Fiti Futuristic keeps the faith on second album
Not many Christian performers can maintain credibility with both secular and religious audiences at the same time. Either the artists are considered too Christian for secular music or too secular for Christian music. But Indiana-born hip-hop artist Fiti Futuristic has, in the past two years, maintained his Christian fans while becoming one of the most well-known and beloved secular artists in Indianapolis. He’s just released his second album, Watch What Happens, and it walks that delicate balance of evangelizing the Word while never being too preachy. As evidence of this, the disc’s first single, the bouncing “Can’t Get Enough,” is being serviced to college radio as well as Christian radio stations.
“This is the album that I have always wanted to make,” says Fiti, whose real name is Zachary Tannehill. “Since I got this studio in my home, I’ve been able to sit down and do it the way I wanted.”
In the past few years, he’s opened for such artists as KRS-One, played Warped Tour dates and shared the stage with Rhymefest at the Midwest Music Summit last summer.
“This past year has showed me where my focus needs to be,” Tannehill says. “It doesn’t need to be in the church, it needs to be in the bars and these venues where people really need to hear a positive message. I definitely have geared myself a lot more to be able to do secular shows or a Battle of the Bands or an IMN showcase. "
“It’s helped me get out there and realize where my target audience is and where the people I want to communicate with and the people I want to build a relationship with are. This past year has been amazing in terms of getting out and doing shows and meeting people, doing shows and seeing how the world operates. The songs definitely appeal to everybody.” The new album is filled with material that crosses genres, such as the operatic tune “They Like the Show.”
“A long time ago, people couldn’t afford to go to the opera and they couldn’t go to the stage shows because they were peasants,” Tannehill says. “They couldn’t afford to be in there. I just wanted to make a point that I’m no better than anyone else. Sometimes when you go to a show, people are wasted and they just want to vibe to the music and they don’t understand there’s a message to it. I just try to explain to them that the music is fun, but there is a message, too.”
At the same time, he also stays true to his Christian message with such songs as “Me and My Best Friend.” “God is my best friend and Jesus is my best friend,” he says with pride. “I wanted to do a song where I was speaking to them from a human standpoint so maybe somebody else could relate. I didn’t want it to be a ‘Hi, I’m Zach and Jesus is my best friend’ song. I wanted to make it sound like it was being spoken to a real person, because to me Jesus is real. I wanted to humanize it and make it accessible to people.”
The entire disc was recorded at the Greencastle home Tannehill shares with his wife, Kristin, and their two children. Assisting with the production and beats are Fab da Eclectic and noted local turntablist DJ Type A, a childhood friend of Tannehill’s. “We started out in second grade,” he says of Type A. “He’d moved to Greenfield and we had Mrs. McDaniels’ math class together. We became friends and we’ve been friends ever since. We both started rapping, but at some point in high school he delved into being a DJ.”
Music was important to Tannehill because other aspects of his life weren’t going so well. “The way my home life was, I had an alcoholic father and I had a mother who put up with it a lot. I was getting into fights with them all the time and it made me a mean person. I didn’t want to give people a chance. I didn’t want to trust anybody. I didn’t want to deal with my home life, so I just poured myself into my music."
“After I graduated high school, I started seeing some things in my dad. Instead of being drunk, I’d catch him reading a Bible. One day, he said he wasn’t going to drink anymore and give his life to God. And he hasn’t drank since. It had an effect on me to see something that powerful and strong; nothing else would make him stop. We’d pleaded with him for years to stop.”
Unlike many musicians, Tannehill’s full-time job is making music. He is financially supported by the World Renewal International ministry, which allows him to record and to tour churches around the country. While he says he’s happy to play before any audience willing to give him a chance, he also says that “The church crowd is way harder to please than a bar crowd, without a doubt. There are a lot of youth organizations and churches who lay out a lot of money to bring out artists. Kids get used to seeing major acts come in all the time and they’re just not impressed with anything else."
“I don’t mean this to sound bad, but sometimes when you go to see a bar band, the bar is a little lower. They come in and expect to hear a Metallica cover or whatever. Sometimes I can go in there and do a show and people are impressed because we put our heart and soul into a show.”
While there’s a lot of competition in the Christian music market because it sells so well, Tannehill says audiences can see through dilettantes in the field. “You see Beyonce trying to be spiritual, but then you see her contradicting herself in her concerts and her videos,” he says. “If you’re just out there for the money, that’s going to be exposed.”
Part of his ministry involves evangelizing with local musicians, both at clubs and through the local-music Internet sites. “It’s amazing how quickly your instant-message systems seem to get filled up with, ‘I’m praying right now for God to help me out.’ I’m glad I can be there for them, that person they can tell things about their lives. “Jesus said to go into all the world and tell people about Him. To me, that meant not being in the church so much, but being in the places where He’d be if he were alive today. He’d be at the bars, ministering to me. It started to make sense to me that my target audience didn’t need to be youth-group kids. It needed to be the Patio, Birdy’s, CBGB’s even. Any secular venue.”
He adds, “I gave my life to God and it’s only natural for me to speak about it in my music. I decided to try and affect peoples’ lives the way God affected my life. I wanted to share that with other people and let them know they can be affected positively the same way.”