Thursday, 03 September 2009 10:22 | Written by Danielle Campbell-Angah
sho-baraka-header

Sho Baraka. Rapper, church planter...author? The man has been keeping himself busy for the last several months with his part in the Don't Waste Your Life Tour, with Lecrae, Tedashii, Trip Lee and Flame, and he is now embarking on launching his church plant, Blueprint Church.

I had the opportunity to talk with Sho, via phone, about a week before the final DWYL concert, and before the debut of the Blueprint Church. He reported that the concert experience was wonderful, because it was the second time around traveling with the other MCs and they all had developed a deeper sense of camaraderie. (It didn't hurt, Sho said, that this year it wasn't necessary to fly.)


Sho was also encouraged by the conversations he had with concert goers following the shows, including one guy who had gotten into Christian hip-hop the year before and, at the concert, decided to give his life to Christ. “I want to change my life today and go hard,” Sho recalled the concert attendee saying. “I don't want to waste my life anymore.” This is clear feedback that folks heard the DWYL tour message and, ultimately, God's message.

Mentally and spiritually energized from his fellowship on the road with his Reach Records label mates and his outreach efforts during the often sold-out concerts (which reached as many as 30,000 fans, according to one estimate floating around before the final concert), Sho Baraka seems ready to roll up his sleeves to create more inspiring music, and also to reach souls for the Lord through his new church. And guess what? He has homework for us, too, from searching our hearts to thinking hard on what “Lions and Liars,” the title of his next album (which will be packaged with a book), could be about.

Danielle Campbell-Angah: From the tour, what stood out as far as a challenge Christians still face in bringing others to Jesus?

Sho Baraka: [During the time after the concert when the artists talk with people who want a new or better relationship with Christ, one person who came to the back identified himself as a youth pastor.] If you have talent, if you have a gift, if you can communicate well, you can get over in so many areas. All those things are substitutes for true worship, true devotion. It breaks my heart to have conversations with so many people who have been in church for years, and even have positions in churches, that they really don’t understand what it means to have a true devotion to the Lord. And that just breaks your heart. And you sit there, you’re like, 'What is going on with these men and women who are over them, who are teaching?' and basically it’s just we’ve learned the culture, but we haven’t gotten to the point where we’ve been rooted in the idea of who Christ really is.

DCA: That’s definitely a big problem.

How do you think the experience of the tour, the good and the bad, will shape your music in the future? I understand there should be an album coming next year?

SB: Yeah. It’s encouraging to be around four other artists, and then you have DJ Official on the bus with us, he’s a producer/DJ, and then we have my man Benjah, who is a sound engineer, who’s also a producer, writer and artist. You have no choice but to be challenged by people because not only are these wonderful men spiritually and intellectually, socially, but they’re great artists. So when you’re around somebody for three months heavy, you’re challenged. You get sharpened. I was really sharpened this summer by these dudes. One, the challenge to just put out better music. To come through and smash the album, pretty much. That’s my goal, to make music so when somebody grabs my album and looks at theirs, they’re like, 'Oh, their albums are terrible.' [Laughs.] Nah, but really just to make the best music I can possible. As far as an artist, you never want to feel like you’ve arrived, or feel like you can’t grow anymore. So that’s definitely one way I think it’s going to shape my music.

But when you see, when you go from city to city and you go from state to state, obviously there’s different cultures and there’s different types of people. The West is totally different from the South, the South’s totally different from the East and the North is different from all of them. So you kind of see socially and spiritually where people are, and how areas are drastically different. So that kind of shapes how you write, because you don’t want to be one dimensional and say, 'I’m making my music totally for this type of people.' And so you think about 'how can I write music that can challenge every gamut of people?' Just being able to travel and see different experiences, see great things, see things that trouble you. Now I know how to communicate. This is my second tour, because my first album came before the first [tour], so I’ve had two tours now and the opportunity of writing music in these experiences. So I think it’s going to be a huge advantage to me, man, of just being able to touch the felt needs of people.

"Higher Love" Sho Baraka (Turn My Life Up) Dim lights Embed
DCA: That’s cool. I know there are going to be a lot of people anticipating the album, me included.

SB: I hope I won’t disappoint.

DCA: No, I don’t think you will!

The day after the tour ends, I understand your church plant, the Blueprint Church, will have its first service. What can attendees expect when attending a Blueprint Church service?

SB: We’ll be having a church preview service. I think if people don’t walk away saying, 'These people make much of Jesus' and 'They make much of Sovereign God,' then we’ve failed. If they come thinking, 'This place is cool,' if they come walking away thinking, 'They have some great Christian hip-hop artists there,' if they walk away saying, 'The videos were tight,' that stuff is good, yes, wonderful; but if they don’t walk away either being challenged to grow more in their Christian faith, saying, 'Man, this is the community that I would love to be a part of,' or if they don’t walk away with a proper understanding of who Jesus is, and who God is and pointing toward Him and not toward ourselves, then we’ve missed the mark.

We have a tag that we go by that states ‘authentically connecting around Biblical truths.’ Our job is to authentically connect, but solely under Biblical truth. We don’t want to connect through being the urban church plant necessarily; we don’t want to connect solely under being people who can understand the hip-hop culture or who can understand the corporate market, or people who can understand Black history or Southern hospitality. We want to connect with people on all those different levels, but through Biblical authority and Biblical truth. How does Jesus live in contemporary culture? How do we flesh these things out? How do we relate our contemporary lifestyle with the Bible, and not vice versa? Ultimately, we want people to walk away saying, 'Those people talked about Jesus too much.'

DCA: [Laughs.]

SB: That’s Blueprint. The whole idea of the name is to be grounded in the blueprint of Scripture. You’re going to hear a gospel-centered message, you’re going to hear a God-centered message, God-centered singing, God-centered poetry, videos. We’re going to try to do an excellent production, but ultimately it’s all going to be for the glory of the Lord.

DCA: Absolutely.

The last new music that we’ve heard from you was your mix tape ['Barakaology']. The main theme was to encourage Christians to search themselves for any signs of legalism or any other kinds of attitudes or stances that could hinder them when it comes to helping others out or in their personal relationship with God. What advice do you have for people to overcome that kind of line of thinking?

Click cover to download "Barakaology" by Sho Baraka (must be registered and logged in) barakaology

SB: [The book of] Romans deals a lot with the idea that what a man thinks is true, just keep to yourself, pretty much. A lot of what people say over in contemporary Christianity is stuff that comes from either a cultural belief or a personal opinion. The ultimate idea is, is this righteousness? How do we obtain holiness? If [an issue someone wants to address is] an issue of righteousness or holiness, then yes. [If someone is displeasing God with an act, or exercising outside of the faith, then yes, they] should stop. But I think a lot of times we like to take things that we feel comfortable with, or things we don’t feel comfortable with, and put them under categories of wrongs and rights.

So ultimately what I was trying to communicate [on the mix tape] was that I think individuals should search their hearts and, upon searching your heart, realize that God has called us to live lives abundantly, full of joy and full of peace but, in the same light, making sure that we keep a standard of holiness and righteousness and not be legalist in any area of life.

God has given us grace and set us free for a purpose. Outside of that, once we have a proper understanding of God’s holiness and His righteousness, once we’ve esteemed Him above all things, because the ultimate thing is that people can fight for liberty, they can fight for things that they want to do and justify all day, but I think that the true mark of righteousness is when a man is willing to give up those things that he feels are rightly due to him for the benefit of others.

If I’m willing to give up my cultural stances, or things that I feel like I am privy to, for the benefit of others, then that to me is a sign of maturity and righteousness. Granted, yes, God has given us liberties and I think we should be able to exercise them, but I think ultimately, love and holiness and purity are the highest calling. If I feel like at in any moment in life that I am not living holy, that I am not living up to the standard of which God has called me to, and I am not exercising these things in love—not only directed toward Him, but to others—then I am missing the mark and there is definitely something that needs to change. If I am causing my brother to stumble and he is giving me great reason to consider my actions, then yes, I will [change my actions], but I think we like to throw people under the bus for things that have no Biblical value.

DCA: Sure. I was looking, I forget where it was on the Web, but it was somewhere you had posted a blog post, and there was a sentence [in the post] that was unclear, and there were all kinds of people who jumped on it like, 'This is wrong,' and I think somebody did raise the issue, 'Why are we doing this publicly? Just go behind the scenes and send an e-mail about it if you have confusion.' People get carried away with that kind of thing on the Internet, especially.

SB: Yeah, the Internet turns people into gangsters. [Laughs.]

Sho Baraka performing "Word" (from upcoming album "Lions and Liars") Dim lights Embed
DCA: Yeah. [Laughs.] Very true.

SB: Yeah, everybody’s a gangster behind their laptop, behind their screen. People talk tough through blogs, people talk tough through message boards. People can even talk tough through songs.

One thing I don’t want ever to get too caught up in is the idea of what people think of me, through Web and through blogs. Just like I can miscommunicate an aim of mine through blogs, people can be misunderstood in what they’re applying. I try not to get too hype. Matter of fact, I don’t read 90% of the stuff people write about me. There’s a huge chance I may not even read this interview, you know what I’m saying? [Laughs.]

DCA: [Laughs.]

SB: But the goal is I do want people to understand who I am, and I do want to put myself out there as an individual who is authentic, and so I don’t feel like I’m above reproach by any means. I do feel like I’m somebody who can rebuked and challenged on anything I put out there, because anybody who puts anything out in public should be able to be scrutinized and criticized. That doesn’t worry me at all, but what worries me is when people who find little reasons to bicker and argue, just because they feel it’s necessary just to be different and contentious. And that I see too much on blogs, I see too much on message boards and in music. People just want to be rebellious just for the fact that they could be rebellious and difficult.

To me, that’s a shame. You can easily be a gangsta on blogs and message boards, but people are afraid to communicate that stuff. You know how many people I meet who claim not to be Reach Records fans, or they criticize Reach publicly, but when you meet them in their face, it’s a whole different song they sing? And it just amazes me. Message boards, I just don’t like them. Obviously, you’ve kind of picked that up. [Laughs.]

DCA: [Laughs.] Just a little bit.

SB: I think there’s an issue of how we manage and control message boards, that people are saying ridiculous stuff without accountability.

DCA: Sure. One other interesting thing that I read on a message board recently—it wasn’t on the thing you had written; it was one something else—and one person had noticed all this bickering going back and forth, and they were like, ‘Wow, if we took this energy and we put it out into the world and we tried to reach people, that might be a little bit more effective.’

SB: Yeah. There’s a utopia that is created in message boards. One, you hide behind a pen name, nine times out of 10. Sometimes people have their real names and people know who they are, but you hide behind a name, but not only that, you’re speaking from 100,000 miles away from somebody. The likelihood of you probably meeting or running into an individual and having to communicate [your issue] face-to-face is zero to nil.

You have this world that you can create and communicate all the things that you believe and all the things you feel, but without even practicing them yourself. So you can sit there and you can criticize your artists, criticize pastors, you can criticize churches, criticize people, but the funny thing is these very same people who make all these great stances, I would love to see their lifestyle.

Even for Christian hip-hoppers. This is one of my biggest frustrations with Christian hip-hop. It’s so easy for you to make a song about doing something, it’s so easy for me to communicate it, but I would love to see the fleshing out. Too many dudes walk up to me after concerts, during concerts, see me on a day to day, wanting to be on, but they don’t understand the capacity of the diligence that it takes to live this lifestyle out yet. They just see somebody on stage rapping and they want to do that. They don’t understand the qualifications that I believe it should it take for an individual to have a platform like that. And not saying that it’s going to be perfect, not saying that we’re perfect, not saying that we’re out there 'killing the Christian game,' in the sense of living life perfectly, but we’re doing it under accountability and church authority, so it’s not like we’re aimlessly going to and fro, rapping about stuff that we don’t do.

DCA: That brought up a question for me: What advice do you have for people who want to be Christian rappers, or are people who are new to the faith, maybe who were rappers before and want to come in that way?

SB: I don’t have much to say to people who want to be Christian hip-hoppers. I know that’s kind of weird. If somebody wants to rap about the Lord, then do it. I know if somebody wants to be associated with me, and a part of Reach Records and they go to my church and they want to rap, there are some things we would ask of them. But I don’t expect other people to have those same philosophies and same stances; that’s why I don’t get too involved in invisible beefs that are out there, when people are like ‘this particular group of people don’t really like this particular group of people.’ I love all music. If people are doing Christian hip-hop, wonderful. And if they don’t do it the same way I do it, that’s fine. I don’t really have no problem with it. Do whatever they do. I just feel like we have a certain philosophy, and if you are going to roll with us, we would ask that you hold to certain philosophies also, just for the sake of the camp. But I do think the common denominator is that it should sound good, you know what I mean? [Laughs.]

DCA: Yeah, I hear you. [Laughs.]

SB: One common denominator, your lifestyle should obviously be a reflection of your music. Those are the two things. Now, whether or not you want to say 'Jesus' every other word, whether or not you want to work with secular producers, all that stuff, I don’t get into all that; I don’t get into debates of that stuff. Those are the artist’s and record label’s opinions and their decision. I think, one, [the artist’s] lifestyle should be a reflection of his music, so obviously, he should be living what he’s talking about, and two, it should sound good.

DCA: That makes a lot of sense. What’s next for you after the tour? Are we getting another mix tape before the album? Do you have anything else up your sleeves?

SB: Probably won’t be doing another mix tape before the album. I would like to, but I’m waiting on Official to drop his album. DJ Official is doing an album through Reach Records [called ‘EnterMission’] where he’s featuring many artists—not just Reach artists but different artists—on his album, so I’ll be featured on there.

I’m obviously going to be very busy with the church plant. We’re just going to be trying to grind as far as making [my solo] album a good album sonically, that is different from anything you’ve heard. I’m excited about it. The title is going to be 'Lions and Liars.' We’re excited about it. It’s probably not out until early 2010. That’s kind of like what we’re working on right now. Everybody should go ahead and start saving money now, so they can buy it, ‘cause I think I’m gonna charge $30 for it. It’s gonna be that good. [Laughs.]

I’m also offering more than just the album. I’m working on a book that’s gonna go along with the album. So hopefully, some time as the dates get closer, I can probably talk more specifically on the album—the title of the album, what it means, and the reason that I’m packaging a book with it. I’m very excited about it.

shobaraka-lionsandliars


DCA: It sounds like that’ll be interesting! Basically that’s all I have. Is there anything else that you’d like to say to your fans, or anything to people who are in need of a relationship with God, or people who want an improved relationship?

SB: Those who feel like they have a relationship with the Lord, I would say never become complacent. Run hard after him, seeking His face constantly. I think it’s very important that you put yourself in a healthy community of believers, those individuals who also esteem the Scriptures highly, who esteem the Lord above all things. People who fight for the right stuff, who don’t fight for the lights and cameras and action but they fight for the glory of God. That you constantly stay in prayer, and you constantly find yourself in the Scriptures.

To those who don’t know the Lord and may be coming to Da South, I would say recognize that there is a problem with you and God, and God can only do one of two things. He can either accept you as His child, or he can punish you for your sins, and the only way He’s gonna accept you as His child is by trusting and believing that His son, Jesus Christ, became a sacrifice for your sins on the cross. You don’t want to face God at the end, because you will lose that match.

And then I would tell them to go buy 'Turn My Life Up,' because it’s bangin’!

DCA: [Laughs.] There you go!

SB: All righty.

DCA: OK, that sounds good. Thank you again for your time! I really appreciate it.

SB: Thank you.

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