Producer/rapper Mr. Dean (aka Dean Lopez) has spent the last ten years making music and honing his craft. He says that his faith and the support of others -- including area churches and their flock -- have served to keep him encouraged and focused on his path, which is to bring a positive Christian message to a mainstream audience.
Mr. Dean's latest release, Inspired By Greatness, dropped last month, and its first single, "My Love," has already begun garnering video and radio play as far away as Northern Wales and Sydney, Australia. The song, described by Dean as a Christian love song, also features local musician Simes Carter. We recently caught up with Mr. Dean to find out more about his new album, its secular features and the possibilities that abound in his burgeoning career.
Westword(D. Williams): How did you get started doing this brand of rap music?
Mr. Dean: Actually, negative music inspired me to do positive music. Just seeing all the negative music out there made me more motivated to do something for the youth to reverse all that. That's basically how I got started.
I grew up in a Christian household. I was raised as a Christian and have Christian beliefs. I have grown through my music, as well. So all that kind of worked together to help shape me, [served] and as a way to help me put more positive, good music out there.
Ww: So how long have you been doing the music, and how have your audiences been treating you?
MD: I've been doing this since I was about fourteen. But the churches have always supported me. Even when my music wasn't good they still supported me. You know? Because I was doing something different, something good. They stayed behind me and were like "keep doing it! Keep doing this."
At the time, I didn't realize my music was not where it should be, but because I had that support, that encouragement, I was able to stick to it and keep making improvements. Now I feel like the mainstream audiences are embracing this new project because of the quality and how I've improved as an artist.
Ww: You said that the quality is bringing 'the mainstream' more into your music. Can you explain that?
MD: I mean, like this, Kobe Bryant in his second year of basketball, didn't have as many fans, besides those in his hometown, until he started getting good. So, it took him getting better for more people to embrace him as a star. So, comparing that to what I do, I feel more people are going to embrace something that is not just lyrically good, as far as message-wise, but musically, sonically, more developed.
Ww: So you feel as though your music is now at a place you want it to be compared to the larger music market?
MD: Yes. I can honestly say that I am very happy with this CD. Ten years from now, I'll still be able to listen to this record and feel proud of it. Prior CD's I've done, I would release them and already would be working on the next one. I was always like, "Oh, I can do better. I am doing better."
And of course, I'm really doing better now. But I was always looking back thinking how unhappy I was with the project, how I wish I had switched this arrangement up a little, I wish that the levels would have been better. I don't feel like that with this album.
Ww: So what do you feel changed? What was the turning point?
MD: Just years of doing it: Dedication. Like an athlete that practices every day. You know? I'm sorry that I keep comparing it to sports; it's just that anything you practice at, you are going to get better at it...
Ww: Tell us about this new album.
MD: I would say that it is the most well-rounded Christian hip-hop album out. And I mean that with all my heart. I think it touches on every subject you would hear a mainstream CD touch on, but from a Christian perspective. I think a lot of people when they go into it, thinking they are going to do a Christian CD, they only talk about Christian subjects, not subjects that affect people on a day-to-day basis.
I have songs about relationships, being in love with a girl. A lot of Christian artists don't attempt that. So, what are the kids going to listen to? They are going to listen to what is on the radio. I wanted to have songs for the youth to relate to, that they could be listening to as an alternative to that. I take real world subjects and put them in a Christian point of view.
Plus, the overall sound of it, you know? if you weren't listening to the lyrics, you would think it was mainstream album by the sound of it. I produced most of the CD. I worked with a few secular artists like Bizzy Bone [from Bone Thugs N Harmony], Simes Carter, and Aki [from the group Malo].
But they knew upfront that it was a Christian project, and they were willing to do it. I don't see anything wrong with working with a secular artist who is willing to use their talent to help spread the word of Christ. If they are willing to do that -- if they are willing to sing in church -- you can't turn them away.
Ww: Your hardcore fans, how are they responding to the secular artists and mainstream sound you've got on the new record?
MD: They are happy with it. I mean, I haven't gotten any complaints. I don't think there are any criticisms either way. But I also worked with an artist named Pettidee -- when you think of Christian hip hop, you think of him.
And there is Soul P, who was with Sony for a long time; he was one of their top selling Christian artists. But more than the names on the record, we weren't looking for who was on it; we were looking for quality artists to make this a good, quality project. And I think we accomplished that.
Ww: Tell us some of your influences, besides your Christian family.
MD: I titled my album Inspired by Greatness because I am inspired by all kinds of music. Hip-hop is definitely on the list, but it is not the only style of music I listen to. Hip-hop may have inspired my sound, beat and rhythm, but I like the structure of country songs and '80s songs.
I love Michael Jackson. Who doesn't? Different pastors throughout the years have had an effect on my. Basically, anyone who saw something wrong and stood up to do something right has inspired me.
Ww: Is there anything else you'd like your fans to know?
MD: What I would really like to get across is that the CD is out. Go get it! Also, I am available to do performances. What I mean by that is, a lot of the problem that we have is that when people see my resume and the list of people I've worked with, they think we will be really expensive and it will cost an arm and leg to get us out.
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What they need to know is that is not the case. Yeah we might need help with transportation and all that, especially if it's an out of town show, but if the show is in town and I am available, then I am not going to turn it down.
Now if they can donate, well, that's great, you know? A lot of people think any time you do an event it will cost, and I don't want anyone to feel that way. We're here to spread the word. If it's for a good cause, of course we'll work something out.
Catch Mr. Dean on Daystar TV (channel 41 locally) this Friday, September 17 at 11 a.m.