Trip Lee is a rapper, pastor, author, and public speaker signed to Reach Records whose fifth album, Rise, dropped October 27, 2014 and rose up to the No. 1 spot on the iTunes hip-hop chart.
The release of Rise came as a welcome surprise to many fans who heard rumors of Trip’s retirement after his last album The Good Life, released in 2012. He recently revealed that he has been struggling with chronic fatigue disorder that can exhaust him so heavily that he physically can’t get out of bed.
Couple that with the stresses of touring, pastoring at his home church in Washington D.C., and being a father to two young children, it’s no wonder Trip, 26, needed to take some time off.
But instead of only releasing a new album, Trip also wrote a book entitled Rise that was released in January 2015. From almost retiring to cranking out an album and a book, Trip has a lot he could be bragging about. We talk to him about his comeback, his new album, his influences, and why he only brags on Jesus.
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SB: There tends to be a divide between the ‘secular’ and ‘Christian’ music scenes, but you have said many times that you are a rapper who is a Christian, not a ‘Christian rapper.’ So, what are some ‘secular’ albums that have had a major influence on you and your music?
TL: Jay Z’s The Blueprint was one of the albums that made me want to be lyrical and make people think with my music. There’s so much content in it that I would disagree with, but artistically what he was able to do with the production of it made it feel like one piece. It’s a classic album, I love that record.
Stevie Wonder has so many records that I love. I feel like he really captures and speaks to people’s emotions well. One of my favorites would be Fulfillingness’ First Finale.
John Mayer’s Continuum record is one that I’ve listened to a lot and learned from a lot in terms of songwriting. These are all albums where I love every song. That really influences how I do a record because I want people to love every single song, I want them to fit together well, and I want the theme to tie together.
As far as current albums go, Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d City, is a classic hip-hop record. One of the things I like about it, even though I disagree with some of his conclusions, is that he is really exploring a lot of stuff about God and religion. You really get to hear his perspective on things and his story and what he’s wrestled through. The production is great, he’s an incredible MC, and he’s a great storyteller. That’s one of the recent albums that I’ve loved that has influenced me.
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SB: It’s been a few years since your last album, and there was a lot of talk of your possible retirement. When did you decide that you could start on a new album and how did you have time to write a book along with it?
TL: I stepped away so I could give time to pastoral ministry at my church. I found it was impossible to be engaged and be gone a lot. It was hard to walk with people and be on the road so much. But then I started to see that I had a little bit of extra time in my pastoral schedule to work on another record. And it was burdening me, I’ve been doing this since I was a little kid, so I was going to write stuff regardless. So I thought ‘Man if I’m writing stuff and I do have a little bit of extra time, I wonder if I could do a record. What if I started really really slow to sort of chip away at it.’ And that’s what I did, I worked a lot slower so it took me a little bit over a year to make this new record.
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SB: For this album you worked exclusively with Gawvi who produced “Nuthin” on Lecrae’s recent Billboard No. 1 album Anomaly. What was it like working with just one other guy and do you prefer it to the other ways you have recorded in the past?
TL: It was very different, man. In the past I would think of a certain kind of beat and I would reach out to a specific producer. It’s almost like contracting certain guys for certain songs. In this case, me and him made the entire album together. We pushed each other and we were in the studio together a lot. He has a drive that I love in producers where he just wants to do new stuff and switch it up. It was an incredible process and we are already talking about the possibilities of doing another together. I liked it 100 times better [than the other way of working.]
A lot of classic albums have been made with just one producer, like Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones with Thriller or Justin Timberlake and Timbaland. There’s a good history of artists working with one producer, especially within hip-hop.
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SB: This is your fifth album, you’ve been making records for almost a decade now. How do you determine whether an album is successful for you and has that changed over time?
TL: That used to be a lot easier answer when we were really small. When we were really small I was just like ‘Yeah I want people’s lives to be impacted and I don’t care who gets it.’
As stuff grows, people care about numbers. It used to be a different world when we were smaller. That’s a good question that I’ve asked myself a lot on weeks like this when I’ve got so much going on. You do want a lot of people to grab that album because that means the art you put a lot of work into, a lot of people get to enjoy it and get to be encouraged by it. The main way I think about it is whether I’ve been faithful in what God has called me to do in making good art.
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SB: You’ve focused a lot on the idea of bragging throughout your career. Your website is called Built to Bragand one of your most popular songs is “Brag on My Lord”, why is that an idea that you focus on?
TL: I’m a rapper, that’s what rappers do. Bragging and boasting is big in hip-hop. That’s one thing that we all do by nature, we want to point to ourselves and we want people to see how amazing we are. I want to switch people’s attention to think about how all of life is us being created for the sake of bragging on God. We were created for God’s glory. God made us to point out how great he is. So instead of saying ‘Look at me, look at the stuff I can do, aren’t I great?’, every single moment is given to us to do the same thing for God’s glory. Like, ‘Look at what God has done, look at what God is like, look at what God has revealed and look at how amazing he is.’ I want to use my words, my ministry to do that myself and to encourage other people to do it as well.
Trip tells us a bit more about Rise:
“I really do love the album. I think I was able to make a solid album. I try to be faithful to say true things and point people to the truth and point them to the things they should value to impact lives and encourage hurting people. That’s the main way I try to think about success, whether or not I was faithful to do what I was supposed to do. And then the other thing is that I have to pray that God will get it into a lot of people’s hands and that it will make cultural impact and I just leave that in God’s hands. Otherwise I’ll drive myself crazy and I’ll personally feel like a failure if it doesn’t sell this many or do this or that, which would be the wrong way for me to look at it.”
How he finds time to be a father and husband:
“I could do 300 shows a year…but if I do that I wouldn’t be faithful in other parts of my life. Being an artist is not my life, it’s not my identity, it’s just part of who I am….I’m a man created by God, I’m a Christian, a follower of Jesus, I’m a husband and father, I’m a church member, and I’m a pastor. If I just do every single thing that people want me to do as an artist then there’s no way I’ll be able to be faithful in those other areas.”