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.

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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.

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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.

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Encouragement for Gig Losers

For years now, Jennifer Daniels has been performing her Southern-gothic brand of roots rock, captivating audiences and plumbing the depths of the genre, taking on faith, doubt, marriage, heartache, motherhood, and everything life can throw at a girl from the southern highlands. Her albums and work can be found at

Although performing songwriters have been hit hard with this whole social distancing thing, we’re no strangers to uncertainty. We’re used to praying for work. We’re scrappy. We’re innovative. And we receive help gratefully. We’re no longer horrified when a payment has to be made late, nor shocked when money to make that payment comes out of the woodwork.

As of today, Jeff and I have lost ten gigs. That pretty much means that our income has been suspended. But yesterday, after an online show, we received a $200 tip from a single contributor. We hear of our church giving generously, and the community of artists banding together (no pun intended).

Today I gather the gift of dauntless daffodils from the irrepressible spring. I watch the birds out there finding their meals. Jesus said, “If the Father clothes the fields like that, will he not clothe you? And if he feeds the birds like that, will he not feed you? Are you not worth more than many birds?” I always giggle at the question. Just how many birds are we worth?

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Staying Home to Listen

You’ve probably heard enough about coronavirus and COVID-19 by this time. Or maybe you’re watching the CNN crawl nonstop, eating up every morsel of fear while you attempt not to touch your face. It’s understandable. Regardless of where you are, here is some good news.

Over the last five years, we’ve covered a number of excellent singer-songwriters, and we intend on supporting more as time goes on. These last several days, many events are being cancelled, including shows these songwriters depend on for income. They’re being forced to stretch their budgets in order to make ends meet, and, truthfully, none of us knows how long the current pandemic will last.

No matter your feelings for the crisis or the way it’s being handled or mishandled, we know you appreciate good music and those who make it. Thus, we want to remind you of all these good folks and their work. In all likelihood, you yourself are stuck at home. It is the perfect time to spin some new tunes and explore music you’ve not heard before. Here is a list of musicians we’ve covered, along with links to download their records.

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An Artist, An Album, A World

How the Mark Heard Tribute Album Changed Music For Me

There are two songwriting giants in the Christian music world. I mean, sure, we’ve all got our favorites, but there are two that loom above the landscape higher than the rest: Rich Mullins and Mark Heard. Everybody knows Rich. Whether it’s because we sang “Awesome God” in our youth group or because Andrew Peterson name-checked him in “Nothing to Say,” Rich Mullins is a household name. Mark Heard, though, is less well known, and that’s a shame. He was the poet laureate of Christian music, or at least, he should have been. He took the Christian life, put music to it, and somehow made it more beautiful.

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