Making Hits and Making a Difference – An Interview with Derek Minor

Grammy Award-winning music producer and Billboard Charting Hip Hop artist Derek Minor, who recently released multiple hit songs featuring an incredible lineup of artists including Aaron Cole and Eric Bellinger, has just announced his upcoming new album, Nobody’s Perfect. Fans are thrilled. And while this news is exciting in itself, the indie rap icon’s main goal is to make a lasting impact on the people that remain in the situations he came from. His music often explores provocative topics unpacking his own trauma, religious controversy, and issues affecting the Black community. But in spite of his often-heavy lyrics, he’s an extremely positive person! He’s passionate about coaching up-and-coming music artists and entrepreneurs. His Instagram followers enjoy a steady stream of humorous motivational content and he personally mentors a patron-only discord community named after his fourth album, Minorville. In addition to that, he aims to start the ultimate trend – and not the kind on social media, although a tweet he made about his wife did recently go viral with over 7 million views – but the trend of ownership. We Own Now, Ownership is the New Black is his effort to close the racial wealth gap by educating and activating the Black community to pursue ownership. Whether in music rights, stocks, or property, Minor, his team, and artist ambassadors KB and Lecrae are doing the work to see historic change by championing current Black owners and equipping this generation to truly become their ancestor’s wildest dream.  Did I mention he runs a record label and has dope merch? All of this, yet he somehow manages to be a husband and dad. As an artist/entrepreneur with my own crazy experience in the music industry now breaking into the indie scene, sitting before him felt like standing at the entrance of a mine. I wanted all the gems for myself – and the Tuned Up audience, of course! Here is just a bit of my interview with the Derek Minor:

Gabrielle: Hey, Derek! 

Derek: “Sorry I’m late!” (proceeds to recap a hilarious struggle to put his son to bed) “I’ve been lookin’ forward to this one all week!”

Gabrielle: (Laughs) “Thank you! That means a lot. To share a little about Tuned Up, the core vision was originally to give a place to faith-based artists that fall into the gaps and create a platform for the ones that don’t always fit into mainstream or Christian music industry spaces. You have a lot of value to offer other artists through your story. It’s really interesting that after being signed with Reach Records, you chose to do your own thing and own your own label. You’re out here doing so much and you’re still literally tucking your kids in before coming to meet me. I wanna talk about that, peek into your hustle, and really capture – why are you doing all this? And like.. what are you doing?!

Derek: (Laughs) “What am I doing and why am I doing it?! It’s funny that you say Tuned Up is about finding people in the margins who the world somewhat overlooks. In the comic books, the X-Men have these adversaries that live in the sewers..”

Gabrielle: “I know exactly what you’re talking about!”

Derek: “Yea, yea, I’m the king of them.”

Gabrielle: “That’s crazy because I think of musicians as superheroes and so this is like your hero origin story! But the Morlocks? Why are you one of them?”

Derek: “Because – that’s how I was raised. People from where I come from don’t make it in Christian art often.  A lot of trap rappers, people look at it like they’re braggin’ about the streets, but it’s more like they hit the lottery and so they’re braggin’ about where they came from. I don’t look at it like people are necessarily just glorifying death for that purpose… If you was on the brink of death and you looked around and all your homies is gettin’ shot up, sent to jail… and you make it? Yea, you gon’ take several victory laps. For me, it would be hard to talk about that in a way that would glorify it in any way because I was on the opposite side of it. My dad was on drugs, my stepdad was on drugs. We would come home and he had been done sold the couch, the tv, the car… and it wasn’t until I met my wife that I found out that wasn’t everybody’s experience.” (Bursts out laughing) “We talk about it all the time now, she’s like, ‘You don’t realize how intense the environment that you grew up in was!’ Cuz for me it’s just normal and it didn’t become abnormal until recently. I started workin’ on myself and realized I gotta de-couple myself from identifying with my trauma. So…I make music for them. Because the Christian community doesn’t understand them and they’re not pretty enough for the rest of the world. So I speak for them. I’m their representative. That’s how I look at it.

Gabrielle: “Thanks. Wow. I love that you used the Morlocks. You just won over so many nerds.”

Derek: (Laughs) “The Morlocks are so interesting to me because they are a group of people that society has forgotten about and they’re like, ‘Yo, we’re tired of bein’ underground.’ You know what I’m sayin’? They don’t have much but they’re extremely powerful. That’s the crazy part about it! They’re extremely powerful; they’re just under-resourced!”

Gabrielle: I really love that you said that. I want to hear your opinion on something. As you said, there are people who sound like they’re glorifying the streets, right? And you’re not doing that. But I feel like we live in a world of extremes. In Christianity, if certain people hear you talkin’ about the streets at all, they can judge you. To them, you’re just putting a Christian spin on gangsta rap and trying to get away with being a rapper and Christian at the same time. Have you ever dealt with confusion? Have you ever felt judged? Or were you always this confident?”  

“Pressure” music video featuring Aaron Cole and Thi’sl

Derek: “I would say that a lot of my career has been a frustration because I have very minimal passion for rapping about how pretty the sky is all the time, because… the sky hasn’t always been pretty. Up until this newest project I’m workin’ on, everybody would say, ‘Your music is so dark, Derek! You’re so heavy it makes me uncomfortable!’ It was crazy because those were the artists that I was drawn to. I looked up to artists like DMX and Tupac that had darker undertones to their music because I really related and I think I saw something others didn’t necessarily see. So in my mind, when it came to Christian music, it’s like ok… I come from an environment you’re supposed to evangelize to, so I’m gonna tell my story so you can understand that environment better. But all I did was make people uncomfortable. You don’t win awards for talkin’ about parents that are addicted to drugs. You don’t get a parade for talking about prostitutes…no one celebrates that… even though that’s the people we’re raising money to go help, right?”

Gabrielle: “Are you ever uncomfortable making people uncomfortable?”

Derek: “No. I do it for the Morlocks, the ones that no one speaks for –  because it makes them comfortable. You see, we all have very similar stories. It’s just that the people with the money are able to distract themselves and mask it a lot better. When you don’t have money, there’s no distractions except the ones people deem extremely negative. But, no, I don’t enjoy making people uncomfortable.”

Gabrielle: “Haha, not even a little?” 

Derek: “Nah, not really!” 

Gabrielle: “Have you ever felt rejected?”

Derek: “Of course! I don’t necessarily enjoy it, but it’s a part of my story so it is what it is. I’ve had to come to grips with the fact that I’m probably not everybody’s taste.  I have to be okay with that.”

Gabrielle: Derek, I feel like there’s such anguish inside people who are like you. They are like David in the secret place writing the ugly messy psalm and no one knows it’s going to end with praise.  But they can’t get to the praise because they’re feeling like there’s something wrong with being raw and honest because they are met with rejection from their brothers and sisters in Christ, ya know? Yet you’ve been able to forge your way and push through that. It might be the grit of the things you’ve been through that gave you blinders and made you not as affected, or maybe a turning point where you were like ‘F this! I gotta do it for the Morlocks!’ How were you able to press through and find confidence? Because so many people are trying to find the confidence to just be where they are.” 

Derek: “I’m affected now! You don’t see the confidence that you see because I’ve surpassed a level of rejection or judgment or any of that. What you see is a person who has embraced the discomfort. I’ve just embraced it. That’s what it is. I can only be who I am. Like, God made me a specific way. You seen the movie iRobot, right? There’s this scene… people hate that movie..but I love it…”

Gabrielle: “I love that movie!”

Derek: “I love the movie. Let me tell you why. Remember there’s this scene that there’s like thing behind this laser and he sticks his hand through the lasers and they burn him! But he says my skin has been made thicker… my creator made me this way for a purpose! And he grabs it out and he runs and gets it to Will Smith…I’m trynna remember the rest of the scene. But it’s that moment where you see. It’s like… I don’t fit in to typical church culture, and that’s okay because God made me that way. He didn’t make me to fit it. And that’s not to even judge those who do fit in. I’m thankful that there are people that do fit in in that way – but again, someone has to speak for the ones that nobody’s speaking for. That’s what wakes me up in the morning! It’s like Jeremiah when he says it’s like fire shut up in my bones. I wish sometimes I could be blissfully ignorant… and just be like you know what? I’m gonna make a song about God being like an ocean… or God bein’ like the winds and the waves… But for me, God is freakin’ Superman! He snatched me out of the fire! But there are so many people still in it. They’re still scared. Hurting. They still feel unseen. I wanna make them feel seen. I want them to know that this isn’t just a bunch of BS. That Christianity isn’t some oppressive, corporate faith. But it’s a faith that is ancient. And it’s a faith that has shifted and changed the world, liberating millions of people spiritually and physically. And the stories of Yeshua – I want people to know. I want people to have hope. And it’s in me. I can’t shake it. Even when I try to, I can’t.”

There was so much more to our conversation that lasted almost two hours and ended with my tearful reception of heart-to-heart advice and encouragement from Minor for my own journey. But this portion pretty much sums up the man whose music millions have come to love – the people’s champion, King of the Morlocks. Minor is one of the coolest people you’ll ever meet. His life loudly answers the cries of so many people searching for identity in this world. I won’t forget his sincere words and I wanted to share them with every person that finds this article, “You are worth the work.” So wake up and dress yourself in purpose every day. No matter what part of the journey you’re on, keep going and put in the work to get where you want to be. If you want to be personally mentored by him in a community of like-minded creatives, you can join his discord community through his Patreon! Follow his journey on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Author: Gabrielle Solange

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