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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.

What Should Christians Make of Secular Music?

Written by Ruth Lidya Panggabean, Indonesia, originally in Bahasa Indonesia

It is the first lesson we learn as Christians: we live in a fallen world that is full of sin. It is therefore no surprise that popular culture is full of books, music, and movies that contradict the Bible’s standards.

When it comes to music, does this mean we can only listen to Christian songs? Does listening to secular music make us sinful?

As with all things, we must look to the Bible for answers. Before we watch, listen to, or read anything, let us consider three verses.

 

1.  “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

I have recently begun assessing the music I listen to. Before listening to a song, I read all the lyrics first. Then I ask myself: “Do I agree with the message behind this song? Is it okay if I use these lyrics in my daily conversation?”

Previously, I did not even bother checking the lyrics of the songs I listened to. As long as I liked the melody and especially if it was popular, I would sing it without question. I would also upload my covers of these songs onto social media.

But that all changed when I participated in a lyric-making camp a year ago. I learned that every songwriter has a story behind their work, and that they are trying to deliver certain messages through the lyrics. Music affects a human being’s heart, soul, and mind far deeper than we can imagine; it doesn’t just affect our mood but can even affect our perspective. As a listener, we need spiritual sensitivity to decide whether the messages and stories in a song are in harmony with the Bible or not.

When I was heartbroken, there were some songs that I listened to on repeat, because the lyrics of and stories behind those songs were similar to my experiences. However, rather than being encouraged by them, I fell deeper into sadness. Later, I found out that this piece of wisdom had been written in Proverbs 25:20, “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” There was nothing wrong with the songs that I sang, but in the midst of my brokenness, I fixated on the poetic lyrics and the sad melody of the song. As a result, not only did it fail to make me happier, these songs dragged me even deeper into sadness.

Often, we only pay attention to the beautiful melody and poetic sentences, instead of scrutinizing the main message of the song. But we ought to thoroughly evaluate the concepts contained within a piece of music. By using this principle, we can also find secular songs that contain messages and stories that do not contradict the Bible. Such songs usually give us inspiration and highlight positive values.

So ask yourself: does the song I’m listening to remind me of God’s kindness in my life?

 

 2. “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

It is true that the Bible does not prohibit us from listening to any kind of music, but we also need to be wise in selecting the songs we listen to. Christianity is not about a list of what you can and cannot do, but it is about the relationship between God and man. Every choice we make in our daily lives, including what kind of music we choose to listen to, will reflect the quality of our relationship with God.

There is an analogy that goes like this: There are two wolves living close to each other. The first wolf symbolizes darkness and sin. The second wolf symbolizes faith and love. If these two wolves fight against each other, which wolf do you think will win?

The answer: the wolf that has been fed the most.

After all, the choice is up to us. Which part of our lives do we want to build up?

When I was heartbroken, neither the songwriter, the singer, nor music industry was at fault. Back then, I should have turned to God and His endless love. But I turned to sad songs instead.

Today, I don’t have much time to listen to music. So I have decided to select songs that remind me of God amid my busyness. I have some Christian and secular songs on my phone that I can play anytime. My favorites are songs by a group called Symphony Worship. “I Sing Hallelujah” is one of their songs that has given me strength during the many times I was drowning in my own worries. As for the secular songs, I often listen to Monita Tahalea. One of her songs, titled “Not Alone”, has never failed to encourage me, because that song always reminds me of my best friends.

 

3. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

I believe that Christians need to be up-to-date with the latest trends and issues so that we can be relevant to our environment—but this doesn’t mean that we have to agree with everything that this world tells us.

Don’t be afraid of being considered uncool when you refuse to agree with things that contradict God’s will, and this includes song lyrics. In fact, being clear of our stand when it comes to music provides an opportunity for us to share our faith with others; music can be a means for outreach, on top of being a means to inspire and encourage ourselves.

Music is my passion. I sing secular songs at certain events, upload videos of songs that I covered to social media, and even watch a concert every once in a while in order to get some inspiration. But I am careful to select songs that do not contradict with my Christian values.

To my fellow Christians who love music, I know how hard it is for you to keep holding onto Christian values in this day and age. But this is actually your chance to share Christ’s values with other people. It could be writing Christian songs, living holy lives in the entertainment industry or simply, choosing not to listen to and endorse songs where the lyrics may be questionable.

Do not seek acceptance and love from people around you, but seek God’s praise and acceptance as we make full use of the grace He has given to us. For from Him and through Him and for Him are all our talents. By reminding ourselves of this, we can produce responsible work.

Cassandra Kanda: Rocking Christian Music

Written by Jasmine K., Singapore

Think catchy riffs, deep bass rhythms, and synthesizer melodies, and you’re likely to associate them with “house” or club music. But a 22-year-old musician is aiming to break this stereotype and prove that Christian music can be catchy and current too. And to prove it, she’s produced an entire album all by herself.

Meet New Zealander Cassandra Kanda, who produced Genesis in her room. Just five months after the album was released in January, her music has reached some 20 countries and hit an overall stream count of one million on Spotify. Currently, her top-hit, “Sticks and Stones”, occupies 14th position on The Hot Chart, which tracks the most-played songs on the top 40 Christian radio stations across the US.

But Cassandra is quick to say that the motivation behind her music has never been the search for fame and popularity. It all started when she found it difficult to share worship songs with her non-believing friends, she said in an earlier interview with The Good Christian Music Blog. They were turned off by this genre of music as it was “all about God” or simply incomprehensible because of the liberal use of Christian jargon. Noting the lack of relatable Christian pop songs, Cassandra saw an opportunity to try and weave together biblical truths and R&B grooves. That set her on a path to co-produce the album Road to You with her church two years ago.

In an email interview with YMI, Cassandra says that she discovered her interest in music at a young age. When she was 11, she was always fiddling with the instruments in church on Sundays and pestering band members to let her try them out. “I remember they bought a new keyboard and gave me their old one, just so I could stop bothering them on a Sunday, as I was that annoying kid,” she says.

That grew her passion in music tremendously. The self-taught musician, who fully dedicated her life to the Lord at the age of 16, went on to pick up various musical instruments, including the piano, guitar, and drums. She learned music composition in high school and gained hands-on experience by producing for local artists, working on film scores for film students, and mixing and producing her own pieces in university.

But the road leading to where she is today has been a bumpy one.

Voice of God

After college, Cassandra faced her first obstacle: her family. She found herself having to plead with her parents and convince them to allow her to enroll in the New Zealand School of Music. Having moved from Zimbabwe to New Zealand, they had been searching for better opportunities abroad and couldn’t accept music as a livelihood. “The challenge was to convince my parents that this is what God has called me to do and they need not worry about the outcome,” she recounts. Thankfully, her persistence and passion paid off eventually.

Then she faced another obstacle. In her application for the Bachelor of Music course, she realized that she had not taken a certain paper in high school that was required. By God’s grace, however, the university suddenly held a sitting of this paper during the summer break before school reopened; it was the first time the module had ever been scheduled so early in the year. “The timing was uncanny,” she recalls.

This was just the first of the many times in which God continued to affirm Cassandra’s decision to go down this path. After completing her music degree, she did a worship internship in her church. This included doing the roster for worship duties, leading worship, and being the band director.

One night, while she was praying and doing her devotions, she heard God telling her, “Make an EP, make music.” It was a “weird moment”, she says, as that would mean she would not
be continuing her internship in the following year, as she had originally intended to.

But any uncertainty she had vanished just one month later. At a retreat, a woman whom she barely knew pulled her aside and told her, “God’s called you to do this.” Cassandra was blown away; she knew it had to be God nudging her.

Voice for God

Things were also rough in the lead-up to the release of her first album, Genesis. When Cassandra first started, she couldn’t afford to pay for studio recording or promotional plans. A few of her close friends and mentors, concerned about the risk she was taking by diving into an “unorthodox” genre of music, also tried to dissuade her. They were afraid that the plan would fall through and her efforts would go to waste.

On one occasion, a conversation with a colleague discouraged her greatly and made her doubt her decision. “He said, ‘Do you really think you can make music like this for God and be successful? Your voice probably isn’t what most radio stations would want to play’,” she recalls.

For a while after that, Cassandra began to avoid spending time with God. It eventually reached a point where she found herself on her knees, crying in her room. “I wanted to do right by God but at the same time, I didn’t even believe in myself,” she says.

But that’s when she felt God’s presence strongly again. “He was just speaking encouragement over me, reminding me of what He said and that He never makes mistakes and I certainly wasn’t an exception of that.”

That was enough to get her back on track. Cassandra also began to experience God’s provision. “When I had no money for food or no idea how I’d get home from the church office, someone or something would come up to bless me or provide me with what I needed.”

Touching lives

What gives Cassandra great joy in this whole journey is seeing how God has used her efforts to bless others, including her non-Christian friends. “They love it,” she tells YMI. “They listen to it all the time and message me about it, asking what it means.”

She’s also been overwhelmed and humbled by the responses she’s been getting from complete strangers. Close to a month ago, Cassandra received a message from a lady who said she had lost her brother and was struggling to see God’s healing and comfort. She was consoled by the lyrics of Cassandra’s song, Sticks and Stones. “I cried reading it because it was one of the things I’ve always been praying—that music will help those who need comfort and solace,” she says.

On another occasion, Cassandra was greatly encouraged by a message from a teenage girl who was battling depression and struggling with her final examinations. She shared how Cassandra’s album helped to tide her through those rough patches.

Future plans

Currently, Cassandra is working on a new song, “Thoughts”, for her next album. It is a reminder from 2 Corinthians 10:5 of the need to guard her thoughts as an act of obedience to the Lord.

In the near future, Cassandra plans to travel internationally to share her love for God and music. Some 10 or 20 years from now—or whenever God gives her the green light—she hopes to start a record label.

What’s Cassandra’s chief motivation for producing music? “I do what I do because I want to be obedient to what God has called me to do,” she says. “And, I know with everything God places in my hands, He usually has a greater plan and way to help and encourage other people.”

George Moss: Rapping and Dressing to Be a Blessing

Photos by Blake Wisz

Written By Tam, Singapore

George Moss knows how it feels to sit through a church service you have no interest in. And, ironically, that was exactly what started his journey into full-time ministry. Today, George is a popular Christian gospel rapper in Michigan, United States.

The youngest of three children, George grew up in what is known as the “Bible belt” of the Midwest in Grand Rapids. As a kid, he didn’t like going to church, but not attending was never an option in his family. To escape sitting in the “big service” with his grandmother every Sunday, then 15-year-old George went for the only alternative available—joining a six-member youth ministry rap group.

“I thought rapping in church was the dumbest thing I had ever heard of,” says the 34-year-old. “But my older sister constantly encouraged me to join them. So for lack of a better choice, I began to meet with this group of guys.”

His initial misgivings and dislike eventually gave way to a discovery that he actually had musical talent. “It was a combination of being forced to be there, and then realizing that I did actually have a little bit of talent to do it,” he says. “And once I started getting positive responses from the audiences, it only fueled the desire to continue.”

Having to write and rap about the gospel also led George to learn more about God and nurtured his relationship with Him. “Doing music in that group was a turning point for me. It was when my faith became my own,” he admits.

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As George grew both musically and spiritually, he and two friends began giving shows and performing at other churches. One night, after a performance at a church, the youth pastor handed George an envelope. In it was a nice thank-you card and, to his surprise, a check for US$75. It was the first time he got paid doing what he loved.

“I was only 16 years’ old at the time, so $75 was a lot of money to me. Growing up with a single mother trying to raise three kids, money was something that we didn’t have much of,” he says. “So when I got paid for the first time to do something that I gladly had been doing for free, I knew that was what I wanted to do as a career.” And like they say, the rest is history.

Rapping for Christ

Releasing multiple tracks, the gospel rapper first hit the American Christian music scene in 2002 with fellow Grand Rapids artist Michael Fugitt. The hip-hop duo UN1ON’s debut EP was followed by a nationwide tour. But after weeks of touring, George realized that he needed to get serious about his career and began work at a local Christian radio station.

After building a strong local following through his radio show, his first solo effort came six years later with 2008’s All or Nothing, featuring the singles “Whoa” and “Transparent”. In 2012, the local radio celebrity, who has toured with some of Christian music’s biggest names, like rapper KJ-52, released another album, It’s Time.

Earlier this year, George, whose music features a blend of electro-pop and rap, released a new single, “Take On The World”. His growing following on social media is testament to how God is using his music to reach people, with over 30,000 likes on his Facebook page and nearly 13,000 followers on Twitter.

Tackling issues like temptation, faith, and godly anger in his songs, George’s lyrics are grounded in Christian principles. And while the songs are not overtly Christian, they make references to biblical parables and well-known scripture verses.

In his 2015 single, “Set It Off”, he took a bold step to challenge the status quo, with lyrics that spoke about Christian hypocrisy, breaking traditions, and telling hard truths. George says that the single was born out of a realization that he knew more about “church” than he did about Jesus.

It was also a response to a “fan” culture that he felt had developed in American Christian culture, where he observed fellow Christians chasing after the teachings of pastors, authors, and even Christian artists more than they followed Jesus.

“If we are truly trying to love people, it’s not always rainbows and sunshine. When you love someone, you are going to tell them the truth, and sometimes the truth hurts,” says George, who is married with a young son.

Having spent close to 15 years in the music industry, George describes his journey as a roller coaster ride as he faces new challenges and experiences every day. There have been good days when he’s performed to sold-out tours with 20,000-strong crowds, and other days when he’s performed for just two people at a youth gathering.

“I’ve had weeks when I thought I was going to change the entire world, and there are days that I’ve felt like giving up . . . I’ve experienced almost everything imaginable, but at the end of the day, money, fame, success, or even failure and betrayal can’t be the driving force for me,” he says.

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Dressing for Christ

Passionate about reaching out on all platforms, the rapper artist is also the founder of OXEN Apparel. The clothing line was birthed out of the desire to represent Christ wholly—not just in his music or life, but in the brands that he wears—after realizing that fans took notice of the clothing he wore regularly.

“At the time, I shopped at the mall and just bought the clothing that I thought was cool. When I saw that my fans would actually go out and buy those same brands because I was wearing it, it made me pay more attention to the brands themselves,” he says.

One day, he noticed that a brand he regularly supported had a new line of T-shirts featuring scantily-clad women, and it struck him that by buying and wearing the particular brand, he was supporting the company and its values. “In a way, I was telling my fans that I agree with the way that this brand portrayed women. It was at that moment I knew I needed to be more conscious of what I was wearing.”

When he could not find a brand that stood out or represented what he truly believed in, George decided to create his own. “I landed on the name OXEN. It’s based on Matthew 11:29 where Jesus says, ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me’. I wanted to be branded as someone who carries the ‘yoke’ of Christ.”

To carry this “yoke” and share his faith with others, George has travelled across the country to speak at schools, churches, and festivals, reaching thousands of teens and young adults.

While making music, clothing, and fans are all elements of George’s ministry, he knows that all the successes and motivations are centered on one thing—making disciples for Christ. He says: “For years I thought of myself as an evangelist, and I relied on other people to do the discipleship. But I realized that it is the responsibility for all believers to make disciples.”

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He expanded his OXEN brand and began developing the OXEN Team Ministries, due to start later this year. It will include online training programmes, with videos and Bible study curriculum to educate and equip believers in their discipleship.

“I realized that OXEN don’t start out carrying a yoke. Before they can carry the yoke, they must be trained. They need to spend time with the master, learning his commands and understanding the master’s will. Only when they are trained can they actually go out into the harvest field and do the work of their master.”

Having been through the ups and downs of the music industry and life, George wants to encourage people who are interested in making Christian music to keep their passion of being a Christian above their passion for music. “It’s so easy to get caught up in making music about Jesus that it comes at the expense of actually following Jesus.”

In response to the YMI question: Why do you do what you do? George says: “I do what I do because I want to inspire people everywhere to live a lifestyle of love, understanding, and obedience to God’s word.”

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Write to us at contribute@ymi.today if you know of someone who has made a radical choice because of his or her faith. #FORTHISREASON