Derek Minor had a vision for his new album. The Nashville rapper was inspired by the 1998 film Pleasantville to create a place with an idyllic exterior, but with layers of riveting subject matter underneath. His creation evolved into his dynamic new album,Minorville.
“Minorville is about this place where on the outside if you look at it, it looks really, really great,” Derek Minor says. “It looks like a cool place to go visit. But just like any city, when you get there, you soon realize that it has many different dynamics to it. You’ve got the cool area, the rich and famous area, the place in the hood, the place in the suburbs that’s moralistic and you’ve got the place where there aren’t any morals. Every part of the city has its own problems. I just want to give people a tour of my mind, my world, my city.”
An accomplished rap veteran formerly known as Pro, Derek Minor takes listeners through a series of story-driven songs throughoutMinorville. One of the LP’s standout selections is “Homecoming,” an extraordinary tale of a homecoming queen from an affluent background whose poor decisions lead her down a spiral of chaos.
“When a lot of people look at urban areas, they think that all the problems in the world exist there and that the area outside of that is normal, that people don’t have struggles there,” Derek Minor says. “A lot of times, we talk about the struggles of the hood, being in an urban world, a world where systematic racism and all these things exist. But what I wanted to do was highlight a different story and say, ‘We’re all in this together.’ That even goes for the people in the hood who are like, ‘If I could only get out the hood, I’d be fine.’ It’s like, ‘Nah. Not necessarily.’ I wanted to start a dialog that there’s issues everywhere, anywhere that you go.”
“Dear Mr. Christian” takes a similarly stark stance, as Derek Minor raps from the perspective of a young woman who has been sexually abused on the song, while collaborator Dee-1 delivers a powerful verse about a kid who grew up without role models and feels as though his life is full of struggle and trouble. Lecrae finishes the song with a stinging rap about hypocrites who are quick to judge others while overlooking their own shortcomings. Then there’s the driving, hard-hitting “IGWT.” Short for “In God We Trust,” this collaboration with Thi’sl features the rappers discussing the devastating impact drugs, violence and pride have in our communities.
Derek Minor shows another side of Minorville with “We Are,” “Hot Air Balloon” and “We Gone Make It,” three inspiring selections about overcoming adversity. “There’s people out here hurting,” Derek Minor says. “There’s people out there who, whether or not they’ll admit it, don’t know what’s next for them. They don’t know if they’re going to have food tomorrow, if they’ll get harassed by the cops tomorrow. In this climate, we need something to put on when people are going through their struggles. If you think your life isn’t worth living, I want you to throw on that Derek Minor record and say, ‘You know what, I’m finna step it up. Life is worth living and I’ve got something to live for.’”
Yet Derek Minor is mindful of what he’s living for. The organ-driven “Gimmie,” for instance, discusses the danger of making money and materialism key components of our lives. “How much is enough?” he says. “When are we going to sit back and look back and be like, ‘Maybe money isn’t the answer. Maybe more isn’t the answer.’ I’m trying to shine a light on how crazy that is. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having things, but if you let those things drive you in life, you really don’t even live life at all.”
Originally from Michigan, Derek Minor moved to Tennessee when he was six. His father was a jazz guitarist and his mother sang in the church choir, but neither musical genre appealed to him. When he found a DJ Quik cassette at his cousin’s house, though, Derek Minor’s life was transformed. He knew he wanted to rap.
From there, Derek Minor became enamored with the work of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and 2Pac, as well as Tennessee rappers Pistol, Kool Daddy Fresh, Three 6 Mafia, Playa Fly and Gangsta Blac, among others. But after signing a contract with an independent label and releasing material there, Derek Minor lost his grandfather, grandmother and godmother in quick succession. He then surrendered his life to God and left a life where money and women were his focus.
Derek Minor called himself Pro, short for Prodigal, and formed the Reflection Music Group with his friend Doc Watson. After releasing his The Black Out album in 2008, he met Lecrae and BJ, both of whom challenged him to become a more complete Christian artist. His subsequent material, including the albums Redemption (2010) and Dying To Live(2011), found Pro figuring out what type of artist he wanted to be.
An Achilles injury in 2012 gave Pro time to reflect on his music, his life and his brand. Realizing that Pro was too common a moniker, the man born Derek Johnson decided to change his stage name to Derek Minor, since “Minor” is similar to “Junior,” which Derek is. “It’s liberating because I feel like I’m starting over, like I have a brand new career,” says Derek Minor, whose material is now released in conjunction with Reach Records, also home to Lecrae. “That’s really fun because I can really shape who I’m going to be from here on out. It’s a name I feel like I can grow with forever and do music, as opposed to Pro, which felt a little juvenile to me.”
Derek Minor also took a more hands-on approach with his music on Minorville, producing on 11 of the album’s 15 tracks. “I’m really trying to carve my own lane out,” he says. “It’s really kind of scary because if the album’s no good, I really can’t point the finger. I’m the person who’s behind this.”
With a new sound, new name and the best material of his career, Derek Minor is poised for a breakthrough with Minorville, an album that is as moving as it is thought-provoking. “I hope people can relate to my music and that we can have open discussions about who we really are rather than who we want people to think we are,” he says.