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Propaganda: Music is an Outpouring of My Heart

Written By Callie Opper, USA

For American Christian hip hop and spoken word artist, Propaganda (or Prop), who is in his 30s, his rap music journey began way back in the neighborhood he grew up—a largely Mexican American neighborhood. At a young age, he realized he was different.

“I was this one black kid in a white neighborhood,” Prop says. “I felt like I didn’t belong, the wrong color, in the wrong neighborhood.” Besides the color of his skin, there was another reason that made Prop stick out: he loved to draw. This was unusual in a community where most boys found it more beneficial for their safety and well-being to dabble in gang life.

This feeling of not belonging eventually helped him to find his identity in God; his love for drawing subsequently spawned his love for hip hop, rap, and graffiti.

Today, Prop, whose real name is Jason Emmanuel Petty, is known and respected not just for his talent and creativity as an artist, but also for his deep love for God and others, and his passion for race and justice.

These passions are clearly seen in his four albums released through Humble Beast Records, a non-profit organization that describes itself as “a family of creatives, pastors, writers, theologians, and musicians who leverage their talents to see the Gospel go out into the community and transform lives”. Besides Prop, it is also home to other Christian artists like Beautiful Eulogy, Sho Baraka, Jackie Hill Perry and Alert312.

On June 30, Prop released his most recent album, Crooked, which is available for download.

Humble beginnings

“I became a Christian really through good youth ministry,” Prop tells YMI in an email interview. “Somewhere in middle school, via a combination of my parents’ conversion and impact from my youth leaders, I was able to see really great examples of real people having real-life change that made me start to believe.”

In high school, he was given the name of Propaganda by his cousin due to his love of visual arts, history, poetry, and evangelism. “I was so fascinated with the culture of hip-hop and its musical expression,” Prop says. “It sat in the same street of black music I grew up with—being narrative, emotional and uplifting.”

But ask Prop what made him decide to venture into “gospel rap” and he quickly says that he doesn’t think there needs to be a distinction between hip hop and Christian hip hop. “I made no conscious effort to make ‘Gospel Rap’ because as far as I was concerned, there was no such thing,” Prop says. “All rappers had a worldview, I just rapped what I knew and believed.”

In 2002, he was discovered by an underground hip-hop collective and has been going strong ever since. In 2011, Prop signed with Humble Beast Record Label; he is described as a poet, rapper, artist and political activist. Prop released Art Ambidextrous in 2011, Excellent a year later, Crimson Cord in 2014.

As his journey as a rapper began, Prop made sure that he did not rap for the acceptance of others; he never felt the need to respond to those who had harsh opinions about the rap industry. Instead, he rapped simply because it was an outpouring of his heart.

Interestingly, he shares that his biggest critics are not non-believers but believers. “Most backlash I get is from other Christians—mostly very conservative Christian would say I’m too preoccupied with race and justice. My heart actually breaks for those that can’t see that both are Gospel issues,” he says.

Hopes for his latest album

 On his recently released album, Prop says, “Crooked is about all of us.”

“The record is about a crooked person, with crooked desires, inside a crooked system, hoping for the day the crooked is made straight.”

In it, Prop weaves together his own personal struggle over the past few years with all the idols Christians and non-Christians experience daily. He is honest about his own failings, revealing that he struggles with the same challenges other Christians face. “Pride, lust, comparison, self-righteousness. I can’t say I’ve overcome them. I’m constantly confessing my weakness and dependency.

The songs on Crooked tell the story of the world we live in, the people we truly are, and how much grace God freely gives us. Prop raps about issues that many young Christians face today while living in a crooked world.

Prop hopes everyone can relate to his album. In one of his songs, Olympian, he illustrates the heartbreaking realities of this life—that hard things will happen in this crooked world, but we have a perfect God who is constantly perfecting our purpose. Through his lyrics, he urges listeners to not lose heart while fighting against injustice, fighting for peace, and standing up for Jesus.

For Prop, rapping is so much more than just a creative expression. His overall goal is to preach the gospel and remind Christians that we are all image bearers of Christ. “I make music out of an outpouring of my heart. And evangelism is again a part of my life.”

 

Click here to download Prop’s latest album Crooked.

Ming Yue: Behind the Goofy YouTuber

On screen, Ho Ming Yue—or, as his fans call him simply, MingY—is loud and goofy. With his signature smile and thumbs-up gesture, he is known as the clown of The Ming Thing (TMT), the popular Malaysian YouTube channel featuring short films and comedy sketches.

Since it was started in 2012, TMT has amassed more than 400,000 subscribers, with the top video drawing more than three million views.

As he sits down in TMT’s office in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia, for our Skype interview, Ming Yue displays a very different side to the on-screen character playing silly roles in the comedy skits. Decked out in a somber dark blue sweater and sporting a fresh haircut, he is a lot more serious than I had expected, giving much thought before answering each of my questions. Halfway through the interview, the 25-year-old declares: “I’m actually an introvert, a very big introvert.”

 

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His Faith Journey

Ming Yue? The clown of TMT is an introvert?

It’s true, he says. Ming Yue started out a “loud and sociable” person, but his personality changed significantly after spending two years studying in England. He did not have any friends when he initially arrived in 2010, and to make matters worse, his relationship with his then-girlfriend ended. Overwhelmed by his circumstances, there were times when he didn’t even want to leave his room.

“I didn’t want to go to class, I didn’t want to see people, I just wanted to be alone,” he says. He also spent most of his time sleeping. “I thought that if I slept more, time would pass faster and I would be able to fly home to KL faster.”

He adds: “My first year was the worst. It’s so hard when you’re alone and you have nobody. I honestly felt it was just me against the world.”

While he was brought up in a Christian family by parents who were—and still are—church elders, Ming Yue had for many years gone through the motions of attending church without intentionally thinking about the significance of his faith. Only once, while he was still in primary school, had he cried during a service. At the time, he didn’t know why he cried; only later did he realize that it was his first encounter with God, and that “there is something out there watching over me”. Convicted of his faith, he had started serving actively in church, but since then, his faith journey had not been smooth, he admits.

Now, in England, he found himself questioning God. “Why did You put me here?” he recalls asking one day.

On New Year’s Eve, he saw fireworks outside his window. For some reason—he can’t explain why—they prompted him to surrender his situation to God. “I just felt I couldn’t handle this situation alone anymore and I knew I needed help,” he says.

Immediately, he felt a sense of peace. From that point, Ming Yue decided to take active steps to prevent himself from falling back into a depressed state. This involved simple steps like surrendering hurtful thoughts, memories and words spoken against him to God, and stepping out of his room to make new friends at a local Christian fellowship.

Still, his journey as a Christian did not turn into a bed of roses after that. One year after returning to Malaysia in 2012, he left his church and started living a life independent of God.

It took his younger sister to jolt him back to his senses. When she randomly remarked that he wasn’t as loving and kind as he used to be, he realized that he had stopped showing these attributes—which were the fruit of the Spirit—because he wasn’t walking closely with God. Seeing how his life was turning out without God, he asked a Christian friend to bring him to her church. There, he found mentors and people to walk alongside him. “There were people to do life with, to share struggles and to mutually encourage. It was a blessing for me,” he says. He is still attending and serving at this church today.

His sister affirmed him after noticing that he had become a lot more patient and gracious. Ming Yue attributes that to the support of the community he received in his church.

 

His YouTube Journey

It was also after coming back from England, that Ming Yue decided to join Ming Han in making YouTube videos. By that time, his brother had already produced a few videos by himself. Having always done things together, it seemed natural to join him, he says. With two other friends—Bryan Lim and Raffi Th’ng—they formed The Ming Thing in 2012. “It was like our mini-playground to do what we love—write content and make videos.”

 

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TMT aims to maintain a mix between providing entertainment and offering a commentary on society. Its films, which cover themes such as love, courage and the influence of social media, are inspired by real-life events. “All we do is to listen and notice things and people,” he says. “Our films reflect the way we perceive life.” But they do sometimes come up with nonsensical videos that have no meaning or message, he adds with a cheeky laugh.

For bigger projects like web series or short films, however, the team is more intentional about driving home a message. He cites the example of a short film on TMT, Movie Love/Real Love. “The truth of the matter is that the world has such a funny and distorted view of love,” he says. “They only see the one that is put on display in the movies, without realizing that love in real life is vastly different.”

Keeping things real is what Ming Yue also tries to convey and achieve on his social media platforms. While his Instagram account (@mingasaur) includes well-taken, curated photos, it also showcases some random ones, like him putting on a silly face and posing with a cup of coffee—a post that some might deem “not-Instagram-worthy”.

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“There are definitely parts of my life that are polished and curated, but there is this whole element of being a normal person,” he says. “What you see is who I am.”

This is important because there is pressure to look good on social media. Asked how he deals with that, Ming Yue replies candidly, “To begin with, I’m not a very beautiful person, so I can’t post gorgeous pictures of myself. So I’ve learned to not let that bother me.”

Instead, he treats Instagram as a platform for storytelling. “With my long captions, my Instagram account is essentially my mini blog,” he says with a laugh. “I’m a lot more interested in the stories behind the pictures and how the person feels.”

 

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He is also open about his Christian faith. Many posts show him playing the guitar in church or reflecting on sermons. Though such posts usually receive fewer “likes” and comments, Ming Yue isn’t affected. “Honestly, I don’t mind that I’m not getting a lot of likes or engagements,” he says. “It doesn’t bother me because I’m essentially just sharing my life with others.”

But if he has an important message for his fans, Ming Yue will time his posting a bit more carefully. “It’s not about the likes, but I want more people to see this. If I feel the message is valuable, I will post it at a time of high traffic.”

Besides being authentic and intentional, the Ming brothers also try not to do things just to seek the approval of others. This means turning down requests from alcohol or tobacco companies, even though they pay well. “Maybe I just don’t know how to go about making the advertisements in a way that I am comfortable with, a way that will not contradict my values that I was brought up with,” explains Ming Yue.

In the end, TMT goes back to their primary focus: to create content. He says: “We are given the opportunity to see our imagination become a reality onscreen and I think that’s a privilege and a blessing we need to honor.”

As for the YMI question of why he does what he does, Ming Yue says: “We have a genuine passion and love for creating. And God has given us this awesome opportunity and platform to play around and tell stories that we see on a day-to-day basis.”

 

Karen Lietz: Being a Third Culture Kid

Karen Jeshurun Lietz has brown hair and blue-gray eyes, and speaks with a perfect Canadian accent. So to hear the 18-year-old speak in fluent Mandarin and describe herself as “pretty much half Asian on the inside” can come as a surprise to people meeting her for the first time.

And it doesn’t stop there. Unlike most of her peers who have started their university studies, the unassuming teenager has put her own education on hold to teach English to children thousands of miles away from her place of birth.

But ask her why she took this unconventional path, and she has a simple answer: Yunnan, China, is where she has spent a large part of her life. The second eldest of eight children of a couple working among the Chinese people, she was born in Canada but grew up in different parts of China, returning to her home country only when she was 15. In between, she also spent a year in the Philippines.

Her years in China not only nurtured a love for the country and its people, but also a heart for the needs of the children there. Growing up among the local community in one of the provinces, Karen saw her childhood friends being sent off to boarding school when they were just six years old. For the next six years or so, they would stay far away, and be allowed to go home for just two months each year.

So, when she completed high school and a year in Bible school in Canada, she decided to do something different from her friends who moved on to university. At 18, with the encouragement of family members and friends, she decided to return to China to be a volunteer teacher in a boarding school. “Dad planted the idea, God made it stick,” she says of how the idea came about.

Karen recognizes that her decision to put her studies on hold is not something many can understand. For many of her peers in high school, the world was contained in their neighborhood and school—something that Karen found baffling—and it was uncommon for someone to not go on to university right after high school. “I’m really glad that I know what it’s like outside the suburban bubble,” she says.

But then, not many of her friends would know what it’s like to live overseas in exotic lands, constantly uprooting and relocating. Moving to China soon after she was born, Karen spent her first two years there, followed by a year in the Philippines, and then another three years in Guizhou, China. When her family was asked by local authorities to leave—she prefers not to delve into the reason—they then moved on to Yunnan to live among the Lisu people, an ethnic group living in the mountainous regions of Myanmar, southwest China, Thailand, and India.

Many of Karen’s peers have been intrigued by the unusual childhood that she enjoyed as a third culture kid (TCK). And unlike most of her peers in Canada, she spent much of her teenage years going to the beach, hiking, and scaling trees with her eldest sister and other TCKs. “What I remember most,” she recalls, “is climbing mountains to get animal fodder for the goats that my family raised.”

Ironically, Karen’s biggest challenge came when she moved back to Canada at the age of 15, when her family returned to help her eldest sister get started in university.

It proved to be a most difficult adjustment. “I went into clinical depression for six months because I didn’t want to be there. I guess I wasn’t prepared in any way for living in Canada. I missed my friends in China a lot. I felt like the people in Canada were so different from me, that I was never going to find another friend who could really understand me,” she says.

She also became angry with God and started blaming Him for not giving her friends whom she could share her troubles with. That was when God spoke to her and showed her that she had made friendships an idol in her life.

Convicted by how she had wrapped her identity and her happiness around friendships instead of God, she repented. “I came to the point where I told God, ‘You are all I need. Friendships are great, but I don’t need them. I can be satisfied with you.’ I still didn’t have many friends in Canada at that point.”

Almost immediately after Karen repented, God gave her good and caring friends, some of whom were Christians.

Today, her entire family, except her eldest sister, is back in China. For Karen, going back to Yunnan has been a homecoming of sorts, and she hopes that as the only Christian teacher in the boarding school, she can make a godly impact on the children. “I hope that God can use me to give these kids an idea of who He is and bring them close to Him. That would be amazing,” she says.

Although Karen is not sure how long this stint will last, one thing is for sure: she will continue teaching after she gets her university degree, hopefully in education. “I think I’d like to teach children in the Philippines, specifically children or foster children—kids who aren’t valued by very many people. I would love to be a teacher who they know really values them and be able to share the gospel with them.”

Her aim, she says, is to fulfill a commitment she made to God when she was 11 years old, when she came to the realization that her life belongs to God. “He put me on this earth. He has a plan for me, so I have to let Him work that plan,” she says. “That’s the only way my life is going to have a purpose and be fulfilled.”

As for the YMI question, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”, Karen doesn’t hesitate. “Because I’m loved by God and I know it, and I really have a heart for kids who don’t know it. I want them to know it, I want them to have the security in Christ that I have.”

 

Artist Galih Suseno: Why Am I Painting

Title: Artist Galih Suseno: Why Am I Painting
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