It was my first time in Austin. My first time at South by Southwest. And on Friday, March 19th, it was the first time ever in SXSW’s 30 Year history that it had a panel discussion specifically on Christian Hip Hop.
The panel, ‘Understanding the Business of Christian Hip Hop‘, included Collision Records CEO Adam Thomason, Lamp Mode Recordings President and artist Jason “Json” Watson, Word Records A&R Joseph Prielozny, and was moderated by ARTSO CEO Trisha Bell.
The objective of the panel was to help “maintain the kind of business practices that will further an artist’s career, maintain reputable relationships, and relevancy.”
With Bell moderating the panel, the discussion started off quickly and lively, with the panelists giving their definition of what CHH is.
“It is a desire to give an equal product with a redemptive message. Both quality product and message,” said Thomason.
Json also chimed in. “CHH is a term to say we are not afraid of who we are. We are hip hop, but we are Christians, and we also do music well.”
As the discussion continued to move forward, the panel discussed the ever popular topic of the label of Christian Hip Hop and if it limits the genre.
“The conversation is overdone. What God has for you cannot be limited,” said Thomason.
“Sometimes the issue isn’t the title itself. I don’t think you have to wear a title. You’ll be talking about a theological issue,” said Json.
“Hopefully the conversation will end and that we will talk about real issues,” said Prielozny.
The business off CHH has grown. The times, content, and major key players have changed. Now there is an aspect of CHH which requires good marketing, networking, branding, and negotiating. Ultimately, the question is, how do you do business for the glory of God?
With that in mind, we began to peel back the layers of the nitty gritty of contracts, signings, management, and character.
“We affirm character, you know, across the board,” Thomason said. “Will the person we see, be the person you are when we’re not around?”
That probably had to be my favorite quote from the event.
With understanding the business of CHH, artists have to understand how to function as artists as well. The panelists continued to speak on how artists respond to situations, their season(s) of life, and how they manage themselves on social media. These were great nuggets for artists who may be looking to be recognized by potential labels.
“A lot of labels too, these days, don’t have the time to control the artist. And so, labels now exist to already amplify what’s already skilled,” Prielozny said. “People are watching, you know. Just because you don’t hear from them, doesn’t mean they’re not watching. If you’re not proactive already as an independent, and growing as an independent, no label is going to pick you.”
Ultimately, the panel gave encouragement and specific skills they look for in an artist. Encouraging them to develop relationships, gain experience, write better hooks, and to extent their vocabulary in their lyrics.
And if something is lacking in a specific area, and you see a need, Bell encouraged attendees to create their own space and lane.
After the panel discussion, the floor was opened up for questions.
One artist asked about the bilingual CHH community, something we’re not too familiar with, but know that their is a market for it.
Since the floor was still open, I decided to ask a question.
Will any of the panelists sign a female artist to their label? Why aren’t female artists featured on major tours, and why don’t they get enough support in CHH?
A.T. made sure that it was clearly known that he has been trying to sign singer-songwriter Natalie Lauren for two years now.
Side note: I second that signing A.T.
“I think this goes to a bigger issue in the church. That we in the church, and this spills over into Hip Hop among Christians, we don’t know how to handle the male to female interaction. It’s preached from the pulpit and it influences music in our industry that to be cordial, to be relational, to compliment means you’re going to have an affair,” said Thomason.
Ultimately, Thomason narrowed it down to the lack of maturity from men.
Json agreed with what Thomason had to say. “I would love to sign a female artist,” said Json. He believes that the lane is open and is developing – but he also added a different vantage point from what he’s encountered from working with other female artists.
“I will say… not every female artist – but I’m going to say what I’m going to say. Some that I’ve interacted with – you know, once you become a mother, and you’re a wife – I think there is a natural, nurturing desire for home, and a burden for home,” he said. “I think that affects the way that some of the women within our genre have been able grind the way that they would like to.”
But Butta P, member of South Florida group Rhema Soul, agreed with Json to a certain extent.
“I get it. I definitely understand, because there are a lot of female artists who I have worked with, who have called me to try and figure out how to create that balance [between mother, wife, and artist],” Butta P said. “I think it’s really about just creating your own support system. If your husband agrees with what you’re doing, and he’s supportive of it, then he allows you to maneuver in that.”
She also chimed in on why female artists aren’t on major tours.
“I don’t agree with that anymore. I think that it is a cop out. I think that that reasoning is overused,” she said. “I think it all comes back down to self-control as well, like, you cannot give a woman an opportunity because of your lack of control.”
I talked with Bell, who consults for artists, about why the panel was needed and what her expectations were for bringing the panel to SXSW.
“I felt like the panel was needed because a lot of Christian hip hop artists don’t have – there is no platform set to learn from, or gain wisdom from,” she said. “I felt like coming to South by and having this platform, it’s just open – it just makes it more available for people to come and learn and to understand how to do this thing. And I really just wanted to give a platform for artists to just soak it all up… You have an opportunity to build relationships with other artists and people who are in the genre.”
Json was encouraged by the panel and was pleased by the support and turn out. When asked about ways to make it grow he said, “We just need to put heads together and really think through how to market it and brand it. We need to make Christians and Christian artists feel like this is necessary.”
Many were in attendance for the historic panel, including artists, students, producers and CHH fans. Artists like Butta P, Shopé, the Die Daily Team, Fedel, Street Hymns and others came to show their support.
With all the infrastructures put in place within CHH, there are some missing pieces. Experience is needed within CHH. Writers are needed, managers are needed, and people behind the scenes helping move the genre forward is needed.
I found the panel to be very informative, encouraging, humorous, and helpful. It was a successful event where many came to learn and others came to support. All of the panelists were straightforward with their answers and gave honest feedback for those who had questions.
I applaud Trisha Bell for proposing the panel to SXSW, and for all of the panelists for putting together a successful panel with great insight, vision, and hope for the genre.
This was one of the first steps in the right direction to have an open and honest discussion about the business, artistry, and state of Christian Hip Hop.