West Coast vet Propaganda and Detroit-bred Derek Minor have run in parallel lanes in the Christian Hip Hip world for nearly a decade. Minor was briefly signed to Lecrae’s label friends Reach Records before starting his own label Reflection Music Group in Nashville and became friends with Prop as affiliates of 116 movement. But despite their ties, the two developed distinct sounds and brands that didn’t clearly intersect.
Propaganda was challenging himself to step outside of his normal routine in making music. He’s been signed to Portland-based independent label Humble Beast for most of his career and needed fresh momentum, especially after the death of his good friend DJ Efechto. So he hit up Minor out of the blue and the result was the new seven-track project Nothing But A Word, a fusion of the two’s personal inspirations from around the world and from the depths of home.
With their first project as a duo out now, Minor and Propaganda spoke to HipHopDX about finally collaborating, staying inspired in music and living in their higher purpose.
HipHopDX: I know this album came about because of circumstance. Tell me that story.
Propaganda: I had a meeting in Nashville, the meeting got canceled and then the flight got delayed. So, I’m just sitting in Nashville doing nothing. I was still sort of dealing with [the death of] Efechto and learning how to try new things and just what do I do? How do I feel? So, the idea was like man, let me just do something I’ve never done. It was like I’ve always wanted to just hey, I see dudes do it all the time, “Hey I’m in town, let’s work.”
I’ve never made music like that. I just thought to myself, I just struck up a friendship with Tobe [Nwigwe] and I was like man, it would be dope to get something in. Who would be a good producer for something that would match Tobe and me? I was like Derek! Easy, I just texted him, “Are you home?” He’s like, “Yeah.” It turns out he works like that all the time. It’s just like a way he enjoys that sort of system. I’m like man, let’s ride. So I went over.
HipHopDX: Derek, what were you doing when you got that text?
Derek Minor: Eating a bowl of cereal
HipHopDX: What kind of cereal?
Derek Minor: Probably Cinnamon Toast Crunch, if I had to guess.
HipHopDX: Can’t go wrong with that.
Derek Minor: Tell Cinnamon Toast Crunch I need that endorsement real quick! [Laughs] But yeah, I think I was eating breakfast and he hit me up and I was like, “Yeah, come through.” I love making music, so any time I get an excuse to do that, I do it.
Propaganda: For me, Humble Beast was transitioning, so I was kind of floundering I didn’t know what I was doing next and wit this happening, I had an opportunity to try out some other sounds and what would this type of production pull out of me? And that’s where “Dope” came from and where “Fallen” came from, the song with Liz Vice and Tobe was just from that layover.
HipHopDX: Derek, why is it easier for you to work on the fly like that?
Derek Minor: My philosophy with music is every time I sit down, I look at music like a jigsaw puzzle that hasn’t been put together yet. I don’t really have an agenda usually when I make music. I just get in there and I hear things and I might start with something and I’m like oh that’s cool. And then as I listen and audition other samples or drums or whatever, then the next step is to see what pieces match and what fit and then usually it winds up coming out amazing.
So when you add another person into the process, they bring their piece of the puzzle together and then it winds up being something unique that you probably couldn’t make on your own. So, I love the process of collabing with people ’cause I always leave learning something new. I think that’s why I’ve been able to do it as long as I’ve been able to do it. Because I feel like everyone has something valuable to add and there’s no combination that doesn’t work as far as music is concerned if people are talented.
HipHopDX: Obviously people know both of you are in the Christian Hip Hop world. You intersect off that, but your sounds are so different. What did you learn from working together combining your sounds?
Propaganda: One was even though I may make a certain thing for my music, I’m complex. I like a lot of different things. Maybe this is just what I’ve been making, but it’s not because I dislike other things or that I’m not able to do other stuff. It’s just not what I make. It’s just the same with Derek. You forget, a lot of times because he does so much trap stuff or he lives in Nashville, he’s from Detroit. So, he’s from Dilla world. His ear and what he actually enjoys and what he can do and listen to is so much more eclectic than what comes out of his lab.
A lot of times it has to do with who’s available to him. It’s the same for me. It was like, well, this is who’s available to me. This is what I know I can do well, so this is just what we made. So for me, it was like I just learned that, man, if you sit with somebody that’s not trying to make you what you’re not but also have the ability to pull something new out of you, that’s a good producer. That’s what I learned, man. Everybody is just as complex as everybody else.
Derek Minor: For me, I’ve always pictured him. I’ve always wanted to produce a project for him secretly. I don’t know if he knew that or not.
Propaganda: Yo! I had no idea. I thought I never ever crossed his mind!
Derek Minor: [Laughs] It’s facts! But I don’t really consider myself having a sound. I just make what I like at the moment, so wherever that goes, that goes. So if you listen to my catalog, it’s all over the place. But that’s because I’m all over the place musically. So depending on what I’m listening to at the time usually determines what mood I’m in and all of that. So with him, I always wanted to make some West Coast bop that has southern elements to it.
Because if you look back over the history of music, and me being from Michigan as well, the music that’s in the Bay sounds very similar to the music that’s in Detroit. When you look at Master P, Master P was doing a lot of stuff with people in the Bay a lot. So, the south and the midwest and the West Coast have always been intertwined in music. So, it was natural for me.
HipHopDX: You guys had “Dope” as the main single; can you break that song down? It’s very West Coast, which is important to you and even just the message of learning to count your blessings is very powerful.
Propaganda: First of all, that wasn’t the first version of the song, the one that came out. It was always very Westy, but it was a little more sort of undergroundy, like it was this is more for the heads. So, he sort of reproduced it with the dope singing sample and just made it a little more palatable, which took it to the stratosphere sonically.
Derek Minor: Quite honestly, I made a total different beat. The only thing from the original beat that’s still in there is this drum loop. It kinda has this kt-kt-kt-kt — it’s a little ticking drum loop in there, but I pretty much reformatted or retooled the whole beat because I just didn’t feel like … it was good, but I didn’t feel like it was brilliant. I felt like we needed something brilliant for the project, something that let people know we weren’t playing around. So I was just on Tracklib, which is a site that I often look around and slide some different things and I heard that sample. I heard that girl’s voice and from there, it was off to the races. It was a wrap.
HipHopDX: And please, please do tell the people what that lovely sample is.
Derek Minor: Audrey Powne. She’s in a band called Leisure Centre and they’re from Australia. The song is “Mind Full.” When I first heard her, I thought she was this black chick from Houston like the new Erykah Badu-type chick. Some neo-soul chick. So, I got obsessed and I started Googling and then I just was like yo, this is a regular Australian chick. Then from there, I’ve actually sort of grown to find that there’s a huge jazz scene in Melbourne, Australia I knew nothing about. They got some hitters over there. So that’s what I’ve kind of been listening to for the past month and a half is Australian jazz.
Propaganda: As far as the concept of “Dope,” like I said I was so — the best word is bewildered — at the time and just like man, you can get into the comparison trap as an artist. It’s not that you’re not happy for your homies taking off and finding meteoric rising and selling a ton of tickets and moving a bunch of units. You’re happy for your friends and wish it was you. It’s hard when you have a competitive streak and you put so much work into your product and you’re not seeing, at least from your vantage point, the same results that your friends or other people are getting and sometimes you just get a little down.
I was in the process of, man, I need to step back and evaluate what do I think success is? And it’s not to knock somebody else down to make myself feel better but to just kind of like pull back and be like your eyes are so much on other people. This is what I’ve been able to accomplish in the time. I’ve been able to accomplish for the amount of years I’ve been able to do what I do at this level is like bro, like what is your problem? So, kind of just pulling back and appreciating even the season I was in, it was just such a hard season that I needed something to encourage myself personally. And just knowing that I’m not the only one that has hard seasons. Somebody else is going to need this. I know it.
HipHopDX: Derek, what does this project specifically mean for you?
Derek Minor: He would be the biggest artist that has ever trusted me to produce their record. I’ve always produced music. I’ve been producing my own music for the past 10 or 15 years, but no one has ever known and I think it’s because the rap artistry kind of overshadows the production. So, the importance of that is for people to know. Hopefully, they’ll listen to the project and say, “Wow, we didn’t know he produced that well.” So it’s that but then also, I like making music with my friends and this feels like something that I’ll always be able to look back on and say, man, this is a great moment in time with a friend.
I was telling Prop not long ago that I love our project, the art that we made. I feel like part of my mission in life is I know there’s so many artists that get stuck. I’m not saying he was here, but I know a lot of my friends make music and they don’t enjoy the process. I love when I’m able to bring people into my creative process and it’s enjoyable and they don’t feel like they wanna kill themselves after the studio session is over with. So that’s kind of cool as well is being able to create those vibes.
Propaganda: Yeah, I was very down in the dumps not knowing what was next for me. It was so fun and reviving making a record with him.
HipHopDX: That’s beautiful. I love it. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Propaganda: HipHopDX has been just a constant support. I just appreciate how they never really sat us at the kid’s table. You all respected us as actual artists. So I am super honored that they’re still checking in on us. I guess ultimately for the audience, don’t be afraid to pivot when pivoting is necessary. And enjoy the ride.
This is the most relaxed I’ve ever been in making an album. I was so relaxed. I was chilling. Because I just felt like, man, I don’t know, maybe I’m just maturing. But I was like I’m fine, man. I just don’t feel the weight I normally feel when it comes to making a record.
HipHopDX: Derek, anything else for you?
Derek Minor: Nah, I think we got it!