Secular label asked Christian rapper Mogli the Iceburg to remove God from lyrics
Rapper Mogli the Iceburg didn’t know the music video for his song “Sit Back and Smile” was trending in the Netherlands.
Then an independent record label distributed by Sony Music Entertainment told him about it. The label had reached out to Mogli to discuss a single distribution deal for “Sit Back and Smile.” He had released the song for free on his mixtape The Space Inside, which listeners downloaded over 25,000 times on DatPiff.
If “Sit Back and Smile” sold sufficiently, the label said, it would consider releasing an album with Mogli.
He entered talks cautious due to an extensive family background in the music industry. His father played guitar and produced music, mother sang backup vocals, uncle performed in the band Roxanne and other uncle produced and engineered music — including songs for Ozzy Osbourne, Snoop Dogg and Diddy. Their experiences in the industry were often unpleasant, which is why Mogli majored in marketing at Middle Tennessee State University, as opposed to a music-related field.
“My family is just very wary of me doing anything with the music industry and wanted me to get a secure job and education — a lot of grime and shady deals. P. Diddy owes [my uncle] so much money still it’s ridiculous,” Mogli, born Jacob Horenburg, said. “Everybody got burned out, and nobody wanted to see me either get burned out or successful, broke, on drugs and divorced like everybody that they know.”
Despite this, Mogli still started to rap in high school and continued part-time at MTSU, where he also became a Christian. But he didn’t then begin to rap about his faith.
“To me, Christian rap was super corny,” Mogli said. “I walked this line of being Christ-like in my lyrics and, at the same time, not being explicitly Christian.”
This approach led to the creation of songs like “Sit Back and Smile” — essentially a positive version of frat rap. This is what the label that reached out to Mogli wanted, he said.
However, it didn’t want conscious music, which Mogli slowly started to write more of as he matured as a Christian. When the label heard demos of Mogli’s album that dropped on Tuesday, DREVMCVTCHR, it asked him to exclude his Christian faith in order to reach a broader audience.
He tells the dramatized version of this story on track No. 8 of DREVMCVTCHR, “Gain the World,” which is inspired by the Bible verse Matthew 16:26: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” He also recruited Gemstones and MC Jin to tell the stories of their mainstream pursuits.
“One major deciding-factor for me personally when it comes to collaborations is if the concept/message of the song is one that speaks to me,” Jin said. “In this case, the idea of exploring what it means to gain the world and what do you lose in return is something that speaks closely to my own journey.”
My goal was that prestige /
My goal was to impress these /
Critics and peers, so I could make a little money /
Maybe get enough to buy a couple car keys /
My goal was that rapper fame /
My goal was that big name, with my big head /
And my soul dead, til’ that light shown and my heart changed /
And that’s real /
“Sit Back and Smile” put a deal on the table /
Ready to sign, I was willing and able /
Til’ I had a talk with the head of the label, he said /
Don’t talk about God, that don’t make money /
That’ll cost money, that’ll take from me /
Don’t you wanna blow? Don’t you wanna know /
What it’s like to be up at the top, just sign on the dot, huh /
Started from the bottom now we’re in it til’ we win it /
Only difference is the way that we gon’ finish /
See the elevator goin’ up for anybody walkin’ with the Spirit /
I just hope the people clear enough to hear it /
So I give it to ‘em with the lyricism ‘cause the mission here is different /
We just doing it to glorify His image, not our own /
Not because I fear hell, but I love Him and I wanna be up with Him /
When he sittin’ on His thrown, so I’m sayin’ /
Give me the rain, give me the pain /
Unashamed, in this game /
Boy the worst that you could do is kill me /
Goin’ and puttin’ it down with the sound that resounds through the town /
My identity in Him, that’s the real me /
Yes Lord /
It might have taken me a minute, but I’m done with all that talkin’ /
Here on out, I’m tryin’ to live it /
The exchange between Mogli and the label wasn’t as intense as he painted in his verse on “Gain the World.” The label asked respectfully, but what it suggested still would have forced him to compromise his convictions. Mogli’s maturation is relatable to his fellow Indie Tribe member nobigdyl., who is featured on track No. 11 of DREVMCVTCHR, “Work.”
“We’ve both just matured to the point where we’re like, ‘Everything that we do needs to glorify God,’ and though we don’t think that necessarily means you need to rap the gospel of Matthew in every song,” nobigdyl. said, “what you believe in your heart and drives you as a person is going to come out in your lyrics.
“I would say the biggest difference is before we were like, ‘How can we write a song that people are going to like?’ And so we were filtering out our faith. Now, we just write songs from the heart, and since we’re Christian guys, our hearts have been transformed and that naturally comes out.”
nobigdyl. said Mogli is also “three times the artist” he was when he first heard him after they met at Winter Jam 2014, and he said that the cohesiveness of DREVMCVTCHR made him want Mogli to executive produce his upcoming album.
“[DREVMCVTCHR] correlated with this place in life where I was chasing these dreams, actually in a spot where a lot of these dreams were obtainable and, at the same time, realizing sometimes that they’re not what you thought they were,” Mogli said.