You may have noticed a sparkly white and gold album cover atop the iTunes Hip Hop charts by an artist named Derek Minor when his album dropped on January 27. Fast forwarding, Empire, has nothing to do with the insanely successful Fox drama, but premiered at number 54 on the Billboard 200 chart. Of course, Minor has been in the game for longer than you may realize, releasing his first album in 2008 under the name PRo. He changed his name two years ago before releasing his fourth album Minorville.
Derek Minor made waves when he announced he was leaving independent powerhouse Reach Records to build his own label, Reflection Music Group. Minor thinks he has silenced the critics now that he has proven success on his own.
The label owner hopes to lay out his vision without changing himself in the slightest, and describes himself as just a husband, father, and business owner.
“There’s tons of people that’s not out at the strip club every day throwing thousands of dollars at naked women,” Minor says. “And I feel like I make music for people that are normal and don’t necessarily live the lavish lifestyles that you hear or that people fanaticize about in Hip Hop. I feel like there’s people that just want to hear good music.”
Minor wants to be the people’s champ. He gets the most joy from his music when people come up to him and tell him how a song spoke to them. Even though he’s a Christian, he wants people to know he is a human being, too, because of course loves to talk basketball, videogames and Hip Hop just like the next guy. But don’t think you can step to the emcee formerly known as PRo with intentions to out rap him because he’d pick himself above just about anyone.
Derek Minor Describes The Struggle To Create
HipHopDX: Has it been a struggle for you being so vulnerable at times?
Derek Minor: At times it is because it would seem today the expectation in Hip Hop is that it’s almost sorta at times fake it ‘til you make it. You don’t want people to see any type of weaknesses or anything like that. When I write songs like the song on my new album, “Save Me,” which really just talks about family members passing away and some craziness happening in my life. Often times today it’s just like yo, we just wanna party and do what we do. Like everyone expects that being a Christian is being perfect. So the moment that you say that I’m imperfect, then all of a sudden everyone looks at you like aw, man, you fake or whatever. But I’m just like look, this is who I am, I’m a messed up individual, broken individual, and the only person that’s great is God, so here it is, hear it in my music.
HipHopDX: What was the inspiration behind the theme for Empire?
Derek Minor: There’s a cool story about that, like what if I told you, I was like yo, I’m a give you a blueprint to build a building. I’m a give you one blueprint and if you follow the instructions, as soon as you build this building, five minutes after you build it, it’s gonna crumble and fall apart. Or what if I told you, there’s this other blueprint I can give you and if you follow this blueprint, that that building will last forever. Which one would you choose?
HipHopDX: The forever one.
Derek Minor: Right! ‘Cause you don’t want to waste your time. You don’t want to say I spent all this time building this, and as soon as I build it, it collapses. That’s the whole idea of Empire. You can spend your life building whatever it is you’re building, but apart from God, there’s no way that it’ll last. We see that happen all the time. You see guys that have had amazing careers, but at the end of the day, everyone’s careers begin to wane. It’s like, who was the coldest jazz player in 1960? Not a lot of people remember that.
But I’m sure in 1960, that person was the man. So as I eventually, I feel like if I create music and at the end of the day, all you can say is, ‘Wow, Derek had a number one album,’ I feel like I failed. But if I make music that impacts people forever, for an eternity, for a lifetime, and it gets them to change and make better decisions with their life and ultimately, if it leads them to greatness, then I feel like I’ve done something eternal.
HipHopDX: I love how you carried the theme throughout the whole album.
Derek Minor: Yeah, I feel like cats don’t really, I feel like nowadays, it’s such a playlist-oriented, which is dope, you got the Spotifies and the iTunes, and we just kinda take and make our own playlist. But I’m really passionate about making complete albums, albums that from track one to 16, you can listen to and you don’t have to skip anything and it makes sense. So I’m really passionate about that.
HipHopDX: I wanted to ask, this is kind of random, but has anyone confused your album or associated it with the new Fox show called Empire?
Derek Minor: Oh my gosh, yes. One person was like, “Yo, I can’t wait to see Derek Minor on Fox, Empire.” I don’t even respond anymore. It’s just like, “Ok. (laughs). You’re gonna watch the show and realize that this is something totally different, but that’s ok.”
HipHopDX: Have you seen the show?
Derek Minor: Yeah, I caught a little bit of it. Obviously, you put Terrence Howard, it’s a wrap. That dude is, he’s brilliant. And then Teraji (P. Henson), I mean both of them, they’re amazing actors. The show is dope. They need to put some Empire music in there. I need to get a cameo in the show is what needs to happen. They need to let me come on in there, do my thing.
HipHopDX: There you go, bring a whole new element.
Derek Minor: Absolutely.
Derek Minor Addresses His Departure From Reach Records & Owning His Own Label
HipHopDX: Going into some of the music on the album, in the Intro, you kinda addressed the situation when you and Reach Records parted ways. Do people still kinda question that?
Derek Minor: Yeah, a few times, a lot of it was really before this album. I think now that the album’s out, like I haven’t got a whole lot of that because you see it was number one on iTunes when it first came out. So I now I don’t really get a lot of that. But at first, when I was writing the album, almost every question in every interview or like a lot of fans would be like, “How are you gonna do this? Or what are you gonna do?” After a while, it just was like, “Yo, will you please stop asking me these questions? I think I got it. I think I’m pretty good. I think we’ll be ok.” I have a team.
The cool thing about when I was at Reach, I had been building Reflection Music Group this whole time. Me, Lecrae and everyone at Reach knew that this day was gonna come. When I first signed with them, Lecrae’s words were, “Man’ you’re building your thing, I’d love to have you come aboard. Hopefully we can help you build your platform and then you can create another situation.” ‘Cause I’ve always been a label owner, even before I was at Reach. So, the whole goal the whole time was to keep building, building, building, building, ultimately, so that there could be multiple movements with the same goals and the same ideas. My staff, my team, they’re amazing. They work tirelessly. It would seem that the work has paid off pretty well.
HipHopDX: And then here I am asking you about it (laughs)
Derek Minor: (Laughs) No, it’s no worries, it’s just part of a job, it’s part of it. And it’s an interesting piece because really kinda Reach is at this real big high, so to a lot of people it’s like, “That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Like why would you just…” No! It makes sense because, even if you listen to what Jay Z said on I think it was The Black Album, “Own your own masters.” That’s what he said. That’s coming from I think probably one of the greatest rappers of our time, if not the greatest, definitely one of the greatest Hip Hop business entrepreneurs there are. Owning your own masters and having your own business is important for people that want to be in this game especially as album sales begin to decline and everything begins to become more indie. There’s so many opportunities for any young Hip Hop business entrepreneur to own their own masters and have freedom with their art. It was good. I enjoyed my time at Reach, but ultimately, I want to own my own masters and be in control of my own musical destiny if you will.
HipHopDX: What about that line about the Little Mermaid, “You can’t take my voice away?”
Derek Minor: Yeah, that definitely wasn’t directed at Reach. Oftentimes like you sit in meetings with guys and they’re like, “Yo, this is what I can do. You gotta give me all creative control over your music and sign your whole life away and we’ll give you an average advance, and hopefully we’ll be able to take your music to the next level.” I just feel like I know what type of music I want to make and I wanted to partner with people that want to enhance what we’re doing, not take it and change it ‘cause I feel like what we’re doing is working. So it doesn’t make sense to deal with a label or something and someone just take it and flip it over, but Reach really gave me a lot of creative control over all my music.
HipHopDX: You kind of talked about this in answering those questions, but what did it mean to you to have the number one Hip Hop album on iTunes?
Derek Minor: It was surreal! ‘Cause it was the first time it’s ever happened. You have J. Cole, Nicki Minaj, you had Lupe Fiasco up there and it’s like, “Wow, my album is number one with all of those guys on the charts, too.” That was something that made me smile ‘cause we put a lot of work, a lot of hard work into it and everyone wants their hard work to pay off and just seeing that people received the album as well as they received it and for it to do so well just right off the bat was really exciting. It makes me want to go write another album honestly.
Why Derek Minor Is Motivated To Be A People’s Champ
HipHopDX: That’s awesome motivation and like you said, fruit of your labor. I also wanted to ask you about your song, “Stranger.” You first released that after the grand jury decision in the Eric Garner case. Were you waiting to release that song for the album and then decided to release it after that news? Or what was the story behind releasing that?
Derek Minor: That’s actually funny because I wrote that song, that’s actually one of the first songs I wrote for Empire. So as I was writing it and mixes were coming in, I was like, yo, I saw the state of where people were after the Eric Garner decision came back and I was like, “Yo, I feel like this song can really speak into the heart of what people are dealing with now.” So, and it was already mixed and mastered, so it just made sense. I was like, yo we should just put this out ‘cause I really feel like that song would really benefit the people that listen to my music. I get so many messages what people are saying. ‘Yo, that song made me see things in a different light.’ Or, ‘That song was very encouraging, I feel like you were speaking for me.’ And that’s the whole end goal.
HipHopDX: Earlier, you were talking about being the people’s champ. Is that an example of that you think?
Derek Minor: Yeah, for me, that’s what it’s about. I do music for the people. The end goal is, ultimately, I love God and there’s no running from that. I do music to please him, but I also do music for the people. I’m passionate about people. I grew up in a single-parent household and it’s tough the kids that grow, that have the same type of experiences I’ve had and I want to make sure that their voices are heard.
HipHopDX: Did you have anybody early in your career that encouraged you to do that, to put your all into your music?
Derek Minor: If anybody, it would be my dad. He was a guitar player, a jazz guitarist. Long as I can remember, he was like, yo, I want you to smash and kill, do what you do. So he bought me a guitar when I was nine. But it was too complex. I didn’t understand. I just didn’t get it. Then I started rapping. I remember my first time rapping. It was me, him, and like three dudes that were like half drunk and high. I remember this one guy it literally took him two days to write like half of a verse. They had a beat on. It just happened like, one night everybody was freestyling and I’m 12 years old up here with these grown men and I just start spitting. My dad was like, yo that’s crazy. So that whole summer all we did was make beats, watch old Bruce Lee karate movies, and I rapped. From there, I just got that bug and it never stopped. I just kept moving forward with it. I’ve done everything, played basketball, did all kinds of other stuff, but always kept coming back to the music. There was an opportunity for me, I got a scholarship to Middle Tennessee State University for music business and from there, I just went hard with the music.
HipHopDX: Kind of along the same lines of just mainstream, but some of the songs on the album, especially “Kingdom Come” and “Slow Down,” there’s kind of a criticism of the fast life in Hip Hop and some of the culture. How do you hope to bring change to some of those negative things in the culture?
Derek Minor: The way I hope to bring change is just being myself. I’m not a drug dealer. I’m not a gangster. I have a wife and two kids. I’m not a womanizer. I’m just gonna be myself. I think that’s one of the things in Hip Hop especially today is the most amazing, there’s so many people that’s all so many different things in Hip Hop. For me, I’m just gonna be myself. For people that like Hip Hop that identify with me, then I feel like I bring that to the table. There’s tons of people that’s not out at the strip club every day throwing thousands of dollars at naked women. And I feel like I make music for people that are normal and don’t necessarily live the lavish lifestyles that you hear or that people fanaticize about in Hip Hop. I feel like there’s people that just want to hear good music. And I also feel like there’s people that live those lifestyles that want to hear music that’s different and I feel like for me, it’s just an end goal is just I’m gonna be myself and just live with whatever the outcome is. But it would be fake if I was like, “Yeah, I used to sell dope and I’ll take a gun and shoot you in the head,” when I’m not even that type of person.
I think most people identify with authenticity more than they identify with trying to fit into something. I’m just gonna be authentic and be myself and that’s that. If you like me, you like me, if you don’t, you don’t and that’s what it is. But I’m not gonna bite my tongue and try to act fake just so I can fit in and get a pat on the back by whoever. I am who I am and that’s really how I feel like bringing change. You don’t have to be a dope dealer. I went to college. You can go to college. I own my own business. You can own your own business, legitimately.’ I want to bring those types of things to the table for people that feel like there’s no other way that I’ve seen in my hood or the way that I’ve been doing for forever. That’s what I feel.
HipHopDX: I wanted to ask, will we ever see another PSA mixtape?
Derek Minor: Aw, naw. I’m kind of like Christopher Nolan. I believe after a trilogy, we just end it. But I may do another mixtape pretty soon. I just don’t know what the concept will be, but as of right now, PSA it’s a wrap for that. You just gotta go back and listen to those three.
Derek Minor Addresses Being Both Christian & Hip Hop
HipHopDX: Also, I wanted to ask you, what does it mean for “Christian Hip Hop,” Lecrae being nominated for the Grammys in the generic Hip Hop category, what do you think that means for you guys?
Derek Minor: I think what it means for us is people are starting to recognize what we been doing for years. This isn’t new. I will put, there’s tons of artists that I know that are Christian that I will put up against anybody’s projects ‘cause of art. We’ve been doing this for years, for the longest making quality music. I just think Christians are starting to get a little bit, look, I think what’s happened is, everybody’s had that dude come in their church that wasn’t really good but everybody kinda claps for him because you’re like, “Man, this is church we can’t tell him this guy’s whack.” I can tell you right now, the people in my circle, I will put them up against any artist period. That’s the same like we’re Hip Hop. I’m a Christian, but I’m Hip Hop. I grew up listening to Jay Z, Tupac, I grew up listening to all types of, like I know my Hip Hop history. I know the eras that I grew up in, what was popular during those times. Being a Christian, I think oftentimes when you see “Christian” people automatically assume that it’s sub-par or sub-quality for whatever reason. But we’ve been doing this for years. People are just now starting to figure it out.
HipHopDX: I feel like it’s impossible to engage a culture if we outright deny association with it. What are your thoughts on those labels?
Derek Minor: For me personally, I don’t really care about the label, the Christian Hip Hop label or not ‘cause people are gonna label you however they want to label you. There’s nothing you can do about that. They’re gonna label you. So for me, all I care about is that when you pop my CD in, that you say that it’s dope. That’s all I really care about at the end of the day. I think for me, it’s unfortunate that Christian Hip Hop, the idea of being Christian in Hip Hop is synonymous with in a lot of people’s mind, that it’s being whack. Because I know tons of Christians that can out-spit anybody. We don’t do that with any other type of culture or any type of like we don’t have Five-Percent Rap. We don’t have Muslim Rap. It’s just Rap. For me, my preference is to just be called a Hip Hop artist. As far as that label, I only deal with stuff that I can change. Whatever you call me, there’s nothing I can do about how you want to label me. But what I can do, is when I go into that studio, put out the best music that I can put out. So for me, I’m really kind of indifferent with that, because there’s not really anything I can do with about it. I can call myself whatever I want to call myself. If you ask me what I would prefer to be called, call me a Hip Hop artist, ‘cause that’s what I am. I’m a Hip Hop artist. I make Hip Hop music. That’s what I do. But I mean, the people put the Christian tag on it or not, it doesn’t change the fact of whether my music is good or bad. It’s good. I know it’s good. And people that listen to it, they know it’s good. So I just deal in the areas that I can change and don’t put much effort into the stuff I can’t.
HipHopDX: It’s so limiting to be a Christian in Hip Hop culture, but I’m excited to see there is progress being made.
Derek Minor: I think the main thing for real, I don’t think the label is what’s prohibiting. Often, no, I take that back. The label is prohibiting. Anytime someone says, oftentimes, most the time when you’re like, ‘Yo, this a Christian Hip Hop dude,’ you kinda get the side eye thing, right? So, if we’re talking about this strategically, yeah, I definitely would rather you just call me a Hip Hop artist. But I think really why a lot of Christian Hip Hop isn’t accepted is because I feel like oftentimes they haven’t been in Hip Hop culture. I think that’s one of the things like a lot of Christians when they become Christians, they just kinda don’t go to any type of Hip Hop events or anything like that in fear of doing something wrong. I think that’s the difference why Lecrae has, I think why people know Lecrae is because I’ve seen Lecrae at the Grammys. I’ve seen Lecrae at the BET Awards. I’ve seen Lecrae go meet up with a guy like we’ll be out hanging around and then like, ‘Oh, there’s Big K.R.I.T. What’s up?’ Go say what’s up to Big K.R.I.T. Talk to him and in the culture building relationships with people and I think that’s where a lot of Christians miss the mark. If I’m just to speak freely is oftentimes they’re like, ‘Man, we want to be competitive within the Hip Hop world,’ but they’re not in the culture. They don’t talk to anyone. They’re not even, they don’t seek to build relationships outside of their circles. So I think that’s probably more prohibitive than the title itself.
HipHopDX: Yeah, you have to be willing to branch out and to learn.
Derek Minor: Yeah, put yourself out there. Even in this interview, you see I haven’t hid the fact that I’m a Christian. I don’t look at it like, ‘Oh, there needs to be some sort of covert ops thing’ or whatever. Just be yourself. The people that I’m around, Christian or non-Christian, everyone respects real and honest. That’s the thing like, go build relationships with people who aren’t necessarily in your little bubble and it’s awkward and it feels strange. Sometimes it’s like man what’s the common ground here? But at the same time, like I’m a person. I’m a human being. That’s what I am at the end of the day. There should be no reason why I shouldn’t be able to connect with somebody and say ‘What’s good? How you doin? Let’s build a relationship,’ regardless of what your religion is. I think that’s probably one of the most prohibitive things is because people haven’t really wrapped their brains around how that works. We could just keep it simple. I’ve got cousins and family members that aren’t Christian. So, it’s like just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I’m gonna cut off my own family members. I still have relationships. I think a lot of times people that aren’t Christians think that’s what we do, too. They’re like, ‘Aw, man that dude’s a Christian. He probably doesn’t wanna hang out or have a relationship.’ It’s like naw, dude, I’m a Christian, but I like basketball, I like XboxOne. I like Rap music, Hip Hop (laughs).