Getting fired was the start of something big for Dylan Phillips. The now-canned road manager for hip-hop artist Derek Minor was able to channel 100 percent of his energy and passion into his own recording career. And on June 15, Phillips—who records and performs by the name nobigdyl—will see the culmination of his efforts when Capitol Records releases Solar.
Without a push from his mentor, Phillips might never have made the leap to full-time performing. Talking about that pivotal day, Phillips recalls how Minor sat him down and confronted him: “Do you want to be a road manager all your life or do you want to be an artist?”
Phillips, while concerned about the financial risks associated with a creative career, responded that “in a perfect world, I would be an artist.” Minor then said, “Well in that case, you are fired.” He knew Phillips would not pursue his dream if he had a safety net.
One of the challenges Phillips knew he had to tackle was being known a rapper who does not talk about drugs or denigrate women. “It’s really difficult to get people to even listen,” says Phillips, “or to get some of the same opportunities to get your music out there when you follow a standard that’s not typical for the art form.”
Then there’s the question—is nobigdyl a Christian rapper or a rapper who is a Christian? “For me,” says Phillips, “ if you believe something—if you really believe it—if you call it your faith, then you aren’t going to be able to hide it.”
He doesn’t approach writing songs with an eye to referencing scripture or theology: “I just sit down and write like anybody else. The reason I don’t degrade women or the reason that I talk about faith and life in a way that is not offensive or devaluing to people, is because that is really my life. That is who I am. The songs come from a place of real honesty and that’s how the music comes out.”
The songs on Solar tell a cohesive story, says Phillips. “It’s a very narrative-based album. I am excited to take people on a journey with me. My artistic purpose for the project is to tell a story that people can connect to and identify with.”
The single “2018” traces the past few years, Phillips explains: “I was trying to build my career and my presence, and the song tells of the trials and tribulations and triumphs that have come with that. I was navigating that and building over the years. You can take the single by itself, but in the context of the album, it fits into the overall story.”
As for his own journey, Phillips was born near Oakland, California, and moved around with his family to Texas, Kentucky, Illinois, Florida, upstate New York, and then landed in Tennessee. It was at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) where Phillips began to perform in folk/hip-hop fusion bands and eventually launched his solo career as nobigdyl.
It’s also where met and began interning for alumnus Derek Minor, and where he met Chelsea, his future wife. “Chelsea is my best friend and has been instrumental in my life in a multiplicity of ways,” says Phillips. “She has also been instrumental in my career. Before the deal with Capitol, she basically was the label. She did the administrative stuff, served as a road manager, and she’ still very involved and very much a part of the team.”
Another major player in his life and career is Uncle Derek Phillips, an acclaimed jazz drummer who now performs with Hank Williams, Jr. “I grew up going to his gigs at jazz clubs,” Phillips recalls, “and they’d have spoken word artists too. I was young, probably around 6, and so hearing the jazz and the improvisation –and mixing that with the concepts and rhythms and lyrics of spoken word poetry –really influenced my love for hip hop.”
His parents provided a strong spiritual base. “I did grow up in a Christian family,” says Phillips, “but it was cultural for me through my teens. I thought being a good kid meant going to church.” It wasn’t until he was in college that Phillips truly began to believe on his own.
“I got into some train wreck situations and relationships in college – and my faith was the thing that helped me hang on,” says Phillips. “I knew God was constant. Even in the middle of me ruining everything, He was there. He welcomed me back.”