GRITS: The Road to "Redemption"
- Tuesday, January 30, 2007
They are the best-selling Christian hip-hop group of all time, with career sales in America alone approaching 500,000 albums.
And since 2002’s breakthrough, "The Art of Translation" (Gotee), each of their CDs has shipped more than 100,000 copies. That’s an exorbitant figure for any Christian artist, hip-hop or otherwise. Yet the duo known as GRITS, comprised of Teron “Bonafide” Carter and Stacy “Coffee” Jones, takes the success in stride.
“We have a fan base,” says Coffee from his cell phone on the way to a show in Cincinnati, Ohio. “We tour year-round. We reach people one person at a time. That’s why [we sell]. It’s not because of the [Christian music] industry or this marketplace. … The way we stay afloat is through our promoters and our management getting us out there. That’s the only visibility we have. Even when people go to the stores, half the time, when they go to buy a CD, once the stores sell two or three of them, they’re all gone, ‘cause they don’t really stock up on rap or hip-hop CDs.”
“Urban music, as a whole genre, when it comes to the [Christian market] side of things, needs a whole overhaul,” adds Bonafide, without a doubt the most talkative member of GRITS. “We don’t really have any outlets, any type of real focus. So it doesn’t really get the same type of respect or attention as other styles.”
True enough. But a closer look at GRITS’ sales numbers unveils a surprising bit of information. According to Nielsen SoundScan, more than 75 percent of the duo’s career album sales have come via Christian retailers. Think about it. Despite buzz-generating exposure in the mainstream in recent years, less than 100,000 copies of the 468,000 albums GRITS has sold have been in the mainstream market. (Even GRITS’ most successful mainstream album, "The Art of Translation," sold more than three times as many copies in Christian bookstores as it did in the general market.)
So what about hip-hop and Christian media? Considering how little attention the genre gets among faith-based press outlets, what does Bonafide make of CCM doing another feature story on them?
“We’ve all been doing this for a long time,” he says. “But this is music. This is entertainment. You know whoever’s hot right now is going to get a cover story or a feature, and if you ain’t hot right now, then you ain’t gonna get no stories. And that’s just how it goes.”
He adds, “In more mainstream media, the coverage is set up for a career of longevity, whether you’re hot or not. What matters to them is, ‘Are you good?’ And if you’re good, you continue to get press; you continue to get coverage; you continue to get radio play. But in our very small industry, if you ain’t hot, then you probably won’t get no attention.”
As the discussion continues, the conversation shifts to the topic of playing it safe in interviews with the Christian press.
“When was the last time an artist got interviewed and admitted he [has] a drinking problem?” asks Bonafide. “People are scared to be vulnerable, but that’s the whole basis of our Christian faith, the opening yourself up. People are afraid of what other people might think. Artists are afraid that people aren’t going to buy their records anymore when somebody actually finds out that they’re human.
“We don’t allow artists to be real people. We want Superman everyday, but we don’t want to see him as Clark Kent. We don’t want to see Clark ‘cause Clark is clumsy; he makes mistakes; he stumbles over his words; he wears glasses.”
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