Christian Rapper Bizzle Talks Making 'Truth Music' for New Album 'Crowns & Crosses,' Premieres 'Oh Yeah' Video
Despite preaching God's word in is rhymes, Christian rapper Bizzle (real name Mark Felder) doesn't come off preachy. With his latest effort Crowns & Crosses, released via his own label, God Over Money Records, he puts his everyman struggles on wax (see: "Work It Out" and "Money Get Low") on top of hard-hitting, trap-friendly beats that couldn't be neatly pigeonholed as gospel rap.
Still, the album revisits Bizzle's past, from being a former pimp to his marital woes. In his early 20s, the California native skipped out on Bible study and funded his earlier rap career with his street hustle, before reconnecting with the Higher Power in church thanks to a woman he worked with. Now, he enjoys the fruits of his labor by being a devoted husband (he has been with his wife for 16 years), a dedicated father (he has two sons, four and five years old, respectively) and a committed philanthropist (he recently donated $45,000 to build water towers in Mozambique, Africa).
Below, Bizzle recalls his path to becoming a believer, why he stays away from secular songs, and why he describes his God-inspired rap "truth music." Read the full interview and catch his new video "Oh Yeah" below.
How did you find God?
I always had some type of exposure [to religion] because of my grandma, when I used to get forced to go to church back in the day. She’s the realest believer I ever seen in my life. She’s the only influence I had. After I got older, I strayed as soon as I didn’t have to go to church by force. I was chasing a music dream. I had a deal offered to me for $15,000 when I was in Houston. I said I was going to go get $100,000, and [moved] to LA.
How old were you?
When I went [to L.A.] that first time, that was 2005, I was about 22, 23. I went out there, I grinded. I got a deal put on the table for $50,000 with Blackground/Universal. Still set on that $100,000, I felt like that was going to come. But in the meanwhile, my record label was called Lavish Entertainment. It was pretty much funded by prostitution drug money -- that’s what paid for my studio time. It paid for me opening for people. It paid for everything.
Eventually it became easy for me to kind of dab into that kind of stuff. When everybody in your circle’s doing it. and they’re living better than you, and you’re the rapper but you’re the broke one out the whole group, it became easy to be like, yo, shoot me some pills, shoot me some weed to sell. And eventually I fell into the prostitution as well. Money came fast, more than I was used to ever making. Before that, I started going to Bible study. My cousin played for the church and I would go and sit in, but when that fast money came with poor financial circumstances, I was out of there. I was living out of my car and sleeping on people’s floors.
Eventually, the girl I’m getting money with asked me if I could go take her to pick up her brother from practice. This time, I don’t know what kind of practice. We pull up to the church and her brother is drumming at rehearsal. Long story short, I come to find out this is her family’s church. Her father’s the pastor, and I’m back in the church now, but I’m not on the side I want to be. I’m in the church feeling like the devil now, because I left and I’m in opposition to God, almost, in the way that I’m there.
God really just broke me down. He showed me the things about my life that I hid as a result of me making my own decisions. It’s not like I said, "God, I’m going to do it your way," and then I ended up in that predicament. It was me being God over my own life -- I do what I want to do. Now, I’m looking at these broken pieces and eventually, I had to offer these broken pieces to God and be like, "Lord, I know my life wasn’t in this many pieces the first time you told me to come, but if you still willing to work with me, I’m yours."
Really, I just surrendered and gave it all to him, and now I’m here. I didn’t plan [that] I would be rapping for Him. I just said, "I’m going to go ahead and move back to Houston, marry my woman, and get a job at Walmart," which I did. [Laughs.] And God did this with it.
When did hip-hop become a passion for you?
I’ve been writing since I was eight, literally writing rhymes with crayons. I used to sit in a room when my uncle was writing, and I used to write lines and freestyle with him. In middle school [I would go] -- when my mom would let me go, because it was on school nights -- to this hip-hop club called Project Blowed with my uncle. So I was introduced to it very early. Every time my mom would go in the store, I would take her Slick Rick tape and put it in and listen to "Children’s Story." She put me on 'Pac, so I was a huge Pac fan very early on.
After that experience where you felt like you were saved, when did you say that everything you rap about moving forward was going to be for this specific purpose?
It was a process. I would go to church and my heart was changed, but this project I spent the last three years on, I didn’t feel that way anymore. Other people were involved in it, so how can I just kill it? So I’m like, "OK, I’m going to start performing the records without cursing at the shows." Then it was like, "Well I’m going to save the records [for the females], and just start rapping about the females and stop talking about the killing and the drugs." Then it was like, Lord, do you even want me to rap? This was my dream before I cared what you wanted.
I sat [my rap career] down for a while, just because I know how much I loved it, so I felt like I had to at least show I was willing to sacrifice it. I sat it down maybe about a year before picking up. At that time, I was growing as a believer, so it wasn’t me trying to do Christian rap -- it was, I’m a Christian, so when I pick up the pen, what’s inside of me comes out.
As a Christian rapper, do you ever feel conflicted about being part of a genre, especially now, that glorifies drug dealing and other topics that may not necessarily be reflective of God?
I don’t feel conflicted. I feel like almost like it’s a war out here for the minds of the youth, and I’m on the opposite side of that. I used to be on that side. I think we can justify anything if we are getting a paycheck. You just call it your job and keep moving on, but your job can affect other people. I don’t feel conflicted -- I just feel like I got a job to do. You turn on the radio and you don’t get to pick between the music that’s not glorifying that stuff. So now I just want to be able to present an alternative, and then let you pick after hearing both sides.
Why name your new project Crowns & Crosses?
Crowns & Crosses deals with the triumphs as well as the struggles as far as being a believer. You have different seasons and my music reflects those seasons. There’s a song called "Work It Out," where there was a storm in my marriage. Then there’s another record right after that, where it's still dealing with my marriage, but more from a triumph aspect.
Really I wanted to paint both sides. I want to tell you guys how wonderful it is to love Jesus and serve God, but I also don’t want to make it look too sweet. I also want you to see. I have a record called "From the Outside," and I’m critiquing myself as a father, husband and minister, painting this picture that most people don’t get to see about this walk and this struggle. So I try to do both on this album.
What are your thoughts on rappers like Kanye West, who say that they make gospel music? Do you feel like that’s an accurate description?
No, I wouldn’t call it gospel rap, even though I don’t call [what I do] gospel rap. But I haven’t listened enough to anything that he's done recently to say what it is. But I know that it’s not.
Who do you listen to these days?
Honestly, because I’m a CEO, most of what I listen to is something that’s coming out of my camp because I’m always listening to mixes.
Do you consciously stay away from secular music?
Yeah, I try to stay away from anything that can have any kind of negative input, and of course it's very hard... I'm a strong believer in that, and I don't want to be a hypocrite where I have this whole different genre of music I listen to and then a whole other one I can play with my kids.
Was there a song on the album that was particularly hard to make?
There's two songs on the project that I cried when I wrote. "Work it Out," which is the song I said I wrote when I said [my wife and I] were going through a storm in our marriage. I want to promote marriage. In hip-hop, we promote promiscuity, we promote not committing to anything. We objectify women. So I wanted to promote marriage, and committing to your woman. I always have these happy songs, but then when someone listens to the songs and their marriage does not reflect that, they might begin to question if they're in the right situation. So I want to put our trouble out there, too, but it was very hard for me to write.
And "From the Outside." I became a father while being a rapper. I talk about how I was out of town when my son took his first steps, and my wife had to record it and send it to me. I got to catch some of the basketball games via Skype. Am I balancing my time right with my children? Will they look back and only see me saying "Not right now, son"? I cried writing that record as well.
How would you describe your music to those who may not be as religious?
I have my own genre I call "truth music." It's really taking biblical concepts, biblical principles, and applying them in a new language in a way people can take and apply to their new lives. Or just someone being able to see it walked out, see how it looks in today's circumstance, or in a real-life situation in 2016.
I definitely try to make my side where I stand clear, but instead of letting you know, "Of course, I love Jesus, I worship Jesus," I say, "How do I live though? How do I live this thing out? How do I love my wife? How do I love my children as a father? How do I apply that name?" Even if it's using my life, flaws and all, to help show how to go through struggle, I try to do that.