Ryan Daniel chooses his words carefully. He’s thoughtful, articulate, and deliberate in a way that makes you feel as if he’s searching for an absolute truth.
Daniel, a local musician who describes his music as reggae hip-hop (with a little island flair), has an interesting life story. He lives in Woodbury with his wife, Sarah, and 4-year-old son, Royce. He’s an entrepreneur, creating videos for nonprofits, weddings and private organizations with his company, Zandolee Media. He’s a family man who takes great pride in his faith. He’s a musician who specializes in bringing a message of faith and hope to a genre of music that so often focuses on “bling and shaking your booty.”
Laid back and personable, Daniel is easy to talk to. His story starts on the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, off the coast of Venezuela. At age 18, Daniel began making music. “In Trinidad I was always involved in music,” he says. “I was in a band that was close to becoming a household name, but came to the U.S. and put the music thing aside to do school for four years.”
After finishing high school in Trinidad, Daniel moved to this country on a soccer scholarship to Waldorf College in Iowa. Although he was becoming more successful as a musician in his home country, he has no regrets about making the move. “It was one of those things where I felt that I was always called to do more,” Daniel says. This started as working with nonprofits to help tell their stories through video, which he still does today. Daniel takes pride in bringing stories to life for a worthy cause.
He takes a similar approach to music. After transferring from Waldorf, Daniel graduated from the University of Northwestern St. Paul. He returned to his musical roots as a way of bringing his Christian ideals to hip hop music—and he found success. His song, One Time, was part of a CD compilation that was nominated for a Grammy. The album debuted on the Billboard Charts at number 39, and gave Daniel “credit by association,” as he puts it.
He continued to create his unique brand of hip hop. Last fall, Daniel and his band placed second out of more than 150 bands at Rawkzilla, one of the largest battles of the bands in the Midwest. More opportunities opened up, and Daniel kept bringing his message of faith to the hip hop community. “Our music is different,” Daniel says. “It’s fun. And a lot of people who don’t necessarily share the same values in faith don’t care because we aren’t necessarily coming with the standard Christian approach.”
As Daniel continues to find his niche, he’s realized he feels more at home in a club atmosphere as opposed to Christian festivals or venues. “The Christian festivals weren’t really feeling us,” Daniel says. “We felt more comfortable in a club, in a more secular environment. Christian music is about 10 years behind, trying to find a Christian U2 or a Christian Nirvana.”
Now working with Mark Heimermann, a multi-platinum and Grammy-winning producer, Daniel plans to release a new album in the next few months. He hopes people enjoy his music and embrace his message, but he has no intentions of becoming a pop star. His family and business keep him grounded, and those are his truest passions in life.
“I’m living my dream,” Daniel says. “I’m doing what I want to do right now. In 50 years I might not be doing my music anymore, but I might be helping someone else do theirs.”
Of note: Ryan Daniel is the cousin of superstar female rapper Nicki Minaj. To hear Daniel’s music, go to ryandanielonline.com.