You may have heard about them in passing, you might have even heard a song or two, or maybe you never heard of them at all. That’s something Bonafide and Coffee, together known as Grits, are hoping to change. For over 12 years and through 10 albums Grits have been making creative, positive and fresh boom-bap hip-hop, but it hasn’t been reaching the audiences that they ultimately hoped for. The hindrance? The label of gospel rap. The duo has oft been associated with the gospel rap scene because of the Christian overtones in their music as well as being signed to a well-known Christian music label, Gotee Records.
For some time now, Coffee and Bonafide have been trying to shed the “gospel rap” label and show that they are more versatile than what people may think. With their new album, Redemption, they’re proving that in more ways than one. We caught up with Grits to talk about the new album, their decision to leave Gotee Records and why they don’t like being called gospel rappers.
Why did you name the album “Redemption”?
Coffee: Redemption stands for freedom. That’s what it means, to be free from something and that’s we’re bringing to the game. It’s just songs of life, songs of something new and something that the game has definitely been missing; more positivity. It’s not negativity looking like positivity or acting like it, but definitely just positive stuff. It’s freedom from this slavery of propaganda of the hood and what rap has become.
How is this project different from your Dichotomy albums?
Bonafide: Progressive man, it’s the next step up. Every record we try to outdo what we did last time; lyrically, musically, the whole nine. We try to bring that total package and it’s just an evolution from Dichotomy A and Dichotomy B.
A surprise guest on the album is Canibus, how did you connect with him?
Coffee: We actually connected with him through one of the producers that we worked with. He was working with him on some stuff, he was working with him in
Was he familiar with your music?
Coffee: Not real familiar, but he was just as familiar as anyone else. I don’t think Canibus really familiarizes himself with anybody’s music anyway. I don’t know if you know him or ever talked to him, he has just that kin of personality. He just does his thing and he doesn’t study anybody else, even when he’s working with you.
Compared to past releases which were real underground hip-hop sounding, lately you guys have been embracing the southern sound more. Was that a progression or just something you felt you needed to have in your sound?
Bonafide: Nah, it’s just our environment man. We grew up around that.
Coffee: We are from the South, don’t forget. We are Southern.
Even in our earlier albums, we’ve paid homage to the South. We had “Tennessee Boys”, had that country swang. And that’s what we’re still trying to be. We’re not trying to be hoppin’ on the trends or this and that. We try to move wisely and stay relevant but at the same time man we have to stay true to who we are and what are goals are and what are missions are and helping make this music evolve and getting it to where it needs to get.
Every so often, you guys make it known that you don’t like to labeled gospel rappers. Why is that?
Coffee: Because we’re not. Period.
So in your opinion, what is a gospel rapper?
Coffee: You tell me? Is there a chart for that? That’s like asking was Rakim a 5% rapper? Do they capitalize on the fact that Lupe Fiasco is a Muslim? No, it’s just hip-hop. He talks about what he talks about and being real to who he is and to himself, that’s the essence of hip-hop right there. So why should we take on a title because people feel comfortable with saying that? They used to say Goodie Mob was gospel rap, they said Outkast was gospel rap one time. Even Andre said that in a verse. In taking that title, you have to justify everything that comes along with that title. And there’s so many things out there that categorize themselves as that and at the same time, most rappers who take on that title of gospel rapper, they don’t even take on the title of being hip-hop. They’re like, ‘I’m a gospel rapper, I ain’t no hip-hop’. But hip-hop is who you are, that made you open the door for you to do what you even do. That’s what you are, you do hip-hop. How it touches people and how it reaches people, that’s up to them. Each song is like a truth and it touches different people in different ways, so it’s hard to categorize it, except for leaving it as what it is.
Some Christian hip-hop heads get offended when you make that statement, ‘I’m not a gospel rapper.’
Coffee: I mean, we’ve sat in meetings with people where they told us, ‘yeah, you’re CD sat on our desk for months because they told me it was gospel rap.’ Then they opened it and listened to it and were like, ‘man this ain’t gospel rap, this is hot! Yeah, we need to talk about God, and that’s good, we need to talk about that more, but this is hot, why did they tell me that?’ When you got industry executives telling you that, you have to start thinking about where am I trying to go? What am I trying to do with the music? How do I want to get there? I need to make sure I’m doing it the right way. Do you believe God?
Yes, I do.
Coffee: Then you’re a gospel journalist right? No, you’re just a journalist. So when you paint the picture like that for people, they go ‘Now I see…” You just do what you do for integrity and let your faith be your strength for whatever your job is.
So this is your last album for Gotee Records, who you’ve been with for over a decade, what’s next?
Bonafide: We’re going independent, man.
Coffee: We have 5E Entertainment and the first artist that we’re putting out besides ourselves is IZ, short for Izrael, he’s out of DuVault County, Jacksonville, which is where I’m originally from. His stuff is more hardcore street stuff because that’s where… he came out of that. That’s where he’s going to reach out to people on a whole other level. It’s almost like having Grits, but street, or more street specific, I should say. We’re actually going to drop an EP coming up soon, and a mixtape series and we’re pushing for the album to be out by the summer.
So why not stick it out with Gotee instead of going indie?
Coffee: Well, our contract is up. The distribution system is not a good system for us or anyone else on EMI. As you can tell, that’s why Jermaine Dupri is not there anymore. So if the big dog is leaving, why am I staying?
How are you feeling about hip-hop in general, creatively nowadays?
Coffee: I think now it depends on what you’re in it for. It’s definitely open for opportunity right now, but right now I think there’s a good opportunity for those of us who came up in the golden era of hip-hop with A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. I think it’s definitely a god time for us to make it go full circle. I believe we’re kind of done with the D-Boy and the gangsta thing. It’s like old now. Anybody who’s coming out like that now, it’s like Jay-Z said, we don’t believe you, you need more people. It’s like where were you six years ago? Seven years ago? That is dying down and I just think the game is ready for something new. It’s kind of a gift and a curse situation right now, it’s bad because it’s being looked at negatively but it’s good because it gives others an opportunity to step up and really make a name for it and not just a genre or a culture, but for a whole generation.
Are you guys still in tune with the Christian hip-hop scene or are you more focused on breaking through to the secular scene?
Bonafide: We tap into it. We are the Christian hip-hop scene, if there is a scene. There are a few other groups who got recognition and their name out there, and you can name them on four or five fingers. It’s really not scene, because to have a scene you got to have a support system and when there’s not a support system, there’s not much happening. And it’s not a thing where we just want to be mainstream or we want to be this and that, what we want is a place where we can do our music and not worry about a title or label hindering us or freaking somebody out or confusing people. Just listen to the music, if you don’t walk away from our music knowing who we are and what we’re about then there’s something wrong with you. We in no way shun Christianity, that’s who we are, but it’s just not what we’re selling. We’re selling hip-hop, art, we’re artists. But if it blesses somebody and touches somebody and impacts a life or two along the way, that’s great! We want to be role models, we don’t run from that. That’s why we’re responsible with our lyrics.
You guys have been recording music for a long time, have you ever just got tired of the industry or bored with the music?
Bonafide: Yeah, you get frustrated with the politics of it. But I don’t feel like there was ever really a time I wanted to stop because I lost the love for it. If anything, you gets frustrated with the label and label heads, the gatekeepers who have the power control each and every move you make. That’s been the most frustrating part, but we’re still here trying to grind it out. There’s an honest and a truth and a deep passion for what we do. And we’re not in it just for ourselves, obviously, or we would have stopped a long time ago. We know there a necessity, there’s a need for us out there in the marketplace and we want to be able to fulfill that need while we out there. It don’t make sense to me that people who grew up on Biz Markie, Big Daddy Kane, Grandmaster Flash and all the old school but won’t even touch hip-hop because of what’s being played on the radio today. That’s foolishness to me, that it has to be like that. We want to be that group where they say, “Hey, don’t shun it all together, there’s something for the intelligent folks.” I’m bold enough to say we’re the only ones right now to offer some true, healthy music with integrity to guide the young generation.
So the business side is mostly the frustrating side?
Coffee: It’s always that man, it’s always that. Especially what we do, because what we do is not popular. It’s not the “profitable” thing to do. And you just got to love what you’re doing if it’s not considered profitable. Although we know what we’ve done has been profitable for many people. It’s been profitable for us and definitely Gotee and them and they can never tell you different. We’re the only group that was left on label that’s been there since the label started from a production team. So it’s definitely been profitable for them because if it wasn’t, they would have dropped us a long time ago. It’s been 12 years, so obviously something there was working. But yeah man, that’s just the way it goes, just business frustrates you sometimes. But you know business changes and makes us come up with better marketing schemes.