Cornerstone 2000: An Interview with Phillip Kim

Phillip Kim has done an incredible amount of service to a growing Christian music industry.

This interview was conducted by Nolan Shigley at Cornerstone 2000. Phillip Kim is one of the most genuinely nice persons you will ever meet. You can tell why he is the president of N*Soul records right away. He is definitely a people person and he gave me all the time I wanted to talk, and he was also courteous enough to set me up with other artists on the label. He’s done an incredible amount of service to a growing Christian music industry. And what’s more, he hosts the dance tent at the Cornerstone music festival.

Coincidentally, I also just found out he was in the band Raspberry Jam, who put out one of my favorite albums, Oceanic. I shouldn’t have been so surprised after speaking with him numerous times during the festival.

Nolan: First of all, what exactly is your position at N*Soul?

Phillip: My position is president of the record label.

Nolan: When was N*Soul created?

Phillip: N*Soul started 6 years ago and was founded by Scott Blackwell. He is the founder of Christian dance music. He put the first Christian dance record out in the industry. He was, at that time, signed to Myx Records which was owned by Frontline. He put out 4 records that way. After Frontline had problems and went under, he started his own label called N*Soul. He became the founder of the current label.

Nolan: When I spoke with you earlier, you described the label as the “underdog?. Can you elaborate on that?

Phillip: Not so much the underdog as in the sense, “have pity on us”, but we are definitely the underground. We are definitely the people who are trying to reach the kind of unreached people. It’s a label that is making music for a very select few who we care about a lot. That’s the dance and urban community. There are some people who are doing records here and there, but our whole label is dedicated to that. I think, unfortunately, that we are the only label that does that. We would love to see more labels sprout up. So, if you’re making beats out there, come on out and start your own label. Start building a larger dance and urban community, because it would be great to have more people involved.

Nolan: Are you getting a lot of demos right now?

Phillip: I’m getting a lot of demos. We probably get about 20 a week or so. We get a lot of demos that probably wouldn’t fit the N*Soul profile. Because we have distribution through both the Christian market through Deamonte and the secular through Navarre, we get a lot of people through all walks of life, all belief systems coming in saying, “Hey, we would love to be a part of that.” I’m very select and very picky [about who] I’m working with, though.

Nolan: How would you describe an artist that would fit the N*Soul profile?

Phillip: Well, I think N*Soul is dedicated to really being a label that supports the underground dance artists, foremost. So, it is someone who really has a talent in producing dance music, whether that be house, hip-hop, trip-hop, or drum and bass, and then have a real sense of the fact that their music is a ministry, not just dope tracks or what have you. I want somebody who believes they are trying to be used by God, that they are a vehicle of God in their love and actions.

We don’t have anyone on the label that is a non-Christian artist producing tracks or beats. You can’t always tell that by listening to a track, because it may be an instrumental track, but my conviction is, “Hey, I could be out there selling any kind of non-Christian music and make money, but I’m here struggling at N*Soul because I really want to see Christians making music and influencing people with the music in a spiritual way.”

Nolan: Yeah, like you said, the Christian scene does have a way to go before it builds a stronger electronic scene. The electronic scene seems pretty new in Christian music. Are you guys seeing more and more change in the Christian music scene?

Phillip: Well, I consider myself part of an electronic scene and not really a part of a “Christian” electronic scene. There really is no Christian electronic scene. I don’t know if there ever will be. I know there are a lot more Christians involved in the electronic and dance scene right now. Our hope is that those people who are Christians asisst the electronic scene in such a way that God will be shown in those situations. Especially, I’m referring to relationships and connecting to people through the DJ level, not only the listeners, but the industry in itself. It’s a tough place to be an artist.

Nolan: When did you guys start officially running the Cornerstone dance tent?

Phillip: I was actually asked to do the dance tent 5 years ago when I was working with another label called Metro One. At that time, N*Soul had most of the dance artists and so I was promoting N*Soul even though I was at another label. We had Prodigal Sons, which was kind of the first and foremost Christian techno artist to ever come out. That’s kind of how I got involved. I was just very close with JPUSA. I’ve always loved their missions and the passion they have for serving the homeless and the poor. I just got connected with them in that way and they said, “Well, why don’t you put something together like that?” So, that was 5 years ago, and since then I have changed labels, but still doing the same thing.

Nolan: What year did you arrive at N*Soul?

Phillip: I came to N*Soul 3 years ago.

Nolan: What are you looking forward to in the future in terms of N*Soul?

Phillip: Well, I don’t think it’s going to change a whole lot. The volume might change and the names of the artists, but I think the vision and the passion are the same. We definitely want to create great global gospel beats that hit and impact kids at whatever level. Right now, we’re in this kind of whirlwind in which dance music is super-popular and you’re hearing it on commercials like Lexus and Gap and everything else. The DJ has suddenly become this real hip culture-centered thing. We are seeing a lot of popularity for N*Soul, but 5 years ago that wasn’t true.

People couldn’t understand what it meant to be a Christian and do dance music or be a Christian and go to raves or other electronic events. N*Soul has been fighting the concept of being a Christian and being in the dance scene. I think we are going to continue doing that and continue making that difference we’ve been making for the last 5 years. We plan to be here for a lot longer. Lord willing (laughs). We are only here because fans support us, people buy our CDs, and they care enough about the fact that we’re reaching these people in the scene. Thank you to everyone out there that is supporting us. We wouldn’t make it without that kind of help.

Nolan: Yeah, like you said, electronic music is at an all-time popularity.

Phillip: I think so. It’s at an all-time popularity in the underground scene. I think when N*Soul first started, it was very popular in the Christian music scene, like Nitro Praise which seemed to be this cool fresh idea, whereas now I believe that kind of stuff would never get the kind of attention that it would in the Christian music industry. The Christian music industry has become so corporate and commercialized. Nitro Praise would never sell as much as Steven Curtis Chapman. We are never going to have that kind of love.

Nolan: Is rap, with the example of Fros-T, kind of a new genre for N*Soul?

Phillip: Yeah, but even before I was there they did rap. They had [the] “Sanctafunktafied” project and they had the Private Boys. There were some urban things happening. I try not to draw too thick a line between dance and urban. I think they are reaching the same kind of kids in the streets, or in the urban communities. That’s really our focus, anyway, or “urban” mindset kids. Obviously it’s not just urban kids listening to Emenem out there, you know what I mean?

Nolan: Are there any other record labels that you are working with?

Phillip: Well, we started our own imprint called the Eclectica Music. Under that, we basically did things that were non-dance. I released the first ever ska compilation in the Christian industry called “Skanktafied”. Then we did the Sparkler compilation, which was all alternative. Then we did a couple more ska bands.

“Skanktafied” was this amazing thing. The reason I did it was because I saw a ministry happening in southern California with these ska bands and all over the United States before anyone kind of saw it. There were bands like the Insyderz and the Dingees and the Israelites. These were people who were totally unpopular and nobody knew what ska was or what that meant. Somehow, God started using that music in southern California. It was really exciting to see, what I call a fourth wave of Christian music, this ska phase. So, all these burnt-out alternative guys stopped playing music and suddenly there was all these ska kids playing music. I saw these kids were on fire for God and yet using this style of music. That’s why I put the compilation together. It was a reflection of what I think God was doing in ministry at that time.

That’s what I want to do. I always want to be connected when I’m listening to God and listening to kids. I want to know what is actually happening in ministry at that moment. It was really exciting to be part of the ska ministry and since then, all those bands went on to be signed. I don’t know if electronic music will ever get to that level, but it’s always just great to be part of what God is doing in ministry, whether It’s ska, techno, or hip-hop, etc. I guess I have a heart more for the people who are the unreached, the people who aren’t given much attention. Yet, you see this tremendous potential in them, even though they aren’t as commercial. There definitely is a need for those people.

Our music isn’t for everybody, and I don’t pretend that it is. I don’t try to sell it to everybody. If they listen to our music and walk away, there are more than enough labels creating music out there for them. Unfortunately, for the kind of kid who listens to our kind of music, there is only us. That is a shame. We are really trying to provide that space for them, whether they are Christian or non-Christian. Whether they love God or don’t know who He is. That is why we are here. They can go to Tower Records or Best Buy and pick up a Faith Massive album or an AJ Mora. They can think, “Wow, this is a great LP, it’s been reviewed by BPM or Accelorator, so I’m going to check it out.” So, hopefully through that relationship with music, they’ll find out about N*Soul and wonder what It’s about. Hopefully through that, they can find out about Jesus and who we are.

Nolan: How about yourself? What do you like to come to Cornerstone to hear or see?

Phillip: Oh boy. I mostly don’t have time, because it is my responsibility to make sure that all of the dance stage goes on correctly, including hotels and booking, all that good stuff. I do that as a volunteer because I love Cornerstone and I love the ministry of JPUSA, they’re just phenomenal. When I go see bands, they’re just friends, you know. The Violet Burning, Cush, Mike Knott, you know, just old friends that are like, “Hey, I’m playing. OK, I’ll come.” I don’t usually come here to see the new kind of thing, because the new kind of thing is a punk thing (laughs). Anybody that’s new in our field comes to us anyway. I don’t mean that in a proud way, but unfortunately, they have nothing else. It’s kind of sad, but we try to be there for them.

Nolan: With the amount of music you work with, what would I find in your own personal collection?

Phillip: Well, I’m a hardcore jazz cat. I love the 40s to the 60s and Miles and Oscar Peterson. I play that a lot and I’m really into drum and bass. I’m really into trance right now, also. I also love a lot of alternative stuff. When I sit down to play guitar, that’s what kind of comes out of me. I like the marriange of alternative and electronic. I haven’t been successful in my own music with that, yet, but I enjoy listening to when artists do that.

Nolan: Yeah, I’m a big cool jazz fan.

Phillip: Yeah, cool jazz from the 40s to 60s and bebop. When I listen to that, it catches my ear. I like everything until Coltrane exploded in the 70s and then it died. Well, it actually became fusion and then died. I really love that stuff and I buy old jazz records off the Internet.

Nolan: Yeah, I took the History of Jazz class at the university (NE), and I learned more from that than anything else in college. Anything else you would like to add today?

Phillip: Well, we have this amazing thing happening. It’s called “Mercy Streets” and it’s a soundtrack to a movie that’s coming out. It’s the same people that put out “The Omega Code” movie, which is probably the biggest Christian film. So, the second movie that will be made by these people is going to be put out on N*Soul records on September 15th all over America. It should be a big thing. It has a lot of underground music on it.

Nolan: What kind of flick is it promising to be?

Phillip: It’s kind of an action/suspense/drama with a Christian theme of redemption. It was all shot on 35. I’m going to show the trailer tonight at the dance tent, so you’ll get a sneek preview of it. We are really excited about it. I’m really excited about Christian films and that it’s a Hollywood entertainment field coming up. I look at Christian films like what Christian music was ten years ago. People are just starting to make semi-quality Christian films. It seems as if these “Omega Code” guys have rose above and taken it to a next level. I think the video sold like 750,000 copies already. It did 12.8 million at the box office. So, because of that, Time, Newsweek, Entertainment Tonight, all these people covered it asking if this was the next big thing. I think the whole world is watching to see what Christians are going to do with entertainment.

Nolan: What kind of tasks are you going to take upon for the movie?

Phillip: Yeah, I’m producing the soundtrack. Sixpence None the Richer, Delirious?, and Jennifer Knapp are on it so far. Confirm, Fros-T, Cloud2Ground, Antidote, a lot of underground-sounding stuff will be on it. We’re talking to Moby, Tom Waits, and Kurt Franklin right now. It should be a huge thing. Just for N*Soul to be a part of it is such a God’s blessing.

Nolan: When is the soundtrack’s release.

Phillip: The same time, September 15th.

Nolan: Anything else, today?

Phillip: You know, if you don’t know the rave culture and stuff, just find out what it’s about. Ask around and start praying for these people that are in this culture. Maybe God will give you a burden for it, because we need more people who care for this kind of scene.

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