To most people the words “Gospel” and “Hip Hop” would seem mutually exclusive and to combine them would be a confusing convergence of concepts. It’s difficult to reconcile the swaggering braggadocio, rampant misogynism and dissipating lifestyle of Hip Hop with a devout Christian perspective, but for Cincinnati rapper D’Maub it’s a personal crusade.
“It’s like ‘holy sin;’ it’s an oxymoron,” says Donny Harper, aka D’Maub, with a laugh over coneys at Northgate Mall. “Our minds can’t fathom the different ways God is able to use somebody. That’s how God continues to renew and assure Himself to people that He’s there and is real.
“People say, ‘Wow, I never thought you could reach my kids with Gospel Rap,’ but people have gotten saved, have come to know the Lord, because of Gospel Rap. Ten years ago, churches were like, ‘What the …? Get this stuff out of my church.’ Now it’s being accepted by not only the churches but the (music) industry.”
D’Maub is set to release his fourth album, Inside Out, this summer.
Harper was musically focused early on, writing songs and rapping by age 10. His father — a vocalist and drummer who was 15 when he worked for James Brown — later gave him a keyboard, which was the impetus to create and produce his work.
“I would go to his house, and he had this four track and I would record and mix,” Harper says. “My mom was a writer — she wrote poetry and had a book that she was never able to get published but she pressed them up herself — so I got the poetry from her and the musical ability from my dad. It was destined that I would get into music.”
As a teenager, Harper’s mother returned to church to find some inner peace after a cancer diagnosis. She passed away when he was 17, leaving him vulnerable at a critical point but simultaneously galvanizing his musical and spiritual conviction.
“That shook me,” he says thoughtfully. “My mom was like my best friend. My mom got saved before she passed away; she started going to church, so I started going. The preacher said, ‘In heaven, you get to see your family,’ so when she passed, I said, ‘I gotta see my mom again, so if I gotta live for Jesus, so be it.’
“I was naive to the reasons I wanted to be saved. In 2000, He really grabbed my heart after two years of one foot in and one foot out. I did some research and decided I wanted to serve a living God, and I said, ‘If you’re real, reveal yourself to me.’ He did things that no one person could have done for me, internally or externally.”
In his twenties, Harper and a friend started FIC (Forever in Christ) Music, with Harper serving as producer, but in 2005, he decided to branch out as an artist in his own right. He started One Route Entertainment and hasn’t looked back.
“I wanted to do more and go further, and God said, ‘It’s your time, start your own company and I’ll do the rest,’ ” Harper says. “Within five years, One Route has seen a whole lot of success, in the fanbase expanding to the venues I’ve been asked to do. I’m on the next cover of (Holy Hip Hop magazine) Tha Message that’s just gotten distribution in stores, so the Lord is opening a lot of doors for me. I just need to stay focused so I can walk through the doors God wants me to go through.”
Harper became D’Maub as a teen. His first car was enormous, and one of his friends noted incredulously that he could drive a mob around in it; he adapted the spelling to satisfy his personal sense of style. As D’Maub, Harper has released three previous albums — 2005’s Timeline and 2008’s The Release and Urban Legend — all of which were acclaimed within the Gospel Rap community.
Inside Out represents several firsts, including the first of D’Maub’s releases to feature guest artists (R-Swift, Canton Jones and K-Drama among others) and the first to be released under his new distribution deal with DMG, Universal’s Christian music arm.
And for anyone thinking that Gospel Rap is a stilted and clumsy version of its parent genre, D’Maub is proof of the polar opposite. He has a flow that most MCs would envy and a gift for circuitous rhymes and lyrical complexity.
More importantly, he exhibits a musical diversity that’s incredibly fresh. Inside Out incorporates Jazz, Funk and Hip Hop of every stripe, from East and West Coast to Deep South and beyond.
“I think the creativity has grown,” Harper says. “I get bored with Rap music, because there’s so much out there. I don’t want to bore myself. I do that to challenge myself as an artist.
“I want to see if I can rap to this Jazz type beat, just to see if I can do it. I never want to be in a box where I’m only capable of rapping over one style.”
Inside Out’s first single, “I’m Fly,” is doing well within and beyond the Gospel Rap community. The next single, the slyly cross-messaged “I Want Money,” is on deck, and the next album is already underway in D’Maub’s newly finished home studio.
With a surplus of faith, hope and love, he continues down his unique path as a husband, father of four, full-time employee and musical messenger for a higher power.
“Music has this great impact on people, and I want to share this joy that I have, so I’m gonna let people know why I have this joy and who gave it to me,” he says of his Gospel Rap direction with an infectious smile. “We exude confidence, and what we say we mean it and it’s believable. I try to get the attention of people who won’t give Gospel Rap a try, because they feel like, ‘They’re gonna be preaching to me, I’m going to hell,’ and it’s not like that.
“Our beats hit hard, our choruses are rowdy — it’s just the lyrics, the message that’s different. When somebody has that much passion about what they believe in and they have that much love and determination to perfect their craft and not bring the message across sloppy, you can’t do nothin’ but respect that.”
D-MAUB’s first album under his DMG/Universal deal, Inside Out, is available online now and hits stores June 29. For more info, go to www.onerouteentertainment.com.