“I didn’t mean for it to be 50 songs,” Willie Will told Rapzilla. “I just kept writing.”
Willie Will, 37, initially planned to record 12 songs for his eighth studio album. Twelve became 20. Twenty became a double disc.
By the time that the Seattle-based artist selected a concept for the project, the weight of the concept pressured him to write even more.
“The GIFT stands for the Gospel in full truth,” Willie Will said. “I felt so overwhelmed because now I’m like, I bit off more than I can chew because explaining the Gospel is no simple task. … I’m not going to put a cap on it.”
The length and lyrics of The GIFT (which outgrew the double disc) exhibit Willie Will’s passion about the Gospel, which he believes many professing Christians fail to fully grasp, like he said he did prior to attending Mars Hill.
“All I was rocking with was whoever was on TV — all the televangelists,” Willie Will said. “That’s where I was getting all my preaching from. Upon coming to Mars Hill and being introduced to different preachers, I feel like the stuff that they were saying, I had never heard before, which was the Gospel. I had never heard the Gospel before, and that tripped me out. I’m like, I know that there’s so many people like me who have gone to church all their lives and have heard nothing but things other than the Gospel, and so [The GIFT] started with a desire to make this Gospel known.”
Willie Will released 78 tracks over four albums from 2006-2009 — including Reflection through Beatmart Recordings, a subsidiary of Sony Records — but he said none of it was Christ-centered. His music started to change after a friend invited him to Mars Hill in 2009 to serve with its worship team.
Mars Hill introduced him to reformed theology and pastors like Driscoll, John Piper and Paul Washer, who heavily influenced Willie Will and whose sermon snippets act as interludes on The GIFT.
“I was not a theological dude at all,” Willie Will said. “I was listening to Paula White, T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen — a lot of prosperity cats — so everything [Mars Hill] got me around, it’s really my first time hearing. But it’s blowing my mind as far as, I felt like I had been in church for so long, and I never heard of this stuff being preached. I had never heard so much about sin, the cross and the person and work of Jesus. You felt like, man, I’m kind of just now becoming a Christian.”
From this inspiration, Willie Will began to write the original version of The GIFT. He embraced what he learned so much that he also pursued pastoring, which Mars Hill paid for his schooling to do.
However, he admitted that he failed to apply his book smarts to his life.
“My theology was changing. My mind was being changed. But my heart had not yet been changed,” Willie Will said. “My heart was set on becoming a pastor, rather than being a follower of Jesus and being a Christian and knowing and living out what that means.”
In 2012, Willie Will became the lead pastor of Mars Hill’s Rainier Valley campus. The following year, his wife informed church elders that he had committed adultery.
“I know I hurt so many people,” said Willie Will, who shared that he and his wife's marriage is still recovering, “people who trusted me as their leader, as their pastor, as their shepherd. I know they feel betrayed ... I was so riddled with guilt and covered by sin to where I just wanted to run. I just wanted to hide because I was so embarrassed. I felt every negative emotion to the point to where I felt hopeless.”
Willie Will scrapped The GIFT and planned to never rap again. He felt disqualified from ministry, and music had become the least of his concerns.
“It was such a dark time,” he said, “but it was in that time that made me think, what is the Gospel for? What is it really? What does it mean because if it cannot rescue me in times like this, then what’s the point?”
Willie Will asked many questions like these with pen in hand. Those who walked with him after his fall encouraged him to reflect and write down his reflections.
“There was one brother of mine who took me to Timothy where it says, ‘Fan into flame the gift of God,’ and I was like, ‘I left that flame burn out because of sin,’” Willie Will said. “He just encouraged me and said, ‘You thinks that’s what God wants? That you sin, and now your work for the kingdom is just done because you committed sin? I think God would have you repent of your sin, get up and walk again.’”
Willie Will took this advice. A year into his retirement from rap, he rehabilitated The GIFT.
“[Romans 5:20] says, ‘Where sin increased, grace increased even more.’ I was so set on letting just me, my gift, my ministry all be conquered by sin and letting sin have the last word. ‘Look, I committed this. Therefore, everything is shut down,’” Willie Will said. “ And God was like, ‘No, my grace is sufficient.’ Having a high view of the grace of God was key in the making of this project, but also the motivating force.”
During the most excruciating time in his life, The GIFT in its entirety was birthed by Willie Will’s pursuit of answers to his questions about the Gospel.
And in his answers, he found something so valuable to him that he wanted to share it with the world.
“The greatest gift that God gave us is the Gospel. But what is this Gospel?” Willie Will said. “The Gospel is God himself. The theme of [The GIFT] is that there’s two different scriptures being put together. Of course, the Bible says, ‘The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.’ … Then we see in John 17, Jesus prays and he says, ‘This is eternal life, that they may know you and Jesus Christ, the one whom you have sent.’ … The GIFT that we’re given is the opportunity/the ability/the privilege to know God. What was the cost of knowing God? God didn’t just allow us to know him, no. Jesus had to die in order for us to know him.”
This is The GIFT that Willie Will raves about on his album and believes it’s impossible to rave about it enough.
At one point, he planned for The GIFT to be his last album, but he feels there’s a need for more Christ-centered hip hop. Instead of complaining about the lack of it, he’ll just record more himself and release other artists on his label GodMan Music Group.
“I may never pastor again,” Willie Will, who's now an Apple Store technician, said, “but I do have a passion for the Gospel to see people changed by it because I was changed by it, because of what God did in me. I’m one who can say, ‘Look, I know the depths of sin, and I know the intenseness and the magnitude of God’s love in the Gospel.’ That’s what I want others to experience with [The GIFT], to see the magnitude of God’s love.”
Buy The GIFT, which features The Ambassador, Phanatik, Timothy Brindle, Hazakim and more, on iTunes for $9.99.