Manny "Blitz Maximus" Gutierrez says most Christian rap makes him "want to throw up."
Gutierrez manages the label Flame On Entertainment, and uses his experiences to try to change the "Christian rapper" stereotype.
"There are Christians who rap, and rappers who just happento be Christian."
To Gutierrez, Christian rappers' music comes off "corny" and turns off listeners. Rappers "who just happen to be Christian" take their real experiences and make music relatable to the street listeners.
Having grown up in "the projects," Gutierrez’s experiences as a youth reflect his writing for the streets.
JH: How did you end up in South Dakota?
MG: I was playing football in high school, but no colleges had offered me a scholarship. It was almost graduation; I was worried. I thought I was going to die in the projects. Then a recruiter from Dakota Wesleyan called me and offered me a football scholarship. It was my only option.
JH: You hadn't been to South Dakota before?
MG: I hadn't heardof South Dakota before! I was like, 'Oh, is that down South?'
JH: So how was the transition?
MG: My first thought was: Where are all the buildings? It was all farms. I was like, 'Oh man. I've died and gone to the wrong heaven!' [Laughs.] It was a culture shock. People here are so nice and all, 'Hey! How are you doing?' I had a chip on my shoulder. I was like, 'Oh, are you talking to me?'
JH: How did you get started in rapping?
MG: In the Bronx, you learn to rap when you learn to write. [Laughs.]
JH: How did your writing transition to 'Christian?’
MG: I was lying in bed one night and I couldn't sleep. I kept hearing, 'You need to bring me my people' over and over. This was before I was familiar with God's voice, so I was freaking out. I thought my wife was playing with me. [Laughs.]
JH: So what did you do?
MG: I got up, sat in my kitchen and just started writing. That was my first track– my hand just kept writing. The words weren't from me, you know? That led to my first album Glorify in 2004. It actually made the top 25 in Gospel albums.
JH: Well, that's awesome! Is all your music hip hop?
MG: No, actually. I had heard Lauryn Hill. She does acoustic rap–it's like rap over a guitar. I thought it sounded awesome. So my friend and I made an acoustic rap album.
JH: So what are you working on now?
MG: I just finished the album, Street Psalms Volume I, a couple weeks ago. On Monday, I start recording Volume II.
JH: What feedback have you received on Street Psalms?
MG: Well… it's controversial. On that album there's 19 tracks. The last track is a letter I wrote to my brother about everything we went through [in the Bronx.] I used the ‘n-word' twice. And I said 'sh**' once.
JH: So how did the religious community respond to that?'
MG: I got plagued by churches. They were like 'Oh you have a confusing message. We don't understand where you're coming from.' I'm like, 'Really? 18 tracks in the album and you don't get my message?'
JH: That's interesting, because Jesus was rejected by the religious community.
MG: Exactly. I think of that adulteress woman they were going to stone. Jesus didn't say 'You have to clean up before you can come talk to me.' Jesus says we come to Him while we're dirty.
JH: Well, you aren't trying to reach the church, anyway.
MG: Yeah, exactly. The church is fine, you know? They already have the message. I'm trying to reach the streets.
JH: How did the streets respond?
MG: They loved it. I got some good feedback. It was like 'Oh that's real. You don't sugar coat it.' The projects is violence and drugs, you know? It's dirty. Pain is ugly. I think of the people Jesus helped; they were dirty. They were in pain.
JH: What is your impression of other Gospel music?
MG: Most of it I want to throw up. It's either real corny or real 'left-field'–doesn't even relate to God.
JH: So what is your vision for Flame On Entertainment? Where is the label heading?
MG: I want people to understand grace. I don't want it to be just a 'label.' I want it to be a movement. Gospel music today preaches a lot of ‘good behavior’ messages. And that's good, of course. But there's more to it than that. I want people to know about grace, first. That we are accepted by grace, not by what we do. And that our behavior changes afterwe have accepted God's grace. And that's the beauty of it.
JH: Have you been back to the Bronx since moving to South Dakota?
MG: I just went this past January. My dream is to go back and do a big show for the projects. I want to give them all free shirts and CDs and stuff. I want to bring the church to the streets. Where I came from, we couldn't go to church because we weren't dressed nicely. That ain't right.