Takiní It To The Streets
One of the major players is the exceptionally talented Mr. Del. The head honcho of the Holy South Movement has been a force in making the church "crunk" for Christ, while unleashing a level of excellence that has impacted the genre at large.
Born as Delmar Lawrence, Mr. Del began his music career with the popular and controversial rap group Three 6 Mafia. He recently spoke in length with GOSPELflava.com:
"We all grew up in the same hood in Memphis," says Mr. Del. "We started out just having a passion for music. We were doing underground mix tapes, selling them at schools, on the streets and in stereo mix stores. People were feeling the music so much that it grew. The tapes would go outside of our hood into other neighborhoods and it got real big. From that, we just blew up, having a big presence in Memphis. We then got an independent deal. We hooked up with a guy who financed them to go into a real studio and record an album. It pretty much took off from there."
And thus, Three 6 Mafia began to take the nation by storm. While the groupís lyrics were too profane for most media venues, the albums found plenty of success and the group became nationally known. Yet in 2000, with albums and nationwide exposure under their belt, something was missing for Mr. Del.
"I grew up in the church, as far as my mother dragging me there. I really wasnít that into it. I was in the streets doing whatever. Being in that atmosphere made me aware of God and who He was, but I didnít have a relationship with Him. Being out in those streets, I got into a lot of things that a regular street teenager would get into. I was with Three 6 Mafia and we were touring, doing BET, and got a gold record."
"It came to a point where this was something that I wanted to do but I really wasnít happy in my soul with that. So, I came off of a tour on Easter Sunday and went to surprise my family. I hadnít seen them in four months of me being on the road. God spoke to me like right there. I wasnít even listening to the pastor. I couldn't tell you today what he was preaching about. I just know that I had an experience with God. I heard His voice and He told me to come out. I asked Him, Ďwhat do you mean come out? What do you want me to do?í He said, ĎI want you to do the same thing youíre doing now. Just do it for Me.í I was saying that gospel rap was corny and I couldnít do that. Then He began to show me visions of auditoriums and young people and all of this stuff. When I saw that, something in me was convinced and I said, ĎOk God. If I do this, youíre going to have to take care of me.í After all, this was all that I wanted to do and Iím not about to leave one lifestyle just to step out on nothing and not know whatís what. He told me to trust Him."
While Mr. Delís decision to leave the label and Three 6 Mafia was swift, the repercussions were to be felt for a while to come.
"And it wasnít until I started my ministry that all of the hell came," admits Del. "Thatís when the death threats starting coming from them and I had to leave Memphis altogether. Thereís some real stuff that went on with me and it ainít pretty like these other gospel rappers. I had to really go through some stuff to even get to where I am now and I still donít think God is done. Itís only been four years."
"I had to leave Memphis," Del continues. "They put a hit out on me because they felt like I was sabotaging their group. A lot of their sales started to decrease and I started getting interviews and being on TV saying that I was renouncing Three 6. So, instead of looking at it as me changing my life, they looked at it like it was an attack on them. Being that all of us are street cats, we handle things according to the street code. They were ready to kill me. So, I had to leave. I just had to get away. It was more of a spiritual attack to me, because it almost made me not do what Iím doing now. I was so afraid because I know what they are capable of. I know what they have done."
"When I went out of town, I used all of that time to be in His Word. Thatís when I got my relationship with Him. I was reading scriptures like ĎFear is not of Godí, and Ďno weapon formed against me shall prosper.í This is stuff that church folks chant all of the time but it was real to me because I was going through something at that time. Thatís all I had to believe in. God told me to turn in my gun. So, it wasnít like I was thinking in the same mind frame. I really was trying to do this thing for real. So, I took my gun back to the pawnshop and I didnít have any protection but Him."
"All I had to do was believe what His Word was saying to me. Once I finally got up enough strength and courage in Godís Word, I came back to Memphis and started my ministry. Donít get it twisted. I was still kind of shaky about going certain places. But the more people kept speaking into my life and the more I kept ministering, the more I didnít worry about it. After a while, I saw those cats. I would see them on the street and I would go right up in their face and speak. For the first couple of times they were shocked. But after a while, I guess that love broke them down. I stopped hearing about the death threats and the hit. They started opening up and talking to me. Now, I know they probably still talk about me behind my back but in public, I donít see that. To this day, I donít see that. And itís funny, because we all live in the same neighborhood."
"Donít get me wrong, I still struggle with certain things that I used to do," admits Del. "But as far as my commitment and my life, when I heard His voice, I walked. He did the same thing with the disciples. He said ĎDrop your nets and come with me.í And the Bible never said that they took time. They just came. The Bible says, ĎStraightaway, they came.í That means that they immediately came. What God has shown me that itís just a fact of being chosen. The Bible says that many are called but few are chosen. I believe that a lot of people are called to Christianity. But I believe that there are certain people that God ordained and predestined for them to do certain things for God and do a work for God. I believe that Iím one of those people. Thatís why it wasnít a struggle or a fight. The only struggle was when I said that gospel rap was corny. And that was is in the same conversation. That was in the every bit of five minutes it took for me to switch my life, without going to an altar, without an altar call, without any of this."
With this change came an entire new way of handling things for Mr. Del. However, the Ďhustleí from his secular experience stayed the same and manifested itself in an incredible work ethic, resulting in six full-length projects in the last four years.
"Iím a true artist," states Del. "So that I donít have to go get guns and things like that, when I get upset, I unleash everything in music. So my work ethic is like crazy. By the time I get halfway done with a project, Iíve got another one already in mind. When I jumped into this, I felt so passionate about the game because I felt like it was corny. I felt like a bar needed to be raised. A lot of people say that weíre competing with the devil but I think weíre above him. Or at least, weíre supposed to be but thatís not how itís been. When you have a market full of 50 Cent, G-Unit and Lord Banks, we donít have enough [to compete]. These kids get tired after a while. You canít drop an album every three years, have stuff lapsing over, and let labels predicate when youíre going to put out projects. Just do it yourself, man. I guess I got that hustler mentality because Iím from the streets and Iím from Three 6 where we did everything ourselves."
"Think about what God told me. He said to do the same thing that youíre doing now. So, itís like the hustle I had then, I just brought it over here. I try to put out as much music as I can so that the kids will have an alternative. Thereís so much secular out there and thereís not much of our music. And even if it is our music, itís so hard to get and hard to find. Nobody is distributing. Nobody wants to pick you up. Youíve got Ďheed to the labelsí. But God told me, ĎI already set you up on mainstream, so donít even try to entertain these church folk. Just do what I told you to do and get these souls.í Thatís what Iím called to do."
In fulfillment to his call, Mr. Del created his own music imprint, aptly titled Holy South.
"Holy South came like a month after I got saved," shares Del. "I was thinking about needing something. I want to create a movement and I donít want it to be gospel rap. Everybody has this thing about gospel rap, so I didnít want to be in that category. Then I thought about the South. At that time, the South was really booming with my man Lilí Jon and the work that we had done with crunk music. So God gave me the vision that itís not dirty South any more because youíre washed in the blood of Jesus and youíre holy. So itís Holy South."
"So with that, I changed the name and then He gave me a sign for it, which is on the Worldwide album. Itís the sign of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Thatís our sign and thatís my movement. Thatís what I push wherever I go. Itís not so much about it being a man but itís about being the movement. I really want to get a lot of people like myself. I want to get young people and people who are just ready to give their lives to God and get out here and spread this Gospel through hip hop, R&B, and neo-Soul. Thatís what my label has. We got our deal through the same distribution company that Three 6 did. They gave me my deal on the strength of who I was. They still to this day donít understand Holy Hip Hop music but theyíre still hanging on, distributing the records, and waiting for it to do something."
With experience in both the secular and gospel sides of the hip hop industry, Del notes noticeable differences between the two.
"From a music standpoint, itís definitely a level of passion," shares the Holy South mogul. "Secular people seem like they are more passionate about their god, the devil, then we are about Jesus. The reason I say that is that for some reason, these saved folks think that itís gotta be less hard when youíre saying Jesus. It should be more hardcore when youíre saying Jesus. They tailor it because they feel like the only place we can go is the church and since the church doesnít understand, weíve gotta water it down, make it churchy, and throw a choir in there. Now I have no problems with choirs and people singing on hooks. I have Out of Eden in my CD player. I love them and Iím a street head but you will never say that my song is not comparable to a Ja Rule and an Ashanti. Thatís what type of flavor itís on."
"But I think that many in holy hip-hop do a lot of compromising as far as music. Theyíre not as passionate to do what God gave them. God gave everybody an individual gift and He wants you to do it to death. He doesnít want you to conform it to make somebody else like it so it can get into a church so you can get a little $300 offering. I believe if God really called you to something, Heís going to take care of you and Iím a living witness of that."
"I left millions of dollars," continues Del. "My cars were taken from me. I was about to get evicted every day for about a year and a half. Every month I got an eviction notice. To this day, I canít tell you how God sustained me but something happened. Either I was being sent money or somebody gave me money. Something was going on where I was living by a string but I didnít lose the place where I stayed. I still stay in the suburbs but I did lose my cars, my money, and I lost everything. But in those four years, I got it back like a hundred times."
Mr. Del has experienced tremendous growth over the last four years. No matter his role, he is committed to delivering Godís Word in an uncompromising fashion.
"Iím a pastor now," states Del. "At my church, I have like 30 to 50 members. Everywhere I go across the country, I go before thousands of people. I always minister the Word that God wants me to minister. I never look for people to support me because God is the one who took me out of that game. Now I hold Him accountable. Heís going to have to take care of me. Heís the one that called me out."
Among the myriad of challenges facing the Holy Hip-Hop game, Del perhaps identifies the one area that few cite as an issue in this budding field.
"I went to the Holy Hip Hop awards and gave this rebuking speech and the place went up," states Del. "I brought my fruit with me. I brought Lady Boo with me. I brought Natina from the group Blaque, Left Eyeís group. I had my fruit on stage with me. I told them, ĎLook, Iím out here winning souls. Yaíll are entertaining each other. Yaíll are having these conferences and mess and youíre not bringing in any new souls. Itís just you rapping for one another.í God did not intend for holy hip hop to be like the choir scene. Thatís what holy hip hop is turning into. Itís turning into a whole show-choir mentality, where you have Choir Day and itís all about who can sing the best and who puts on the best performance and nobodyís being won."
"If you look at the statistics of Christian music, it has stayed consistent for the past four years. That means that no new souls have been saved. The same people that bought before are buying now. People donít look at it like that but I do because I come from mainstream. I know that when you look at Soundscan, records, and demographics, youíre basically looking at a set of people that has not grown. Itís the same people buying the same records year after year. If people were getting saved, it would be an increase in sales. But people arenít getting saved. So therefore, itís the same number of people and youíre entertaining the same folks. No new people are coming to the Kingdom."
"Holy South is about building a Kingdom," continues Del. "Weíre about doing what Jesus told us to do in the Great Commission. He told us to go into the entire world and compel men to come to Christ. Youíve got to bring these souls in and people are not doing that. Thatís why Iím so sick of this whole gospel industry. I hate the politics of it. I hate the fact that Iíve got to make a church song to get on the radio. I hate the fact that youíve got to have a certain type of swagger to get into somebodyís church. Iím done with that. Iím at the point now where I go into cities and pay for a venue myself. Iíll go to a secular radio station, pay for commercials, say Ďitís Mr. Del formerly of Three 6 Mafiaí, and bring in people like that."
So what does it take to propel holy hip hop into the forefront of the music industry? "It takes real people who have a heart for Jesus and not for being famous," shares Del. "It also takes someone with money that has the same vision. I have an independent record label but I donít have the money that an EMI or a Bad Boy has to push this. Thatís all it takes. If you put money behind garbage, itís hot selling garbage. You can hear a horrible song on the radio but if itís in your face enough, it will sell. Itís all about the visual, the hook, and the package. And if someone with money would put it behind this. I feel bad because there are a lot of Christian millionaires out there that just donít see the vision for this. You have a lot of people with money that are Christians that arenít doing what theyíre supposed to do. But that makes it all the better because itís going to happen anyway because God is in control."
Mr. Delís latest project, titled HolySouth Worldwide is one of the most exciting and innovative hip-hop projects of 2004. While highlighting labelmates such as Willy Will and W.O.G., he also features veteran artists including the legendary Salt of Salt-n-Pepa. "Itís like a dream to be able to have a song, and a gospel song with Salt," shares Del. "That is so amazing to me. Salt actually came to my church. I prayed with and for her. I even bought her a Living Bible. We have a great relationship. Sheís a sweetheart. She has an album coming out and it was an honor working with her, as sheís also from the secular world. Plus, sheís one of my icons."
Del also continues an outstanding partnership with Christian mainstays Out of Eden. "Once I got saved, Out of Eden was one of the first groups that I heard about," reveals Del. "I fell in love with a song that they had called ĎMeditateí. Itís one of my favorite songs and it really helped a lot with worship. So it was an honor to know that they were fans of me. One day, I went to Lisa and mentioned that we should do a song together. She thought it was cool and said ĎLetís do ití. She had called me to be on her album first. After I was on her album, then I put them on Worldwide. That was an honor also because theyíre one of the biggest Christian groups. So on Worldwide, Iíve got the best of both worlds. Iíve got the hottest Christian and the hottest secular. I have legends from both worlds. Itís beautiful. I think itís a masterpiece. I just really hope that someone comes along and picks it up where the world can here it because itís a hot album."
One of the recent hot topics has been Kanye Westís "Jesus Walks" single from the College Dropout CD.
"I love it," proclaims Del. "He gets more respect from me than Ma$e because if a sinner can say Jesus and youíre an ordained pastor and youíre sugarcoating stuff? That hands-down, gavel hit, is it for me. The Bible says ĎLet every man that hath breath, praise ye the Lordí. We should not judge Kanye for doing that. Heís more of a Christian than some of these Christians are because he came out and said Jesus. Itís really no different from Noah being a righteous man declared by God but getting drunk after he got saved. Kanye is being as real as he is. I think itís up to us to find Kanye, go to Kanye at the shows, and just love him and minister to him because it is God who does the saving and not us. The only thing that I wouldíve changed about the song is that I donít think he shouldíve cursed in it. But then again, heís a sinner. What do you expect? So itís no place for me to even judge him. It takes a real Spirit-filled person to know that that boy is anointed. On the second verse where he said that he hopes it doesnít take away from his spins but it probably will, I felt the anointing every time he said that. When I saw him on BET, he went to shout on the stage. People wouldnít see that but if you look at that tape closely, he got to jumping and the anointing was on that stage. Anytime youíre up there with Yolanda Adams, who I know carries the anointing from the rooter to the tooter, you canít help but to be anointed and feel the fire of the Holy Spirit on that stage. He actually was feeling it up on that stage. And even in the video, I saw him feeling it then. I love Kanye and I totally support that song."
So what does the future hold for arguably the hardest working man in Holy Hip-Hop?
"2005 will be the year that youíll hear all of the solo projects from my artists," states Del. "Willy Will, W.O.G. are dropping in 2005. Right now, Iíve been so focused on pushing Mr. Del and the Holy South. Once you push the face and the movement, people will catch on to that. Then all of those people will fall under the umbrella. Itís the same principle in the world. First it was Tupac and he brought in the Outlaws. Biggie brought in the Junior Mafia, and 50 [Cent] brought in G-Unit. Same principle."
"Of course, Iím looking to do some things with Kanye," continues Del. "Iím also going to do an album called Kingdom Crunk. The album is going to be Holy South with all of the dirty South rappers.
Mr. Del is no stranger to success nor is he daunted by an extreme challenge. Given his track record, the sky is the limit for the Holy South mogul. So look for his next album, The Future, slated to drop in August, 2005. Collaborating with Atlanta-based mega-producers Organized Noize, The Future will be distributed worldwide by EMI Gospel.
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