I talked with Joey the Jerk about his time with LA Symphony, his new record, and Christian hip hop. Check out his newest record now on Noisetrade!!
Gabe: Tell me a little bit about this recent album you’ve put out that’s on Noisetrade. Tell me about the heart behind it and some of your inspirations.
Joey: I’m always making music and writing songs. I’m always expressing myself through art in that context. We had made an L.A. Symphony record a couple years ago. I wasn’t totally happy with the way it all went. L.A. Symphony definitely started out as a Christian group. All the members were Christians at the time. The years passed on and by the time we started recording that record…It was the first record we had recorded since 2005…and now some of the members are not walking with Jesus. Being from the hip-hop school of “keeping it real” and “expressing how you really feel”… The people in L.A. Symphony did that, and it just wasn’t really kosher necessarily in my mind. As a father, I have kids that are very interested in what I do. And I couldn’t allow them to participate in some of the L.A. Symphony things because some of the language or ideologies.
So it kinda spurred me to say, “Let me make a record that stands up for Jesus” so that let’s my kids know that’s who we are. That’s what we do as a family. And I wanted to make a record that wasn’t so heavy on adult topics. I just always want to make music and express myself.
Gabe: L. A. Symphony was kind of the era I grew up with when it comes to Christian hip-hop. How important was that time for you and L.A. Symphony? How did that mold you into the artist you are today?
Joey: It was huge. I was one of the younger members of L.A. Symphony. There was one guy younger than me out of the eight original L. A. Symphony members. Watching these guys who were older than me, who were Christians, who were serving a church and living Christian lifestyles in Los Angeles where no one is living Christian lifestyles. It wasn’t the cool thing to do. To be able to rap with them and be able to experience cool Christians was awesome for me. It’s something I did not grow up around. I grew up kind of Baptist, my church was older and there weren’t many kids. As an artist, watching L. A. Symphony live that out, traveling and being able to meet people like Toby and Manchild from Mars Ill.. to see these people living this lifestyle and making good music and even the ones that made music that was bad (laughs), that shapes you as an artist. Being in L. A. there was little Christian community along with the real L. A. rap scene where if you’re not good, you’re not respected. You had to be good enough at rapping and think about the art and whether people were going to listen to you or not. Are people going to hear what I’m saying? If they didn’t like the sound, then they are automatically shut off to it. Being Christian in that always opened the door for me to be very honest with myself. If I am going to go out there and say “I want to give back to Jesus,” “I’m giving this gift back,” “I want to use my talent for Jesus,”.. then I don’t want to give Jesus a whack presentation and say, “Here you go Jesus.. this is.. sucky.” It keeps you honest and it keeps you pushing to be better and be better at the art.
Gabe: You’ve been in hip-hop for awhile.. how has it been for you to see in the last four or five years Christian hip-hop boom and be more accepted by the mainstream and sometimes even more than the church accepts it?
Joey:I don’t really see it that way. I don’t see it as it’s widely accepted in the mainstream. I don’t really feel that it is. I think Christian hip-hop has taken leaps and bounds from where it was when I was younger. I don’t think that the mainstream hip-hop fan has a pulse or an idea about Christian rap music. They might have heard a name or two.. I want to say you could argue that they would have known a name or two back then as well. Music fans know good music. In L. A. Symphony we made music with the Black-Eyed Peas, we made music with our contemporaries.. and around the L. A. scene people still hit us up to do shows. We are still considered an L. A. underground legend. I would say that in that scene or in L. A. I don’t know that audience has picked up on Christian hip-hop. The Christian hip-hop guys are selling a lot of records, but the question is who are they selling records to? I think you have a lot of evangelical churches picking up on it, I think the white evangelical churches are really picking up on it (laughs). I would say it this way.. when Switchfoot hit really big, Switchfoot was played on mainstream radio. “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer was played on mainstream. Christian rap music.. they don’t play Christian rap music on mainstream radio in Los Angeles..ever. It doesn’t look like that is happening or is going to happen anytime soon. A Third Day fan is now also buying Christian rap when years ago he wasn’t. I don’t want to say it hasn’t made strides, but I think there is a perception that it is further than it really is.
Gabe: I think I look at it as there has never been a rapper before invited to the Tonight Show, and so it’s easy to base it off stuff like that.
Joey: I think Lecrae’s numbers demand that people pay attention, but then I guess the question is where do the numbers come from? Let’s put it this way.. when P. O. D. come out with the record “Satellite”, they sold like 6 million records or something like that. I don’t know Lecrae’s numbers, I just know he had the number one record in America at that time. Those are two different things. It’s hard for me to gauge if P. O. D. made a bigger impact than Lecrae is making now. You look at P. O. D. and Switchfoot now.. I don’t want to say they tanked, but they didn’t keep the same relevance that they had at one point. I’m not saying that Christian hip-hop won’t, but I’m saying the reality is if others don’t catch up to Lecrae and carry the machine.. it can’t just be one guy or it’s going to tank.
Gabe: I do think there is something to what you said about the white evangelical church. I know growing up, my Grandfather said don’t listen to that. There was a lot of racial elements to that. I think there have been strides made in the church with that as well. That’s why it’s more accepted now.
Joey: Definitely. I think when you look at it right now, the guys that are pastors today, grew up listening to rap music. So it’s prime time for that to happen. As oppose to guys that were pastors 10-15 years ago they didn’t grow up listening to rap music and still don’t get it. That’s why I think we were able to play at a lot of youth groups, because the youth pastors grew up listening to it.
Gabe: How can people get connected with you and get updates about when you’re putting out music?
Joey: I’m on Facebook, I’m on Twitter, I’m on Instagram. It’s usually IAmJoeytheJerk. I am going to continually try to play music and keep putting it out.
Gabe: Thanks for your time!