I have always been in the wilderness,” Derek Minor says, reflecting on his career. “I’m going to stay there.”
As Minor sees it, he is in a battle on the fringe of hip-hop. Minor recently released a trilogy of EPs he calls Up and Away. Though each have distinct themes, the references found on Your Soul Must Fly, High Above and The Trap all have one thing in common: a blunt look at issues many Christians face, but are too afraid to talk about.
“My audience has always been the fringe church people,” he says. “I’ve talked about racism, drugs, alcoholism and all those different things. That’s not really the mainstream.”
The reason he calls it “the wilderness” is because as he sees it, he is caught between two worlds:
the polished world of commercial, Christian industry music that avoids difficult topics and more mainstream hip-hop’s conflicted relationship with music about faith.
Ten years into his career, which has seen him release six albums to critical acclaim and even serve as a producer on Lecrae’s Grammy-winning Gravity, Minor is creating his best–and most provocative–music to date, but, at the same time, he sees himself and many other Christian hip-hop artists at a crossroads.
IDEAS AND DREAMS
Ten years ago, when his career was first starting out, Minor was selected to be a part of Reach Records’ original Unashamed Tour, where he and his contemporaries at the faith/rap intersection were playing to sold-out 7,000-seat venues without any radio play to support their music.
“That tour was just people with ideas and dreams,” he says. “It launched all of our careers: Andy [Mineo], Lecrae, KB, it took Propaganda to another level. That season gives me hope something like that could happen again. We [Christians in hip-hop] don’t fit in anywhere. We have everything in common with mainstream hip-hop, except the content doesn’t connect. We have to find out where we are within this space.”
It’s not a new conflict for Christian artists. So- called “crossover” bands (from Jars of Clay to more recent acts like NEEDTOBREATHE) have been trying to navigate that in-between for years, but it’s different for hip-hop. Hip-hop is young and at the forefront of social change, and most Christian music, Minor emphasizes, is not young and not all that concerned with social issues.
“People won’t like me for saying this but Christian music has always been a retirement home,” Minor says. “When you look at any other market, it’s about finding the consumer when they’re 16 or 17, but Christian music markets to a 40- 50-year-old soccer mom.”
Minor doesn’t agree with industry executives who try to replicate
the mainstream. To his thinking, if someone likes Migos, they’re going to listen to Migos, not Christian rap.
“Do you put Christian rappers on mainstream playlists?” he asks. “Every meeting we have with mainstream offices says the music is amazing. They don’t know how to put us after Future.”
These days, Minor is comfortable in the “wilderness,” because he now feels free to talk about ideas that make some Christian audiences uncomfortable. And, for Minor, that’s the whole point.
“America is becoming more liberal, including people on the fringes of society like African Americans and Hispanics,” he says. “They’re calling out the hypocrisy of the Church, and that makes a rift between the white evangelical male and everyone else. People feel disenfranchised and there’s been a falling away of minorities from churches. We need to figure out how Christianity rebounds from that and affirm we’re about Jesus.”
Minor wants to create music for a new kind of music fan–one that is comfortable in the wilderness of their own. Those are the people that Minor believes are really the future. “The Church has sent so many mixed messages,” he says. “Christianity has to find out how it intersects with today’s culture, and until that happens, we’re in for some dire times. You have to create your own tribe and be OK with your tribe. That’s the answer. How you do that is the question.”