For the first time in a long time, Manafest has released an album in which he sounds more like a hip-hop artist than a rock artist.
For the first time in an even longer time, he will release the album in America independently.
These are the primary reasons why he felt reborn in the creation process of the LP he released on Oct. 2 — an LP he titled Reborn.
“I feel like this is the perfect title for where I’m at in my career, going independent for the first time worldwide, specifically more in the U.S.,” Manafest said. “And then just the fact that I’m going and retracing my hip-hop roots and kind of going back to where I started.”
When Manafest dropped his debut project, Misled Youth, in 2001, he called his music “about 70 percent hip hop and 30 percent alternative rock.” Those percentages changed as he put out his fourth and fifth studio albums, Citizens Activ and The Chase, in 2008 and 2010. He continued to rap, but his instrumentals and hooks started to sound like the rock artists who he toured with. After Manafest released his debut album, My Own Thing, in 2003, he signed to BEC Recordings, a division of Tooth & Nail Records.
“I always liked rock,” Manafest told Rapzilla. “Even on the [Misled Youth] EP, I had a rock song on there. On My Own Thing, there were three rock songs, so there’s always been a rock element on it. I signed with a rock label, I signed with Tooth & Nail Records. … All of a sudden, I’m going on tour with these rock acts.
“That’s all I’m touring with — a hip-hop artist touring with rock acts, so getting out there and being surrounded by that, [wanting to] make a living for my family and wife, I was definitely influenced by the rock, for sure. At that point, you have your Switchfoots. You have your Pillers and all these bands that were crossing over huge, so it had way larger [market] than Christian hip hop did back then.”
Today, if one made a Mount Rushmore of Christian music — a list of the four most popular Christian artists in the country — a case could be made for multiple Christian rappers. Not so in the early-to-mid 2000s.
“[Christian hip hop] was in a completely different state,” Manafest said. “It’s gone through such an amazing journey. People don’t understand how good they have it right now. There are so many options. … The quality has gotten better. The competition as an artist, sharpening one another. The way the church has embraced it is different. It’s a completely different world.”
Manafest laughed as he remembered the way some churches “embraced” him over a decade ago.
“I was performing at a church in Detroit,” he said, “and I remember walking in, the lady forced me to take my hat off, and I didn’t want to take my hat off because I had just dyed my hair black the night before. You should’ve seen her face when I took my hat off. … Some churches didn’t want me to freestyle because you’re making up a rhyme on the spot, and you can’t do that. [Rhymes] have to be pre-written. They have to see your lyrics, and that stuff. It’s like they didn’t trust you.”
Since then, hip hop has become more mainstream, and churches in general are more trusting.
Rapzilla: Christian hip hop is in a space where larger labels are starting to explore signing Christian rappers again. As an artist who spent most of his career on a large label but now appreciates his independence, what advice would you give to indie Christian rappers who are interested in signing with a major label?
Manafest: I think a label is great. It gives you some leverage and haves somebody believe in you because, once one person believes in you, then another person is going to get behind you. It’s essentially part of your team, like your booking agent and your manager.
I would say to artists, build all that stuff up as much as you can by yourself first. Get a booking agent first or book tours yourself. Release an album. Get your websites up. Get your social media. Build your email lists, so that when you do get offered a deal, you have some negotiating power. You can negotiate something, you can get into that label and then have an exit option.
Here’s the thing: a lot of artists don’t — I didn’t either — have an exit option to get out of there. Use them for the leverage, and I wouldn’t even sign a deal unless there’s tons of money on the table because the amount of money they’re giving you in advance as an artist shows how much they believe in you as an investment.
You’re not an artist. You’re an investment. I’m actually creating a course for artists called How to Get a Record Deal that explains all this stuff. I’ve got to be honest with you, I’ve got a passion about this, and I’m just done with artists getting ripped off, tired of artists being broke and the only way they can make money is by leaving their families and going on tour 200 days out of the year. I’m tired of it.
Manafest said he returned to hip hop on Reborn because every time he mentioned making more rock music on social media, fans asked when he would record a rap album. For much of Manafest’s career, each of the genres claimed songs on his LPs, but no longer.
“I’m always going to split the genres from now on. I’m never going to do this hybrid record anymore because I think it confuses people,” Manafest said. “I always get a mixed [reaction] because some people want the hip hop, and some people want the rock. And as far as creating as an artist, it allows me to be more focused. There’s just power in focusing on one thing when you’re working. There are different types of producers, different people I have to work with. It’s nice when I can kind of go in one lane and focus on that.”