It’s hard to imagine, but Reach Records artist Trip Lee is closing in on a decade as a Christian hip-hop artist despite just recently hitting the quarter-century mark. Despite his young age, the 116 Clique member has already accomplished more than most 20-somethings and has bigger goals set for the future.
In this Whole Notes interview, Trip Lee talks about his first introduction to music, the turning point that led him to Christ, his relationship with Lecrae and the 116 Clique and why awards and radio play aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things:
Chad Bonham: Tell me a little bit about how you got into music.
Trip Lee: My dad loved music and he passed that on to me. I fell in love with hip-hop the first time I heard it. I started writing raps at a young age. I wasn’t a Christian at that point. I thought I was but I don’t think I was looking back on it. I didn’t understand at all what Jesus had done for me and that my sins had been paid for. So the stuff that really filled my heart and excited me the most was myself. I was self-centered. So I’d rap about how hot I thought I was, how many girls I thought I could get, or whatever.
Bonham: When do you have that first authentic experience with Christ?
Trip Lee: I was about 14 when I became a Christian. I had been going to youth group and I’d heard the Gospel preached and then suddenly it all started to click. God opened my eyes to see Jesus for who He really was. After I trusted Christ, the Lord changed my entire perspective on everything. I started thinking about how I should relate to my parents and how I should approach school and even what it meant for the music I was writing. How could I write my music in a way that would glorify the God that had changed me?
Bonham Who were some of your early musical influences?
Trip Lee: My favorite artist was probably Jay-Z. He’s the one who inspired me to start writing music. He’s a wordsmith. He’s very clever. He uses a lot of similes and metaphors. He’s a beast of a rapper. Other than that, I was influenced by a lot of diverse within hip-hop whether that was some of the Southern artists like Outkast or guys from the East Coast. I was just a lover of hip-hop. I just took so much of it in.
Bonham: Who were some of the Christian hip-hop artists that impacted you when you first hit the scene?
Trip Lee: The Cross Movement was a group that was a huge encouragement to me. The music was good. The content was good. It really spoke to my soul. It was good to have them around as someone I could learn from and really pattern myself after.
Bonham: Is it odd that you’re in your mid-20s but technically you can be considered a veteran within the industry?
Trip Lee: It is kind of weird. I’ve been doing it for a long time, even though I’m so young. There are some other guys my age that are just putting out their first album. It just makes me think that the Lord was gracious to me in a special way by allowing me to get started so young.
Bonham: How did you meet Lecrae and how did that become a watershed moment in your life?
Trip Lee: I met him when I was about 15 or 16 at a concert. It was the first time I’d heard his music. I loved it. They were like a Southern version of the Cross Movement. He was with Tedashii and B.J. I found a way to stay in contact with them and build a relationship with him. He mentored me and discipled me. It was very helpful. After a while, we started to collaborate on some music. I was still in high school at the time when I had the chance to record a song for a compilation and then I started working on my first album for Reach Records when I was a senior in high school.
Bonham: Were you excited when he was nominated for the GMA Artist of the Year award and later the Grammy Award?
Trip Lee: I’m really grateful for all the success the Lord has given him. Neither one of us are going to define success by awards and nominations although we do think that stuff is cool because it gets the word out and it helps us to get the message out. So we do think that’s a good thing. I can say very sincerely that I can rejoice with my brother in every little thing that happens as the Lord continues to expand his platform. We’re in this to do the same thing. I keep praying that the Lord will keep doing it.
Bonham: Tell me a little bit about the shared purpose within the 116 Clique and how you keep each other accountable to the vision that God has for your individual and collective ministries.
Trip Lee: We do hip-hop and we want to do it in a way that honors God. We love Jesus and we want to bring people along for the journey. We’re running towards Christ and we want to bring people along with us and share with them the things that we’ve learned. But we’re also good friends. We have a genuine love for each other. I would hate to be on the road with folks that I didn’t enjoy and I didn’t like. That just hasn’t been an issue for me. These guys all love the Lord and we’re trying to help each other follow Jesus. I’m grateful to have them with me on the road.
Bonham: What were you hearing from God when you recorded your most recent album The Good Life?
Trip Lee: There are so many lies out there about what the good life is whether that’s making as much money as you can or just being the best you can be. I just wanted to challenge those lies and look at what God says the good life is in His Word. He says that the good life is about believing in God and embracing everything that He has for us. That’s the new picture of the good life that I wanted to paint—living the way that God created us to live. That’s what the good life is. I wanted to paint little pictures and take some snapshots of the good life.
Bonham: How have you matured as an artist and as a believer in recent months and years?
Trip Lee: As an artist, I always just want to grow as a songwriter. I listen to a lot of music. Some guys don’t listen to music a lot, which is fine, but I’m the kind of dude that listens to music all the time, whether it’s hip-hop or soul or rock or whatever. I’m always listening to music and trying to learn from other songwriters and how they tap into certain emotions and communicate more clearly. I want to connect with people in a deeper way so that the content can impact folks. As a believer, the Lord is growing me every single day. I’m married and I’m really grateful for my wife. The Lord has been using her to make me more like Jesus. I have a new son and I’m really grateful for that. I’m grateful to be in DC. We stayed here because we love the church here and this is a good community for us to be a part of. I’m grateful for what the Lord is doing in my life.
Bonham: What is the significance of the orange stripe on the album cover?
Trip Lee: It’s the same stripe across the robot that says I’m not a robot. We were all born robots. We were all born slaves to our sin. We did what the flesh and what the devil told us to do. For those of us that have been freed by Jesus, we don’t have to be robots. We’ve been freed up to follow Christ instead of the world. And then across the cover it means that the good life begins with Christ and ends with me. I need to stop following me and stop trying to make life all about me. That slash through my face represents that.
Bonham: How did you get together with Jimmy Needham and how has that musical relationship worked?
Trip Lee: Jimmy Needham and I have been friends for several years. My wife liked his music and I listened to it and I liked it too. I was encouraged by the content and the boldness. I hit him up on Myspace. Remember that? (Laughs) I hit him up on Myspace and we connected and started to build a friendship. We’re fans of each other’s music and we ended up having shows at the same places and we linked up. We started writing some songs together back in 2010 and we wrote one from his and one for mine. The same thing happened again last year.
Bonham: What are the biggest challenges that the young people you meet are facing these days?
Trip Lee: We just did an album called Man Up because we saw a crisis of manhood in our culture. Young men just don’t know what it means to be a man. There are so many lies about what it means to be a man whether that be get a bunch of girls or get a bunch of money or don’t cry and don’t have emotions. Nobody is teaching them how to be men. We wanted to take the initiative to try to confront that issue. It’s not that we have the answers to everything, but we do feel like God’s Word has the answers. That’s one of the biggest issues we’ve had on our hearts. We’re praying that God will raise up godly men across the country and the world.
Bonham: How did the Trayvon Martin situation in Florida impact you and the guys from the 116 Clique?
Trip Lee: When stuff like this happens, it breaks your heart and reminds you how much you can’t wait until Jesus comes back. Folks need the Gospel. We need to have our hearts changed. We see people from a skewed point of view. We need to see people the way God sees them. Instead of attacking people, we need to love people. It lights a fire under me because it’s a reminder of why we need the Gospel. Our hearts are so corrupt. But one day Jesus is going to come back and reign with perfect justice. There will be no questions about what’s happened. There will be perfect justice and I look forward to that day.
Bonham: How do you deal with multi-sided attack on Christian hip-hop?
Trip Lee: My goal has been to faithful to what God has called me to do. My job is not to make sure that everybody loves what I do. It does feel like sometimes that we’re the outcasts. Hip-hop doesn’t want to mess with us because we’re Christians and Christian music doesn’t want to mess with us because we’re hip-hop. I knew that when I got started. I didn’t expect to have my music played on the radio. I also didn’t expect for anything to be as successful as it has been. I know for sure that God can do whatever He wants to do. He’s called me to be faithful to do good art, to lift up Jesus and that’s what I’m going to do and I’ll let the Lord take care of the rest.
Bonham: So it’s all about staying focused on the big picture?
Trip Lee: Absolutely. None of us started doing this so we could hear our music played on the radio. None of us started doing this because we wanted to be recognized with awards. All of that stuff is good and we’re grateful for it. I’m thankful when those things happen and I hope they happen again, but that’s not why we started doing this. I might not win a Grammy or get another Stellar Award but I’ll get my rewards from the Lord. There’s nothing better than that.
Stay up with the latest from Trip Lee and the entire Reach Records family and 116 Clique by visiting the official website HERE.