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Derek Webb

The singer-songwriter on overcoming cynicism, finding happiness and why hip-hop is the new folk music

I don’t rap,” Derek Webb says, folding his arms. He does that a lot, as if trying to temper his seemingly boundless energy.

He’s talking about his love of hip-hop and the chasm between it and his own musical stylings. He’s sitting in the studio in the back of his Nashville home on a sticky Wednesday afternoon as he explains how he thinks rap relates to folk music, including his own.

“I consider hip-hop the current folk music of our generation, because folk music really is nothing more than the ethic of telling the unfiltered stories of the people,” he says.

Webb has little to do with the hip-hop scene, but he’s certainly no stranger to the folk music scene. He’s no stranger to the Christian music scene, either (though he is not a fan of labeling music “Christian”). In fact, for anyone with even scant knowledge of the CCM world, Webb is a household name and has been for a long time.

With multiple GMA Dove Awards and eight solo albums under his belt (the latest, I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You, released in September), it’s impressive how little Webb seems to have aged throughout his 20 years in the industry. It’s easy to look at him and see the twentysomething troubadour writing coffee shop hits with Caedmon’s Call (which he left 10 years ago to pursue a solo career).

Despite his imprint on the Christian scene, Webb has been a famously contentious figure because of his fierce commitment to expressing his beliefs through provocative lyrics and proclamations on sensitive issues. Webb has found the “explicit” sticker on at least one of his albums, and this gets him talking, once again, about hip-hop. He speaks glowingly of honest hip-hop, and no one more so than Kendrick Lamar.

“For a great hip-hop artist like Kendrick—who is squarely a folk singer, in my opinion—to do his job, to do it to the best of his ability, to do it faithfully and reliably in a way that’s trustworthy, he’s going to have to do it in the vernacular of the places he’s writing about,” Webb explains. “It would be dishonest for him to in any way manipulate it to make it more palatable. To change the language around to make it
more listenable.”