The Reach Records signee released his fourth studio album, The Good Life, in April, scoring a No. 17 chart position on the Billboard 200 with first-week sales of over 22,000 units. He earned himself the accolade of having the second highest charting Christian hip-hop album of all-time. Not bad for a project that doesn't feature collaborations from rap staples like Lil Wayne, Drake, Young Jeezy or Rick Ross.
Read on as Trip Lee explains how his lyrics differ from other MC's in the genre, why Jay-Z, who's one of his biggest influences, should be careful about using the "God" reference in his work and why Lupe Fiasco's "out-of-this-world" concepts intrigue him.
The Good Life, your last album, came out in 2010. What's different from that project to this one?
With this particular album I wanted to -- this is my fourth album, my first album came out in '06 -- so I'm always trying to grow and get better with each album. I never want to give people something I've already given them, I wanna give them something new, you know? So the people who've been enjoying my music for years, I hope they continue to enjoy. It's getting better and better. And on this one, each of my albums has different themes, so this album I wanted to actually challenge some of the ideas we've sold about what the good life is. Everybody kind of has their own idea. Hip-hop has strong ideas about what the good life is.
I noticed on the past albums you haven't really collaborated with people. Why is that?
The stuff I talk about, for instance, this album I want to fight against some of the ideas we've been taught about the good life. So say I get on a track with somebody, who, you know, they're going to be talking about those things as a good life. It's just going to be kind of a conflict of interest. I would be down to collaborate with certain people if we were able to do it in a way that, you know, what we're saying in the same song wouldn't contradict.
What does it mean to you to be a Christian rapper?
Well, I actually fell in love with hip-hop before I fell in love with Jesus. I'm a fan of hip-hop, I love hip-hop. I don't even necessarily want to call myself "Christian rapper." You know, I don't want to put myself in that little box. 'Cause the first thing that comes to mind for people is something I don't think I really am. I think I'm a dude, I'm a rapper, I love hip-hop, grew up in the hip-hop culture. I've loved hip-hop all of my life, but there came a time in my life when my entire life had a shift, where before I was just kind of going to church every now and then, then there was an actual change where I actually understood who Jesus was, actually understood the message of the Gospel and my entire life changed.
So I started thinking about what does this mean for the way I do my music now. I want my music to actually match up with what I believe now. So my goal is never to be in this little Christian rap box or for people to feel like they... when they put on my album they went to church. But I do want it to be, you know, consistent with the stuff I believe. So I'm a rapper, love hip-hop, part of hip-hop culture and it just so happens my art has been changed by Jesus.
Now sometimes when people say "I've found Jesus," something traumatic happened in their life. Has anything like that happened to you?
It wasn't really like some kind of traumatic event for me. It was just, you know, there just came a time when I actually understood, so there's a difference in just going to church and being around church stuff and then actually understanding what the message of the Gospel and Jesus really is. It was just a moment when that clicked for me. Around 14 [years old]. My friend went to church pretty regularly and I went to church with them, kind of did the church thing. But I started to get more involved really just for social reasons, I wanted to chill. There were actually some girls I thought looked good, I was like, "I could probably do this."
So then as I was around I started to hear stuff and it started to impact me and stuff just started to click. And once that stuff really hit my heart my life did a 180.
So what did friends of yours think? I'm sure they noticed a change in you throughout that time.
Yeah, it was interesting because there was just some stuff that started to grow apart for some reason with my friends because we just started going different directions. I was never a "party" dude, I was never the "club" dude, I was never the "get high" dude. And that stuff made me kind of grow apart. But we still remain cool, but the closeness wasn't the same because we didn't always want to do all the same kind of stuff. And that's even kind of the same when I see a lot stuff with hip-hop, which is, I don't want to break away from hip-hop, like I'm in some other genre, I'm a rapper, I'm hip-hop. If you listen to my music, there are going to be some distinctions, which doesn't make me say, "Let me do my own thing off in this corner," but I would love for hip-hop to not exclude dudes who want to talk about serious stuff.
Hip-hop has been so influenced by, like, a dude like Scarface in the movie "Scarface," if we can shape our music around the influence Scarface has had on us, we can talk about that or we can name ourself after drug lords, we can do these things. Or we can do this stuff, but if a dude happens to have an interest in Jesus than he can't have any place in hip-hop? I don't think that's what hip-hop wants to do. I don't think that's what we want to say. I think we want to leave room for [everyone]. If their lives are impacted by God, I don't think we should exclude them from hip-hop.
Who is a rapper you could speak on whose material is opposite of what you're rapping about?
Well, I could think of a dude like Jay-Z, who's probably the rapper who influenced me more than anybody else. I remember sitting in my room listening to The Blueprint, which was my favorite album, it's flawless. And listening to all this stuff and that inspired me to write and be a lyrical MC and then I can think about my life when my own heart began to change and then the way I used to listen to it. I remember listening to, I think it's In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, and he says, "Do you believe it's Hova the God." And when I heard him say something like that, I think, "OK, I don't think that you believe you're God, Jay-Z. I think everybody knows you don't think that. But I wish you had more of a reverence for God that you wouldn't throw his name around in that way, that you compare yourself to him."
I think about The Blueprint2: The Gift & the Curse where he talks about him, 'Pac and Biggie as the Holy Trinity of hip-hop. Now, I know you don't think you guys are God, but I wish you wouldn't do that. I think people are so influenced, he's an influential dude. I'm a dude who's been influenced by him. People listen to what he says and it's important, so I wish that he would choose his words, especially stuff like that, more carefully.
So who are your rap influences?
Jay-Z is probably my biggest influence. I grew up in Dallas so I used to listen to a lot of underground Dallas and Houston stuff too, so Swishahouse. Mike Jones, Chamillionaire, Lil Flip. I used to love those dudes when I was like, fifth grade, sixth grade. Bun B, OutKast was huge. There's a lot of southern dudes who've inspired me a lot. There's also East Coast dudes like Nas, Biggie, I love Eminem, Kanye, Common. That's why I have kinda a blended kind of style. I want to be lyrical and thought-provoking but I can't get away from sounding southern. It's in me.
Is there one song or artist that you've heard over the years that really stuck out to you?
I could think of a dude whose music I think has a lot of creativity, a lot of creative concepts is Lupe Fiasco. He's a dude who's creative, has concepts out-of-this-world. His first album, Food & Liquor, was my favorite one of his.
He has so many songs. He has one called "He Say, She Say." The first verse was a mother talking to the father of her baby basically like, "He wants you to be a father, he's your little boy. You don't even bother." And then the next one was the son saying the same thing. And I think a song like that, man, I really enjoyed it cause he communicates the issue that we all know is there, which is a lot of fatherless sons who don't have their dad around.
He starts to talk about some of the issues he's having at school and stuff and it hits you the first time around when the mom says it to him, and the second time around, same verse, just from the son's perspective and it hits you even more in another way 'cause, well, here's a little boy and he doesn't have his father. Those are the kinds of songs I think, "Man, that's a good concept, I wish I would have thought of that, wish I would have done it." But he killed it and I was appreciative of that song.
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