Mark Cameron interviews Scottish Christian rapper Mpfree and reviews the Christian Hip-Hop EP ‘Battle’.

MpfreeI remember working at the arena during a ‘50 Cent’ concert. The international rapper was causing a stir and drawing thousands of people to be part of his story. As the doors opened, a wall of security guards began herding thousands of young people into the arena, one step at a time. The mix of tension and attitude was tangible. Rap music causes many different reactions in people, yet it has proven to be one of the most influential styles today. The lyrical values often objectify woman and celebrate casual sex, drug abuse, alcohol abuse and crime, yet it dominates charts, airwaves and headphones across the globe.

Enter Marc Pawson aka Mpfree. A married father of three. A Scottish Christian rapper from Cumbernauld. A guy who prioritises family, God and his community above his music. I admit I was highly sceptical when he first took the stage. After five minutes, the entire room began to bounce and let go of their reservations. Messages of hope, faith and love brought us close to tears. So whilst parts of the Church ponder whether an acoustic guitar would draw in young people, Mpfree gets on with doing what he loves and the results are impressive. But does anyone really listen to Christian rap? His debut EP ‘Battle’ peaked at no.2 on the Amazon hip-hop charts on the day of its release. Why has this caused such waves?

‘Battle’ offers excellent production values capped by poetic and engaging lyrics. Produced by Sam Shocking and mastered by Steve Rooke (Paul McCartney, The Beatles) at Abbey Road, the tracks shine with clear top end and bass that shakes your tailbone. The blend of horns, strings and tight guitars from Roo Walker allow each track to sit proudly on their own, yet build a theme and message throughout the EP. The lyrics seem to drop traditional rap values on their head.

Honestly admitting a need for God, boldly standing up against un-grace, Marc offers up a story of a God who is not afraid to step into our own battles. Frequently referring to the scriptures, his love for family, and the Church, Mpfree relentlessly and aggressively delivers a message of hope.

It’s this blend of clear Christian references and what’s around us that keeps ‘Battle’ relevant and never cheesy. ‘Battlecry’ manages to weave in references to 300, Assassins Creed, Braveheart, The Dark Knight Rises, Avengers Assemble and the Incredible Hulk. It’s fun and quirky but manages to remain credible. The record leans into hard rock territory in a thundering collaboration with Manchester band Malokai. ‘Fly Away’ blends huge orchestral strings, raging guitars and hard vocals, but again presents a God [+who is] with us in doubt, trouble and hardship. ‘Forever Love’ allows the listener to see the compassion and care of God as Marc’s wife Gemma lends her vocals to the chorus. The autotune effect may divide listeners, but as the EP closes, this track lets us catch a breath from the high tempo and the thick beats of the openers.

If you love rap music, give this a listen. If you hate rap music, give this a listen. This record puts on the gloves and delivers blow after blow all the way to the end. ‘Battle’ proves victorious.

What got you into rap music?
When I went to high school a friend’s big brother was listening to rap music, he gave me my first rap cassette tape. I loved the stories, the passion and the content. I felt a connection with it, like a guitarist and his first guitar.

Favourite song?
“The anthem” by Jake Hamilton, it just stirs up raw emotion. I feel so humble, yet so empowered at the same time.

Favourite sauce?
It has to be mayo, it’s so versatile.

Funniest on stage moment?
My DJ set me up during a gig, instead of playing my next song he played a One Direction song. Rage.

Why do you do what you do?
Music has a massive impact on the nation, particularly hiphop at the moment. I feel it’s a great way to communicate the gospel to people on a level they would understand. My goal is to do this without compromise on two sides - first is never compromise on the message which is all about Jesus, second is never compromise on presentation of the art form of hiphop. I want the same people who listen to 50 Cent or Eminem to listen to me, the only variance being the message.

How do you balance music and family life?
Only just, it can be busy at times but I always put family first. If I’m doing gigs they come along. My wife is awesome, I literally couldn’t do this without her. She keeps the kids and the house together.

What got you into God?
My wife’s dad invited me to a church’s men’s night. I never really believed in God but seeing what Jesus did, and who he was, turned my world upside down.

How do you write your music?
I write my music with my brother and all my friends in mind. They don’t believe in Christ, so I try and translate my faith in a way that they catch the truth and the passion behind it.

What place does Christian rap have in Scotland today?
As long as people listen to rap music I will continue to make rap music with the the truth of Christ.

What does a typical Mpfree event look like?
At outreaches it’s crazy people with baseball hats and tattoos searching for hope. At Christian youth events it’s crazy people with baseball hats and tattoos praising our Saviour.

How do people contact you?
Via Facebooktwitter or email.

How can Churches contact you?
My booking agent is Doug Ross of Spilt Milk Bookings. They can book for youth events, outreaches or anything else.