz said. “I was glad to see how they have come along since Katrina. I am looking forward to more performances from them. Zeeda can flow man.”
And those that ducked out early missed Soldiers On a Mission (S.O.M.) perform a new track with Lil Keke that will be on their next album. As always, the boys brought some energy here.
Though not without its issues, this was still a landmark night for the awards because it built a bridge to the mainstream rap community and raised the standard for holy hiphop stage shows.
“I had a lot of highlights, but the main one was just being a part of history,” Bound 4 Glory Records artist Gifted said. “I was able to work in the background setting up speakers and things like that. Also, we got the chance to perform so that was off the chain. I can't wait until next year whether I'm performing or just helping.”
Perhaps it was the smell of those beans and fajitas that caused people to leave the awards ceremony a little early to head upstairs for the after party. The fajita dinner was included in the afterparty ticket price and was much appreciated after such a long and exciting night. The awards’ hospitality team took excellent care of artists and VIPs – allowing them to sit down to eat and celebrate with their families. Some were also trying to rush to the second stage for another performance or to see other artists do a few songs.
Vertical 713’s radio team put this event together and hosted while Holy Culture Radio’s 3rd Coast Fiyah mix DJ Primo held down the 1’s and 2’s. Really warming up around midnight, standouts were Mark J’s excellent worship track and Excelsius and Boston’s Dkun Frost wrecking a ten minute high-energy set that even included verses over a chopped and screwed version of Run DMC’s “Peter Piper.”
The beats were hitting so hard, the sound system lost power. But that was quickly rectified and the music continued on.
The after party was also the place to pick up product and interact with artists for photos and autographs. Events like this are where a lot of networking gets done.
In fact, you might even hear a collab at next year’s awards that got launched here.
So there’s another one in the books. A historic night where the first steps toward expansion for the awards audience were reached and obtained. Should God continue to bless this effort, look for the whole South to shine and eventually overtake and include the rest of the nation.