Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The People (of God?) vs. PJ Morton

I don't write much about music on this blog. Well, I guess that's a bit disingenuous...


I don't write MUCH on this blog.

Because of that, I guess that many of my interests and favorites aren't ever brought up much.

If you do know me personally, though, you know that I love music. And not that excrement they pump sonically through the radio. I mean MUSIC. At first I really only listened to gospel. Then for about a semester (after rooming with co-blogger Steven LaiHing), I surrendered to the depths of hell and embarked on a journey into rap music and hip hop.

(lol just kidding Steve. I actually did enjoy some of what I heard. I still have to pray for strength to not set Tupac's "When We Ride on Our Enemies" as my alarm some mornings...)

Anyway, over the last 7 years I have forayed into just about every genre, listened to everything at least once or twice, and really expanded my own knowledge and perspective on what music actually IS.

That's why, when I finished wandering across the musical landscape, my heart and mind returned to two genres: gospel music and R&B.

For that reason, PJ Morton is one of my favorite artists. To keep the background brief, he is the son of two pastors, Bishops Paul and Debra Morton, who also are recording artists. So PJ was raised both in the church and in the music biz. He started a group called "Freestyle Nation," who I actually saw perform at Madison Mission in 2003, and from the beginning his songs and themes were different than the big-choir church music his parents performed. His music was not widely accepted in the church.

Six years later, PJ is on the cusp of a breakout as an artist. He is performing for packed audiences and getting invited to perform across the country.

Only problem is...now he is considered a secular artist. His style, musical content, and overall goals haven't changed. He even won a Stellar award for "Song of the Year" in 2008, so his ties to gospel haven't been broken. But he tours as all other soul/R&B musicians do these days, sometimes in concert halls, sometimes in clubs.

So apparently within the last week, CNN actually contributed a segment to this debate, discussing PJ, his book "Why Can't I Sing About Love?", and the debate surrounding his "secular" music career. The segment flashes between PJ explaining his stance and Tye Tribbett offering the opposing perspective. You can watch the video here.

After watching that video, as well as PJ's response to the segment on YouTube, I felt a lot more passionate about this subject than I had expected to. I actually ended up writing an enormous comment to post on YouTube (and I have NEVER posted a comment on a video before). The comment was so enormous that, in fact, it was too big to even post on YouTube. So I ended up just sending it straight to PJ's account. There's a major chance that he never ends up reading it, but either way I had to at least put it out there.

So here is the message I sent. As a disclaimer before the disclaimer, I was writing a message with YouTube in mind, so my shifts in conversation between speaking generally and speaking to PJ specifically were supposed to make sense in that context. In this one...not so much. So just bear with me...it.

This was what i sent to a friend, and then i fixed it up for YouTube, but then realized it was too big to post, so...yeah, here you go.

PJ, I agree with you AND Tye in this situation. FIRST off, if the debate is about only writing songs about Jesus then Tye really needs to be more introspective, because nothing about "Good in the Hood" was edifying Christ! But honestly I don't even think that Tye is attacking PJ's situation. When Tye & GA were in the secular world they were there as vocalists and background performers, and they had to follow the lead of whatever the artists were doing, in the way they lived and the songs they sang. PJ is a lead artist who controls his own songs, the lifestyle he lives on the road, the places he will and won't perform, and every other aspect of his career/ministry. So whereas I agree with Tye (and the Bible) that "no man can serve two masters," I think that in his secular experience Tye DID serve two masters, whereas PJ is on a path that, I believe through my own experience with his music, is both God-led and God-inspired.
In my humble opinion, PJ is a CHRISTIAN artist. He reflects Christian principles in his music. A LOT of artists within the genre of "gospel music" perform songs that are less about Jesus and really more about Christian themes and Christian life like PJ's music (Examples: Mary Mary, Kierra Sheard, Karen Clark, Deitrick Hadden, Kirk Franklin, J Moss, etc). So I can't understand why GOSPEL artists get so much leeway in what they can and can't perform, but then a Christian artist who presents a message in seemingly every song is seen as being "out there" or "out of God's will." I think we need to think about this a little bit...
Lastly, here's what I suggest we fix: instead of calling BLACK church music "Gospel" and WHITE church music "Christian" (and yes it's true, check iTunes, Amazon, wherever you want!), why don't we stop defining ourselves and our music by race? We can call songs about Jesus "Gospel music" and songs that exemplify the principles of godly living "Christian music". Then PJ wouldn't have to call himself R&B at all.
But then again, until we stop treating love as a secular principle (1 Cor 13), we are just sounding brass and tinkling cymbals anyway. I'm 25 years old, and it's time to "put away childish things"...like that way of thinking.
PJ, just know that the good folk in Dallas are supporting and praying for your ministry. I mean...career. Lol or whatever they wanna let you call it! God bless.
So what do you think on this issue? Hit the comments section, tell me I'm stupid, whatever you desire. Hopefully this debate will lead to positive changes within the gospel music industry. What those changes are, I guess, is what remains to be seen.


Jonathan said...

Very well said coon...( he knows who this is).....LOL yeah your were on point with this one....I would share more on this subject but i'm tired i have class in the mornin and did i say im tired....but i just wanted to say good stuff....call me negro

Jonathan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
slaihing said...

Good stuff! Didn't expect to read this so soon, but it brought up some interesting questions...I remember when Kirk Franklin's Revolution (11 years ago?!) came out featuring the song "lean on me." There was a big backlash in the church because he was openly recording with secular artist, Bono, Mary J Blige, and R. Kelly. I remember my local Christian stations and most other ones I suppose had an alternate "Gospel version" with only Christian artist on it (Crystal Lewis and someone else). There is no reason why someone in PJ's situation (an artist controlling his own image, and musical output) can't put out music with a decidedly Christian theme and not have it accepted. Shoot, Fred Hammond (who I am not a fan of if you didn't know) did a whole album based on his divorce and the feelings he was having (something about love). Thats Gospel, but "No ordinary love" isn't? Hypocrisy. I completely agree that we need to get away with this Gospel vs. Christian vs. Race labeling, Gospel is music explicitly dealing with Jesus Christ, Christian can deal with nuances of Christian life and situations. I like that distinction. Good post.

Jason Davis said...

Man this post was right on point. I have been listening to Pj Morton for a while now and the guy is on point. His songs do not portray relationships of lust that are so common these days but songs of love. Why cant we sing about love? Isnt God love? Is it wrong for him to make music that will not be sung in church service? People hum jingles all the time does that mean they are sinning? I am a little surprised at Tye Tribett b/c for an artist that pushes the envelope on many "traditional" aspects of goslep music.

Lexi~Breau said...

I think this post is great. I definitely think you should get the book if you haven't already. www.whycantisingaboutlove.com. or you can go to www.pjmortononline.com.

It touches on just what you spoke of in your comment. Not sure if you edited the "general" comments... but I do know that Pj does try to read things that people write. Chances are he ran across what you sent him in some form or fashion directly. He's a very organic artist.

When it comes to love, like his father said in the forward to his book... what are you really going to listen to when you are in love with someone and you want to do the do? I doubt you want to throw in that new Tye Tribbett album... kick rocks Tye!

Lexi~Breau said...

and as far as Pj as a person.. he's the most "Christian" dude out there. The world's a stage. He's respectful and he's passionate. His love for God is ever present and IMO nothing about his music is outside of using a God-given gift the way God intended.

In fact when you think about it, when you really listen to his music... it breathes God's love and how He wants us to love. Anywho. If you haven't heard the song Why Can't I Sing About Love... listen to it.. it's on the site.

When did love become secular anyway? When artists decided to meld love and raunchy random sex? smh... Pj needs to rock on and give us real music. :)