In songs like “53 Beads on a String,” this Chicagoan shows his unusual blend of classical melodies, rap beats and rhythms, and Catholic lyrics. “The Apologist,” who just released his second CD, spoke with Register staff writer Eve Tushnet.
Tushnet: Tell me about your background.
I wasn't brought up Catholic. My father was a Black Muslim — “White people are devils,” stuff like that. He left it right before I was born, but we kept some of the beliefs, so we didn't celebrate Christmas. My mother was Baptist, but went along to keep her marriage together.
How did you become interested in the Church?
First, I became interested in Christianity. A friend told me about some of the things in the Bible, like the apocalypse — that kind of scared me. I was 17, I had a rap group, and I was starting to get depressed. I knew that some of the things that I was doing were wrong. I started watching Protestants on TV. As I became a devout Baptist, I stumbled across EWTN. I didn't know there was a difference between Catholics and Protestants.
I had already accepted the teachings on the Eucharist by listening to these priests explain it [on EWTN]. I didn't understand other things — the Blessed Mother, statues — so I started to defend my mother's faith first. I went through this anti-Catholic phase, which was basically me trying to understand why I wasn't Catholic.
I left my rap group; I only made music in my basement.
I kept my friends, but they knew I was becoming more serious about God. I went to Baptist Bible study. All of this happened in a year, from me being totally pagan to being Baptist to being Catholic. It happened really fast.
At the stroke of midnight on the New Year, 1994, I was able to see the final things about the Church. So I thought, “Shoot, I have to go to Mass now!” My first Mass was the Feast of the Epiphany, and now I'm a member of Miles Jesu, Militant Sons and Daughters of the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady of the Epiphany.
After I graduated from high school, I went to a retreat and met some members of Miles Jesu. Now I'm a consecrated layman.
Did you keep at your music?
No. I couldn't write a Christian rap song. An older member [of Miles Jesu] said, “Keep it. Don't let it go,” but I left it for four years.
Then I went to Mexico, and I heard these kids come down the alley blasting a rap song. I thought, “I can't believe that rap has spread so far. I wonder if I could write a song about the Blessed Mother.” And it just flowed out, I didn't even have to think about it.
At Miles Jesu, we wake up to classical music every day. Even in my pagan days, I loved classical music. I used to pick out the rhythms in it and say, “Oh, if I wanted to, I could write a rap song with this in it.”
I use classical music to keep it as pure as possible, because rap has been so defiled that it's hard to really Christianize it without sounding irreverent.
A lot of people are asking me to do a whole album. I'm looking at how this one sells.
I have songs on confession, on marriage, love songs to the Blessed Mother and to Jesus, pro-life songs, all with classical music. I'm getting more into telling stories.
There's an apologetical song, about a Catholic who's approached by a Protestant, but this is a Catholic like Karl Keating, and he's explaining it in a charitable way. The whole thing rhymes. He goes into the Inquisition, all the little arguments I could get in there, so the kids know how to defend the faith.
There's a song where I tell stories of some of the martyrs, so they have heroes that are martyrs instead of basketball players.
What are some of your musical influences as far as rap?
Some people have said that I sound like Eminem. He's very creative, but he's horrible — he uses it in such a bad way. Him and maybe this guy Jay-Z. They're the only ones I've heard that are new that can actually write.
I'm almost creating a new genre. There isn't other rap that uses classical music.
Who's your audience?
My target is Catholics. Some people say, “Aren't you targeting the kids that are lost?” Yes, I am, but it's mainly for Catholic kids. They're getting confirmed and they don't even know the seven sacraments, the Ten Commandments, how to pray the rosary. If they get fired up about their faith, they'll spread it.
What was your best experience on the road?
In Florida, we went to a youth group; they were going to be confirmed that weekend. It was guys and girls, which isn't always a great idea — they were all sitting on the floor, uninterested. One of our guys gave a testimony and they were like, “Yeah, whatever.” Then I did my song ["53 Beads on a String"]. In the end, [the kids who had been the least interested at first] were the main ones wanting posters and buying CDs, coming up and talking to me.
They were saying to the youth leader, “You need to teach us to pray the rosary!”
Is your family supportive?
Yes. My mother recorded the “Life on the Rock” show [on which I appeared]. She's showing it to all my aunts.
If you met yourself at age 15, what would you say?
“What are you doing? Where are you going? Stop the things you're doing before it's too late. Don't worry about pleasing people so much.”