An Interview with Phillip Joubert

Author’s note: I’m so excited to bring you my conversation with my friend Phillip Joubert. Phillip is a rapper out of New York and Connecticut, now a part of the Knoxville scene. A gifted, honest lyricist, he cherishes the humanity in others and is willing to look difficulty in the face, even and perhaps especially when the faith of which he is a part sometimes shies from those difficulties.

This written interview is edited for length. Please consider carving out some time to listen to the entire conversation. Phillip’s voice is one worth hearing.

PHILLIP: I consider Lupe Fiasco one of the best lyricists we’ve ever had in hip-hop, but he literally doesn’t make any sense sometimes. One of the best songs he ever released is called “Mural”—the kind of music that rappers implode over, just rapping straight for eight minutes. But most of what he’s saying—he has this way of, like, “I’m painting right now,” you know?

And for me, that is very hard, because I came up in Christian music, which is very direct. So, understanding could be creative in writing in general was still like, “Oh—we’re allowed to do that,” like every time we write, we’re not always trying to clearly communicate a message that you’re supposed to comprehend in the first listen. That was a journey in and of itself for me. Listening to Lupe taught me that; listening to OutKast taught me that.

ADAM: Did you grow up in Knoxville? I remember when we did a thing, you said you’d just moved to Knoxville—

PHILLIP: Well, yeah—I moved to Knoxville, it’ll be six years ago in September. I moved here from the Bronx, New York, but I was born and raised in Connecticut. The thing is, I was in and out of New York City the entirety of my life, pretty much.

ADAM: So, when you moved to the South, because there’s literally a totally different way of thinking down here, how did you feel like you had to transfer or change your writing to communicate with all these people who simply think this different way?

PHILLIP: I always say that I learned a lot of writing, and a lot of how to create and sound like me, in one of the best ways—which was just not having access to producing. I had no access to studio time or beats, like that, and I didn’t even think about what I do now and bands. So I just learned to hone it by myself. I was rapping for me, writing for me—learning to get my feelings out.

Read More

Playing for Kids is Not Unlike Playing for Drunk People

I’ve always seen myself as this heady, angsty, funny, important powerhouse of a performer, who writes for super-smart audiences of adults who go on to change the world—I’m nothing if not accurate in self-reflection—but here I was taking gigs at elementary schools, singing songs in which the point was to count. Or tip toe. Or share a toy.

My ego would’ve taken a bigger hit if we hadn’t needed the money so badly. We’d been touring for ten years (200+ shows a year) when our twins were born, and those tiny individuals were powerful enough to halt the entire tour bus. We released the humans in January, and then released an album in April.

They tell you that nursing is a lovely, lifegiving experience. The truth is it’s the messiest ridiculousness on Earth. I’d show up to TV appearances with spit-up on my clothes, and, yeah, sometimes in my hair. Ew. Honestly, I was doing well to make it through a day without weeping—culture shock, life-altering crazy.

Read More

Songs and Stories with My Daughter

When I was twelve, my family moved from the only home I knew, and one of the songs my parents played on repeat during that time was Ron Block’s “In the Palm of Your Hand.” Initially I despised the song because it reminded me that we were moving, and that my parents saw this as God’s leading so I couldn’t be mad about it. But soon I heard the beauty in the lyrics and took comfort in the truth that God held me in the palm of His hand, where “His grace provides for me.”

As I have sheltered in place with my husband and my daughter, I’ve gone back to what has comforted me, and discovered it also comforts my daughter. I don’t want my precious little girl living in fear of the future, and as I’ve seen so many people roar and rage about seemingly everything my own mind has been full with questions and fears. How do I protect my daughter from the scary things of the world? How do my husband and I raise our daughter to be confident in her place as God’s child in the face of a shaky present? My daughter recently started walking, and so even as I ponder these questions I have to chase her down hallways and around chairs. And there are books to read her, songs to sing, diapers to change, and hugs to give. Our little girl is blissfully unaware of all that is going on the world, and as I watch her delight in the taste of watermelon or the sight of our cat, my jumbled thoughts take some order.

Read More

On Renovations, Both Home and Human

It’s a hell of a thing to rip up your flooring to find a sizable joist cracked right in half.

Late in the COVID-19 quarantine, my wife and I decided to start a much-needed home renovation, planning to do the work ourselves with some help from my dad, who’s a lifelong carpenter. After eight weeks of doing as little as we could manage, we opted to begin repairing and replacing the floor in our kitchen, living room, and hallway. Right around the same time, my boss at the coffee shop called me and asked if I’d like to return to work, seeing as the air started to clear and Tennessee began to reopen. Because I love my job, and because I was starting to get fatigued from reading sci-fi books all day, I said yes. Suddenly, and in stark contrast to the week before, I found myself with much to do.

Read More