Fedel: What artists can learn from the least likely full-time Christian rapper
Fedel has never charted on Billboard, yet he released his third retail album as a full-time Christian rapper last month, Flaw.
Fedel is one of only an estimated 20 or so full-time Christian rappers, as in, their music can financially support a family. Thi’sl, a long-time friend of Fedel, tried to name them off the top of his head — himself, Fedel, everyone on Reach Records, Derek Minor, Json, Flame, Propaganda, Beautiful Eulogy, Social Club, KJ-52 and Bizzle — but he assumed that he forgot a few.
Which one doesn’t belong?
In terms of first-week record sales, Fedel is inferior to those names. The average Rapzilla reader may also be able to name 47 more rappers whose social-media presence is superior to his.
Fedel couldn’t care less, though. After all, he’s probably making more money through music than those 47 rappers.
Money isn’t Fedel’s motivation. It just takes money to make music.
Thi’sl claimed that artists often sacrifice profit margin for popularity. Fedel does not, which is how he has sustained a full-time rap career.
“As big as Lecrae is,” Thi’sl said, “I can go outside and say, ‘Hey, have you heard of Lecrae?’ And people would say, ‘Nah, never heard of him before in my life.’ Christian hip hop has a delusion that it’s bigger than it is, so when you go down the totem pole, people probably think every artist that they see charting on iTunes charts is making enough money where they can actually support what they do.
“Fedel takes the route of the person that says, ‘I’m not worried about the delusion. I’m worried about the reality of really making a return on my investment.’ He goes after what is sufficient for an artist to survive, and that’s touring.”
Fedel’s profit from two recent shows was about enough to fund an entire album, he admitted. However, the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based rapper didn’t develop a tour base with a magic blueprint — unless one considers a strong work ethic, humility and fearlessness a magic blueprint.
“The success he’s had, I’m not surprised,” fellow Tulsa artist, Dre Murray, said. “I know there’s probably a lot of people that don’t get why he’s been so successful, why he gets the amount of performances that he does, bookings that he does, but he’s one of the hardest working people I know, and he’s just not afraid to take it there. He is not afraid.”
Murray expounded with a story of when he and Fedel attended Winter Jam in 2005.
Fedel had managed to connect with tobyMac’s bass player through Myspace before the show, so they went early to meet him and arrived during sound check. Instead of waiting outside, Fedel saw a crack in the door and convinced Murray to follow him inside, where they proceeded to watch tobyMac warm up. As Murray wondered where security was, Fedel walked on stage, introduced himself to tobyMac and nodded to the bass player, who they then hung out with backstage.
By the end of the night, Fedel had pressured Murray into running to the car and grabbing his five-track demo to hand to Bonafide of Grits.
“That’s Fedel in a nutshell,” Murray said. “That’s still his mindset. You’re not telling him no. No just means there’s a yes on the other side somewhere. The no is temporary.”
Since 2005, Fedel has performed anywhere that would hand him a microphone — from basketball games to psychiatric hospitals — as well as venues that would not hand him one.
He endured scheduled performances at a library and hotel without a mic. A portable stereo often formed his sound system. But no matter how horrible the experience or low the pay, Fedel knew that he needed to reach as many people as possible.
“Dudes don’t want to do that,” Fedel said. “They want to be the cool rapper, so they don’t know how to go anywhere they’re not the coolest person in the room. But for me, I’ll just go anywhere. I’ll go an-y-where and just be.”
Unestablished artists have no room to fear (or to be too proud for) networking, Fedel said. He searched for people running outreaches to ask if he could perform a song and sell CDs afterward. He also offered his albums to youth pastors for ministry tools.
And Fedel didn’t limit where he pushed his music to churches. He’s performed his signature song, “I Will Be,” in clubs and public schools.
“I don’t think, ‘Oh, I’m a Christian. They don’t want it,’” he said. “I will go there anyway because if they don’t want [my music] now, they may want it later.”
The morale of Fedel’s story is not that part-time rappers should immediately quit their jobs. Fedel had saved up thousands before quitting his gig at DirecTV, which he held for eight years. He only quit when he needed more time for music and work began to heavily conflict with potential bookings.
Thi’sl, who had a full-time job when he released Chronicles of an X-Hustler, explained that quitting too soon can actually jeopardize a career, which Fedel avoided.
“There are a lot of artists right now in Christian hip hop I guarantee you that don’t have jobs and are saying, ‘God is going to provide,’” Thi’sl said. “Most of these dudes should be working jobs and putting albums out. That way there’ll be a level of contentment, though.
“People like Fedel that are successful, they are successful because they aren’t worried about being famous. Fame makes people say, ‘Man, I’m going to quit my job. I’m going to go hard.’ And then when it doesn’t work, I say it doesn’t work because I’m not famous. … When dudes figure that part out — how to be content — it’s going to change a lot because then you got time to work your plan.”
Fedel worked his plan. Flaw was his fourth studio album, and he released all of his LPs by himself. While they haven’t charted on Billboard, Fedel hasn’t needed to split profits because he’s unsigned.
“I cannot sign a deal just to be popular,” he said.