Sintaxtheterrific probably makes more money than you. The South Carolina-based emcee is an attorney by day and rhyme-spitter by night and, as such, doesn't need hip-hop to survive. But the artform is a passion of his, and one that has produced a good deal of quality music.
In addition to his contributions to spiritual rap uber-collective Deepspace5, Tax has produced two solo projects since 2004: Simple Moves and Curb Appeal, which was released in 2006. We caught up to him at Gospel Music Association (GMA) Week in Nashville earlier this year. Read on...
inReview: When we last spoke to you, "Simple Moves" was about a year old and you were still working as a lawyer. Are you still doing the lawyer thing?
sintax: I am still an attorney.
inReview: Wow, he said attorney instead of lawyer.
sintax: It sounds a lot more legitimate, I feel. I am an attorney. I actually work for the federal government now. I have had a couple of different jobs since law school but I work for the federal government now.
inReview: A big question on our minds back then was, "If this guy worked his butt off to get a law degree and probably makes a decent living, why does he bother with rap?" I was hoping you could speak to that again. What drives you to keep making albums?
sintax: I really only have the cliché answer. I think most people would answer it this way, too. To back up a little bit, I love practicing law. I got a law degree and became an attorney because that is what I wanted to do with my life. Not to over-spiritualize it, but I felt it was part of my calling - kind of who I was. It was the thing that I thought was going to use my gifts in particular ways. And I think most people in music kind of feel this way. But I mean there is nothing that I feel uses me more completely than my music. So there was never a question in my mind that music was going to be a substantial part of who I am and what I do on a regular basis.
The awesome part about being with Josh [Niemyjski] and Illect [Recordings] is they appreciate the decisions that a lot of people have to make in music. And especially in gospel hip-hop where you kind of have to make these sort of lifestyle decisions about what level of commitment you can make. And for me, pretty early on when some other people I did music with were making some sort of different choices, I was making a pretty specific decision that I was not going to be doing music full-time.But to answer to the question, it is because it is something that I love and it is it is something that I want to share. And it is a specific part of my ministry to the people I meet and to the community.
inReview: What attracted you to hip-hop in the first place? What was it that made you sit down and say, "I don't just love this stuff; I want to contribute to the artform"?
sintax: I grew up in a time where, I was sort of part of the first generation where hip-hop was really kind of at the center and was sort of a defining contributor of popular youth culture. I grew up in the Baltimore/Washington [D.C.] area in the suburbs of both those cities. I mean it was just what all my friends were listening to. And I just remember from a really early age of having a really powerful emotional response to what I heard in terms of both the music and the sort of explicitness of what people were able to say in the context of rap. My friends rapped and it was something that I enjoyed and kind of messed around with. And at any time it would be arrogant to think that you had something distinct to contribute to anything like this.
But I don't think I ever decided to be a part of hip-hop particularly because I had something to contribute. It was just kind of an outlet for me. Especially when I was younger, I certainly was very motivated by the opportunity to share my faith in that way. But I think people make a lot of mistakes when they feel like they have something particularly unique. I mean we all do, but I would never assume that I had something to add. In fact, I am always a little hesitant because it comes from such real rich sources. And I think especially for the rich white kids that grew up in the suburbs in the eighties, there was a sort of vicarious response that went along with it. And I just always wanted to be respectful of that and obviously to be true to my own experience but be respectful to the things that really moved me when I was young.
inReview: That also kind of goes into my next question. It's a cliché now to mention that most people who buy hip-hop albums come from suburban settings. Do you think the fact that you are a white-collar, middle-class guy yourself helps you relate to audiences better? Or do most audiences you encounter prefer the crime rhymes - the Jay-Z, Nas, T.I.-type stuff?
sintax: I definitely think for some portion of the white suburban community, the music that I do resonates in a particular way. And I think that is good and positive. I think that there are plenty of that group that, like I said earlier, are trying to have that vicarious experience with sort of urban culture. And to the extent that my music does not really reflect it or reflects it from a different perspective, it may not connect with them as much. I think the awesome part of the last really 10 [or] 15 years, whether or not it was general market or gospel rap, is that just about everybody except people that consume the surface level pop-culture, I think that everybody that is in the hip-hop community has a really good appreciation for what different people from different backgrounds can bring to rap music.
At this point in my life I don't feel uncomfortable expressing exactly who I am and feeling very satisfied or OK with the fact that it is going to connect with some people and it is not going to connect with other people. People want to connect with stuff that is authentic. There is a guy named Listener that I do a lot of music with in Deepspace5. He has gotten into a really kind of artsy place in what he does. He does live band stuff. And it is just a different place than when he started. It is really not similar to what I do. But you see him go into a lot of different places from coffee shops to even sort of traditional hip-hop venues. And people respond to it because what he is doing is different and creative and thoughtful. And people respect the fact that it's him. And so, I have just found that the biggest key is not to try to do something that connects with that person's experience as much as just reflecting on your own experience. And I think people are respectful of that and they enjoy that.
inReview: Where do you hope you end up as an artist? Do you have big dreams for the future, or do you just sort of take it day by day, album by album, and let the chips fall where they may?
sintax: These are definitely not Sunday school answers. But I don't have any dreams. When I first started, and up until probably six [or] seven years ago, I really would have wanted to do this full-time. We were talking about this the other day as a [record] label. I am so satisfied with the opportunity that I have. Talking about Illect [Recordings] again. [There is a] sort of reciprocity of expectations. Just kind of everybody understands what the other side is able to do and not able to do. And they give me the freedom to make my music. And they do it in a professional and thoughtful and Godly way. And I am able to share that almost to whatever extent I want. And there not any greater expectations imposed on that. I can perform regionally.
My job actually has a lot of flexibility in it and I have got a boss that is super understanding of what I do. I have got my family commitments. But I am able to do as much or as little as I want. That is exactly where I want to be. They enable me to give my music away as much as I want and those sorts of things. And again, I don't mean to do the Sunday School answer, and if a big opportunity came up, I'd be happy for that. But I couldn't be more happy with the way things are.
inReview: What do you mean, "Sunday School answer"?
sintax: Because I feel like it is the right thing to say like, "I am thankful for what God has given me at this place." And, "I don't need bigger things," and that sort of thing. But that really is how I feel. Honestly, I don't even know if my family can accommodate too much more than we already have in regards to the music.
inReview: So, you are working on new music?
sintax: Yeah. I am working on new music. I actually have got a project that is basically done with a guy named Beat Rabbi who is in Deepspace5. He is still working on putting it all together. And then I am working on another record with a guy named Curfew who has done some production with me before. I am doing a full-length album with him. And then Deepspace5 is working on a couple projects right now.
inReview: Is there anything new and exciting that you want to share about any of that with our readers?
sintax: The thing that is already done that I am really excited about, I kind of wanted to keep under wraps a little bit.
inReview: [whispering as if in ‘secret' mode]: Tell us, tell us!
sintax: The problem is that you never know when this thing is going to come out. I hate long runway on stuff. Beat Rabbi had a collection of music. It was just nine or 10 pieces. He intended it maybe for an instrumental record. And he had the book of Ecclesiastes on a couple pieces of vinyl that he could do a lot of cool stuff with. Anyway he was going to do sort of an instrumental album and he asked me if I would be interested in maybe doing an Ecclesiastes-themed record with him. And I was really excited about it. So we did. It is kind of short, maybe just eight or nine songs. It is kind of just meditative, devotional piece.
inReview: Have you ever been to GMA week before? Is this your first time?
sintax: No, I think this is my fourth. It is my third in a row. My first was like 12 or 13 years ago. And Manchild of Mars ILL and I were in a group together before way Mars ILL and way before Deepspace5. Actually, my first demo tape I had done with DJ Dove out in West Covina [CA] when I had just graduated high school. And I had not seen him in a couple of years. And Greg and I came out here. We did not know anything about GMA. We just came to hang out and be here. And there was an Idle King showcase. And we went to it. And we actually got to get up onstage and freestyle. We were really excited about that. And we got off stage and Dove came and he was like. "Yo, you guys sound so good. You have come a long way since you were out in L.A. three or four years ago." He was like, "I want to talk to you guys about something." This was when I was graduating college. This was when I was really trying to make something work. He was like, "I really want to talk to you."
So I came to his hotel that night and he was like, "What do you want to do? Arista [Records]? He had like a forefront like urban or something. He said, "What do you want to do? Whatever you want to do." He was like, "You call me, and we'll get this done." So I ran out in the middle of Nashville at like 1:30 in the morning and I called Greg and I was like, "We got it! This is it. This is it!" And then I never really could get back in touch with Dove again. I called him for like six months straight. I shouldn't really tell this story on Dove. That was it. That was the end of the big dreams. That was the end of it. That was my first GMA experience.
inReview: Wow. So what has it been like since then, in the last couple of years?
sintax: It has been great. And again, this has a lot to do with being with Josh and Illect [Recordings] in the sense that GMA is not for me a politicking moment. It is really about fellowshipping with people and seeing a bunch of people that I do not see on a regular basis and hearing what people are doing. And obviously having the chance to the extent people care, to share a little about what is going on with me. For me it is not really stressful and I really enjoy it here.