A lot of interesting things are happening in music. One of them is the release of Mali Music's album "Mali is...". The run up to this album has left me frustrated. Not with Mali Music, not at all. I have been frustrated some "fans" and I will explain in a minute.
Before Mali Music dropped this album he appeared on 106 & Park with Akon where he debuted a video for his new single at the time "the Job experience" and performed one of his songs called "I hate you" (which I must point out is one of his most radical songs about his faith that he has released) most religious folks were already scared that Mali Music was going to be signed by Akon and start singing the kind of songs Akon sings.
Fast forward a little and we receive the news that Mali Music had gotten signed to RCA Records. In an interview that was wrongly framed by a website and spread online, Mali Music tried to explain his new direction but the misleading title from a website article was what people read. It read that Mali was going "secular" when he never said that.
Mainstream just means a wider audience, or to be more precise the widest audience possible. It just means you are aiming not to be stuck in a niche market which caters to a smaller audience. In this case the niche market is the gospel music scene/circuit/audience, the audience that bought his 2 independently released albums "The Coming" and "The 2econd Coming"
We have already had artists like Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary breakthrough that glass ceiling but these days no one has had that kind of impact coming from the gospel music circuit/scene/market. Even Mary Mary hasn't had another "shackles" moment. They have been having reality TV moments but where is the music? Kirk Franklin hasn't had another "stomp" moment as well. No one has pushed the envelope since those amazing days when Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary were getting regular MTV rotation and access to those mainstream platforms that have been kind of been out of the reach of such artists in this day and age but artists like Mali Music and Lecrae are breaking through and one can say it is because of their approach, worldview as well as talent, marketing and hard work among other things.
Hawk House (formerly known as A Yellow man) have recently dropped their debut EP "A Handshake to the brain" on a major label (Virgin EMI) I have never really known why exactly they changed their name from A Yellow Man to Hawk House. I have my theories but I would prefer to hear the facts from them. The EP has quickly risen to be No. 1 on the UK Hip Hop/Rap itunes chart and No. 52 on the overall UK itunes chart. They have quite a buzz. They have toured with US rapper Action Bronson opening for him and have been given co-signs by Jill Scott, Ali Shaheed Muhammed of A Tribe Called Quest and Mac Miller. This is all inspiring and exciting.
I read a blog entry from someone lamenting over how he feels they have changed from being the group he hoped they would be. This blogger wanted them to be more overt with their faith and basically be an "in your face" christian hip hop act but they are not that kind of group. In the music they have released prior to this new EP they have been slightly more overt about faith in some songs that have christian themes and references but they never struck me as a group trying to be the next Cross Movement. On this debut EP released via Virgin EMI they have kept those kind of christian references to a minimum (that is if you are one of those religious people that counts how many scriptural references are made in a song before you "approve" of it's content) and I have no problem with that. The music is good and the songs are positive regardless. I would love be able to talk to them about their writing process. I would love to know their intent and thinking behind the project and how they came to certain decisions to lyrically and thematically go in the direction that they chose. I don't want to assume I know what their motives are at all. They are doing what they do very well and I think they will go far. I love what they do, they are DOPE!
Nick Brewer is another artist who has recently been signed by a major (Island Records) and has dropped an EP too (Four Miles Further) It is a great piece of work. Brewer is a familiar name in the gospel scene but I have never really seen him as a gospel artist. I see him as a christian who is a very talented and honest artist and to me that is awesome. I don't think Nick Brewer is trying to be the next Toby Mac or [insert popular christian evangelical rapper] He is doing him and he has worked hard to get where he is doing what he does and doing it well. Every project he has dropped has been top quality (Alone with my thoughts 1 & 2, Flat 10 all hold up today as great releases and they were all free!)
I think I will stop here but one last thing I will say is most people don't understand how the music business works. They don't understand marketing, branding and all the stuff that goes into reaching a target audience and that is why this same kind of negative reaction from some people happens over and over again when an artist who is a christian seeks to broaden their audience beyond the religious core audience they started with. Everyone has a different path in music and most of the time we are working out our journeys day by day and are learning as we go along. No one has it all figured out. I think it is important to be honest about the journey and acknowledge you are still learning. It is better to give people the benefit of the doubt after all wouldn't you want someone to do that for you? The most important thing is finding your path and following your path wherever it leads.