These days it’s not really that unusual for an artist to sing ad rap. Mat Kearney’s albums are better when he chooses not to eschew his rhymes. Lecrae even showed up in the middle of songs by Chris Tomlin and David Crowder Band at a Passion conference. As a singer/rapper, then, B.Reith is not alone. What’s unique about the Minneapolis native is his ability to write and perform in such a variety of musical genres. Consider two examples. First, there’s B.Reith with a pop-piano gem, “Antidote”:
Now here’s the same B.Reith dropping slick rhymes over a hip hop beat on “Comeback Kid”:
How does that all work out in a music industry that is designed to pigeon-hole artists into tight categories, preferably categories that will sell? And what’s in the pipeline for Reith, following the success of his latest, “How the Story Ends”? We got some very honest answers in our interview.
TSO: You have accessibility to so many different markets and genres. I know that’s a blessing but it must present plenty of challenges. Do you just shrug that off now, or do you write for a different group at a time?
I would call it a dilemma. Not a problem, but a dilemma. I’ve tried before to please everybody, just to see if that was possible. Everybody was pleased, but the result didn’t always blow up or take off. Now, what’s very freeing is I’m at a place where I focus on one area, hit that hard for a while, and see what’s next. I’ve gone through this cyclical pattern of being in seasons when I’m really excited about hip hop and then it kinda phases out. I get back into a pop mode.
TSO: So, what season are you in lately?
For whatever reason I’m in this season now of hip hop. I’ve gotta get this stuff out. I’m squeezing it for everything it’s worth and really looking at is an opportunity to tap into a market that is clearly visible. It’s not underground. It’s very tangible. I wouldn’t say that I have a fan base that’s so huge and was sold on one big single that would be mad because I’m doing some free hip hop stuff.
Yes, I’ll be giving away songs from a mix tape I’m working on. The idea is “How the Story Continues”. It’s a combination of songs that I’ve done before that I’m remixing. Switching them up. Rapping over them. And then just totally new songs. It’s a hip hop-driven, more rap-heavy, aggressive mix tape.
I will say this – I wouldn’t just give away bad music! We don’t need music just to take up space on our hard drives. People aren’t even impressed anymore with free music. They can get it. For me, it’s a chance to be really good, but not have to spend the money it takes to produce a full-length record. I can work a lot faster and explore some very current musical ideas. They might be short-lived, but have a higher impact on the front end.
TSO: Rap music has a history of egocentricity, from the earliest days of the Sugarhill Gang taking turns talking about being the “baddest rapper there could ever be”. How does a Christian rapper remain credible in the genre without all the self-aggrandizement?
This is a very passionate topic for me. I would never compromise my integrity, or lyrically say something that contradicts my belief in God or is destructive to people. I would be walking in disobedience. Music is to me both a tool and an art form. Specifically in rap, you can use it as a tool to encourage. Talk about your struggles. Give people hope. Ultimately, point people to Jesus. But, music is also like literature, like movies. It’s a vehicle for entertainment. Some people just buy music to have a devotional, but I don’t think it’s that legalistic. Within the context of rap, there are times that I will say things as an MC that are always a little bit tongue-in-cheek humorous, but you’re talking about your skills. It’s almost a language. There is no way that I would be so shallow as to walk around bragging and say, “Hey guys, check me out. I’m the man.” But I might put something in a song like, “Slice that beat, call me Kimbo, like turkey, Istanbul.” It’s a language, and hopefully somebody will take notice because of that language. You’re cutting through to somebody. That’s the fine line, what you’re saying about yourself. I think it all comes down to the heart, to my freedom in Christ to know that I can say that. I prayed just yesterday, “Lord, if what I’m doing is glorifying me and not You, then let’s start over.” That will burn when it’s all said and done. God will judge that. I’m not wasting my life. But I also realize it’s a form of entertainment. I think people get that. It’s the whole context, all of the songs grouped together.
Lecrae is a pioneer now in the sense that he’s been accepted. He’s pushing that now. He’s saying, Christian hip hop is hip hop too. We don’t have to subculture ourselves into a bubble and not reach people in the world. I saw Tony Evans responding on CNN. They asked if he was afraid of being marginalized because of his stance. He was like, “No! Marginalized? I stand before God. I answer to God.” If I’m marginalized from mainstream hip hop because I don’t do what they do, if I’m marginalized from Christian hip hop because I use a rap vernacular, then I still stand.
TSO: You did a remarkable cover of “The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby as a tribute to Trayvon Martin. How did that come about?
I played that song at an event called ERACE here in Nashville a few years ago. I always had that song in the back of my mind. I tried to cover it on piano and it looked really corny. When the Trayvon stuff was happening, I thought, this is a way that I can creatively express my frustration with racism without making comments on facebook and sounding like a jerk. I was expressing my frustration with what I saw, even the response to it all, and how divided it was. It took me about a day to learn it on guitar. It was two takes for the video.
TSO: I didn’t know you had those guitar skills. You can’t just go cover Bruce Hornsby on guitar!
I fool a lot of people. I play the stuff I learn. Someone will say, “Why don’t you play it in a different key?” I’ll say, “Give me until tomorrow!”
TSO: So, what’s the first mix tape song to be released?
“Simple Days”. It’s a song off the record, but I completely gutted it out. It’s sample-driven, there’s some rap in the verses, it’s a different song. I’m excited about it.
Look for Simple Days May 29th at breith.com.