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KJ-52 Bibliography: (click on each album cover to view tracks and KJ-52 lyrics)
KJ-52 is the first to admit that his gig doesn't make much sense.
"A white dude from the suburbs and inner city of Florida doing Christian rap and driving a minivan?" KJ says. "None of that makes sense. No one says, 'That's the formula, right there!' But at the end of the day, it just proves that God did it."
The absurdity of his situation hasn't stopped him from becoming one of the hottest rappers on the Christian hiphop scene, as evidenced by his appearance with the massive Festival Con Dios & Winter Jam Tours, his 2004 Dove Award for Rap/Hiphop Album of the Year (for "It's Pronounced Five-Two") and his recent 2005 Dove Award nominations for Rap/Hip Hop Recorded Song of the Year (for "Back in the Day") and Rap/Hip Hop Album of the Year (for "Soul Purpose"). In fact, KJ wears it as a badge of honor. It just proves that God can do great things with small things that are surrendered to His purpose.
"If there is anything that is typical in my life, it is not having much but doing the best with what I had," he says. "I wasn't the best rapper. In fact I was horrible, but I got better. I wasn't the best emcee or the most talented artist that was out there. I just simply did the best with what I had, and God has been blessing it."
At once a respectful student of the art form and a genuine hip-hop innovator, KJ-52 continues to stretch the boundaries of the genre's sound and shape. His upcoming project, "Behind the Musik," expands on his ability to rap with the best of them, while injecting a healthy dose of both humor and pathos into his rhymes.
The 23-track, 76-minute-plus album takes listeners behind the craft and the rhymes of KJ-52, straight to the essence of who he is. The autobiographical disc includes some music-backed, spoken-word interludes from his parents, who fondly reminisce about their son's boyhood and growing up. In the liner notes, KJ describes the effort as the "hardest and most rewarding record I've ever made," and it shows.
Whether poking fun at his own white-bread proclivities ("Plain White Rapper"), dabbling in rock-inflected rap ("Are You Real?"), or namedropping a bevy of pop culture icons ("Fivetweezy"), KJ-52 indulges listeners on a new path both musically and lyrically. Among the new experiments, the album includes previously recorded hits by Rebecca St. James and Jeremy Camp-who aren't actually on the album, but KJ takes their respective hits "God" and "Right Here," reworking them in hip-hop fashion with a stronger backing beat and rapped verses.
There's also an ancestral sense of community throughout the record that hearkens back to KJ's Collaborations days. In the same spirit, KJ shares the mic-both for real and via sampling-with everyone from rocker Jon Micah Sumrall (of Kutless) to more pop-leaning guests like Donnie Lewis (formerly of Raze) and up-and-comer Brynn Sanchez. KJ's willingness to embrace styles other than hip-hop explain his pop appeal, and why this album will strike a chord with many listeners.
"I know, it doesn't make sense," KJ smiles. "But wait 'til you hear it. Believe me, it works."
Oh, yeah. It works. Take "Are You Real?," KJ's ultra-hip collaboration with Kutless frontman, Jon Micah. A canny blend of poignant, pump-your-fist-in-the-air rhyming and crisp, incisive hard rock, "Are You Real?" grabs you by the heart and refuses to let go. Brynn Sanchez lends her brown velvet vocals to "Never Look Away," creating an atmosphere that is as electrically charged as a Texas sky before an impending thunderstorm. Of course, KJ-52 has no problem rapping solo on such neo-classics as "Fivetweezy," "Rock With It," and "Thank You."
So how did this lower middle-class white guy from the poor side of Tampa end up setting the Christian rap world on its ear? Just who is the man behind "Behind the Musik?"
"I didn't come from your typical background," KJ confesses. "I grew up in the lower income section of Tampa. My parents were two ex-hippie artists who met each other at art college. I wasn't one of those guys who grew up in church. Because of everything that was going on I just started internalizing all those things that happened to me. About the time I got into middle school I really started falling apart. Not just things I was doing on the outside, but internally. When I looked at myself I saw something that I wasn't very happy with. I felt that because of some things that had happened to me in the past, that there must have been something wrong with me."
After his parents' divorce, KJ moved with his mother to the 'burbs. But the change just accentuated his feelings of alienation. "I went from being the only white kid in an all black and Cuban neighborhood, to a suburban neighborhood where I was still just as poor," he says. "I was at that age when all you want to do is fit in, and I didn't. I felt like a big square in a circle world. Not having Christ made things that much harder. Everything just kept getting progressively worse.
"I ran away twice,"KJ continues. "I almost got shot by the cops one night. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm not saying I was a hoodlum or gangbanger or anything like that. I was just a kid bouncing back and forth between my parents. And I don't blame my parents for any of this. I'm not saying its all their fault for the way I was. I don't buy into that. I hate it when kids use that as an excuse. You're a free agent. You can do what you want with your life. You have a choice to overcome your past, and with Christ you can definitely do that."
KJ was fifteen and at the end of his rope when he finally found something to belong to. The catalyst was a couple of questions from a relative and a Bible that he says might as well have been written in Russian.
"I have a cousin who had to gone to a private Christian school," KJ recalls. "He just hit me with a few questions that made me think. I borrowed his Bible and started reading Revelation. It was the King James Version and I didn't understand the first thing I was reading. But there was something about it that made me cry. There was a happy ending. Every night I would listen to radio preachers and then I would listen to a hip-hop-show. The truth is I just said, 'God, if you are real just prove it and I will follow you.' And He did. Little by little, He did. I got down on my knees one night when I heard a radio preacher say that I could be saved where ever I was. And the next morning when I woke up I wasn't the same. I was different."