Written By Leslie Koh
After spending a number of years in the media, Leslie finally decided to move from working with bad news to good news. He believes in the power of words (especially when they’re funny). He works as an editor in Our Daily Bread Ministries.
The YouTube video starts off with the soothing lyrics and familiar tune of a Sunday School classic, with a small girl swaying gently as she sings, “Jesus loves me”. Then the cynical voice of a young man cuts in, telling the story of how the same words, taught to him at an early age, meant little when he was molested.
As the song progresses, so does his painful story of rejection and family breakdown, and it slowly builds up to an angsty crescendo that sees the singer shaking his fist at God as he asks, “Why?”
Welcome to the world of Beacon Light.
Forget the usual happy Christian praise songs you normally hear in church. Brandon Clahassey (as he is really named) is making waves with his unique brand of Christian hip hop, mixing real-world anguish with biblical truths as he raps on God’s love.
“When I became a Christian, I didn’t realize I was still allowed to rap,” he tells YMI in an email interview. “I thought it might be wrong. But God showed me the impact hip hop has on culture, the impact it has on me.”
And that impact, Brandon will tell you, is all too real. Growing up in the city of Grand Rapids in Michigan, America, the happy-go-lucky kid developed a love for music, especially hip hop. But his innocent, middle-class life fell apart when he was sexually abused over five years. Overwhelmed by shame and further pain from his parents’ divorce, he tried to find solace in hard partying, clubbing, and gambling. But nothing, he realized, could take away the feelings of rejection, loneliness, and worthlessness.
In university, however, Brandon found God again—and discovered that the Creator was “infinitely more satisfying” than anything else he had experienced. Healed of his pain and given a new joy in life, he decided to go to Bible college and use his talents to lead others to the light and healing love of Jesus Christ. For nowhere else, he declares, has he found true love, peace, comfort and strength.
Today, Beacon Light has made good. Married for four years to his wife, KellySue, with a just-born baby girl, Helena Grace, he is a worship leader at The Edge, a hip-hop church in Grand Rapids.
What sets the singer apart is the way he has chosen to share his testimony. With his heartfelt lyrics set against the urban rhythm of bass-banging hip hop, Brandon has wowed many with his albums Overcomin’, Lights On, and Open Eyes, as well as other singles. He has performed next to notable names in the business, including the Grammy-winning Lecrae and Andy Mineo. But his music is a little different, he believes—it runs in its “own lane”.
“I don’t really ‘fit in’ to the sound of Christian hip hop,” he says. “Probably because I’m trying to be myself on every track that I do. I think Christian hip hop needs to grow a lot to have an impact . . . we need diversity and a broad array of sound.”
Some may be cynical of the use of hip hop to share the gospel. After all, in popular media it is often associated with gangs, partying, drugs, and violence. But God showed Brandon that He could “redeem” the music for His glory, through a book the singer picked up that told of a missionary working with a tribe in Central America.
Brandon recounts: “The tribe became Christians, but their music was made in mostly minor keys. So it sounded very dark, almost demonic, to this missionary who had grown up in Western culture, where worship music was in mostly major keys. Then he realized that these people were worshipping Jesus through their culture. They were singing songs to Jesus and about Jesus, but the music sounded different. They were worshipping in Spirit and truth. That was a big inspiration to me—that God could take the music and culture I was from and redeem it.”
Brandon’s inspiration for his own songs comes from “a lot of different places”. Sometimes, while he is worshipping, “a melody just pops into my head”. But it is the impact of Christ on his life that gives him the most ideas for his songs. When he sees someone struggling in a situation, it moves him to write songs to help them, and to share his own story to encourage them. The response, he says, has been “awesome”.“People have written me saying they have decided not to kill themselves because of my music,” he says. “Obviously that impacts me. My music has been an inspiration to people not to cut themselves, and to turn to others for help with sexual abuse.”
Indeed, Brandon’s biggest reward is not popularity or fame, but knowing that listeners can find hope in Jesus through his songs. In fact, it is exactly the key message he is always seeking to convey through his brand of hip hop.
“Jesus has the answer to every problem because He is God in the flesh,” he says simply. “He loves all people and forgives everyone who calls upon Him and wants to be His follower, friend, and family.”
But, as Brandon himself can attest to, the journey to recovery and healing takes time. He has learnt to trust God’s plan and timing, to work hard, and to be faithful with what God has given him. “As a Christian it’s easy to think that God will just take care of everything and you don’t have to work hard at your end, but that’s false,” he stresses. “Working for the Lord is something we are commanded to do, and when we do it with hearts that honor Him, He blesses us and opens more doors for us. His will first, not ours.”
It is also a reminder to stay true to his mission. “It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to be a headline artist who sells a lot of tickets,” he says. “But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is impacting people for Jesus. If an artist isn’t doing that, they should hang it up. If my music wasn’t impacting people, I’d be done with it.”
Brandon also continually reminds himself to be sensitive to God’s voice, leading, and call, and not let his life become a “waste”. “I want to stand before Him knowing that I gave my all, that my heart was broken about sin, and my life was lived for His glory,” he says.
He has a ready answer for the YMI question: Why do you do what you do?
“To see lives change,” he replies. “If lives aren’t changed and impacted for Christ, I’d stop pursuing it as a career. I would still honor God with my gift, though: I’d worship Him through hip hop. I may not pursue it as a career, but I’d worship Him in Spirit and truth with my music.”