Is there any beauty in War? Illect Recordings artist MuzeOne chops it up with Holyculture.net about keeping the beauty of artistic integrity in his latest project which he entitles Cold War.
Shine: For the readers who may not be familiar with you, how did you get started?
MuzeOne: Well I originally started off in Christian hip hop as part of a group called Redeemed Thought. We were originally from California and we came to Philadelphia as transplants really just testing the waters. We had no clue or idea about the CHH (Christian Hip-Hop) culture in Philly. It was Stephen the Levite and I when we came out here and we got connected with a lot of dude’s because Philly seemed to be popping at the time. We were hanging out with a lot of good solid brothers and that kind of developed us as a group. We put out an album called Truth, Beauty, Goodness which did pretty well. We were featured on quite a few other artists’ albums such as Cross Movements Higher Definition album, Lecrae’s After the Music Stops and Tru Lifes album as well. So yeah, that’s how I got started into the CHH realm then eventually Stephen the Levite and I went on solo paths for a season. And that’s pretty much how I got started.
Shine: Since then what have you been up to?
MuzeOne: Since then, I’ve been kind of on a solo venture. I put out an EP called The Backburner which was just a bunch of songs that had never been released. They were songs that had been kind of just sitting on the backburner. A lot of people had been asking me if I was going to drop my own album and how come I hadn’t dropped it yet. So it was something to, (Laughs) I guess hold off the questions. So yeah, that’s kind of what The Backburner was and it got pretty good reception. I dropped it in either late O7’ or 08’ and since then I had actually met Plastic from Illect Recordings a couple years back and we had just been building on an email tip for a while. When we finally got connected I told him that I was working on my own album and it just kind of fit. We talked about releasing it on Illect Recordings and it was a couple years of me moving my family around and taking care of those priorities then finally through the creative process of life itself, the birth of the album Cold War came about which is actually out now on Illect Recordings.
Shine: So what’s the concept behind Cold War?
MuzeOne: Well initially I had the idea of doing a very conceptual album tailored around the cold war which was the birth of a lot of CIA/Espionage and Black Ops type stuff in the world. But speaking as Christians and living in the world, its amazing at how much the world can be very top secret/secretive on how it can set its influence into our lives. And the concept was how we as Christians can then combat that as being presences of light in a dark world. That was the original concept of the Cold War but what happened is that instead of a conceptual album, it became more of a documentary of my own cold war. How fear, anger and bitterness was a lot of things I went through the last couple of years and how easily it snuck into my heart and how I combated that. So instead of it being a conceptual album it became more of a documentary. I’m kind of happy it leans more that way because it speaks from experience having lived it. I think it becomes more potent when you’ve actually gone through it. Its like the guy who’s been in war knows more about combat then the guy who’s just come out of basic training.
Shine: So do you think that documentary albums have more of an impact than concept albums?
MuzeOne: Well, (pauses) I agree but let me clarify my point. I think its ok to document as long as you’re not glorifying your sin. I think that there’s a fine line where people can be like “I gotta be real, I gotta be honest and tell em about my struggles…” then you can get into a cycle of just documenting your sin for the sake of people hearing you out. You know, it’s good to relate. It’s good to relate to people but relating will save no one.
Shine: (Laughs) Right.
MuzeOne: If I go in the hood and I say “Yo, I came up in the same struggle and I still struggle with these things…” It’s good that I relate to you but I’m not your savior. The person who has to relate to them is Christ. The thing that’s going to help them is a new knowledge and a better way. When I was writing The Cold War I had a lot of songs that I just simply couldn’t put out because I do tend to write from experience. I don’t sit down with a deadline in my head thinking that I have to bang out this many songs for a project. I just write, and with what I went through over the last couple of years with broken relationships with friends and my daughter’s sicknesses, I had to write as therapy for myself. Some of those songs made it on The Cold War and a lot of it didn’t. So writing from experience is always more potent to the listener because they can tell that you’ve been through something and they can tell that the truth you’ve learned out of it, you really believe.
MuzeOne: And conceptual albums can be great also. There is a lot of thought, consideration and pondering that happens. We don’t learn everything through experience but sometimes we learn through obedience too. Actually that’s probably the safer way to learn. You avoid the hole before you fall in it. (Laughs)
Shine: You’ve always been a real lyrical artist as opposed to a lot of the music that’s spinning. Why is that?
MuzeOne: I think styles have a lot more to do with where you grew up. I grew up in Southern California and I was very heavily involved in the B-boy culture out there. Especially in San Diego, there were just a lot of really dope graffiti artist, dj’s battle rappers and B-boys. It was just part of the culture and the music in that culture was very lyrical. It was very thought provoking and aggressive in which I think that kind of molded me. I had an appreciation for words already. I was pretty well read (Laughs) but I kind of kept it secret from everybody because I didn’t want to be a nerd. I just found a beauty in using words in a way that people haven’t before. So I think that the reason I’m a lyricists is based more on my upbringing, you know. I don’t think that’s a forced thing, I just love words…I love painting with the pallet of the English language.
Shine: Is there anybody that you like listening to right now?
MuzeOne: Yeah, one that comes to mind very quickly is Ackdavis. Ackdavis is probably one of the most talented lyricist secular or Christian. I’ve have yet to hear someone put words together and come with an aggressive delivery as he has in any subdivision of hip hop. To me he’s one of my rhyming hero’s. If I put together my all time top 10 emcees secular or Christian, he’s probably like number 5. I think he’s very slept on and if you haven’t downloaded his mixtape, get it. (Laughs)
Shine: What’s your overview of CHH right now?
MuzeOne: I grew up in the church so I remember groups like The Dynamic Twins and the first Gospel Gangsters like way back in the day. (Pauses) It was dope back in those days because it was very similar to the hip hop in those days. Grant it we were light years behind production wise in the secular realm but it was similar in the sense where in the early 90’s you could turn on the radio and hear 6 different songs from 6 different rappers and you would’ve heard 6 different styles. It was a variety of styles and no one was trying to be like anyone else. So I appreciated early CHH for that. What I think that we have going for us know is that we have the production value and it’s on point if not above some of the stuff that the world is putting out. But what I also think is that we have the production value along with the business model being correct, but what we need is a greater commitment to artistic integrity, meaning that we really need to start being trendsetters. We need to stop being afraid of being unique. We have our message down and we know what we should talk about and have even found our niches in who were supposed to reach. But in that I think we can lose some of the art for the sake of trying to reach someone.
MuzeOne: On the album Truth, Beauty, Goodness, what we tried to argue is that all 3 of those things must be balanced meaning The Truth: The message of what you’re saying has to be on point and checked with the Word. The Beauty: The Art. Be good and be creative at it. Be unique and don’t sound like anyone else. The Goodness: Meaning someone who not only writes rhymes and then performs them well but actually lives by the very same standards of what they’re talking about. They’re some arguing right now over beauty or truth and I’m like they’re missing the point. Everything has to be balanced. That’s what I would love to see in CHH right now.
Shine: What’s something that we don’t know about you?
MuzeOne: (Pauses) I don’t know, my favorite movie is Nacho Libre.
Shine: (Laughs) I own it myself.
MuzeOne: No actually here’s something. I learned how to play the guitar in bible college and before becoming apart of Redeemed Thought, I had talked with a few friends from my home town about possibly being the lead singer of a rock rap band. So before I jumped off into hip hop I could have quite possibly been the next P.O.D. or whatever. (Laughs)
Shine: Any final thoughts?
MuzeOne: I’ve been accused of being controversial by just speaking my mind on a lot of things. But I think that people kind of misread me. I’m a very fun loving guy and humorous. A lot of times I say stuff out of sarcasm hoping people will laugh and not take it too seriously. When I say something it’s never with the motive of offending anyone because I don’t even have that disposition. I use to have it but the Lord has corrected it in my heart. But to say that, I want to say its good to honest in music and with your life but do it in love. As a Body, as believers, as a community, we can gain so much in whatever we do in being honest, but also doing it in love.
Shine: Well Muze, I want to officially thank you for taking this time out to speak with Holyculture.net and continued success.