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Guys like Trip Lee aren't making it easy for all the hardcore rappers out there. In a genre where a prison record carries almost as much weight as a gold record, Lee chooses to boast about the greatness of God, not the badness of his behavior.

Along with LeCrae, Lee is making headway in the music business in ways few Christian rappers have before. His second album, 20/20 made the Billboard 200 in 2008, and reached number 11 on the Billboard Christian albums chart.

Lee isn't all talk, though. Sure, he can speak honestly about surviving the school of hard knocks. But how many other rappers can show off a degree in Theological Studies instead of expensive bling? Lee is in the final stages of finishing his degree. In a genre as braggadocio-soaked as hip-hop, it's a truly impressive accomplishment. And beyond that, he's got the vision and musical know-how to carry him far. Trip Lee is a rapper with a vision, and it's looking like it's going to take him places.

Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): Let's start with talking about the song that you collaborated with LeCrae on called "I'm Good." Whose idea was that?

Trip: It was my idea, but we collaborated on how it all came together. It was actually the second song we did. We wrote one, it was called "Feeling Good," and we thought it was good, but it wasn't great. So we decided to work on another song, hit that beat. We were sitting in the studio and then I told him the idea that I wanted to communicate. And so we just kind of brainstormed about how we wanted to execute that idea.

Songfacts: So you guys worked together and it's like a total co-write?

Trip: This particular song was. But sometimes it'll be more of a back and forth - I just send you the idea, then you put a verse on it. But this particular one we were sitting in the studio together, sitting there, wrote it together, and put it all together. Yeah, together.

Songfacts: Tell me about how you met with LeCrae. How did you guys meet originally?

Trip: We met in Dallas, Texas, while we both still lived there. When I met him, I was 16 years old.

Songfacts: How old are you now?

Trip: I'm 24.

Songfacts: Oh, wow. That's a long time.

Trip: Yeah. I met him when I was 16, I met him at a concert. It was the first time I'd heard of him. I'd never listened to his music. Nobody else really knew who he was at the time. And, yeah, man, I got to go backstage; I was with somebody who knew the artist he was opening for. I got a CD from LeCrae.

Songfacts: It's all who you know, huh?

Trip: Absolutely. I got the CD, then after that we reconnected and just kind of built a relationship. He sort of mentored me. Not as an artist, though, but in life. So we kind of built a relationship over the years. Then when I was 17 I started my first solo album for Reach Records.

Songfacts: You started young.

Trip: Yeah.

Songfacts: So when did you know that you wanted to do music? Did you know that right around that time or even younger?

Trip: I mean, at that time I was doing music and I knew I loved music. I loved writing stuff. But I never thought it would get to where it is now. I didn't think it would happen, especially with the way that I do hip hop. I remember thinking: you know, it's going to be hard for me to make a career out of this. So I was just happy for whatever opportunities I had and doors somehow kept opening and opening. So I knew I wanted to do it, but I never knew how big it would get.

Songfacts: Are you finding that the Christian community is more open because you do really legitimate rap? Like, I was telling [manager] Alex that I have a 19 year old son at home. He doesn't like a lot of Christian music, but he likes your music, and he likes LeCrae's music, and he likes some of you guys that aren't watering down what you do. So are you finding that Christians are accepting or are you still running into some people that are questioning what you do?

Trip: Yeah. I mean, we kind of feel like outcasts, because we're too hip hop for Christian music, and we're too Christian for hip hop. So we're somewhere in the middle. We're Christian radio where Christian music doesn't quite know what to do with us, because so much of their demographic is soccer moms, and I don't know that this works for soccer moms.

Songfacts: Soccer moms?

Trip: Yeah. Like, we're challenging world views and we're questioning deep. So sometimes it's a little too much for hip hop. But we're starting to see doors open more and more in both. Christian music's starting to be more and more accepting of it, and hip hop is starting to be more and more accepting, allowing us in. We're seeing things happen.

Songfacts: One of the things that I talked to LeCrae about is there's a version of "Our God" that he raps on. And I thought, what a great version because now you have Chris Tomlin. I mean, he's at the top of the genre.

Trip: Absolutely. Yeah.

Songfacts: Have you been offered anything like that, or is anything like that in the works?

Trip: I have, yeah. There were a couple of opportunities that have come up recently that are in the works. I don't want to say anything about it now, but yeah, stuff like that has come up and it's in the works. It's artists that I feel comfortable working with. I think it works well. Sometimes it's hard, though, because the music is so different that I don't know how to make it work well without compromising what I do. But some opportunities have come up where I can still be me and do what I do, and it can still kind of begin to open up for more people to kind of see who we are.

Songfacts: Have you ever done everything like this before?

Trip: These kinds of festivals?

Songfacts: Yeah.

Trip: Yeah, I get to do these kinds of festivals more and more. And more and more they're allowing us to be on the main stage. I think it's because people are starting to see that young people love hip hop. Not just urban, not just black, not just Latino. Young people love hip hop.

Songfacts: You listen to the secular pop radio today, that's what's getting played, huh?

Trip: Absolutely. They want to hear some hip hop. And when it's some good hip hop that also has good content, then it connects with people in a new way. So I think people are starting to realize that more and more. So more of those doors are starting to open. And some people who are reluctant to open those doors for us, they feel like their hand is being pressed. Like we don't have a choice at this point, because this is what people want. So I think it's a good thing. I think the stigma should be removed from it. Hip hop isn't evil, it's an art form.

Songfacts: I'm old enough to remember when rock music had the same thing. And you look at the artists that are playing on the main stage, I mean, they're playing the kind of music that you would not have heard 10, 20 years ago.

Trip: Absolutely.

Songfacts: So it's just a progression, right?

Trip: Absolutely. It's the same cycle. And I think even with us now, we have to think 20, 25 years ahead. We don't need them to think that only what we do is the right way to go about God in music. We need it in the same way, be just as open for new generations and artists to do it differently. Long as they're not doing it in a way that offends God, so let them in and allow them to blow up our God in their way.

Songfacts: Let me just wind things up by talking a little bit about your craft. As far as songwriting, was there a point in your life where you knew you had the ability to write songs, and do you write songs generally the same way every time?

Trip: Yeah. I started writing raps probably when I was 11 or 12. Just me and my homies in school just writing stuff. It wasn't very good. But I had more passion for it than my friends did. Now people see I'm a little better than them.

Songfacts: So you mean you were different than your friends, because everybody was doing it for kicks but it wasn't just a fun timekiller you, it was something you were serious about?

Trip: This is something I was passionate about. And I found myself listening to albums and dissecting lyrics and thinking about how to use metaphors and assembling. I just saw that there was something different in me. I was passionate about how to do this well.

Songfacts: Did you grow up in a Christian home?

Trip: Both my parents were professing Christians, but there wasn't anything really Christian about our home. We went to church on Sundays.

Songfacts: More cultural maybe, then.

Trip: Yeah. And moral. Moral and cultural. But it wasn't a Christ-centered home. We didn't pray and read the bible or anything. But they took me to church somewhat regularly.

September 18, 2012.
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