Where faith, life, and lyrics meet…

Latest

It’s All Good

 

Where you been homie? To answer this question, I could give a long list of excuses: Stretches of ridiculous hours at work (e.g. 80+ hrs/week in March and April), anxiety over what I’m doing with my life, stress over family stuff (including Dad being in Afghanistan), 2 completely unrelated trips to the emergency room, including one emergency surgery that resulted in 3 days in the hospital and the removal of some of my intestine (see below – fun times!), etc.  It’s no wonder that it’s about a week before my 23rd birthday and I’m counting  several gray hairs (either that or God is paying me back for all the times I teased my dad about his).

But nah, none of those things would really explain my virtual absence (“virtual” in both senses). People have been asking me via Facebook, Twitter,  email and even (the really creepy ones) via  Myspace (???) why I’ve been so quiet, so MIA, so invisible. Best way I can  put it – I needed some “me time” to reflect, refocus, and get my mind right (no emo).  Actually…”me time” is kinda inaccurate – I really needed the disruption in my self-centered routine so that I could turn my attention back to what’s important. Psalm 119:71 reads:

It is good for me that I was afflicted,
That I may learn Your statutes.
 

Sometimes a little (or a lot) of a pain proves useful to get us back on track. Anyway, I have nothing profound to share right now, other than to say that, yes, I’m still here, my family is the best, the people who support me are amazing, and God is still God. Stay tuned.

Advertisements

HE’S BAAAACK!!!: The Ambassador’s “Because of Your Love”

In the past few years, we’ve witnessed the attempts of some prominent figures to come back from highly-publicized falls. If they weren’t career-threatening, these slip-ups at the very least had the potential to ruin the person’s image.  For example, think of T.I., Weezy, Michael Vick (#goeagles!), Tiger, and Chris Brown. The media has followed all of these stories closely. (My boy DJ D.Scott at CollegeDJ.net recently has written some interesting articles on C. Breezy’s attempts to rebuild his image and sell records.) However, for me, the most heart-breaking fall and the most exciting recent comeback are those of Christian emcee “The Ambassador.” His story, poignantly described in his new song “Because of Your Love,” contrasts the common vulnerability that we all share as humans with the matchless ability of God’s grace to restore us.  

Almost two years ago, I was deeply saddened to hear that, due to “moral failure,” my childhood role model was falling back from recording/touring with CM Records and also stepping down as co-pastor of his church. Thing is…I grew up looking up to this dude not only as a rapper, but also as Christian man. I’ve been listening to his music since I copped the first two Cross Movement albums when I was 10 years old. In my early attempts at rapping, I used to try to rhyme like him. And as ill as he was on the mic, he was just as dope in the pulpit. Thus, it was very hard to hear that Amba’s music and ministry had been discontinued indefinitely. Nevertheless, being in college at this point and having made mistakes of my own, I can’t say I felt disappointment, but rather empathy for a brother in Christ who was goin’ hard and stumbled (Gal. 5:7).

That being said, the purpose of this post is not to focus on the ugliness of the fall, but rather on the beauty of redemption and restoration. After a very prayerful and – from what I’ve heard – constructive hiatus of almost two years, The Ambassador’s back with a new label and a new project on the way called Stop the Funeral. He calls his recently-released song “Because of Your Love” an “icebreaker” rather than a single. Well, whatever you want to call it, the track definitely has me excited. I was tempted to do a line-by-line analysis (sidenote: sorry – comp lit nerd in college), but instead I’ll just tell you that it’s DOPE! Both long-time fans and those completely unfamiliar with his music should check it out ASAP (FREE DOWNLOAD).

The song suggests that although we all fall, both non-believers and Christians alike, the Christian’s means of comeback is not based on his/her own strength. The tone is one of incredible humility and gratitude for a second chance. He confesses his failure and expresses contriteness for how it has hurt his family, friendships, and ministry. Even though he is a Christian emcee, he points out the similarity between himself and the celebrities that I mentioned earlier. Notably, however, he portrays his actions as a “fall from grace” in a very real sense.  This is clear in that he does not make promises to “never let you down again” based on his own strength or willpower. Rather, his response to his failure is to turn back to the unwavering faithfulness, the steadfast love, and the extravagant grace of God.

My only critique of the song would be the autotune in the hook. I would have preferred that he got a solid singer to help him out, but this is a minor criticism. The hook captures the message of redemption and restoration simply, yet effectively:

Hook:
Because of your love I can do anything
Because of your grace and peace I’ll overcome anything (anything)
Because of your faithfulness to me, I’ll overcome anything
Because you’re a savior who died only to rise, now I can do anything (anything)

Album Review – “Rehab: The Overdose” by Lecrae

Just three months after releasing the 17-track Rehab, Lecrae comes back strong for another round with Rehab: The Overdose! If Rehab aimed to get us off the bad stuff that gratifies but then drops us hard, the Overdose is designed to encourage us to get hopelessly hooked on the Source of true satisfaction. While this sequel is notably shorter than the previous album, I’ve found that I bump it much more frequently, and not simply because it is newer. The hard-hitting beats, the intensity of the flow (reminiscent of early ‘Creezy), the wordplay, and the scriptural references all come together well to convey the idea that one finds incomparable satisfaction in God.

1. “Overdose” – Lecrae decided to come hard from the gate. This beat knocks.  I immediately noticed that his flow and the style of the beat very closely resemble that of Rick Ross’ “B.M.F.” (Blowin’ Money Fast). However, Lecrae very intentionally engages the secular arena in this song, stating at the beginning, “I heard they tryna blow money fast, right? We ain’t tryna diss nobody but…if they gonna talk drugs, let’s give ’em that overdose.” He then spends the rest of the album showing why an “overdose” of God is superior to any other high.

2. “More” – First time I heard this song, I literally was like – “YES!”This song conveys this sense of desperation for more of God that I hope will characterize the cry of my own heart. Great hook, blunt lyrics, ill beat.

3. “Battle Song” (ft. Suzie Rock) – Suzy Rock did her thing again. Plus, yooo this intro and the changeover is sooo ill. I’d describe the experience as follows: you’re listening to the corniest exercise chant ever until suddenly the beat drops out of nowhere and your ears are hit with anthem music so hard you’ll wanna turn to your neighbor and punch him (in Jesus’ name of course lol).  Tony Stone production – ‘nuff said. (You also should check out my song “Gon’ Give ‘Em” – I got that beat from T. Stone).

4. “Anger Management” (ft. Thi’sl) – The Thi’sl line, “dog keep on barkin’, I’ma bust ‘im in the head” had me literally “lol” the first time that I heard it. Stylistically, this is music to turn all the way up in your car stereo while riding with your boys (or if you’re like me, to blare in your stereo ‘phones on the train until people start giving you dirty looks). However, don’t miss the song’s main idea that, as we look at Christ on the cross, we should see two important things. First, we have to recognize that we are just as guilty for his death as the Romans and Jews that actually  mocked, beat, nailed, and murdered him. Second, Christ’s amazing forgiveness in the face of that brutal and unfair treatment provides both the means and the model for us to let go of our anger towards others and forgive.

5. “Blow Your High” (ft. Cannon) –  The feel of the beat and hook are almost trance-like, fitting the theme of the song well. Cannon brings that crisp ra-tat-tat, machine gun delivery that complements Lecrae’s slower flow in this one.

6. “Strung Out” – Thematically, I think this song might serve as a fitting sequel to the song “Killa” on Rehab. However, I feel like I’ve heard variations of this song several times in CHH already (I felt the same way about “Killa”). While autotune shows up in various places on The Overdose, this song is an example of one where I got a little tired of it. Solid song, just didn’t stand out to me as much as some of the others.

7 – 8. “Chase That (Intro)” & “Chase That (Ambition)” – Love, love, love this song. From an artistic standpoint, I feel like it has just the right balance of theology, punchlines, and illustration from real life. As I mentioned in an earlier post, personal details really can help the listener to relate to the song. That, combined with a catchy hook, solid production, and a crucial message about going hard for God’s glory and not our own, makes “Chase That” a beastly song in my book. As a Christian emcee myself, it challenges and encourages me on a very personal level.

9. “The Good Life” (ft. J. Paul) – Chill beat provides a backdrop for stories that invite the listener to re-evaluate how our culture, and more importantly, how we as individuals define the “Good Life.” J. Paul is solid on the vocals.

10. “Like That” – Catchy, radio-friendly song encouraging women to seek God and commit themselves to Him first and foremost, and to recognize that they deserve a man who will love them the way God intended.

11. “Goin’ In” (ft. Swoop) – YES! You can’t talk about true satisfaction without talking about heaven, spending eternity after death with a perfect God. I love this beat, especially the percussion. Swoop murders his verse (and I’m not just saying that because of his “Denzel” line at the end). Swoop has been a solid contributor on every feature on which I’ve heard him so far, but CHH artists beware: if you’re gon’ have this boy from Ohio on your track, you better be ready to go hard to keep up. Check out Swoope HERE.

Cop this album. I have this and Captured by Flame in that heavy rotation right now. I don’t think numbers are everything or even the most important thing, but Rehab and Rehab: The Overdose each sold over 21,000 copies their first week, which is a major feat for a CHH artist (http://www.rapzilla.com/rz/news/38-backstage/2582-lecraes-rehab-making-a-home-on-the-charts). While the Overdose is only 11 tracks long, I am very impressed and pleased with this project. First of all, considering that Lecrae put out another full-length album only 3 months earlier, this is a beastly follow-up. More than that, the project easily stands up on its own artistically. Finally, I believe it will definitely challenge you spiritually, leading to a reassessment of what we crave and what truly satisfies.

Ima Laugh If You Fall…

I have a problem. I love to watch people fall (Exhibit A: The video above). During my daily commute, I’ve witnessed some pretty funny falls and other non-fatal but highly embarrassing mishaps. In fact, I saw this lady fall on the 7 train just the other day. It was hilarious. (Y’all gotta pray for me – I know I’m wrong). Having worked late that night (until 9 pm), I had missed rush hour. There were not only several open seats scattered throughout the train car, but also plenty of overhead bar space available to those who preferred to stand. Basically, passengers had their pick of safe riding options.

At 42nd St. Grand Central, this young (like 20-something yr. old) white woman hopped on the train  and expressed her own riding preference. She didn’t plop down in one of the open seats or lazily lean against the doors (ignoring the futile warning signs as we all do). She didn’t even grab onto one of the overhead bars or vertical metal poles.

Nope. She elected to stand smack-dab in the middle of the car. She strategically positioned herself at just the right spot, so that all bars, walls, doors and other forms of support were just barely out of reach. Planting her feet far apart like a gunslinger, she drew her worn paperback and silently dared the loud, motorized monster to throw her off balance.

Of course, being the compassionate person that I am, I was just waiting for her to fall (lol I told y’all I need prayer). However, for a while she was doing pretty well. Her body swayed slightly with the motion of the train, but otherwise she stood firm. She was swag-surfin’ hard. In my head, I disappointedly thought, “Oh, you fancy, huh?”

But then…IT happened.  The train driver person (engineer?) read my mind and decided to make my wish come true. Hurtling along the express track, the train suddenly came to a jarring, screeching halt. The unexpected stop jerked the loudly snoring, drooling, old guy into startled wakefulness. The prim and proper middle-aged woman found her body closely pressed against the poorly-dressed vagabond that she had been avoiding like the plague. However, this was nothing compared to how the sudden stop sent the young woman  teetering and then wildly toppling forward. Unable to catch herself, she let out one last whimper of desperation before she smashed face-first into the chest of a stranger 5 ft. away.

Quickly jumping up, she dusted herself off, retrieved her fallen paperback, and resumed reading as if nothing had happened. But her beet-red face and the way she now firmly grasped the pole beside her spoke volumes. You had to have been there – it was epic. I almost choked myself trying to hold back my laughter. However, all jokes aside, this incident got me thinking about two things.

First, I thought about how people often are just waiting to see someone fall, maybe not in a literal, physical sense, but in various areas of life. Sometimes it seems we take a perverse pleasure or at least some sort of weird satisfaction in it. That shouldn’t be, especially when it comes to brothers and sisters in Christ. (Sidenote: A song I’ve been bumpin’ a lot lately, Flame’s “Double Back,” conveys this idea very well.)

A number of passages talk about brotherly/sisterly love, but I’ve been seeing this principle in a new light as I study Philippians. In verses 1:3-8, Paul exhibits a compassionate, pastoral concern for the spiritual growth and well-being of the Philippians, evidenced by his frequent thoughts and prayers for them (1:3-4). What rocked me was not just his commitment to praying for the growth of others, but also that he prays with joy and with confidence in the ultimate success of this God-ordained process (1:4-6).  This is the exact opposite of gleefully waiting for people to fall.

Secondly, I started thinking about ways in which we set ourselves up to fall. The woman on the train somewhat humorously illustrated the dangers of putting oneself in a place without support. I’ve definitely been guilty of that, with disastrous consequences. While Philippians  and other scriptures confirm that God is the ultimate author and finisher of our faith (e.g. Heb. 12:2), we are not meant to live this thing out on our own (Phil. 1:27, Ecc. 4:12). “We all need somebody to leaaan on.”

Does anybody else have a good story involving you or somebody else falling lol? And on a more serious note, what do y’all think accounts for the satisfaction people sometimes feel in seeing others mess up in various areas of life?

What do y’all think about Paul’s attitude towards praying for and supporting others in their spiritual growth? What are ways we can do this?

Album Review: Captured by FLAME

I was both suped and little nervous about this project.  Don’t get me wrong – I have a lot of faith in Flame’s abilities as an artist. It’s just that with his previous two releases, the “Our World” duology (lol a three-part series is a trilogy, but what do you call a two-part one?), I think he created CHH classics. I was worried about how this new album would measure up. However, while it is different, I think this might be the most personal-feeling of Flame’s projects thus far, which is fitting because it is the first release on his own label, Clear Sight Music. Flame always has stood out to me as a very passionate emcee who clearly puts his heart into every track, and he’s already given the listener glimpses of the man behind the music in his previous projects (e.g. song about porn problem, song about growing up on section 8, etc). Nevertheless, in “Captured,” he seems very intentional about letting the listener see more of how Christ first drew him to Himself. While I have copped several of the other major recent releases from CHH artists, this one has been getting the most plays from me lately.  The moving lyrics, solid scriptural content, great production, the message (of no longer being captive to sin and instead being (re)captured by Christ), and overall cohesiveness of this album make it worth multiple listens.

1. “Recaptured” is a great start to the album…it really captured my attention (womp womp…sorry). Musically, the beat starts out pretty simple and builds up, getting more intense as more layers are added. In his flow, Flame matches this increase in intensity until, by the end, I was nodding hard – both to the smangin’ beat and in agreement with the lyrics.   He begins the album with confession, honestly airing our (including his own) selfishness, pride, laziness, and other sins. By the end of the song I was so moved by the message and the beat that I was pumped for the rest of the album.

2. “Surrender,” the first single from the project, is a melodic collabo featuring V. Rose. The hook is very catchy and the song is very easy to listen to. I personally would have liked to hear a little more of Flame on the track; he raps relatively little. In fact, I think V. Rose dominates the track to such an extent that it almost feels like Flame is the featured artist on her song. In his defense, I do think  putting out vocal-heavy songs is a widespread trend in hip hop right now.

3-5.  “Power,” “Nonsense,” and “Alive” are solid musically and lyrically. Personal details and stories  make it easier for the listener to relate and thus make the songs more moving. This part of the album really feels like testimony time at church. You hear specific things that God has done in Flame and others’ lives. I love the hook on “Nonsense,” (a sample from This’l’s verse in Trip Lee’s “Twisted”). As a minor note, I find the chopped and screwed part of the hook in “Power” slightly annoying, but that’s just me. Otherwise, I really like these jawns.

6. “All I Need,” is a nice change of pace; its smooth beat provides a nice backdrop for Flame to share some more personal stories that illustrate how he has come to know that God is all he needs. Guest artist Chris Lee merks the vocals as he’s been doing on every song on which I’ve heard him featured. My little brother actually put me up onto his solo stuff, which is def on point. Check it out at http://www.chrisleecobbins.com/.

7. “Move” knocks. Period. I bump this song all the time on the train to work. (You should see the looks I get as I’m standing there bangin’ my head while rocking business professional attire.) Furthermore, the message (of moving when God tells you to) has been challenging me to think about specific areas where I’m not moving in obedience.

8. “Put On.” Love the hook on this song.  This will probably offend some people and I probably will catch heat for this statement, but the beat slightly reminds me of the beat for Lloyd’s “Beamer, Benz, & Bentley.” However, the challenge to put off old sinful habits and walking in the new life in Christ is the exact opposite of anything you will hear in a secular song.

9. “Double Back” stands out, esp. for its message. The imperative of helping rather than giving up on brothers and sisters in the faith when they fall is both timeless and timely. It is timeless in that the apostles found it important to admonish the early church about this same thing 2000 years ago (Galatians 6:1, James 5:16) . It’s also a very timely message in light of the recent public scandals and the subsequent restoration of close contemporaries of Flame in the CHH movement. I was very impressed by the first verse by This’l on this collabo. Not only does he effectively use vivid illustrations of brotherly love from his own personal experience on the block to convict the church for slacking in its commitment to struggling members, but his flow is on point. This verse is no fluke – This’l has been going hard for a minute now, (see e.g., another recent song, “Twisted” on Trip Lee’s Between Two Worlds and “Anger Management” on Lecrae’s Rehab: The Overdose).  The theme of supporting each other as well as the very fact that this song is a collabo makes me think about how much growth I can observe in both Flame & This’l’s music since the first time I heard them on a track together in the song “Truth Travels” on Flame’s self-titled debut album. I can’t help but think that their relationship illustrates that “Iron sharpens iron…” (Proverbs 27:17).

10. In “Captured Me” Flame again teams up with singer V. Rose. This song allows the listener to reflect as the album draws to a close. I like the balance between rapping and singing in this song much more than in “Surrender.” And just to clarify, I have nothing against V. Rose – I’m actually really glad to have been introduced to her through this album because she has a very nice voice.

11. “Daniel 10” is an interlude/snippet of a sermon by Pastor Ryan Fullerton. While at first I was disappointed that one of slots on the already short project was taken up by an interlude, I must say that this interlude has really got me thinking about prayer and fasting (an an often neglected discipline). This is an interlude worth listening to (more than once) and not skipping. [You can download the full sermon HERE]

12. “Tonight” ft. J.R. helps to bring everything to a close with worship and a re-commitment to surrender all to Christ, not later, but “tonight.” I definitely could picture this song being very powerful at a live concert. Even just bumping it in my stereo headphones, I feel the urge to close my eyes and soak in the words, letting them become my own personal prayer of re-dedication.

While Our World Redeemed still remains my own personal favorite Flame album so far, I’m very pleased with his latest effort. My two favorite songs are “Move” and “Double Back,” but all the songs are solid.  In the span of just a few weeks, I have listened to this album all the way through with no skipping at least a dozen times during my hr-long daily commute. My biggest disappointment with this project is its brevity, especially after I had been waiting 2 years for new music from Flame, but I do feel that album packs a potent, musical and spiritual punch. You can buy it from the Clear Sight Music website or on iTunes.

For anyone else who has listened to it, what do you think? Feel free to disagree with/critique my opinions.

Ayiti, nou pap bliye’ou

It’s hard to believe that the earthquake was a year ago – January 12th, 2010. It led to at least 250,000 deaths and wreaked havoc on the infrastructure of an already struggling country . It permanently separated mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers from each other. To say merely that this disaster had a profound impact on many lives would be a gross understatement.

I am not Haitian by birth; and I have not yet had a chance to visit. To be completely real with y’all, I am only half-Haitian…by adoption.  The man that my mom married when I was two, my (step)dad was born in Port-au-Prince. When I was around 4 or 5, he legally adopted me and gave me his Haitian last name (“Cadet”) in place of my more American surname (“Brown”).  However, to me, more important than when my name legally changed is the fact that I’ve known him as “Dad” from as far back as that fuzzy gray moment when self-awareness/conscious memory began all the way until this very moment that I type the “w” of this word. For show-n-tell in kindergarten, I proudly drew a Haitian flag to bring into the classroom.  For the 115 page senior thesis I needed to complete in order to graduate from Princeton University, I wrote about nationalism and poetry in the D.R. and Haiti (see picture below). The warm, accepting embrace with which my “Tati’s”, “Tonton’s” (sidenote: we say “Tonti” in my family) and cousins welcomed me when I was a big-eyed, high-yellow lil’ boy was equally matched by the warm sense of community offered me by the Haitians at Princeton when I arrived as a wide-eyed, green freshman. (By “Haitians at Princeton,” I don’t just mean friends and classmates, but also the custodians and dining staff who took great care of me.) I guess from early on I’ve felt that not only did Haiti adopt me, but I also adopted Haiti and she became a sort of alma mater to me (sorry Princeton lol).

Thus, I couldn’t help but have the January 12th, 2010 earthquake on my heart and on my mind as I created my first full-length musical project,  Turn the Lights On!, which I would release later in the year. The question of where God can be found in the midst of horrific global, national, or personal calamity dictated the direction of my writing.

Yet both then and now, I find hope in the fact that the same God who did not spare His own Son, but freely gave him for us (Rom 8:32), is the same God who not only cares for us today, but also can sympathize with our pain (Heb 4:15). Furthermore, the same God who allowed arguably the greatest evil imaginable (Deicide/the crucifixion of Christ) and out of it brought unbelievable good [the defeat of sin and death, redemption for mankind, restored relationship between God and man (1 Cor 15:55-57, Col 1:13-14, Rom 5:1)] is the same God whom I have seen bring light to other dark situations big and small, both in the lives of others and in my own life. This message of hope, largely inspired by my musings on Haiti, became the new driving force behind Turn the Lights On!.

This is not at all to deny, minimize, or sugarcoat the tragedy. While some may have forgotten once the initial media frenzy died, I and many others who either were born there or have/had family there still cry for Haiti today. Nou pap bliye’ou. I’m not writing to hush any sobs and mourning; indeed, I think there are moments in history and in our lives when to remember and not to cry would be an injustice. But my prayer is that all who still hurt will see hope through the veil of tears covering their eyes.

There is still much work to be done. People lack basic resources like water. To find out a specific way that you can partner with me to help bring hope (and clean water) to Haiti, click HERE and join #TeamLifeFlows.

Dell & Paula (But We’re All Poor)

Disclaimer: I write this not at all to teach a lesson or to commend myself, but rather simply to share an experience, to show areas where I struggle, and to see what other people think. To the best of my ability, what follows is an accurate accurate account of what happened a few days ago. Immediately after it happened, I typed out the whole thing on my blackberry, so that I wouldn’t forget. While I have since re-read and edited my haphazard but detailed notes for clarity, I still am processing what happened.

I was copping my ticket at the machine in Penn Station when I heard a raspy voice coming from behind and to the side of me – “Hey brother, are you going to Long Branch?” In my peripheral vision, I peeped a dirty, rumpled, toothless older black man. Likely homeless. Possibly in his 50s but, then again, a hard life can age you quickly. I threw a quick “Nah, I’m not” over my shoulder and continued sorting through all the options on the touch-screen. Scooting extra close and shielding the keypad with my hand and body, I entered my pin. When I looked up, not only was Mr. “Long Branch” still there, but he had in fact gotten even closer, now standing about 3 feet away. “You got any change, brother?” I said, “No” (I actually didn’t). Then I asked him if he was trying to get something to eat and he replied, “Yeah, that was the whole purpose, brother.”

As we started walking toward the food court in the station, I let him choose the restaurant and he immediately decided on “the hamburger place” because, “They have the best hamburgers in the world here.” Outwardly I smiled and nodded, but mentally I rolled my eyes and shrugged, thinking “Best hamburgers in the world? Okay, homie.”

My skeptical thoughts were interrupted by a shrill, older female voice coming from the left of us. “You got somebody to buy you food? Well, &@#$ you then.” Wow – so bitter. Mr. “Long Branch” offered to split the hamburger with the ragged woman, whom he apparently knew, but she responded with more bile, saying “What the @$*# am I s’posed to do with half a hamburger?!?!” Trying to hold back my laughter at this exchange, I invited her to join us and promised to buy her food too. Her harsh tune quickly changed to a chorus of “God is good’s” and “thank you’s.” Each time she tacked a “brother” on the end, just as the man had done.

She wanted a chicken breast (“Just a chicken breast – I don’t need nothin’ else”), so we headed to KFC while Mr. “Long Branch” stood in line at Nathan’s (Sidenote: I was definitely thinking like… “So this is the source of the world-class hamburgers? But then again, when times is hard…”). As I waited in line with her, I asked for her name and she told me it was Paula. Then she said “At least you have a heart. Most people pass and don’t even care. They don’t know how hard it is to be homeless.” According to Paula, they usually slept outside, but had sought shelter in the station due to the snow. “Today, I woke up with snow on my damn blanket,” she shared.

She began to upbraid the people who daily passed and ignored her or looked at her with disgust. “See – look at him over there lookin’ at me like I’m crazy,” she loudly exclaimed while gesturing at a tall middle-aged white guy at the front of the line, who pretended that he hadn’t heard her. (Hehe I know you heard her, punk). Now I don’t know whether the late-teenage/20-something-year-old Napolean Dynamite-looking kid immediately in front of us suddenly lost his appetite, realized that his train was leaving him, had a weak bladder and desperately needed to pee all of a sudden, or thought the woman was talking about him and felt really uncomfortable (I’m leaning toward this last possibility), but regardless, he hastily left his place in line and scampered away.

Mr. “Long Branch” hollered at me from the Nathan’s line, announcing that it was his turn, so after paying for Paula’s chicken breast, I hurried over to the counter to pay for his hamburger. I arrived in the middle of his hitting on the cashier, calling her “cutie.” She seemed relieved to see me (or maybe just by the fact that someone was actually gonna pay for his food lol). Food paid for, I shook hands with Mr. “Long Branch” and he said “Thanks brother” again before I hurried away toward the train.

But as I walked away, I felt a tug on my heart that wouldn’t leave me alone, until finally I gave in and walked back to look for them. Neither was at the food court when I got back. I mentally kicked myself. Uggh! Another opportunity missed due to fear and hesitation. Sorry, Lord.

As I walked back dejectedly, I spotted Mr. “Long Branch” walking with his food in his hands and flirtatiously giving directions to a young black woman with luggage. Not wanting to interrupt (the game or the direction-giving), I waited a few steps behind. When he was done, I asked him his name and if he had a few minutes to talk while he ate. His name was “Dell.” To my question of where he was eating, he responded, “I was hoping she was gonna sit and eat with me,” gesturing toward the retreating back of the young woman. “She was gorgeous.” I smiled in amusement and nodded in agreement.

We sat down on the floor across from the NJ transit ticket machines. I struggled with how to start, so I began with small talk (translation: a bunch of awkward questions that maybe I shouldn’t have asked). I asked him about Paula and whether she was his wife, girlfriend, or friend. He said “partner,” so I left it alone. I awkwardly asked him when he had last eaten. He said it was last night. Then recognizing my time was short, I took a deep breath and went for it.

I began by saying that I felt like he really didn’t need to thank me for the food because God has blessed me so much and it was the least I could do. I did want him to know the real reason that I bought him and Paula food. It wasn’t because I was a good person – just the opposite – I have made tons of mistakes in my life.  I knew it just as easily could be me homeless and in need if things in my life had gone differently. I mentioned how Paula had called that guy out for looking at her funny because she was homeless. Really, in comparison to a holy, spotless God, I was the dirty, poor and needy one and actually deserved for God to look at me as such. Instead, this God came and lived as a human and died to pay the price for my sins. And this wasn’t a one-time act of charity; rather he made it possible for me to have an on-going relationship with Him.

This is why I felt compelled to double back and talk to Dell. I didn’t want to just throw him a couple dollars, alleviate my middle-class guilt, and keep it pushing. God has done so much for me, and any love I show others is only possible because of his example (1 John 3:16, 1 John 4:19). Maybe this was awkward, but I told Dell that I loved him and that I was sorry he was struggling right now. I told him that although I didn’t know the state of his relationship with God, I really wanted him to know this stuff before I got on the train.

He thanked me and added that he did have a relationship with God. When I asked him what he meant by this, he explained that he knew God loved him, that Jesus died for his sins, and rose the third day. He then went on to say, “I’m glad it’s me and not somebody else – one of them…like…him or her or him.” He pointed unabashedly at each random person passing by as he said this. Dell said he actually prays for them. He continued, “If God let this happen to them, they might not be able to take it and end up committing suicide. Maybe God is using this to get my attention and get things that ain’t right in me together.”

I know there are a lot of factors (economic, social, political, and personal) that go into creating poverty, but this declaration of faith in the midst of hardship rocked me so much that I paused for a second. Then I said,” Well, in that case, you really are my brother and not just ‘cause we both black.” He nodded and said, “Brother in Christ.” I wanted to ask how he had gotten in this situation but realized my train left in 2 minutes. So I asked him if we could pray real quick. I thanked God for being God. I asked forgiveness for my own self-absorption and pride and thanked Him for his interrupting my commute. This interruption had both blessed and challenged me. I thanked him for Dell’s faith and asked that God would strengthen and grow him in it. And I prayed that God would help him out of his situation. As I got up to leave, he got up too, asking my name. We shook hands and hugged and then I rushed off to catch my train.

Thoughts? Reactions? What do y’all think about the stuff Paula & Dell said? Also, while I think I handled this situation better than the last one, I still see problematic attitudes and behavior that I need to improve. Any suggestions?

Running on Fumes

I’m a fat kid trapped in a skinny kid’s body. I love love love to eat. Like…no lie – I’m the type to take cellphone pictures of an especially good-looking meal, so that I later can look back on it fondly and show friends (see above). I’m like a hobbit – I get cranky if I don’t get to have my second breakfast every day (The LOTR fans should get that reference, but if not click HERE to see a clip). Not to sound (too) trite, but your boy’s been eating good for over two decades now and I’m still going strong. (lol Stay with me…I’m going somewhere with this)

Last Sunday (12/26) as I got ready to journey back to NYC from my family’s house in GA, there was a major natural disaster that threatened my travel. Nah, I’m not referring to the massive snowstorm that hit the east coast and left many holiday travelers stranded; rather, I’m talking about the debilitating stomach virus that ran through my family and finally caught up with me right before I left. (TMI WARNING!!!: It was awful – for over 36 hours any and everything I tried to eat quickly “came back” to haunt me). I may have eaten thousands upon thousands of times in the almost 22 years that I’ve been alive, but after that mere 36 hour forced-fast, I felt fatigued, weak and…well…drained, as if I couldn’t go on any longer. For a fatty such as myself, this was a traumatic experience lol, but it did get me thinking about my spiritual diet.

While going even 36 hours without food was a struggle for me regardless of how many good meals I’ve had in my life, falling into the trap of going weeks or even months without spending real personal time with God is sadly not always so hard. I grew up in church and in a Christian home where family Bible study, morning devotionals, nightly prayer, AWANA, gospel music and even Christian movies were the norm. In many ways, for the almost two decades leading up to college, I was fed with Scripture until I was stuffed. Honestly, by college I felt like I couldn’t take in anymore and that all I wanted to do was spiritually loosen my belt and just lay on the couch like you do post-Thanksgiving gluttony. It wasn’t that I wasn’t active; I still attended church and bible study regularly and helped out in a Christian fellowship on campus, but there were several periods where I wasn’t in God’s word faithfully at all. Ambassador of the Cross Movement has a line that describes these times perfectly, “But something’s still wrong with the picture/I’m working for You daily, but barely I’m getting with Ya.” Because of my upbringing, even in those times of neglecting personal bible study, I always had a store of biblical knowledge to draw upon when needed in group bible discussion or even in writing songs. In reality, what too often came into my mouth was the regurgitated remnants of the same long-digested meals of years past (pretty nasty image huh?). I was running on fumes and it definitely eventually showed in my behavior.

How foolish! In Matthew 4:1-4, when tempted by Satan, Jesus talks about the folly of valuing physical food over spiritual nourishment. He says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). In this chapter, Jesus demonstrates that God’s word is necessary fuel that allows us to be able to please God. I’m thankful that over the past 6 months especially God has given me a renewed hunger for Scripture because in actuality I can’t live without it! And I know I deserve no credit for this because, on my own, I lack the discipline to study the often challenging pages of the Bible. Indeed, it is a testament to God’s faithfulness and commitment to finishing the work started in me years ago (Philippians 1:6). This is what Paul tells the Philippians in verse 2:13, that not only the ability to do right, but also the very desire (“will”) to do it comes from God. Let’s pray for each other that we might have a (re)new(ed) appetite for God’s word and also challenge each other to feed regularly even if we don’t necessarily feel that hunger right now. Running on fumes can only get us so far

Am I alone in this? Can anyone else relate to idea of “running on fumes?” How did you/do you deal with this?

This Stage of Your Life

Have you ever really enjoyed an artist’s recorded music only to see them perform live and be utterly disappointed? Conversely, have you ever witnessed a live performance that was so exciting and moving that you immediately rushed to buy (or illegally download) the song? I’ve definitely been there, and it reminds me that there’s something powerful about live performance on stage.

Thus far in my young life, I’ve stood on various stages, ranging from a tiny patch of carpet in the living room in front of my immediate family to a 20 ft. concert platform in front of a decent-sized crowd (see video below). The memories of all my performances (the good, bad, and ugly) remind me of how much I love the stage, particularly when it comes to rapping. While I appreciate all the necessary behind-the-scenes stuff (e.g. writing, production, recording, mixing, mastering, promo, etc), for me, spitting live in front of an audience is the most terrifying, unnerving, and daunting task. But it is the part I love most! I feel that live performance is the purest and most direct means of sharing with people the things on my heart through the music that I create. However, now more than ever, I have felt a pull to look beyond just “the stage” (a platform for sharing my art) and turn my attention to the idea of “this stage of my life,” an idea that I see on two different levels. While this blog site serves as a platform for music (both mine and hopefully soon that of other artists), two questions will guide the discussion: how do we make the most of the time we’ve been given and how do make a lasting impression on the world in which we live?

1. From the title “This Stage of My Life,” I bet a lot of you automatically made a connection with time. Good job lol. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this particular stage, moment, phase (or whatever you want to call it) of my life. Having recently graduated from college, I find myself at a point where I’m particularly concerned with learning what God has for me to do. The older I get, the more I recognize the truth of what my parents and other older people have been telling me for years – that time flies and that life is so very short. Such ideas aren’t new. The author of Psalm 90 urges for the kind of mindset that looks at the human lifetime as just one miniscule, finite droplet in the vast ocean of eternity (See e.g., verses 1-11). What then does one do when faced with the stark reality of having so little time? Well, the psalmist responds in verse 12 with the earnest prayer, “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (NKJV). Obviously, nobody actually can tally in advance the sum of the days allotted to him or her. Rather, it seems to me that to “number” one’s days is to be intentionally cognizant of the brevity of our time on earth and to live accordingly. Or, as Paul writes in Ephesians 5:16, being aware of the time period in which he or she lives, a wise person “makes the most of every opportunity” (NIV). Therefore, I am striving to be sensitive to the unique opportunities this particular moment (stage) of my life provides. (sidenote: I think I will want to discuss Psalm 90 in more detail in a later post; there is so much to unpack)

2. In addition to evoking the idea of time, I refer to the “stage” of my life in another, perhaps less obvious sense. In Act II, Scene 7 of As You Like It, Shakespeare famously writes, “All the world’s a stage,/And all the men and women merely players” (Lines 139-140). I’m intrigued by the idea that each of our individual worlds functions as a platform from which we present something to everyone else. I would argue that when I finish a show, leave the performance stage behind and go back to living my everyday life, there still is an audience watching me. You may not be a musician and you might not be famous (lol neither am I) but, like it or not, there is always someone watching our behavior, our attitudes, and how we treat others. Consider this – in the music world, one artist achieves world-renown and thousands of people pack arenas to see him on tour. Another artist may play to only a dozen people in a small café tucked away on a side street. Yet, note that each one has the opportunity to leave an impression on at least someone. Similarly, even if you see yourself as an average, everyday person, and consider yourself introverted, you still have an audience every single day. Your particular audience might be random people on the street, your co-workers, your friends, and your family. How does the way we live impact those we encounter?

These two different ideas of the “stage” of one’s life are not unrelated. Consider, for example, that a performer only has a very brief, set amount of time to try to make a lasting impression on the people watching. A good performer doesn’t take their moment on stage for granted, but seeks to make the most of that opportunity by having as profound an impact on the audience as possible. In lives so finite they are like a vapor (James 4:14), yet still long enough that countless spectators will catch a glimpse whether we realize it or not, what will be the legacy of our performance? Hopefully, we will “[l]et [our] light so shine before men, that they may see [our] good works and glorify [our] Father in heaven” (Mtt 5:16, NKJV). After all, at the end of the day, while there are many spectators to our performance in this life, God judges its final merit.

Faithful on the Grind

“Wow. God is faithful.” This is what I think as I struggle to reject the last seductive advances of slumber and free my tired body from the covers wrapped around it like a warm, comforting embrace. Or better yet, I’m a prizefighter who’s just caught that brain-jarring knockout blow to the temple and who now, despite the befuddlement that clouds my mind, must call upon every ounce of willpower to rise again, first to one knee and then back on my feet before the referee ends the ten-count.

Lol…okay maybe I’m being a bit dramatic with that last metaphor but, since I’m far from a morning person, I have this epic showdown with my bed every time the (alarm clock) bell rings. Daily putting in hours at an often stressful job, going hard in the gym, and then grinding on music stuff until the wee hours of the night, it’s no surprise that I regularly have found it challenging to get up for work over the past few months. And when I leave the office and go back home, the temptation to take it easy and slack off is there to greet me at the door of the apartment. But then I am reminded of the very specific goals I have for this year, and I know I have to dig in and go a little harder. While God has blessed me with talents, the past has shown me that I could stand some major improvement when it comes to discipline and consistency.

Now I’m not looking for sympathy or a pat on the back. In reality, I can’t take any special pride in my grind because this is what I’m supposed to be doing as I make my crossover into adulthood. And furthermore, tons of people all over the world have been grinding harder than me for years, even decades. My parents serve as a very ready example of that for me. Even as far as my peers go, I think of my boy DJ D. Scott a.k.a. D.s.sence, for example, and remember how hard some people work to reach their goals.

But even deeper than that, I think of a God, whose “faithfulness reaches to the clouds” according to the writer of Psalm 36:5. This expression of praise captures just how overwhelming this trait of God is. And He is not just faithful sometimes; rather, “[his mercies] are new every morning; great is [His] faithfulness” (Lam 3:23). As I struggled just to get out of bed in order to handle my responsibilities, I though of God’s faithfulness and felt my own frailty in comparison. At the same time, I felt a great sense of relief, because, as His child, I am the beneficiary of this faithfulness. I am a work in progress, yes, but I am a project that God is committed to finishing. Paul wrote that he was, “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 1:6). And while in this process I fail daily, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9) when we confess them to him. That should be reason enough for me to get out of bed every morning.