“[Corey’s] all about helping somebody out all the time,” Hicks said. “That’s what Corey lives for. He becoming a firefighter really didn’t surprise me at all. It just seems like something that he would do.”
Paul, 28, became a firefighter in 2014.
“Once I got linked up with the Lord, I wanted everything I did to mean something,” Paul said. “When I looked at my community and the necessity, I was like, ‘[Being a firefighter] could be that.’ … I feel a sense of fulfillment when I’m able to serve my community from every aspect because I had people like that serving me when I was coming up and didn’t know better.”
Listeners of Paul’s album Today, Tomorrow, Forever, which released on Dec. 18, likely aren’t surprised he’s a firefighter either. Paul’s heart for his community is apparent throughout the project, and music can’t sound much more fearless than the hook of track No. 8, “Die at the Top.”
I probably die at the top of this hill, but … I’m good in my city /
I’m good in these streets, I’m good in my sneakers, I’m good with my people /
I probably die at the top of this hill, but … I’m good with that price /
I’m good with that fight, I’m good with my wife, I’m good with my life /
I probably die at the top of this hill, but … I’m good with that mud /
I’m good with that blood, I’m good with that hate, I’m good with that love /
I probably die at the top of this hill, but … so did Jesus /
No clever punchline needed
The hill that Paul is willing to die on is the hope he's found in God, and he intentionally shares this hope on a day-to-day basis.
In addition to performing and mentoring at Hicks’s monthly RHEMA program, Paul and fellow Houston rapper Ronnie “Reconcile” Lillard started their own weekly program through the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department called The Hope Project. It’s a 12-week program which provides ex-juveniles with practical life skills and a front-seat view to how the gospel changed the lives of Paul and Reconcile, who are both former juvenile delinquents.
“People like Corey and Ronnie, they can relate to these kids,” Hicks said. “They’ve been involved in the same types of situations these kids are involved in, and now, they’re leading good lives. They’ve got good jobs, they’re good family men, and they’re good role models for these kids. For these kids to be able to see, hey, they’re really cool. They can do the rap and the hip hop stuff, but yet at the same time, they’re not buying into the things that get these kids in trouble. I think it’s more than important. It’s just an absolute necessity.”
Paul spoke with the same fervor when he explained the concept of his album to Rapzilla: What if today was your tomorrow, and tomorrow was your forever? How would you live?
“[This concept] came from an urgency,” Paul said. “Me and Rec, this whole Frontline Movement, we got the whole concept of, ‘We live life, and we rap about it.’ … We really see people losing their lives to senseless acts of violence or being incarcerated, or these 15, 16-year-old pregnant mothers. And the urgency of it is, we have to do something right now.
“I think a lot of times as humans, we always feel like, ‘Ah, I’ll do it tomorrow. I’m trying to do X-Y-Z now. I’ll do it later.' What you are not doing today is already affecting tomorrow. I’m like, we got to get up and do it right now because tomorrow might be too late.”
Few occupations demand a sense of urgency like that of a firefighter. Paul said he runs into burning buildings every couple of months, and he compared his sense of urgency under those circumstances to the one he feels for ministry.
“When you’re in the midst of a burning building or something like that, it’s a moment of clarity where you’re like, ‘Huh! I’m really doing this right now.’ … But I would say it’s the equivalent to me,” Paul said. “The feeling of being in a burning building and life being on the line, it honestly runs parallel with the concept of my little brother or my little cousin dying and not seeing the Lord.”
Paul said the closest call he’s had was when an evacuated building collapsed just a few minutes after his team left the scene. However, he said thinking about people dying without a relationship with Jesus is scarier to him than entering a burning building.
“I’ve heard him use the analogy of like, ‘I believe we live in a world where people are in buildings that are on fire, and we’re trying to rescue them,’” said Alex Faith, who recorded, mixed and mastered Today, Tomorrow, Forever with Anthony and Gabe Fernandez. “It’s always interesting to hear him say something like that, knowing that his job is actually running into burning buildings in real life, so it’s not just an analogy. That brother literally saves people from the fire. But then, on the flipside, he’s out in the streets with the guys at [his church] Resurrection Houston, saving people from the fire.”
As if the firefighter, rapper, mentor and husband hasn't already shouldered enough responsibility, Paul is also the Third Ward community leader for Resurrection Houston.
“Corey Paul is definitely on fire,” Melody Olivares, who works with RHEMA, said. “He has such an intense personality, and it really is very symbolic — saving people not only from earthly fires, but also from the possibility of eternal life in hell. He has endless energy and a desire to ‘rush in’ and save those who are hurting. Everything he does he does it 150 percent.”
A firefighter who works with Paul, Elizabeth Glowney, told Rapzilla that their fire department academy had previously presented him with an honor called the Anne McCormick Sullivan Award.
Sullivan, a 24-year-old firefighter admired for her heart, died in the line of duty on May 31, 2013 after a roof collapsed on her and three other firefighters. An award in her honor is given to cadets “who best exemplify integrity, extraordinary responsibility, never-quit attitude and the discipline and commitment to be the best.”
Paul won the award as a rookie. While most of Christian hip hop has only known Corey Paul the rapper, he’s been more to the academy, much of which only just discovered that he raps.
“I recently just started listening to Corey’s music and actually am really moved by it,” Glowney said. “It's nice to listen to music today that has meaning. That’s hard to find nowadays. Most of our fire academy class went almost the whole time not knowing Corey was such a talented rapper. He's always been so humble about it.”
Today, Tomorrow, Forever debuted at No. 16 on Billboard’s Heatseakers Albums chart earlier this month, but by now, readers could guess that album sales weren’t Paul’s primary goal for his Collision debut.
“When you look at a news broadcast or a post online after listening to this project,” Paul said, “I want the first thing for you to think is not, ‘How dare they … oh that’s terrible … I can’t believe they,’ but [instead] think, ‘What can I do? What can I do in my community to be the change that I want to see? How can I lace up my boots and do something?’ versus just repost about it, complain about it or X-Y-Z.
“I’m not saying we can’t speak our mind. It’s cool. But then what? My great hope is that people would see injustice and say, ‘How can we show people true justice, which is found in Christ?’ … I would love for that to be our go-to.”
Buy Today, Tomorrow, Forever on iTunes.