CHH Artist L3xDivine On Overcoming Challenges And Letting God Be Her Coach
by Shonette Reed
While at a Beautiful Eulogy concert in her hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada, Elexis Pullens, mainly known as L3xDivine, felt God speaking to her saying, “This is what I want you to do.” At the time, she was singing background for friends in the gospel scene of Las Vegas, while working in retail, and believed that encounter meant that she should pursue a solo career as a singer.
This encounter with God caused her to wake up the next morning with the urge to work on her music by writing lyrics over hip hop instrumentals. By 2014, L3xDivine released her first 16 bars for a video titled, “In Fact”. Though many create music in a studio, L3x Divine records all of her songs on her iPhone.
“Usually people are pretty shocked when I tell them all the songs they’ve ever heard from me were recorded on iPhone,” Pullens shared. “No mic import-- I just straight rap into my iPhone. [I] try my best to mix it the best way I can all through the GarageBand app. All #Emceemonday tracks were created this way.”
Her most recent single titled, “Colorism”, was also done this way but instead of GarageBand, Pullens’ friend, Jeremiah Beats, mixed it for her.
I got to chat with L3xDivine over email for a look into her story and why she does what she does.
Q: What made you, or rather what helped you, decide to get into Christian Hip Hop (CHH)?
A: There's actually a story to this, but I will make it short. In my spare time, while working retail, I would produce and write many songs to, and about, God. I was also singing background for friends in the gospel scene in Las Vegas. One day, I found out about CHH in my city and that some of the greatest sounds in CHH were coming from the West Coast. At a Beautiful Eulogy concert, the Spirit of God spoke to me and said, "This is what I want you to do." However, I didn't even think for one second he meant rapping. I thought he meant singing and being on stage-- something close to the sound I was exploring at that time. It wasn't until that following morning that The spirit of God woke me and urged me to pick up a pen and write over hip hop instrumentals. This was maybe fall of 2012. I divinely connected with other CHH artists through Guerilla Cross but more specifically, JGivens, who continually encouraged me to pursue Hip Hop, and still does today.
Q: Does your hometown inspire your work? (If you're not from Vegas)
A: I would say it does in some ways. Definitely being a believer and growing up in a city that focuses so much on sin-- in fact it's brand is sin-- has truly opened my eyes of the grace that was upon my life. I've written a few songs from the perspective of being saved in "Sin City". The ups and downs from developing in life have their rightful place in my creative process, as well.
Q: Does Vegas inspire any of your work?
A: There's a piece I often do in my sets...
"I wake up to bright lights, bright eyes and no future. Roaming these vacant streets is what I'm used to. Can't seem to find my way around, but I'll keep walking for now, yeah, keep walking for now. I can't feel my face, can't see my arms but I hear faith. I gotta keep going I pray I make it."
This talks about how I robotically walked up and down “The Strip” drunk, with no purpose, yet full of dreams. I was numb to my pain and often suicidal. I knew God but not as much as I knew my darkness… I longed to live but had very little faith in myself (meaning that I could survive my destructive ways).
Q: What are some of the challenges you face in a predominantly male industry?
A: My biggest challenge is learning "How to be". It seems as if my presence alone makes men uncomfortable, and when I discern that (regardless of what the reason is), it makes me feel extremely awkward. I don't know how long I can talk to a brother. Are 2 seconds too long to shake a brothers hand? When do you hug or when do you give dap? It's just difficult to maneuver. I've come to realize that true brotherly love is so hard to come by. Another is most definitely the lack of respect. The reputation that women have in CHH is not a good one as far as being "dope". As a result of this, I'm automatically categorized in the "not good" section. Another is being faced with the perspective from men that being a woman with a decent flow "automatically" draws attention. This completely negates the idea that my gender doesn't dictate my creative mindset.
Q: What are some of the challenges you face as an artist?
A: I would say submitting to God's way instead of creating my own plan towards a more successful platform has been very challenging. I have a couple people I consider mentors who have expressed where they feel I should be, and though I totally agree, it's not wise to supersede God. Understanding that timing and obedience is more important than followers and shows has kept me somewhat balanced.
I also deal with stage fright, which is completely crazy. I have to become like a super saiyan in prayer before I get on stage. That's how nervous I can get before a set.
Q: How have you overcome these challenges?
A: I first had to remember that it’s God who orders our steps. This has kept my faith high, especially in reference to the unveiling of my artistry. God truly has a plan far better than my own. As far as stage fright, I speak scriptures out loud to combat any inadequacy, inferiority or anxiety I may feel.
Q: What was the beginning of your music journey like?
A: Yo, you can ask my mom, I was horrible when I first started. I was often discouraged. I come from a family of musicians, and we are so far from biased. If your singing is off, we're going to let you know that you're pitchy and that you need to get it together. However, my mom tried her best to support me. I was often frustrated with my process but still continued to write every single day. My faith (as far as being a CHH Artist) had to be built because I felt like, in many cases, I had heard God wrong. I barely had the support of my family, and it was mentally a battle. I had to truly develop my love for hip hop, and through not giving up, I noticed a drastic change. I bought an iPhone 5 and started to record songs and make videos through iMovie with my mom. The #EMCEEMONDAY vids helped put me on the map a bit. Recording in a studio was difficult. There were always people who said they wanted to help but didn't help much. So, I just had the mindset of doing everything on my own until something gave. I only created to seek God's approval and didn't really care about numbers.
Q: How's that journey now?
A: God is truly my coach. He navigated me through my many obstacles like what was previously stated, but as I connected with other women in CHH, I could see how they were emotionally oppressed by sexism and other things. So, for like 2.5 seconds, my focus was on proving the guys wrong.
After realizing that being a woman in CHH isn't as burdensome as I thought (meaning all I have to do is focus on the message God wants me to convey to the people), I felt a little better. There wasn't the pressure of "You gotta kill!" I found my voice, and though I’ll most likely always be experimenting with styles, I rest in the fact that I'm unique, gifted, and most importantly, anointed to do this. The fact that I don't live in Vegas anymore, and that through CHH I was able to travel, solidified even more that God truly has my back in this process. Everything is improving, from sound to writing, even my spiritual walk. This is the first time that any of my songs have made it on almost all the main CHH platforms! I'm honestly so grateful for that!
Q: Was music always the goal for you?
A: Music and Fashion! Those are my loves!
Q: What are some of the limitations that you feel you have?
A: Time! I don't believe in myself as much as I should. I spend a lot of time in my head. From being emotionally abused, and having a severe skin condition, I was given an inaccurate depiction of myself. I could feel my light dimming as I got older and, honestly, the absence and neglect I felt from family and friends at that time subconsciously fed me a lie that I wasn't good enough. Sadly, I carried this with me into adulthood. But, God is healing me. I can also be too reserved and shy. I don't want to be seen or heard. I've learned, though, that it's a form of pride, and it's being broken for sure.
Q: Did you grow up in church? If so, does that have an effect on the way you do music?
A: I grew up in the church. Singing in the choir at a young age expanded my musical knowledge and ability.
Q: Have you ever faced opposition from the church? CHH community?
A: Oh yeah! Some very religious churches and friends still think Hip Hop is cursed and that it’s not of God. I've had a minister put me on blast in front of the congregation, and pastors speak against my walk with Christ. As far as the CHH community, I would say the only opposition so far is that I am NOT a Cessationist. I believe that all the gifts through The Holy Spirit are not dormant; that Christ is living inside of us and, if we subject ourselves to The Holy Spirit that resurrected Jesus, that same spirit can enable us to do mighty works in this day and age.
Q: How did you come up with the name "L3xDivine"?
A: I was being led to start all my social sites. I was so against all of this at first. Well anyway, I was flipping through the bible when I decided that I was going to close my eyes and place my finger on a word, and that would be my name. So I literally landed on the word "the" but continued to read through the sentence and got stuck on "divine". I Just kept my first name, took out the ‘e’ and added a 3 for the Trinity. Haha. It was a weird process! I usually keep it in all caps for aesthetics (L3XDIVINE).
Q: I recently checked out your song, "Colorism". What's the story behind that?
A: It's a combination of things. It's the fact that someone felt the need to start a dark-skinned page on FB (Facebook). It's the conversations between men on what a "Baddie" looks like. It was the changes in the mannerism that made me stop and really assess, like am I tripping or is this really happening?
When some of my brothers describe their ideal woman, she's not as dark as the night with hair that defies gravity. I became so frustrated already without Christian brothers perpetuating this shallow thought of looks being more important than inner beauty when we all know it's fleeting. I am multi-Perceptus, so I was trying to understand whether I was just taking things the wrong way. Sadly, I know this is a large issue with thinking everywhere, but it’s still disheartening to see it in the larger body.
I grew up around men who loved all women but had their preferences. That, I don’t oppose. It only bothers me when we stop at skin color. As a teen, I've heard things like, “you're pretty for a dark-skinned girl". I was teased for being “sexual chocolate” and people like Lil Wayne made it hard for your girl to survive through the Red Bone, 5"5, brown eyes era. I couldn’t catch a break and it added to the low self-esteem I already had due to my eczema. I felt invisible, but I had to learn how to overcome that chapter of my life.
The second part of the song refers to the broken me that's picking up the pieces. In gathering myself, I wondered how I would respond to love. I'm so shy, so fragile, and it makes me feel like I need more time with God than anyone else. However, this fact doesn’t change what I desire.
Q: Were you hesitant to put out the single?
A: I was most definitely afraid. I didn’t want my beautiful sisters to think I was coming for them. I didn’t want to come off as bitter or rude. However, it was my truth. Music-wise, it was different than all my other styles but so close to everything I am as an artist. I was apprehensive, but I went for it because I liked it so much!
Q: What is your creative process?
A: So, when I need to write or create, it feels a lot like God calling me to pray. I usually have to pray first to see which one he's actually calling me to. Lol. I find a beat that I like and I just begin to write. My writing style is so free. I don’t really have hooks sometimes. I like to do what I want or what I feel.
I try to pick beats that speak to me but ones that also challenge me and will make me think differently in regards to cadence and melody. I use to write in my journal a lot. Now, I just write on my laptop. Sometimes I just have lyrics and I'll find a beat for it later, or I'll make a beat or put some loops together and write over that. If I feel writer’s block trying to invade, I ask God to give me my first line, or I pray that the heavens be open to me because there should only be liberty in Christ. Sometimes I can create non-stop-- for hours-- and sometimes I don’t feel it and that's OK, too.
Q: Do you have any new projects that fans can expect in 2017?
A: As of right now, no. I have been focusing on my musical internship in New York (leading worship and musical development, like music theory and playing instruments.)
Q: Do you have a dream collaboration?
A: My dream collab would be with Flying Lotus. I'd probably die if he'd ever hit me up. Maybe even gathering all the rappers and poets in CHH, who can sing really well, and do something like lead worship for an event, or create some dope songs. That would be fire!
Q: What advice would you give to someone starting out in music? For example, someone getting ready to release their first single ever?
A: I would first say to remember who you're doing it for and why you’re doing it. Have people around you who are great in music, as well people who can give you constructive criticism. Make sure you have some type of marketing plan, or social media strategy, to get the people's attention and, lastly, enjoy the ride. Learn and grow, and if you are proud and love what you've created, don’t let anyone steal that moment from you. Ultimately, God is pleased with those who do anything from a pure heart.