As I pull into the Steak & Shake on the West end of Dorothy Lane just after noon, the sunlight off the windshields makes it difficult not to squint. Reclining in his car with the windows open, Cliff Holt flashes his signature smile: bright, genuine, and deeply intense. There’s a tangible weightiness about the way he views life.
Cliff and his wife Tiffany have been married for just under a year, and between them they have eight kids. Together they strive to be living examples of what it looks like to turn their entire lives to Jesus Christ. They want their children to know the difficulties and blessings that await those who live for God.
Emerging from the car, his crisp red cap and shoes bookend an otherwise black outfit and show his flair for personalization in all things. A former player on the Nike Midwest All-American basketball team, Cliff has retained the lean physique of his sports days, and even something of the uniform.
After I get my food and we lean back in the front seats of his black Malibu and try to relax a little. Cliff doesn’t appreciate the rigidity of his one-hour lunch breaks. He wants to do ministry full-time, not a factory job. With only 30 minutes left to talk, though, he is his usual fountain of energy and zeal for God.
I ask him what he’d like people to know about him.
Cliff: My ministry name is PhillyTF. People are going to want to know what TF means. It means “totally free”.
Mike: So is PhillyTF a rap name?
C: I’m an artist. I don’t like to be deemed a rapper or hip hop artist, because that’s its own form. My art is not rap, it’s not hip hop. It’s not Gospel rap. I don’t even like to call it Christian rap, just because rap has its own roots, background. So it’s just ministry.
M: How would you describe your ministry?
C: I’m conveying a message in a lyrical format that’s a tribute to God. It’s a testimony, it’s where he brought me from, and it’s all compiled and formed together over a beat, where you can hear my life in music.
M: Why do you do it?
C: It’s all about first giving God glory, and then what he done for me. It’s all situational, too. Some people can relate, they’re like ‘I never would have known that he used to do this or that and now he’s up there doing it for the Lord.’
M: Can I tell people that you are going to perform a “hip-hop piece”, or is that too rap-oriented. I mean, people are going to want to know what kind of artist you are.
C: Yeah, I don’t want to be too extreme. You want to say “hip hop piece,” that works.
PhillyTF has done music in California, New York, Tennessee, Michigan, but mainly in his hometown of Dayton. He has released three studio albums, and is currently working on a fourth. You can download his music from bandcamp and noisetrade.
On October 18th during our 11am service he will be performing “Bein’ Real,” a piece in the works for his next album.