Rap music is a genre known for its rhythm and memorable beat, but an arguably more important and often overlooked element is the artist’s writing. Chris Mack, a current resident of Muncie, Indiana, talks to PATTERN about his writing process, inspiration and what it means to be a ‘Christian rapper’.
Sidney Hoerter: You just came out with your second album! How does it feel to have two albums under your belt?
Chris Mack: As a music artist I’m always looking for ways I can get better. When I listen to my recent album, I hear growth. But I also listen for what I need to improve. It’s like being in the gym–lifting or doing cardio. You build stamina as well as physical results. It’s really cool to see my work finally come into fruition.
SH: There was a three year gap between your first and second album. Was there a reason?
CM: Poor work ethic. On top of that, I was a student at Ball State. I was a leader for Cru and Impact during that
time as well; I wanted to invest myself in others rather than myself. I didn’t have as much time for my music because I find it difficult to multitask.
I eventually had some free time, and I dedicated it all to writing. But I didn’t set a date for myself when things needed to be done–it was a slow and steady process. The best way to make music is to step away from it and live life.
The best way to make music is to step away from it and live life.
SH: How do you think your newest album, ‘Dear Journal’, differs from your first album, ‘The Rhetoric Series’?
CM: They both have their themes, but I think ‘Dear Journal’ is more of a concept album. You have to listen from beginning to end for the full effect. ‘The Rhetoric Series’ was an experimental project with the theme of Aristotle’s explanation of rhetoric: ethos, logos, pathos, the arts of persuasion. But ‘Dear Journal’ is more of a personal journey.
SH: How would you describe your music?
CM: Hip-hop and rap with a little bit of soul.
SH: What genres and artists have influenced you?
CM: My dad has a soul background, and I grew up listening to a lot of Earth, Wind & Fire on road trips. When I was on my way here I was thinking She’s probably going to ask me who influences my music—
SH: So you had to think about it, didn’t you?
CM: Oh I definitely did.
I would say Reach Records; anyone on that label: Lecrae, KB, Andy Mineo. I appreciate how bold they are about their faith in music while also being relatable.
Humble Beast Records produces a band called Beautiful Eulogy that has its own kind of hip-hop–poetic and explicit about their faith.
Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole; he’s a great storyteller, Anderson Paak; well-rounded, André 3000 is a lyrical genius.
SH: Any major life events that found their way into the album?
CM: The transition of leaving college. When I was at school, I was surrounded by people that encouraged me to grow in Christianity. After college, I didn’t always have those people around me. Now my faith is my own, and I have to take steps to seek it out.
I say all that to demonstrate that it hasn’t been the easiest transition coming from a close community. When there’s a lack of community, I think there’s an increase of mistakes and sin. I want to be open and vulnerable in this project to let people know that I am a Christian and still an imperfect human being. When people hear this project, I want them to think This guy doesn’t have it all together but that’s OK because of God’s saving grace. I make music to be a means for intimate conversations.
SH: What are your plans for the future?
CM: I would love to make a career out of my music. I think now is the perfect time to strive for it by networking with other artists, creatives, or anyone that can help me make it happen. I may never win a Grammy, but my goal is to make a living from my music.
SH: Do you have any collaboration projects in the works with other local Indy musicians?
CM: I’m working with a guy named Ray Wyatt, he’s an alternative folk musician. I’m also working with LJ Herbert. We’ve been collaborating on a lot of projects together lately. We both work at Jack’s Donuts together and we’ll be cooking donuts in the kitchen–
SH: And maybe cooking some tunes?
CM: laughs Yeah, but we’re both going after the same thing and supporting each other in that.
Being a Christian does not mean being perfect.
SH: Chance the Rapper once said something along the lines of ‘I’m Christian and a rapper but I’m not a Christian rapper’… How does that statement make you feel?
CM: As someone who also expresses his faith in music, I get this debate all the time. There’s this sub genre called Christian hip hop–if you have both characteristics, should you call yourself a Christian rapper or a rapper who’s a Christian. The main reason why people have this debate is because there are these negative connotations about Christian hip hop.
With Chance, he seems to be pretty vocal about his faith but some people would look at his life and say, ‘You’re doing some questionable things.’ But, again, being a Christian does not mean being perfect.
Honestly, I don’t care what the title is–call me whatever you want. I rap at festivals, churches, bars. Most people would probably call me a Christian rapper because you can hear themes related to faith in all of my music, but I think I would say I’m a rapper that is Christian.
Some rappers are vocal about their faith from the start and others, like Kanye West, only briefly mention their faith. I think the idea of a Christian rapper could lead people away from the music. The reality is that artists have a target audience and you have to appeal to that with an image.