How Derek Minor Helped Bring KJ-52 Back From His Toughest Year
20 years at one job is a long time. Many years doing things with the same pattern and routine has an unshakable comfortability to it that makes you dread change. Now, what if someone told you, “Your way” isn’t the way anymore? What if they said, “You’re too old” or “Not relevant”? Well, this is exactly what happened to longtime Christian emcee KJ-52.
KJ-52 has been doing Christian hip-hop a long time. At 41-years-old, he still has more energy than most of his younger counterparts. He has a resume as impressive as anyone in his field, yet he found himself stuck in a down period. It was as if he got laid off, and was looking for a way to get back on his feet.
Check this out – Nine studio albums as KJ-52, one album as the front man of a rock band (Peace of Mind), one remix album, and one fun concept album, and not to mention unreleased material as King J Mack and with Sons of Intellect. He has six doves awards, another 10 nominations, and oh yeah, a spot on VH1’s Top Worst Moments in Hip-Hop (for “Dear Slim” a song about praying for Eminem. Have you been on Vh1?)
So then what’s the deal?
KJ found himself struggling a bit to set up tours and get things moving. His time with BEC/Tooth & Nail was finished in 2012. He said, “My career essentially ended.”
Last month KJ gave an intimate glimpse into his situation with this Facebook post, “I was told I was too old/irrelevant/corny & outdated but this guy [Derek Minor] stuck it out & walked w/ me thru some terrible situations in the last year…”
He expounded on what he meant by this post during this interview.
“That was when I tried to get a tour going or a new record deal or try to break into this particular space. Whether they said it or not, they basically said that” shared KJ. “I don’ think there’s anybody that has been around as long as I have that is still active in the same capacity that I’m active. Everyone that I came in the industry with is all gone. I don’t want to be the old man in the club trying to rock his jort jeans and dad pants.”
That formerly spectacular and experience driven resume wasn’t so great anymore because this next generation is graduating from more impressive schools.
“That was the sentiment. We are not going to sign you because you are too old, you’ve been around too long. We are not going to sign you because you previously made this kind of music 10 or 15 years ago and that’s the stigma on you,” he said.
Through it all, KJ never stopped grinding. He received a lot of encouragement from his good friend Derek Minor, who never left his side.
Minor essentially helped KJ go back to school to learn more skills. He told him the way he’s recording and doing things “isn’t IN anymore.”
“I come from the school of, you stack your doubles and do multiples backups, and he was like, ‘No, you can’t do that anymore. Nobody does that’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, if that’s the new thing, then ok. That’s no problem’. It feels weird to me but it’s a big deal.”
In this instance, KJ had a little bit of fear to battle through. Would you believe that after all this time, KJ is unsure of his voice? He’s actually not alone in this. Many artists hate the sound of their own voice. It was another obstacle for him to overcome.
“I get insecure about my voice, and I want to stack it between 20 million things because I’m insecure about the way I sound on the microphone. I’ve always been. So it’s a very scary thing to do that,” he said, referring to the more simple approach Minor told him to take. “You have to rely more on your flow and delivery.”
The Jonah rapper gave an example. On his new song “Nah Bruh,” he’d typically record it and stack vocals on it. Minor said, “Why don’t you do a lead and pan it all the way to the left, then do the second lead, but in the second lead, do it in a completely monotone voice. Then do another lead, and shift it to the right. So it’s going to sound stereo but you’re going to have two completely different tones happening.”
“He’s a very underrated producer, I don’t think he gets enough props,” said the emcee.
KJ joked that when he plays the song for people, they ask him “Who’ that on the record?”
“He was fresh ears, he was someone to bounce music off of. He was able to shape the sound whether he even did the song or not. That’s why it took so long to get it down. It was a growth process for me.”
It was a growth process that has early listeners saying the record is “a new sound for you, but it’s still you.” That was his goal, to be updated and current but to be himself. There were songs he had to throw out because of the focus.
This is exciting to KJ. It’s the tuneup this classic model needed to be a show car again.
52 is ready, more than ever, to get his music out and flowing, and now he has the updated credentials to make a mark again.
His album Jonah drops on January 20, and even this release is new territory for KJ. This project is completely crowdfunded and independently released.
“I’m like a kid, everything is super brand new to me. We hit our goal early, which is great.”
As of this writing, his campaign is 139% funded with 9 days still left.
“It completely renewed my passion for the music, maybe because I have such a direct connection with the fans,” KJ admitted. “I curated the whole thing myself top to bottom. There’s something about it that feels amazingly refreshing. I wake up early everyday with anticipation of what the day is going to be like.”
It was a very “scary” move for him because this music world is totally different from the one he entered. He said the rules are now that, there are no rules.
In fact, along the theme of there being no rules, at the time of the interview, KJ didn’t have a release date yet. The album was only out for those who pledged. He had wanted to wait until the campaign was over to stagger the release a bit. He also does not want it to be on Spotify right away because once it’s there, you aren’t making any money back.
“To be honest, once you put the record out in this climate, it’s not that it’s over but it kinda is,” he said. “Obviously the dominate thing is streaming. From a financial standpoint, there’s no way to make your money back through streaming.”
“Rolling out records in this day comes in stages,” he continued. “There’s opposing forces in the industry, the traditional mindset and the new younger mentality of putting out records. I’ve been around so long that I have to be cognizant of my fanbase.”
With the extra funds raised on the platform, KJ hopes to put out more songs and music videos. More importantly, he wishes to hire a publicist and radio consultant.
“The initial fundraising is just to pay for the record. A lot of these things fund the record and they don’t even plan for the after effect. I don’t want to do that. My goal is now to take other steps to bring awareness for what I do,” said 52. “I already have tours lined up but this is more about hitting the general public.”
Five-Two picked PledgeMusic for this reason. The platform allows fans to “make the record” with you. Everyone in some way or another is an executive producer, which is one of his perks, by the way.
“The great thing about this is that I’m able to do this in real time and get feedback from fans,” said KJ. “Some songs will definitely not be on there. I have a core fanbase that likes every aspect of what I do, so they will get anything I put out. This is a great opportunity to say, ‘Hey I know you’re going to like this’ then this is just for you. The non-casual fan they are gonna say, ‘That song sucks’ or ‘This guy is whack’.”
The record is short, only eight songs long, however, if you pledged, you are pretty much receiving another album’s worth of songs.
“I had a bunch more tracks I could stack on this, but they either weren’t up to par, or I wasn’t finished with the record, or they didn’t fit the feel of the album. There’s still a ton more content that I didn’t even put out yet,” he said, meaning don’t harp it being only eight tracks. There is more to come.
One of the bonus tracks is him explaining the story and aftermath of “Dear Slim,” VH1, and Eminem’s wife.
The rapper even has limited pressed copies of his album from the mid-90s under the moniker King J Mac.
“There is a very small percentage of fans who have been listening to my first album and they say, ‘Yo man, I can’t find it anywhere’. I would never put that out because it doesn’t even sound like me, it’s 20 years old. That hardcore fan would be like, ‘this is a piece of history’.”
He continued, “I use to do a thing called work out Wednesdays. A small percentage of people really dug that. So I’ll offer that. Some people love me for my freestyling, so I’ll offer that. Some people love the graffiti art, so I’ll offer that. Some people might want the stupid cell phone I had in that video, I’ll offer that. I’m not going to do anything with these things, they are sitting in a storage unit. I found a ton of stuff.”
KJ said he never wants his relationships to feel one sided. If you are going to contribute to him, he is going to give you something back. “I want us all to win.”
It’s the new school approach to KJ’s old school program that makes him relevant after all of these years. Perhaps more than anyone in the genre, KJ knows how to focus in on his fans and deliver exactly what they need. This is something he has always done whether it be through connecting at shows or letting his life hang out on display.
“The music industry is like the dinosaurs. The meteor hit and they all died. The only ones that survived are the furry little rodents,” he said. “The old way of doing things is dead, the only ones that are surviving are the indie label that knows how to do things in a very efficient direct to consumer manner.”
He continued, “The corporations are taking notes from them. Ultimately the consumer wins, I think that’s the most important thing.”
KJ-52 isn’t a dinosaur. A meteor tried to wipe him out but he survived. After the dust settled, he scurried in as little rodent, but now had the lay of the land to himself as a roaring lion. 2017 is a new year, and though 41-years-old, he’s just getting started.
Check out KJ’s PledgeMusic campaign and preorder the album HERE.
Stay tuned for part 2 with KJ-52 as he talks about the state of Christian Hip-Hop, Chance the Rapper, and being mistaken for TobyMac.