As the child of a pastor and choir director, one would expect Tye Tribbett to be "on fire for God." With this being (perhaps obviously) true, then it is even less surprising to know that Tribbett has dedicated his life to the music ministry as well. Such palpable observations have a direct correlation, however, to the unexpected blessings that time affords, especially when a man's life is in accordance with God's plan.
In less than a decade, Tye Tribbett & Greater Anointing have transformed the Gospel music genre. And although the group has collaborated with notable mainstream artists like Sting, Faith Hill, and Justin Timberlake, Tribbett has made a vow to keep the focus of his musical endeavors on Christ—citing Ephesians 6:11 as his guide. "Putting on the whole armour of God," Tye Tribbett follows in the footsteps of Kirk Franklin and Hezekiah Walker—fusing non-traditional musical elements to create high energy praise and worship.
Like Franklin and Walker before him, Tribbett has been subject to the harsh criticisms of traditional Gospel lovers, but his innovative work has brought spiritual music to mainstream audiences. On May 6, 2008, Tye Tribbett & Greater Anointing released their third album, Stand Out, which was recorded in a live production at the Rock Church International in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Upon review of Stand Out, Tye Tribbett managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry— reflecting on life, God and his music ministry.
Every new generation of contemporary Gospel music inevitably suffers some form of backlash from traditional listening audiences. Kirk Franklin and Hezekiah Walker were principle targets. So were Fred Hammond and John P. Kee. What do you say to those conventional criticisms?
I understand that we go from glory to glory and faith to faith. I really don't see their criticism as, "Oh, they're against us." Thanks to Kirk Franklin and Hezekiah Walker, I haven't received it too bad.
In the Gospel arena, comparisons are often made between you and Kirk Franklin. What influence did his career have on yours? And how do you see your career evolving in contrast to his?
When Kirk Franklin first came out, people would "add fuel to the fire," thinking it was an encouragement. But it was actually a discouragement because the void I thought I was going to fill in this industry had already been filled. I thought I was going to be touring, but he was touring. I was kind of discouraged, but it actually put me in my place. It actually gave me focus and purpose and lined me up to exactly where I was supposed to be. This leads me to your second part of your question. I don't see the Gospel music to be changing completely. I don't want everybody to start sounding like myself or Kirk Franklin. I need them to remain as they are. I see this as an extension of Gospel music. It's growing but not changing; evolving but not transforming.
In the past, you participated in a couple of secular collaborations, but you've gone on record to say that God has matured you to the point where you would no longer "uphold another kingdom." Could you elaborate a little bit more on your position?
There's pop, rock, hip hop, R&B – if you're not doing all of that in God, you're supporting another kingdom. Truth has to come from your mouth. A lot of the music we were singing and the message that we were supporting, ultimately, was not bringing people toward the God that I love so much. If it's not toward the Lord, it's away from Him. I just chose to respond to the Holy Spirit and do the work of the Lord. I chose to have all music be towards the Lord. Not just for myself, but leading everyone else that listens to me towards Him. That's what you hear.
Having worked in the music industry for nearly a decade, what's the biggest lesson you've learned, from the Prince of Egypt soundtrack to Stand Out?
The biggest lesson that I learned is that I have to control or manage my life because the career can consume me. There was a risk that it was all about the career and not my wife, myself and my children. I don't want the career to consume my life. My ministry has to understand that I have a family, and I want my family to understand that I have a ministry. So, trying to manage that has been the biggest challenge and lesson I've learned.
In comparison to Victory, your sophomore release, Stand Out has a substantial rock influence. When preparing Stand Out, what led you to incorporate stylistic elements generally associated with the rock genre?
I think everybody is a product of what they surround themselves with, whether it's friends, music or family. I listen to a lot of Christian music and rock music. I guess in some way, I became a product of that. It's not intentional – it's actually what I like. I didn't sit at home and write a new song and then came to rehearsal. It kind of came out in rehearsal. That shows how in me this style was. You're just a product of what you surround yourself with.
As a Gospel artist and a road musician, what are some of the challenges that you face day-to-day from being in various church settings? Do you find it difficult to get fed spiritually?
On the road, you have to make the time or you will get strained. Every week – every Monday – we have rehearsal. Before rehearsal, we get our time to refresh, to get more back into ourselves. I keep in touch with my home church and I have a good line with my pastor. We have our time of refreshing at least once a week.
You have developed a reputation for having an Energizer Bunny kind of energy during your live performances. With God's assistance, of course, how do you sustain such high levels of energy?
Skittles, man [laughing]. I keep a healthy diet. I don't really worry about the exercise part because we get that when we're on the stage.
While on tour, there are certain songs that you wind up singing a countless number of times. Is there a particular one that, when you sing, your energy level shoots through the roof?
Oh, my goodness. All of them! [laughing] "So Amazing," man. I love that and the whole choir.
One of my favorite songs is one of your earliest. It's called "You Can Change." What life events inspired the song's conception? And what does the song mean to you today?
My cousin Shawn is who I was thinking about when I wrote that song. We both grew up in church, but it was so difficult for him to come back to the Lord. I was trying to convince him, "Look man, you have a choice. God ain't mad at you. God don't hate you." This is for anybody who's not where they should be in God – including myself. God is never so mad that He won't receive you. If you want, you can change. I was saying that to Shawn, and it was so powerful that the song came from that conversation.
Another one of my favorite songs is "Good in the Hood." You have gone on record, however, to state that you didn't really intend it for the church. What challenges do you face when you want to market your music to mainstream audiences?
This is the first I ever, ever, ever directed my music to certain black people. I just write and work with God and whoever listens to it, praise God. Whoever don't, praise God. This is for the street. I was locked up for a little while and a song came from that. The guys were like, "Aren't you the guy from BET?" It was so funny. But I had some serious conversations. And I said, "Man, there are some good guys in here, but they made some bad decisions and got caught in those bad decisions." There is some good out there. I'm a product of the hood – I'm from Camden, myself. It's just putting it to a place where the light don't shine. There are diamonds in the rough there. I encourage people who may not get that shine and say, "Now, I see you. I see the good in you." So, it's not really for the church and for the people that get the shine. These are for those that never get seen, but they're working at the airports, UPS and all that stuff – it's for them. Some of them are in church, as well.
Having recognized your talent at an early age, how did being a preacher's kid help you to hone your musical talents? Did you feel any pressure?
Being a preacher's kid is the worst because everybody's looking at you. It's a benefit at first, because it peaked my integrity at a young age. "Hey, people are watching." Now, at this point in my life, people are watching but I've already been groomed in that area of integrity as a kid.
Do you ever wonder why God chose you to do what you do?
Yes, everyday. I'm a musician. I don't know why he chose me to be in the forefront. I can see now, maybe, because I'm a little crazy. I'll say anything He wants me to say. That's probably one reason why He chose me. We don't have the best singers, we don't have the best choreography, and we don't have the best music, so that's a daily question of mine.
On a thematic level, all of your albums revolve around the concept of restoration, whether it be on an individual, spiritual or communal level. When you think about the future, what do you perceive to be America's greatest challenge?
At the end of the day, we know good and bad. We know there is a God somewhere. We know nobody would choose hell. But our influences lead us to the wrong – whether it's the music or the internet or television or our friends. What influences us the most leads us to the wrong. That's America's biggest problem – the influence, what's driving them. Once the Word of God and God's ways become more influential in the ways of the world, we'll become better people, families, churches and society. That's what I want my music to help to encourage.
For more information on Tye Tribbett, visit his his official website.