Rhythm and Rhymes With “The Psalmist”
By: Conway Norwood III
“Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a psalm as a “sacred song or poem.” The most familiar application of this word in our culture is based in the book of Psalms, the nineteenth book of the Bible, whose key figures include Moses, Asaph, and perhaps the most recognizable psalmist of all, David. The Psalms are filled with encouraging and emotionally charged messages that phenomenally define the relationship that God has with His people. They’ve become a centerpiece in our knowledge of the Bible; it’s not hard to find a Christian who finds a psalm as his or her favorite passage of scripture. But how would you respond if you were told that the popular modern art-form known as rap can be classified in the same category as a sacred psalm?
Enter Brandon Perry, AKA “the Psalmist,” a gospel rapper on a mission with a deep-rooted passion for the meat of God’s Word. From his perspective, psalmody isn’t a spiritual practice that is confined to a particular type of individual, position, culture, or method. According to Brandon, the psalm is all about that divine, vertical relationship, whether the psalmist is a writer, singer, preacher, or, in this case, a rapper. He puts what we know as the psalm in a different and rather unorthodox perspective. His style is rhythmic and charismatic, but his undeniable zeal for the Word of the Lord is the key ingredient to his appeal.
Brandon is no joke when it comes to solid expression of the power of God’s word, which is no doubt why he tied for first place at last year’s Bobby Jones New Artist Showcase in Detroit and was declared best new artist at a hip-hop competition hosted by Dorinda Clark-Cole late last year. 2004 is certainly a great precursor to the projected 2005 release of Brandon’s next project. If 2004’s accomplishments indicate anything about Brandon’s ministry, he can expect no less than higher heights and deeper depths. I spent a little bit of time talking with Brandon about his holy hip-hop origins, his vision, his measure of success, and his personal definition of the psalm.
Conway: How did you get involved in gospel rap?
Brandon: Pretty much just studying the Bible. I used to do gangsta [rap]. I was involved with a group back in the day, and we did some albums and some touring and things like that, but one day I heard my three-year-old daughter and my niece singing my music, which was full of profanity, and I wasn’t diggin’ it because it really wasn’t true to me. I wasn’t a gangsta. It was just me making that kind of music. I really didn’t like it because [my daughter and my niece] were singing it, but it wasn’t true to me, and I didn’t want it to be true to them, so I quit in the middle of our third project, and I didn’t know what to do after that because that was all I was doing. So I just decided to go back to church because I didn’t know what else to do. So I went back there, and I wasn’t even thinking about doing gospel rap because I didn’t feel like it had a place, so I left it alone for about three years. I was just studying because I was on a mission to get real with God so I could really know who He is, so I just left rap alone. I would write rhymes, though, but only because I had the talent to do that. Sometimes we would have social gatherings and I’d just say some of my stuff then, and people started telling me, “You need to do a CD.”
Conway: I was listening to “He Must Increase,” and in the song you say, “Even though you see me, it’s not my face that you see/And though it’s my voice, it’s not my words that I speak/And though it’s my hand, it’s not my touch that you feel.” When did you come to the point when you realized it wasn’t about you?
Brandon: When I really began to understand the gospel, that’s really what changed my life. I really got to understand who Jesus is and what He’s done for us, and that changed me. So I know that through my music, I have to give them Jesus because in my experience, He’s the one that was able to help me, so I know He can help others. I have to give them Jesus, because He’s going to make it work for them. He changed my life and I just wanted to share it with other people.
Conway: You call yourself The Psalmist. When I think about it, a lot of people wouldn’t apply that particular title to a rapper. How exactly do you define what a psalmist is and what do you say to a person that says that a psalm and rap are two different things completely?
Brandon: When I think of a psalmist, first of all, I think about the [book of] Psalms. In a lot of the psalms, it’s direct communication between that person and God. In a lot of my songs, it’s me talking to God. In very few of them am I talking to somebody else or to the audience. Most of my songs, I direct it towards God. As far as me combining it with rap, it’s just me expressing my experiences through that particular style. I don’t know how people can separate it. A psalmist is not necessarily singing, talking or rapping. As far as I’m understanding it, that person is just relating to God.
Conway: I want to ask you about David, who in our culture is basically the ultimate psalmist. How do you compare and contrast yourself with David?
Brandon: David was true because he was a brother who knew when he was wrong. He would fess up; he wouldn’t try to hide nothing from God. When he got caught, he brought it to God, and he opened himself up to God, and was like, “Just don’t leave me, because I need You. I can’t do this thing without You. If You leave me, I’m really messed up.” He realized that God really was his strength and that’s pretty much me. My prayer all the time is, “Lord, I can’t do it. You have to step in. You have to be a part of my life or Your sacrifice will be in vain on my behalf.” I’m realizing that it’s impossible for me to even think holy or try to live a righteous life. I need Him to be a part of me in every aspect of my life. On my down side, I don’t try to hide stuff; I don’t try to pretend like I’m something that I ‘m not. God knows who I am, so I just come at Him like that. That’s how David was.
Conway: When it comes to your music and your ministry, how are you looking to go higher?
Brandon: I’m not really trying to go high up on the music side more than trying to set up a ministry where I can really help people by talking, teaching, and hands on [ministry]. My music is a part of what I really do. I travel a lot to youth ministries and I do youth workshops, youth explosions, etc., and that’s really my heart. My music just pretty much adds a flavor to what I really do. The music is doing good; I’m able to minister to people, and it’s opening a lot of doors for me to minister as far as teaching and hands on type of stuff. I guess as a whole package, it’s just me trying to get to the point where I can have some type of ministry where I can spend my good hours out there just mingling and trying to be a positive role model for a lot of people, and showing some ways to better their lives, and it’s not necessarily just all spiritual. It’s how to be healthy, or how to get a job and be successful, and things of that nature. It’s a whole bunch of things.
Conway: What’s in the Psalmist’s future? Where do you see yourself in five years?
Brandon: In five years, I’m going to be on TV with a show that really deals with helping people develop good character and becoming good citizens in this world.
Conway: So with you, it’s more than just ministering to the soul. It’s the soul, mind, and body; it’s the whole package; you’re ministering to everything.
Brandon: It has to be. I had a friend that I used to invite to a men’s meeting I used to attend, but he had warrants out for his arrest, he had child support way behind, he didn’t have a car, and he didn’t have a job, and the Lord said, “That brother needs those things to be taken care of before he can even really sit down and understand what I’m talking about.” He would be in the meeting jittery, because he would be trying to figure out what his next move was going to be, so he couldn’t even focus on what we were doing. That’s all part of your spirituality: your health, having a clear record, having a job, and having peace in your life. It’s not separated.
Special thanks to Brandon, Eric Johnson, and Carl B. for a great interview.
You can pick up Brandon’s latest single at www.breakinbread.net. The site also provides a booking form so that you can request Brandon’s attendance for your upcoming events. You may also call (313) 468-2379.