After reading the title of this article, you’ve probably readied your “Heresy” memes. Know that I am not writing this article to plead a case for the genre, even though in just about every genre there can be toxic messages within the lyrics. Much of the rap genre unfortunately promotes gang violence and the abuse of drugs, alcohol, and so on, but on the flip side other artists are speaking of these things because they have a story to tell in an environment that they had grown up in. This article is meant to tell a story: a story about how God has used this art form to not only shape my views, but lead me to salvation as well. After all, if God could use something like a burning bush to speak to Moses then he can use anything (yes, even rap) to speak with me.
For the most part, I was raised on conservative values. My parents were church-going people very early on in my life but eventually stopped attending services. I had some family members that listened to rap, hip hop, and R&B, so I had been exposed the genre on various occasions. Somewhere along the line, I grew to mostly despise it; looking back I’m still not sure exactly what sparked that. One example I can think of is a particular project in high school for English class. The teacher was introducing the class to poetry (before this I was already very much into writing and storytelling). He used some lyrics written by Tupac Shakur to get the students interested. Pretty soon, they were naming other songs and artists and calling it “poetry,” and this made me a little bit angry. I only associated poetry with literature and thought that these people did not deserve to be called poets. I was placing judgement and condemnation on an area I thought I was educated in, but not long after I found out I was wrong.
At the age of seventeen I began smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol simply because I did not have any friends at the time. It was around this time I started to really listen to rap music, but I embraced it for all the wrong reasons. It was not long before the drinking and smoking turned into an addiction and escalated into harder drugs, which also caused me to make some poor life-changing decisions. I started hanging out with the wrong people, and even put my life in danger more than once. It was around the year 2011 when I began to grow tired of this lifestyle; there was nobody I could talk to about the current situation I was in. During the nights I was sober, I would pray for God get me out of my situation and show me a sign. At the time, I considered myself more agnostic and didn’t exactly believe in God. I also buried myself in video games and a bunch of music I had saved onto my Playstation 3 in order to escape. One of those albums was Recovery by Eminem, which is why “Not Afraid” is still one of my favorite songs to this day.
There were a few other artists I had listened to that talked about real life issues and struggle, but Eminem was the one I could relate to the most. Recovery was an album that he made after he beat his addiction to pills; in his lyrics, he talks about his overdose and even gives credit to God multiple times for pulling him out of it. The topic of this album gave me hope. I thought “If this guy could do it, then why can’t I?” This lead me to call my aunt and uncle who where active members of Celebrate Recovery in Louisiana. I was living in southern California where I was born; they offered me a flight and a room in their home to get the help I was looking for. On August 19th, I got on that airplane and have been sober since; two days later I went to church with my Aunt & Uncle. I felt the presence of God wrap around me during the worship music, as if he was saying “Here I am.” It just so happened that it was baptism weekend, that day I accepted Christ into my heart and was baptized.
What happened next is something many new believers do. I ended up deleting more than half of my music library due to its explicit content. Freestyle rapping and writing lyrics had become something I did frequently with some friends, but I had also given that up with the mindset that rap music and Christianity didn’t mix. I soon found out I was wrong about that, too. My uncle introduced me to a friend of his that he used to run the streets with, who recorded rap music for Jesus’ glory. That reinvigorated my desire to write music. Little did I know, God would give me that opportunity, but, sadly, it would come sometime after my Dad and Stepmother committed suicide only four months after my sobriety. Despite the darkness of that period, God stepped into my life once again.
For some time, I seemed to be the only one with a head on my shoulders. My family looked to me for direction and guidance. I spent a lot of energy trying to hold back the sadness and grief and be the leader my family wanted. But pretty soon I couldn’t keep up the facade and burned out. I entered a stage of grief and sadness. Eventually, I did take a Grief Share class which was great, but what really helped me was pouring out my heart over an instrumental. During the time I went to California for my dad and stepmom’s service, I came into possession of one of their old laptops. One day, I decided to download a free audio recording program and plugged in a USB Turtle Beach headset which I used on my PS3; the result was a song dedicated to my deceased parents. From that point on, I continued to make songs that glorified God and tackled my past.
In September of 2012, I was introduced to Lecrae’s Gravity album by a guy from the college small group I was attending. From that point on, I slowly dived deeper into the world of Christian hip hop, also known as “CHH.” I became a huge fan of Lecrae and the reach records crew, then eventually discovered more great artists in the genre. These were not only guys who were driven by Christ, but people I could again relate to. They educated me on the Bible and talked about real life issues that other artists did not put in their songs. Of course, I also had the men of my church to support me (and whom I still look up to), but these artists helped shape my beliefs and my way of thinking. They would not be making this music if God had not worked in their lives, and through them God has continued to work in my life as well.
In 2014 I joined a local spoken word poetry team and spit my Christ-driven lyrics in front of many people, sharing with them what Christ had done in my life. I received standing ovations on multiple occasions, but I take no credit for these moments. I constantly surrendered myself to God and prayed that the words I spoke would be for his glory, not mine. I kept making music up until the end of 2014 and even released a mixtape simply because making music was simply something I loved to do. At the beginning of 2015 was when I joined the Geeks Under Grace community group on Facebook. I grew more active, got more involved, and eventually joined the staff in November. I began to feel bad that I wasn’t making any more music, but I prayed about it and God eventually helped me come to the conclusion that my time making music was done for now. From that point on, I dedicated myself to this ministry and turned my full attention to writing content for the organization.
While writing this, I have looked back on some heart-wrenching moments in my life, and yet I am left in awe over the way I have seen the Lord work not only in my life, but in others’ lives also. He was able to use something like secular rap and Christian hip hop–both genres that are generally looked down upon by the Christian community–to lead me into a relationship with Him. Again, my goal here is not to plead a case or to get you to listen to rap or hip hop music. It is to say that God can use anything He wants to lead you to Him. Whether it be a form of media like music, video games, and movies, or maybe a friend, relative, or stranger. Many of us are so stubborn that we won’t believe something is there until it is put right in front of our faces, and that is what God had to do with me. He didn’t simply pop out of thin air and go “Hey L.J., its me!” But, eventually, He gave me the sign I prayed for. It was enough for me to realize He was there all along, through my addiction and those times I prayed myself to sleep.
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