A week or so ago I reviewed RKitect’s new free track “Mars Barz 2” and I’ve since had the chance to have a chat with him about a whole host of topics, the result of which can be seen below….
[JW] RKitect, thank you so much for giving up your time for this interview, would you mind giving those less familiar with your work a brief introduction of yourself?
Sure thing I go by the name “Rkitect” but my real name is Julio Agosto. I am the son of two Cuban immigrants that fled to this county during the rise of Fidel Castro. I grew up hearing about revolution from my grandparents and parents. In my teenage years I began to see a noticeable difference in the way other teens did things. For some reason I knew I never wanted to be part of the status quo. I just couldn’t do what was the “norm.” Around the age of 19 I began to take hip-hop very seriously and met another rapper by the name of 2nd Wind. Elementz was born. Those who follow my music know about my tenure with Elementz. Since then I have gone solo and released a few albums and many singles.
[JW] Did your acceptance of Christ coincide with your foray into music, or did you feel God calling you to re-focus your gifts at some point?
No not at all actually. I was raised in church and accepted Christ at an early age. I later recommitted my life as a young adult. It wasn’t until my mid 20’s that I felt God called me to take a huge step and begin the process of writing and performing as a solo artist. That was a big moment of faith and a pivotal moment for me as an artist.
[JW] What was the first hip hop song that you ever heard?
Great question. Hopefully this answer will explain a little bit about my methodology regarding music. As a little kid my first experience with music was not hip-hop. At all! I was inundated with contemporary Christian music to the likes of Sandi Patti, Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith, and Amy Grant. By the time I heard real hip-hop I was 13 or 14 years old. Hearing so much of just that one type of music started to make me think and built a bit of angst against the industry. I began to notice that Christian singers would only sing to Christians?? That can’t be right? Can it? …This is where Rkitect was truly born.
To specifically answer your question, I heard rap music like DC Talk and other random secular hip-hop on the radio as a kid. None of it truly caught my attention until the summer of 1996 when a friend handed me Nas’ 2nd album called It Was Written. There was a song called “The Message”. At that very moment as a 16 year old, I knew I wanted to create music that sounded like that.
[JW] With the D.I.Y. format you have adopted with your music, what are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach?
I will explain this in detail so that readers know. Part of what I do isn’t to just make music but to educate. I don’t do things myself because that’s my only option. I do things myself because I have had a deal. I have dealt with small Christian labels and been in talks with majors that many people are familiar with and it is an illusion. It is a broken system set in place to generate revenue for people other than the artist. If you care about your message more than revenue then you have conquered the system. Doing it myself has created more buzz and more revenue for myself than any label has ever for me. Now, are there great labels and executives that could make me some real money? Sure. Are there labels that could propel my career past the stratosphere? Sure. But In my experience, particularly in the Christian Hip-hop industry, most labels and executives have less money and less knowledge than I do. I have learned more tricks of the trade, more software, built more relationships, and stayed hungrier as a result of doing it myself. In CHH labels tend to be the catalyst for cliques and cliques give artists a sense of belonging. I rest in my faith and in my skill set. That’s all the assurance I need.
[JW] Legitimately free to download music is becoming more and more prevalent lately with sites such as soundcloud, noisetrade and bandcamp, is it enough satisfaction just to know someone is listening to your music with all the work that goes into it? Is this just a necessary evil to try and market yourself, or is that not even a concern of yours?
Not a concern at all. I don’t even think that way. I have released lots of music from just featuring on other artist’s music. The best way to market your own music is to be ill. Stop making fans your fans and make other rappers your fans. Once you accomplish this they’ll all be in line for a feature and you wont have to work so hard. Work smart, not hard. This goes back to tricks of the trade. Those are all good formats but I only use one of them (Soundcloud) so they can’t be that necessary. Relationships and word of mouth are essential and it’s hard to have either if you’re not an exceptional artist. This is why so many rely on formats on the Internet. They’re not exceptional. The honest truth is I don’t even do that much work. I release a single once every 3 months and I haven’t dropped an album since 2012.
[JW] Assuming you rate yourself a 10/10 as a hip hop artist, what is something that you would consider yourself to be a 1/10 with?
So you’re asking what am I not good at? Or what do I struggle as an artist with? Good question. My good and dear friends the Freestyle Fam have helped me realize this one daunting issue I have. I wish I free styled better. I was ok back in the day when I just said anything and didn’t care but I have become too O.C.D. and technical as an MC. It’s hard to “slant” rhyme for me. If you listen to my rhymes most of them are “perfect” rhymes. So to combat this issue I keep a rolodex of what we call “writtens” so that if it ever pops off I’m ready. The Fam and I joke about this all the time.
[JW] It seems to be human nature, or at least culturally here in the United States, to pick artists, athletes, actors, etc. apart for their imperfections, this can be magnified when you operate from a foundation of faith. How do you deal with “those that throw stones”?
Honestly I haven’t come across that. When I perform in secular venues or around those who aren’t saved I get nothing but respect. Maybe it’s my demeanor but people don’t throw stones or at least haven’t yet. The worst comments and problems I have had are from Christians.
[JW] You have used your platform to be quite vocal about how you feel about the current state of hip hop. What is it about the business side of hip hop that has you so put off?
This is a 20 page college paper you just asked me to write. Lol.
Simply put because I don’t know how to shorten it.
How can one call themselves a Christian and only minister to Christians and be ok with that? CHH labels are the facilitators of this pandemic. It’s embarrassing to be quite honest. I am in no way perfect but lost people are out there. Let’s be like Jesus and go get ‘em. But that doesn’t happen because that’s not comfortable and doesn’t make enough money. The money is in the church where people will throw a love offering at anything labeled “Christian.” Also, it is common practice in CHH to be average and have “support” because one is a Christian artist. (Excuse me I just threw up in my mouth). How can one be great or expect greatness when you don’t know what that is? Nashville, TN. is not the standard. The Christian Music Association is not the standard. Jesus is the standard. If it’s not excellent then why support it? Instead, help educate and demand good music. Labels want a quick buck because they saw a documentary on BET about their favorite artists and now they want to follow suit. Like I said before this is a way to feel a sense of belonging. CHH is a way to have a “thing of our own” because the world (where artists make incredible music) won’t accept average and they’ll tell you if you’re terrible. We have the secret. We have seen where the world has made their mistakes regarding industry and business and we have Christ the creator of it all!! Instead of following the breadcrumbs and developing better music we have bred a level of mediocrity that is beyond control. Why? Answer: See Scotland in the movie Braveheart – that’s us. They were comfortable until William Wallace was forced to act.
[JW] What is it about (some) artists themselves that leave such a bad taste in your mouth about the current state of hip hop?
I invest so much time in my craft. I write a verse and then review it like it’s an English paper then write it again. Every phrase and word is accounted for. Every rhyme is purposeful and used for the betterment of the message. If a hook takes up space I remove it. If another artist makes the song better I’ll add him/her. But I cannot, will not, ever be associated with what is the trend or what is considered normal or average. I would sooner give up. This is my problem with artists. It’s not different types of music or genres. It’s the technicality and dynamics of the process of being dope. Quality not quantity! Which is ironic because I love the Jaguars and they’re terrible!!! These are the reasons why the Freestyle Fam and I are so close. We’re different.
[JW] You have a clearly defined stance about the issue of labeling faith based rappers as “Christian rap.” What do you think it will take to eradicate the divide between so called “secular rap” and “Christian rap”? Whatever your answer, does this fall more on the business side of the music industry, the artists themselves, or both equally?
I believe that I am an emcee/rapper…..that happens to be a Christian. Not a Christian rapper. The term Christian rapper has a bad association to me and I would prefer being an artist that isn’t labeled and that has the freedom to perform and minister outside the walls of the church. This is a strange notion to those who have zero experience ministering through hip-hop outside of the church. Taking that label off will open many doors and allow for so much more impact. (Ex. Lecrae, P.O.D., SwitchFoot, etc.)
Why cant music be music and if the music impacts you great and if it doesn’t then move on. We Christians believe we are the center of the universe so much so that we are willing to separate ourselves from the world to prove it and establish a club that is by invite only.
Do I think that term will ever be eradicated? No not really because enough people don’t think it’s a problem.
[JW] You are one of a very small group of artists of faith that are willing to call out the quality of your peers’ efforts. Do you find yourself catching flack for that?
No. I catch flack from “fans” who thought I was a bible preacher/rapper and then discovered my stances on things and left me weird messages scolding me for not being what they wanted.
The competitor in me wishes another rapper would say something so I can lock myself in a room and write a response record but I have to calm myself down sometimes. The artists who know me know my heart and know my mission.
Is that flack coming primarily from artists or fans and how do you address that if at all? I address it through my music. The Mars Barz series helped me get those things off of my chest. I usually don’t respond to insulting messages or weirdo’s leaving me strange bible verses thinking that in some way I’ll repent for being revolutionary.
Being a person of faith in a field that is full of artists who rely on cursing and degradation of women to create music, do you feel a responsibility to be careful who you share the stage and the recording studio with (so as to not steer a fan of your work towards some music that does not fit with the mission of spreading God’s word)?
Most of my fan base is from the world already. I’d prefer to have a fan base that follows hip-hop outside of CHH. Those fans understand good music and are more respectful than the CHH fans. However I do understand your point. As a man of God we never want to lead people the wrong way but instead bring them from where they are. I don’t think my music in anyway steers CHH fans toward secular music. I hope not.
[JW] For the hip hop fans reading this interview, who do you think is more deserving of recognition than they are currently receiving?
The Freestyle Fam, Righteouz Knight and many others who are in the underground scene due to CHH’s fear of music that might be too “street.” The good news is that things are changing and looking up.
[JW] In most vocations, it seems as if everyone assumes that people in the same line of work knows everyone else in that field. Who would you most like to meet and/or create music with?
There are artists who I listen to that inspire me to be a better writer. None are in CHH. There is an artist named Joell Ortiz that I’d certainly work with. I would prefer working with artists that would challenge me and in some way make it a competition within a song. Another is named Diabolic (creepy name I know). Those two are so superior lyrically and the way they puzzle words together would surely bring out my best.
[JW] What do your plans for 2014 bring?
No plans. That’s the beauty of Rkitect. No agenda. I may try and complete an album or just release some more singles. I may see an incredible artist who takes the torch from me and I can go about my business and hang up the mic. I don’t know. A prominent rapper who people might be familiar with once told me that there are three different types of soldiers. The first is the front line soldier who goes to war and risks his life for his country. The 2nd is a Special Forces soldier who goes behind enemy lines making it easier for the front line soldier to advance. The third is the kind a guy who just gets a star on the wall. No one ever knows who he was or has ever seen him, but everyone knows someone did it. Then he said, “Julio…you’re the third one.” I am happy with that. If that’s my legacy and it all ends now. I did my job. So no plans because I feel I have already started the snowball effect. If a person, label, or company ever approached me to do work on a mutually beneficial tip, I would certainly listen and perhaps organize myself a bit more regarding music releases. I don’t get all wrapped up in album release dates and shopping records around. I would rather raise my two sons and enjoy life. Experience has brought about practicality and reason. Lol.
[JW] Thank you very much for taking the time for this interview, I’ve sure learned a lot from it and I hope our readers will have gained some valuable insight into who you are, your ministry, and so on. We wish you all the best with your music. God bless,
You’re most welcome. Thank you for helping get my music and story out there, I hope and pray that my music touches people in a way that other artists’ music doesn’t manage to. I wish you all the best with your ministry through JesusWired too! God bless,
You can read my review of “Mars Barz 2” here.