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Stick It: Higher Calling

ASU grad's Christian hip-hop label flourishes

 by Ben Horowitz
 published on Thursday, February 23, 2006

Call, known as Arhythmatik in the Christian hip-hop scene, puts up fliers for his show./issues/arts/695918
Scott Pennelly / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
Call, known as Arhythmatik in the Christian hip-hop scene, puts up fliers for his show.
 

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God, Mormons and Phoenix probably aren't three of the first things that come to mind when you hear someone mention hip-hop. But with the rising popularity of Clayton Call and his friends, that may all soon change.

Call, known as Arhythmatik on stages around the Valley, is one of the founding members of the record label Modurn Languaj Asosiashun, or MLA for short.

The label started in 2003, a year after Call graduated from ASU with a communications degree, and within a few months Call says it was already blooming. Now, a little more than two years later, MLA artists are preparing for tours across the nation and are already making a profit off of their records -- something made all the more interesting by the fact that Call is a Mormon and all of the artists on his label are Christian.

As a Mormon, Call was one of the 60,000 young adults sent out annually on missions across the world. Many 19-to-21-year-old members of the Church of Latter-day Saints travel thousands of miles from home to perform missionary work, knocking on doors and spreading the Mormon faith. Men generally spend two years in the field, with women serving 18 months.

While the entire time period is generally spent in one area, Call's experience was a little different. Call is fluent in the American version of sign language, and he would travel around the country to minister to deaf residents of low-income areas from southern California to Baltimore.

The time spent on a mission is filled with days of work, leaving little time for anything else. The rigid lifestyle was hard for Call.

"I was walking around some of the worst ghettoes in America and seeing some of the most amazing hip-hop artists performing on the street," he said. "You want to jump right in, but in that environment, you can't."

After all the exposure to hip-hop culture, Call was ready to start something related to hip-hop when he came back to the Valley in 1997. He just didn't know what. The formulation of his hip-hop vision into a label took years. And the Internet.

"The Internet really levels the playing field," he says. "We can do things in terms of promotions now that before only the big major labels could handle."

The Internet was also how the label got started. Call tapped into the national underground Christian hip-hop scene through a Web site called SphereofHipHop.com. It was there that he met Scott Allen, a non-denominational Christian rapper and MLA label co-founder.

When the two came up with a name, the funky spellings of the label and of his stage name were for symbolic purposes rather than purely stylish reasons, Call says.

"When hip-hop was first getting started, there was no history to build on," he says. "You had to sample what already existed, and create something new. So that's what we're doing with the names, working with what's already there and trying to have a new impact on people."

Call says the experience of starting the label and performing in the Phoenix scene has basically followed the same theme of re-invention.

"There are tons of paths to musical success that already exist," he says. "We were too positive to fit in with a lot of the groups from the mainstream scene, and we don't really try to present a gangsta image. So we ended up making our own niche."

Call says that the label's path isn't one that is determined by faith as much as its values, as the positive lyrical message has been warmly received by Christians and non-Christians alike in the rap scene. Judging by the label's growing popularity, the niche is one that people in the southwestern United States have been looking for.

"We're trying to bring the positivity back into hip-hop," Call says. "People like us because we stay positive without being preachy."

Reach the reporter at benjamin.horowitz@asu.edu.



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