Hip-hop was banned in Tedashii "Tdot" Anderson's home.
Unless it was "easygoing or parent-friendly," said Anderson, a Denton rapper who today releases his third album on Reach Records, a Georgia-based label that specializes in Christian hip-hop. "In junior high and high school, I'd listen to hip-hop on the sly with my friends on a tape recorder."
Anderson, known as just Tedashii in the hip-hop community, was born in Lufkin and grew up in Houston.
"My mom would play songs. During our weekly deep cleaning, music would be blaring," he said. "Then on Sunday, if she went to church, she played gospel. If not, blues or R&B. My stepfather loved country and blues. My mom loved classical, too."
Tedashii grew up with a single mom who scrambled to make ends meet. He didn't meet his father until he was grown. Music and athletics were an escape from an adolescence full of negative influences and little certainty. He played football, but made time for music. He first picked up the trumpet, but moved on to the baritone and eventually the trombone. In high school, his family moved and he enrolled in a smaller school. He had to play several instruments in the school's band. He kept listening to hip-hop with his friends.
Hip-hop music is the province of an urban American melting pot, a form furthered by young black men with a penchant for poetry and beats. Hip-hop has been around since the sexual revolution, but like every other popular form of music, hip-hop followed the tributaries of the market and is now made by artists on six continents.
Tedashii said hip-hop worked for him because it was a form he could make his own. Using familiar music as a backdrop, he could make his own poetry flow. In hip-hop, he found his voice. All he needed was an audience.
"My first attempt to rhyme was in high school, to impress a girl," Tedashii said. "I wanted not just one girl, but all the girls, to go, 'Wow, that guy didn't back down, and he was pretty good at it.'"
The rhyming stuck after graduation, when he went to Baylor University. He played football as a walk-on.
"At Baylor, my first year there I became a Christian. The guy who converted me said, 'You know, all that time you spend rapping in the dorm room over instrumentals, why don't you look at putting the Christian message in the music?'" he said. "I remember I thought, 'That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard.' I tried it at a talent show and it wasn't good. But suddenly, every African-American and Hispanic fraternity and sorority on campus was like, 'That's the Christian guy.' That's when I knew I could do this."
Christian hip-hop turns the form on its head. Hip-hop is all machismo and new age tribal chieftainism. He who dies with the most wealth and women wins, even if he dies young, as hip-hop legends Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls did. In secular hip-hop, artists boast about having the best rhymes, and how it brings them the most money, a steady stream of women and power. Hip-hop is consistently under scrutiny because its power is married to violence. Before becoming an actor, Ice T was criticized for his rap track "Cop Killer." And yet "Cop Killer" was an apt example of hip-hop's complicated nature. The song gave voice to urban frustrations about police brutality, poverty and broken homes.
Before it was the king of Top 40 radio, hip-hop was a lamentation about the hardscrabble life in the ghetto, and it preached that the only way to win is to be the best and to have the most. The idea of wealth being both a means to an end and the end itself is still inherent to hip-hop.
Tedashii didn't abandon his pursuit of Christian rhyme. He found a community of Christian rap artists, and was signed to Reach Records, which was then based in Memphis, Tenn. Reach Records released his debut album, Kingdom People, for the spiritual seekers who love hip-hop. The album shows what Christians - people who are elected to inherit the kingdom of heaven - should aspire to.
Ben Washer, CEO of Reach Records, said Tedashii had what it takes to make music that has commercial appeal without compromising the moral message at the center.
"For Tedashii, I think musically he's a great artist," Washer said. "He values excellence in his craft. Also, his lyrics are honest. There's a lot of posing in hip-hop. I think that when you find that strong musical credibility and honesty in the lyrics, you have something that people are going to pick up on."
Washer, who now runs the nonprofit label in Atlanta, said the company makes no apologies for the religious center of the company and its products.
"We like to say that we're authentically Christian and authentically hip-hop," Washer said. "I mean, we have guys [on the label] who really are part of the hip-hop culture. We have a core audience with the church, but there are also people out there who are seeking. You'd be surprised at how many people love the Lord and want good hip-hop."
As one of five artists on the label, Tedashii had reliable resources and a supportive crew to help him release Kingdom People. He worked with LeCrae, a hip-hop artist who has been on MTV and VH1, and is the most prominent member of the Reach roster. Tedashii's third album, Blacklight, drops today.
"When I did my first album, I wanted to provide something for Christians and [those who] aren't Christians but have an idea of what they think Christians are," Tedashii said. "My first album was dealing with the ideal. After I finished my album, I started asking myself, 'Why not deal in the real?' When I started to deal within the real, though, I kept hitting this wall."
He went back to the 19-track Kingdom People. As he studied his own words and his music, Tedashii said he didn't know many Christians who looked like the characters that populate Kingdom People: people who live in the light of God, eschewing sin and embracing grace. In real life, Tedashii rubbed shoulders with Christians who struggle, fail and don't always give much thought to loving their neighbor. And yet, he said, these were real Christians.
"When I first started, I didn't even have a title. I just knew I wanted it to become a sequel about why we don't look like kingdom people. In this study group, Imago Dei, which means that we are created in the image of God, we talked about how sin caused us to live a life of distortion of that image," Tedashii said. "That's when I started thinking about an identity crisis. I started wanting to talk about where we are. And we're in an identity crisis. Most Christians aren't who they were before they accepted God's love. But they aren't who they want to be."
He found his title: Identity Crisis. Track for track, the record confronts Christians - and seekers - at a place where most young hip-hop fans are: ripe for material seduction by a market that cares only about their credit score, not about their values. Hip-hop fans are typically part of a demographic that has been carefully studied by the captains of the Fortune 500 industry. They are young. They are tech-savvy. They are brand-conscious and primed to buy the latest, the newest and the best stuff. Tedashii's target audience is at once seduced by and suspicious of a culture that insists image is everything.
"There is a lack of honesty, not that there isn't standard of honesty, but they set the standard so high," Tedashii said of the Christian culture that is most visible to seekers.
Identity Crisis is a three-act concept album. It begins where Tedashii began: trying to learn right and wrong from a well-meaning single mother and without his father. The album metaphorically casts Tedashii as Adam, expelled from paradise as a consequence of sin. The artist reached back to the years when he was becoming a young man without the guidance of a dad.
"My desire for acceptance and approval was an idolatrous beast. It became more of an obsession for me," he said. "You have to look at the inconsistencies. I was told who I was supposed to be: I'm in Texas, so I have to play football. I'm a man, so I have to interact with women a certain way. I'm a black man, so I have to be a certain way. Talking about that led me to the redemption, the adoption by God through Christ, and making a war to fight the lies we believe in."
Identity Crisis wanders through a false, earthbound paradise, where a man is defined by his car in the song "26's," and guided by a media ideal in the track "Hollywood" that insists men be emotionally distant, sexually indiscriminate and armed to the teeth. And what stalks Tedashii the most? The absent father he yearns to know.
Then the album arrives at the central riddle: The young hero has a persona, plus the car and cadre of women to go with it - yet he's beset by loneliness. In the album's second act, Tedashii tells the story of rewiring his own circuitry. In "Mah War," the artist wages war against the very thing that makes him a man - craving for wealth, women and power. Something bigger than himself calls out to him. It turns out that he isn't fatherless: He has God. The song "Identity 2: Adoption" celebrates his conversion. The final act finds Tedashii in a community of Christians. In "Identity 3: Church," the artist is among flawed people who get knocked down, but get back up and try to love God and God's ever-difficult children.
"Identity Crisis is a 25-point sermon," he said. "I took two weeks to study everything I wanted to prepare. I took a month to write, a month to record and then we did the mixing and engineering."
As a package, the album speaks to the seeker and the Christian with the same message: Becoming a Christian means having to be a different person. Simply changing the way you live is a doomed effort if you aren't convicted by something that can change your heart, Tedashii said.
"There is a distortion everyone is dealing with," Tedashii said. "That distortion causes hate, animosity and division among people. You can't live with that distortion. I couldn't. I tried. At first I tried leading kind of a double life that would win the approval of my friends and that would keep me close to Christ. For me, behavior modification wouldn't work. I couldn't do that.
"It was too confusing. When you perform for everyone in your life, which we all do, that happens. Division. Anger."
The answer for Tedashii was rebirth through Christ.
"When you join the priesthood of believers, you're set apart. You will lose relationships," he said.
You gain new ones. Tedashii has his own family - his wife, Danielle, and their son, Jaden, who is nearly 2 years old. He finally met his father when he was 20. In "Thank You," one of Identity Crisis' final tracks, he whoops, "I finally got my dad back!"
He attends The Village Church in Denton, and he still makes music. He always makes music. And he'll keep rhyming - speaking to the hearts of fatherless boys who want to know how to become men. He'll urge them toward a life of the soul that challenges and bears fruit - vibrant relationships, better neighborhoods and churches full of grateful people. One caveat: The Christian life will neither be easy or simple.
"From a real miniscule level, I want the Christian to realize everyone is going to mess up," he said. "But you never have to let sin define you. There is always redemption."
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.