When Snoop Dogg recorded a gospel album in 2018, almost every song included a feature from a prominent gospel performer — Marvin Sapp, Tye Tribbett, the Clark Sisters, and many more. This is a classic crossover play: A popular musical outsider recruits key insiders to smooth his transition into a new genre.
But some of those insiders took a beating for agreeing to collaborate with someone from outside of gospel. “I lost a couple best friends — a husband and wife team walked away from me, called me a sinner,” said Fred Hammond, who helped Snoop Dogg on “Call Him.” “I’m almost 50; I’m solid and sober emotionally,” Hammond adds. “But it got rough for a minute.”
That might make a singer think twice before working outside of gospel again. But surprisingly, Hammond didn’t hesitate when he got a call from Kanye West to work on the Jesus Is King track “Hands On.” The singer spoke with Rolling Stone about his decision to risk censure a second time and why “Hands On” is like Eminem’s 8 Mile.
How did you initially connect with Kanye?
Earlier this year, a friend of mine sent me an Instagram post. It was a picture of people in the desert, dressed in white, singing in California. They looped one of my songs: “This Is the Day.” It was extremely funky. It was definitely hip-hop, it had that attitude to it, and the passion and energy of the choir was off the charts. It was one of those things where I said, why didn’t I think of that? I looked close, and it was Kanye. At that time, I thought it just something for him to do.
Then Chance the Rapper invited me to come and sing at his wedding reception. At that point in time, Kirk Franklin brought Kanye to me just to shake hands. I told him, that was dope what you did with my record. He told me how it happened. He said, I was in the studio trying to get this album going, and a friend of mine brought a record that my mother used to listen to. He said, check this Fred Hammond out.
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He also explained his conversion. I was like, ‘That is great.’ He said,’ I’m sticking with this — I found this new thing with Jesus, and he’s helping me get on the right track.’ I embraced him and shook his hand. He said, if you don’t mind, I’d like to work with you soon, maybe on an album I’m doing. I said, anytime. But I thought that was Hollywood talk. Everybody says that.
But this time something actually happened?
He hit me over the summer saying, ‘I’m going to the studio, I’d like to write something with you.’ I said, ‘Here’s a song that I think you should add.’ I didn’t send him a beat — he’s a beat maker already. We got on the phone and started talking.
If nothing else, I knew a lot of the Christian world would not embrace him. I did something for Snoop on his last record, and I got a lot of flak for it. He got a lot of flak too. Religious people are very territorial. So I knew [Kanye] would have a hard time.
Why is that backlash prevalent in gospel?
I come from the Golden Age of gospel in the Seventies and Eighties. You’re not supposed to mingle with what the church calls people in the world. If they don’t sing gospel exclusively, then you are trying to cross over, you’re a hypocrite, God don’t love you no more.
I care about Kanye staying on and having enough hope to make it through the change that he wants. I know he’s strong right now. But the thing that will beat you down the most is when the people who you think should embrace you, they reject you.
So I said, ‘You gotta block that out.’ The way to block that out, is tell ’em your point, but tell ’em in a humble way. Don’t rear up. That stuff will die down as they see you stay. So he said ‘OK, cool, what are you thinking?’ So I gave him a couple scriptures. I told him about the scripture that said, when Jesus was talking to the church, he said, if you all don’t praise me, the very rocks will cry out and praise me. We think that’s a mountain or a big old thing, a rock or a stone. It could be. Or it could be people whose lives were stoney, cold, hard, people who you would never think would give God any look. He said, I’ll touch them, make them praise me.
So I’m looking at Kanye and saying, it’s possible that you’re one of those rocks. But don’t be hard against anybody. They’re gonna doubt you, just don’t be hard against them. He said, that sounds great. He said he had a vibe, and he sent me that. That’s the part you hear — [sings] hands on, hands up. That’s all he had, and some music that went after. So I wrote the verse that I sang: I deserve all the criticism you got.
We were talking every day for twenty minutes for a week. But I sent him this, and three days, I don’t hear anything. I’m thinking, this must have been a wack idea. Nothing. He called me back, says he loves the vibe, but it sounds too apologetic.
How did you persuade him that this was a strong basis for a song?
I said, this is just a route you take as a believer. This is what Jesus’ message is about: humility. I said, I’m not being apologetic. I’m pulling an 8 Mile, basically. In that movie, Eminem talked about himself so bad, then said, say something that the people don’t know. He took the weapon out of their hands. That’s when Kanye said, I got an idea. And when I heard it the other day, I thought, this is brilliant.
That message is powerful. And it’s resonating amongst a lot of Christians who are hitting me up. They would normally say, you hypocrite, you’re out there singing with these people, you ain’t got it, you goin’ to hell. If you’re praising God for real, I’ll praise Him with you. The bible says, let everything that has breath praise the lord.
Did you listen to the rest of the album?
I did. My son hit me up and said, “Dad, you did something with ‘Ye? You didn’t tell me!” He said one of my other friends hit me up like, “Your dad is on the Kanye! I’m about to listen to that joint right now.” This old guy’s still got a little something in him.
One of the main things I’m seeing is that I got a lot of calls from millennials in gospel rap. They hope that their genre might catch fire really well. Gospel music as a whole is starting to shrink. When they saw and heard something they liked, they’re like, we’re proud to be a part of this!