Leading up to the debut of UYWI’s newest podcast, “Monday Morning Church,” UYWI guest writer, Susan Tripi DeLano sat down with Darius West, Kingdom Minister and director of the upcoming documentary, “MIC DROP: The Culture Of Christian Hip Hop.” Darius is uniquely equipped to lead the first season of “Monday Morning Church,” as he possesses a tremendous passion for ministry and entertainment for the millennial generation, to help guide them into understanding the importance of having a vision to grasp the purpose and destiny for their lives. His charisma and dynamic teaching gift captivates audiences as he speaks about the relevance of the Kingdom of God for this generation. In the interview below, West discusses what he hopes to achieve with Monday Morning Church, alongside diving into the making and inspiration behind his upcoming documentary.
Q & A
Susan: I am Susan Tripi DeLano, a guest writer for Urban Youth Workers Institute, and I am here today with Darius West, the director of the upcoming documentary, “MIC DROP: The Culture Of Christian Hip Hop.” Welcome, Darius, and thank you for joining us today.
Darius: Thank you for having me.
Susan: You’re so welcome. We are so excited about the release of this documentary and what this means, not only in terms of continuing the voice and continuing the message and continuing the legacy of Christian hip-hop on urban youth culture but also having your expertise in this area to be able to shine a light and share with us why it’s so important to honor those who have come before and their influence in projecting the Christian hip-hop movement forward.
Susan: Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself? Where do you come from? What has been your experience in urban culture and Christian hip-hop?
Darius: I grew up in the South. Charlotte, North Carolina is where I was born and raised. And I was, what we call in the South, a “church boy.” So everything I knew was church; Everything I knew had to do with Christianity. But it wasn’t until we moved to Oklahoma in 1988/1989 that I got exposed to Christian hip-hop. The first person I was exposed to was Stephen Wiley, ‘cause he was the very first individual that had a record deal in ’85, so I got exposed to his ministry in ’88 ’89. Then that opened up the door for other opportunities to check out the other people like SFC, Michael Peace, Dynamic Twins, Idol Kings, Freedom of Soul, and the list goes on. So I became engrossed into the Christian hip hop genre at the time. At the time it was just really called gospel rap. I think what drew me more towards gospel rap, you know, those guys who were more urban is because I came from an urban type of community in Charlotte. So you know, although my mom and my grandma didn’t allow Eric B and Rakim or LL Cool J in the house, we still heard it at our friends’ house and we heard in the streets through the ghetto blasters and stuff. So, I was a church boy, but I was also a street boy; wise to the streets but also committed to God. So because I had that fervor about me, it was a no brainer to delve into Christian hip hop and the culture was what it was in the early eighties and early nineties. So that’s kind of how I got exposed to that genre.
Susan: And so, does that form the basis of how this became a passion project for you? Like, it’s clear that this documentary is a passion project for you and so can you share with us a little bit about why it was so important to make this documentary and to make it now?
Darius: Yeah. Initially, to be honest, I was a film student in LA, starting in 2013 and before moving to LA from San Diego, one of my good friends, and actually, my big brother in the industry, Michael Anthony Taylor, — he’s executive producer for “MIC DROP.” He owns Black Lava Films and he’s our connection to Warner music. And that’s why we have distribution with Warner Music, which is a big deal — but I inquired of him when I was thinking about going to film school and he said, “Hey, you need to move to an industry city. You need to move to LA, you need to move to New York.” So he guided me throughout that process.
When I was finishing up film school, he approached me with the idea of a documentary about Christian hip-hop. At the time we were connected with ETW and Mike Hill and they wanted to do a story around their experience as a Christian hip hop group. So I came on initially just as the editor, post-production guy, and the director. So through the course of the process, over about a year and a half, things didn’t work out and we ended up saying, well, let’s do two separate films. So that’s when it became my passion because then I began to think about my experience in Christian hip hop, not just listening to the music because at the time I also had a Christian hip hop rap group called DMT, Destiny Manifesting in Time, and we had the same manager as ETW and D.O.C.
I was a dancer at the time, so I would dance behind a lot of these groups like Dynamic Twins, Idol K.I.N.G., SFC. When these groups came to town, me and my partner, we’d be the ones dancing behind them. That’s actually in the documentary, where D.O.C. mentions that and then shows a little clip of me dancing behind them in a like Kwame outfit of polka dots. So, at a young age, you’re talking like 16, 17, 18, I was in the midst of it.
At the time I wasn’t thinking about how these guys were pioneers, but now that I look back, I was in the midst of these pioneers, and I was in the midst of what was happening. I mean, because I just had a passion for young people and a passion to minister to young people; it’s always been my heart. And so, looking back at that, I’m like, ‘Wow! I have more to say [in this documentary] than I thought I did.’ And that’s when it became a passion of mine, you know? So from 2016 up to this point, it was really to tell the story, not only just from my viewpoint, but also listen to the millennials today to get their understanding. That’s why in the documentary it is not just interviews from some of the pioneers of Christian hip-hop, but there’s also a concert that we shot in Dallas with three millennial Christian hip-hop artists who are not signed, but they have a really good social media presence and influence.
Darius: One of the main guys, Adrion Butler, who is my god-brother, he was five years old watching me do what I do and, and now, when I reached out to him, he always say, “Man, I used to watch you guys. I thought you guys were like superstars.” You know, we just were doing what we did for young people. You know what I’m saying? And so, to see that the ministry that we were doing at that time in the late eighties to the early to mid-nineties was very impactful for him to now as a Christian hip-hop artist, he alludes to those things. That same message is in this film.
Through this documentary, we want to pay homage to the people who blazed the trails for Christian hip-hop. We want to, and I think in the Christian hip hop industry, not just hip hop, but just in Christian music in general, we don’t do that. You know, not like in the mainstream, the mainstream, they do that. They bring these guys in. They still have concerts; they record on other people’s albums. But in Christian music, for whatever reason, we just don’t do it. So, I want to set a precedence with this documentary that for Christian hip hop, although LeCrae is big and these guys are big, it didn’t start with these guys. We have to know where the story began so we know where we are and where we can go from here.
Susan: That is such an important distinction to clarify and to make. So, I would love to give you time to share about why is it so important to pay homage to the trailblazers, to those who sacrificed, to those who struggled, to those artists that paved the way and essentially laid the groundwork for this genre to grow, expand and explore beyond what it originally was, to what it is becoming, and how it’s evolving now. Can you share a little bit about why this is so important and why is it important for youth, in particular, to recognize the roots?
Darius: I think the short answer to that, and I’ll elaborate on that after I make this statement, is that I want young people today to understand that there’s a process. We live in a generation, and we live in a time where everything is quick-quick-quick. And so they don’t understand that there’s work that has to be done that no one sees before you’re seen, you know?
Everybody’s time comes. You know, the guy Fred Lynch from P.I.D., he hosted the concert in Dallas that is in the film, and one of the things he said while addressing the audience, is this: “You know we dreamed about this day 30 years ago.” You know, they dreamed about being in a club, not just in a church, and actually doing Christian hip-hop concerts. They dreamed about that and now the new guys are living in the dream that they had.
Same with Martin Luther King. He had a dream. He never saw it happen, but he had a dream. And now we’re living that today—whites and blacks and Hispanics and everybody doing it together. Interracial marriage wasn’t happening back then like it is now. The same with Moses. Moses had a dream; he wanted to go to the Promised Land; he didn’t make it, but Joshua went in.
So it’s understanding that there are people who sacrifice for what you have now. I want young people to understand that nothing in life is instantaneous. Only salvation is instantaneous, but everything else is a process. Even to become a disciple is a process, you know? So, understanding by paying homage to these individuals is more so to understand what they had to do with what you’re seeing as fruit now.
Susan: Awesome. Because this documentary covers such a long span of time and because you have grown up in this movement and you’re seeing it evolve and you’re seeing it change and you’re seeing it grow, can you share with me a little bit about what are some of the core tenants of Christian hip-hop as it has influenced urban youth culture specifically? And then, how are you seeing those tenants change to stay relevant to the culture now?
Darius: So, the first question, how do I see Christian hip-hop has influenced youth culture today, in general, I think it’s kind of twofold because one of the things that is implemented in this documentary amongst some of the guys is that they did not know Christ at one time, but once they came to know Christ and then they rid themselves of their old lifestyle, then they said: “well, we love hip hop, but there’s nothing out here for us to listen to.” So, I would say hip hop music influenced these young guys to say let’s use this method to minister to the young people because this is all we know. You know what I’m saying? We grew up in this. So why throw this away and say this is not of God. Why?
You know, I have a plaque hanging up back there from my days when I used to dance with Carman. So I was a part of the CCM genre too. I was a part of that industry. Carmen told me this a long time ago, I was probably 19 or 20. He said, “If you look at the book of Psalms, there’s lyrics, but there’s no music sheets. As long as the message is still the same, the music and the method can always change.” And I think the way Christian hip-hop has influenced urban youth today in the body of Christ is that we’ve used a method that could reach them. CCM couldn’t reach. We use it as a tool, as a ministry to say this is a bait for fishers of men. Christian hip hop is the bait that we’re using to bring you to the light of Christ; we’re bringing you to the Kingdom. This is how we’re going to use this method.
I think it has influenced urban youth because it’s like we don’t really have to go to the mainstream. We can actually listen to our own music and say, this is just as good. And I think the level of production and the lyricists has increased over the years. Now we see the LaCraes, Trip Lees, and Sevins, who are good with their lyrics and their delivery, but the thing I always say is, make sure the message doesn’t change. You know, it doesn’t matter if you call yourself a Christian rapper or not, whatever, that’s a label, that’s a tag. But make sure your message does not change because the moment your message changes, then that means you’ve lost what it was that serves as the reason why you got into this in the first place.
Susan: Yeah. And so that is a great segue to the next question that I have for you which centers around is Christian hip-hop still relevant? You know, in an age of #MeToo, in an age of #BlackLivesMatters, in an age where youth, in particular millennials and below them, are distancing themselves from the church and faith because they are not connecting with its relevance and importance for their lives for political reasons, for social reasons, I mean, we can spend a whole hour just talking about the reasons why they are leaving the church, but in an age where there are such high rates of anxiety in youth and young adults across this country and there’s a real uncertainty and fear over future security, financial security, job security, family security… would you say Christian hip hop is still relevant today?
Darius: Oh, definitely. Just like hip-hop is relevant, too. Fred Lynch says in the documentary, “I have a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, so I can combine the two.” In other words, you gotta know what’s going on in the Word of God. You’ve got to know your Word, but you also have to know what’s going on in society. Then, when you deliver your message, it’s not just “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” It’s like, well, I got to meet you where you are, wherever you, and with what are you dealing with — financially what you’re dealing with? Home wise, is there abuse? I have to speak to those things. So we have to be wise in our delivery because we have to know that, okay, I can talk about these things, but what makes me different than someone else who talks about these things? Well, because I have an answer to what they’re going through, but I have to first address what they’re going through, then use it to present the answer, to present the solution to what they are going through. So I think Christian hip hop more than anything is much more relevant than just hip hop because hip hop just talks about it. But we can talk about it and give you a solution to this situation.
Susan: So, based on the extensive information gathering and deep dive that you have done in “MIC DROP.”, and having grown up in Christian hip-hop scene, can you kind of educate us a little bit on how and why there is a noticeable lack of female participation in this medium and why do you think this is? What factors are contributing to the lack of a female presence in Christian hip hop in particular? We know that there are many women and young girls that are anointed, they have this ability, they have this gift, but from a representational position, there are very few women who have been elevated in this medium. And so what do you think that might be?
Darius: I’ll answer that question after I make this statement. One of the artists that we highlight in this film, probably more so than the other two artists that are rapping in the concert, is a young artist named ShySpeaks. She’s powerful, she’s anointed, and her presence is felt. Matter of fact, the theme song throughout this film that’s used is her voice from the beginning to the end. And I did that on purpose because like you say, it is a male-dominated genre and we, for whatever reason, have not lifted or highlighted the female presence in this genre. And I’m hoping and believing that with “MIC DROP.”, this documentary helps to bring a light to say women are here as well. They’re not, you know, waiting for their opportunity, they’re paving the way for their opportunity.
But, I think to answer your question is people think from a business standpoint, it’s all about marketability. How can we market this to an audience or a demographic and the Christian music industry that’s currently not used to seeing female rap artists? Most of the female artists they know in hip-hop is like the Little Kim’s or Cardi B’s. So, they develop an image of female artists, “Oh, I don’t know about that” or “we’re not sure what they’re going to do” or “we’re not sure what they’re going to wear,” you know, that kind of thing. I think from a religious mindset that may come across in business decisions, but I’m hoping and believing that with this documentary that people experience the anointing and the ministry that comes off that screen. And the ministry takes place from people Like ShySpeaks and Love Nindo and Adrion Butler, and it’s exciting because this is the roots and the grassroots of Christian hip-hop. It’s not about the lights, it’s not about the pyro techniques, that’s all good. But that’s all show. Once the lights turn off what are you actually saying? And that’s what we want to portray. And I think Adrion Butler, ShySpeaks, and Love Nindo, they did an excellent job of doing that in this documentary. It would not be the documentary it is without them. And I just want to make sure I make that very clear.
Susan: Now, Darius, when you’re now making films, what else do you like to do and how do you spend your time?
Darius: When I’m not making films or editing or doing anything that has to do with video, I just enjoy spending time with family, watching Martin with my daughters and laughing and just hanging out with my wife. My wife and I, we stay to a pretty stringent schedule in that every Tuesday night is our date night. So we go to the AMC because, you know, it’s the $6 movie night.
I think for me it is always doing my best to create a balance. And when there’s an issue, like I had a situation, and I’m just being transparent here, where I took my oldest daughter to the mall and we looked at some clothes and things like that, and went to go eat. She had complained later to my wife that, “Daddy was on his phone most of the time, it’s like he wasn’t really hanging out with me.” And that’s like, ‘Oh man, you know what? She’s right.’ So I made sure to address all three of our daughters to let them know that when daddy is with you, his full attention is going to be on you. Cause you know the busyness of life, it’s just one of those things. But I understand the balance and the importance of my daughters seeing that; I still want to make sure that balance is there in the family.
Susan: Yes, and that’s such an important lesson for youth to recognize as well because they are consumed with messages that every waking moment should be dedicated to “something” — something to help them get to where they want to be in life, and that’s not necessarily a healthy lifestyle, that’s not a healthy way to sustain what you’re doing and nor is it the way that God wants us to interact; he wants us to be in relationship with family, with community, with friends and not just solely focused on using the gifts that we’ve been given us for a career path. So that’s a really important message for your daughters and youth in general. It’s finding that balance in their life as well.
Can you share a little bit with us about your role as a Kingdom Minister and what that means and how you live that out?
Darius: My role as a kingdom minister, first and foremost, is that I’m just a teacher. But “teacher” doesn’t sound sexy so it’s like, we’ve got to find another term. But really, my motivation in this gift of teaching is to challenge people’s thinking, is to challenge them to get rid of their embedded theologies and look at the word and study the word for yourself and know it for yourself.
I think we’re dealing with a lot of young people now today who are going to church and their scripture life is just based upon what the pastor says; they see the scriptures on the screen and the length of their study is based upon what they saw on Sunday morning and then talk about it during a neighbor or home group and that’s it. Well, that is great for new believers in a sense, but for us to make disciples, we have to be learned ones. That’s what the original Greek means “to be a learned one.” So that’s my motivation. I want us to learn.
For me, as a kingdom minister, the emphasis is on the Kingdom. It is understanding what Christ meant when he spoke about the Kingdom of God. And because we live in a democracy, we don’t understand the kingdom structure.
It amazes me how throughout the Bible, God speaks of himself in characteristics, in terms of an Eagle, speaks of himself in terms of a Lion and speaks of Christ as Lamb. So we studied those things and we’ve talked about that stuff all the time. But the one thing that God speaks about more than anything, and Christ more than anything, is about the King and the kingdom. But we don’t explore it. I’m exploring what a Kingdom is, what a King is because the Bible is about a king, a kingdom and his royal family. And we have to look at it from those eyes to understand the concepts and the parables. Even Jesus, he says, the kingdom of heaven is like a kingdom that does this… The kingdom of heaven is like… So he keeps giving us these clues or these principles within these parables throughout scripture of what the kingdom of God is really like. But we don’t explore those things. So that’s me. I’m exploring those things so I can teach and it opens people’s eyes to understanding about the Kingdom. I want to search for the Kingdom. I want to find out what Jesus meant when he says, “If you seek first the kingdom of God, then all these things…” so he just keeps telling us but we miss it. And that’s my desire; that’s my heart; to open up the eyes of the young people to the understanding of the Kingdom of God so that we can access what we have access to. But if you don’t know you have access to it, you’ll never tap into it.
Susan: And that’s the perfect segue into my next question for you, which is around this partnership between you and Urban Youth Workers Institute and your role as the host of their podcast. It’s a perfect blend because it combines your passion for youth culture and urban youth culture, and it combines your passion for really exploring into the depth of kingdom principles and living a kingdom mindset and life. And so can you share with me a little bit about what this partnership is going to look like and why you’re so excited about it?
Darius: Wow. Yeah, I’m very excited about it! I’ll preface it with this, the Creative Director at Urban Youth, Shuree, she reached out to me because she saw me teaching at a youth group, and I was just really sharing my heart about the kingdom of God. And she saw me on Facebook live and she’s like, ‘Oh my God, this is what I’ve been looking for!’ So she reached out and said. “Yo! How can we connect?” So, that’s the genesis of it.
And so, I’m excited because one, they’re creating a platform for me to speak about this; I’m honored by them. I’m humbled by it. And I just, I thank God. Because it’s not talked about and no one wants to dive into it. So I’m excited about that opportunity.
But I’m also excited that it is geared towards urban youth and youth workers because those are the people that we want to reach. Because we are talking about the next generation. I call this next generation, a “generation of thinkers” because they are like, “just don’t tell me something, you have to prove it and let me figure this out.” I believe that when you’re speaking about the Gospel of the Kingdom, it’s for people who like to think.
If you notice Jesus, in Matthew 13:34, it says that Jesus spoke to the crowd in parables and when he did not speak in parables, he did not speak to the crowd. He never gave them the answer. He always gave them the parables so that one day they would be like, ‘Oh my God, I get it!’ And that’s what this Kingdom of God / Gospel of the Kingdom is. I don’t want to tell you. I don’t want you to know because I told you I want to give you the clues and understand for yourself. So you find out for yourself, you realize, ‘Oh my God, this is it!’ And then it becomes a much more desire to seek after the things of God as opposed to me just telling you. So partnering with Urban Youth is exciting because they’re right at the pulse of the heart of urban youth. And this is exactly what they need.
Susan: Well, Darius, I know that you are super busy in your life right now, as you’re promoting your documentary and all the other projects that you have in the works. So I just want to thank you so much for squeezing in time today. It’s been such a pleasure to hear your heart and to learn about your many passions and the ways that God is clearly positioning you to carry those through and where they will go will be very exciting to see the doors that will continue to open for you and the doors that you are going to be opening for others through your example and your presence and your steadfastness. So for those who want to find your documentary and go see it when it is released, where can we go and how can we get to a screening to support you?
Darius: The first screening is in Nashville, at the end of May, May 28th. And we’re assessing the next 30 day period to see if we need to adjust future screenings because of what’s happening with the Coronavirus. But right now we’re so far out from our summer screenings that we’re still good. All of the tour dates and cities you can find me on Instagram @DariusWest or go to our website, www.micdropthemovie.com If you have any questions just submit a comment and we will reach out to you. Also, the film itself will be released this fall after our summer tour. It will be released on streaming services, Blu Ray DVD throughout all the major retailers.
ABOUT FEATURED ARTIST: DARIUS WEST
The owner of Ergon Entertainment, LLC, Darius has a tremendous passion for ministry and entertainment for the millennial generation to help guide them into understanding the importance of having a vision to grasp the purpose and destiny for their lives. His charisma and dynamic teaching gift captivates audiences as he speaks about the relevance of the Kingdom of God for this generation. Due to the call upon his life, God has given him the ability to connect and network with key individuals in the entertainment industry to further the gospel of the Kingdom through his life of integrity and collective body of work. His company has produced the first mainstream distributed Christian hip-hop Documentary being released in the spring of 2018 by Warner Music Group — “MIC DROP: The Culture of Christian Hip Hop.” This film chronicles the history and culture of Christian Hip Hop in the 1980s/1990s and how it has affected the culture of today’s millennial Christian Hip Hop movement. The foundational word that he carries with him as a reminder of his call to the millennial generation is for them to
“Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come. And the years draw near when you say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).
He has lived this passage as a young man in ministry and entertainment, which placed him on some of the largest platforms in the Christian music industry as a dancer/choreographer for Carman, Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond, and Tonex. So, he understands what it takes to get a vision from God as a young person to seek after the purpose and destiny for his life. Darius, his wife, and his two daughters live in Los Angeles, CA.