Monday, 4 November 2013

Me & Music: An Evolutionary Tale...

Music. I've never met anyone who hates it (in its totality). It's is a universal language. There are many different dialects, but it touches everyone. In my recent, ongoing transition from a music listener to a music performer, I've been doing a lot of reflecting back on my own relationship with music and how I got here now.

So growing up, I was initially exposed to music through the personal collections of my parents. I remember their vinyl records consisting of artists like Bing Crosby, Tammy Wynette, Aretha Franklin and Whiney Houston. They also owned a ton of gospel albums from the likes of Ron Kenoly, Bebe & Cece Winans, Andrae Crouch and Alvin Slaughter. I remember knowing all the lyrics and melodies from Bebe & Cece's Different Lifestyles album (1991) before I was even old enough to know what the words meant. So from an early age, I was introduced to some of the old school greats in genres ranging from motown, country and gospel music.

                                                          These records were the soundtrack to my childhood!                                                  

Though this was my base, I did have a curiosity for what else was taking place in the musical landscape further outside. No one can say Michael Jackson's awesomeness never touched something inside them. I remember dancing along with him on TV doing attempting the famous spin and moonwalk. This was back when MC Hammer was cool. The very first rap I learnt was from the theme song for his cartoon TV show Hammerman. Besides these guys, other artists who etched a place in my childhood memories were New Kids On The Block, Meatloaf (I'd Do Anything For Love...), The Monkees, Will Smith and ABBA. A bit eclectic, I know...

From Hammer & Michael all the way to...ABBA. I listened to it all! 
My enjoyment of music continued normally through the years until something interesting took place. I became a Christian. As I started walking this christianity thing seriously, I found myself going back a lot more to my gospel music roots. The words in these songs spoke something deeper to me on my new spiritual journey. But then I found myself being turned off a lot more by some of the other music around me. There was this growing section of music that just started sounding a lot more foul to me. In these songs, artists would swear a lot, talk about wanting to have sex all the time, degrade women, glorify violence and so on...

Most of this type of music was rap/hip hop. This is where a tension begun for me. I found myself really drawn to the energy and style of this music which was very popular, playing all over TV, radio, in public, etc. but the messages conveyed cut me up inside. Now the gospel music I listened to was really feeding my soul, but the style in which it was being done was just dated to me. But I grit my teeth, breathed in deeply and kept on listening.
Hip Hop!
Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, DMX, Ja Rule, Tupac, Mystikal, Mase, Puff Daddy (at the time!) and so on - these guys were gaining global notoriety and where everywhere I turned. They represented a brand of music I absolutely loved but just could bring myself to enjoy. It was a sort of self inflicted prison, but I kept at it.

Kirk Franklin dropped Stomp in 1997. That was a major turning point for gospel music. The curve towards a more modern sound started getting steeper from that point. I remember discovering his Nu Nation Project album years later (on cassette) and bumping that from side A to B and back again every single day! Mary Mary came on the scene with the hit Shackles. Then I found out that there were Christians who rapped! I discovered artists like Gospel Gangtaz, BB Jay and Cross Movement...Wohoo! The day has been saved! Gospel music is now so much more appealing to me than that filth in the world!...Right?

I still found myself intrigued with what I was hearing in the charts. I didn't agree with most of the content from these artists but my goodness they had...some kind of addictive missing ingredient! I just couldn't get enough of it! I remember as a teen constantly watching MTV Base (that's an urban music channel here in the UK). I would swing from the pendulum of condemning this music on one end to literally binging on it on the other.

It's like trying to cover your
ears with headphones on!
I didn't think it was right I liked all this music more than the gospel music that was trying so hard to keep up. This cycle continued on and on until I got to university.

Then things changed.

University was my first time away from home. I lived out near campus. I experienced a new found freedom and my own space to re-explore these life foundations I had built on. Music was one of these areas I was very excited to freely engage in. My housemates had 1000s of albums of artists from this world I had labelled as off limits. With an open, curious mind (and the ability to blast this music out loud without worrying about offending my household with it's explicit content) I went through most of this music, album by album, line by line, dissecting all the parts. I wanted to know why these guys were the way they were. Why did they swear so much? Why did they talk about the things they did? How did they put their art together? What was it about their music that so many people loved? I took music from 50 Cent, Eminiem, Gorillaz, Lil Wayne, Linkin Park, Kanye West, Jay-Z, etc. I did something I hadn't actually done before - I listened.

I started learning a lot from that point. Certain preconceptions were smashed, whilst others were challenged. It's like I was learning a new language. I begun to understand the music better. I begun to understand where these artists where coming from, the worlds they lived in and appreciate more the highly creative manners in which they painted pictures with their art. People liked their art because their style was so innovative and their content was driven by their passion, and sheer humanity.

3 albums I dissected during this musical enlightening period

What these artists were good at was pulling from their rich tapestry of life experiences to craft lyrics that infused well with stella production. A lot of Christian music I was hearing at the time was pulling from the Bible to craft lyrics infused with not so stella production. I didn't hear many that put out art that felt like it was coming from their everyday lives. I felt like many of those artists were preaching AT me and many of these chart toppers were talking TO me. Now don't get me wrong - I totally understood and even respected this approach many Christian artists had to their music...but I felt there was a big void in this other area that needed to be filled.

Over time, I watched as the quality of production continued progressing to impressive levels and some Christian artists also started going more in this direction of making more 'conversational' music. Also during this time, I had started writing and experimenting with mixing my spoken word poetry with music. My initial writing style was very much geared towards those in churches. My early poems were filled with lots of explicit Christian themes and terminologies that non-churched people would find difficult to understand. The more I wrote, whilst continuing my musical education, the more I found myself venturing into the 'conversational' direction.

In the studio recording my upcoming debut album...
I'm still on this journey, but I've come a very long way in my relationship with music. Here's some concluding points to this piece:

  • Music is not evil (hip-hop, r'n'b, pop, dance, etc.). God created music. The devil is evil. The devil corrupts music. We can do good or evil things with music depending on who we're being influenced by. 
  • At the moment, I appreciate a lot of mainstream music on radio, on an artistic level (writing style, delivery, production) but not on a content level. It's a shame though, because music is so powerful. This art has power to help shape and form society. It is currently helping to kill society. 
  • Above all else, I absolutely love Jesus. I'm in a relationship with him where he's my Lord and my friend. I got into this relationship by being turned off by and sorry for my sins, then turning to him to truly save me. As an artist, I have opened wide my door gates to be influenced by the full life and artistic genius around me. But I speak from my renewed worldview, crafting content that will build up, help and inspire.
  • There are many other like-minded artists I'm joining on this journey. If you know one, please support them because this can feel like a loosing battle or a lonely path. If you are such an artist...keep on fighting. We're making progress! 

Peace, Love & Spoken Word Finger Clicks!

Mr. K


  1. Replies
    1. I see you listened well to the last bullet point to give that encouraging comment. Thanks sis! There's loads more I've got to talk about soon!

  2. This was an excellent and mind opening read. I am walking a similar road to you and have fasted secular music for a period of about 2 years. I can see the draw of secular music and have struggled to find all that I enjoy in Christian music. I may become more open to listening and appreciating the artistry and craft of secular music after reading. I have found I have a desire to craft music that is written right from the heart that can influence and shape culture not just the church. Thank you Kwesi. Andrew Cullen.

    1. Wow bro, I'm touched the article spoke to you like that! I didn't even try to push out any 'answers' through this. I just sat down to honestly share my experiences.

      Personally, I don't like using the term 'secular' when describing this music not coming entirely from a Christian or a Christian worldview. 'Secular' means 'without God'. Some of this music just talks about love and life in a good way. It talks about things that God calls good. The use of this word just negates everything in that category of music. Example - is the song Happy Birthday a gospel or secular song? It's neither! It's just a song!

      Someone once said 'We don't just need more books on christianity. What we need is more books by Christians on other topics'. The misconception is that our art has to just be about Christian doctrine. It doesn't. There is a need for us to make art covering the width and breadth of the human experience as most artists already do. We're just coming from a different foundation. Art like this can still be powerful and beautiful!