Why J. monty grinned after a gang cracked his head open
J. monty felt that a song was too limiting for him to tell the admittedly, hard-to-believe story of how he became a Christian.
“Some people will be like, ‘What the heck is he talking about?’ if I explain the way God revealed himself to me,” said J. monty, who released a mixtape titled Level 54 last Monday.
Track No. 2 of the project, “My Nephew,” sounds autobiographical, but J. monty told Rapzilla that the song is a metaphor of his equally dramatic, yet more extensive Christian testimony.
This, J. monty said, is the real story.
From Jordan to Zombie to J. monty
J. monty, born Jordan Montgomery, called himself an “odd ball” in his Clayton County, Georgia community. He grew up in a stable household with two parents but attended a high school plagued by gangs and drugs. This led to a less stable identity.
“I struggled with who I was because my community wanted me to be hood, but my house called for me to just be a normal teenager,” J. monty said. “I would go back and forth with, ‘Who am I really?’ and because I fell in love with hip hop, obviously I leaned more toward the gangster side. When I left the house, I would become a totally different person.”
J. monty became infatuated with hip hop at the age of 12 after his producer uncle showed him how to create a beat. Initially going by the nickname J-Roc Junior, his first hit — and biggest to date — came in 2007 when the high schooler parodied the Billboard-topping song “Crank That (Soulja Boy).”
Below is a dance video that someone made for the remix, titled “Crank That (Folger Boy).” Warning: Explicit lyrics
“He’s always been a character, always been animated and very confident in his rapping ability,” Tabias Kelly, who attended high school with J. monty, said. “I remember senior year, first period in our English class when there would be some extra time, and I would amp him up a little bit, do a beat on the desk and he would start freestyling.”
As far as his high school was concerned, J. monty wasn’t a one-hit wonder. He recorded a mixtape in his basement and sold it for $5 at school.
“It just kind of went viral across our high school and through our county,” said Ryan Taylor, who is featured on track No. 9, “He Lives in You,” of Level 54 and also attended J. monty’s high school. “That’s when I realized, ‘Wow, he really has gift and a talent.’”
The leader of a small gang at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia heard about J. monty’s talent his first week on campus as a freshman. J. monty took him and several others to his in-dorm studio, and his music blew them away. Word of his ability spread rapidly.
Shortly after, J. monty walked into a local club to the sound of his own voice sounding throughout the establishment.
“[Rapping] is what he wanted to do for so long,” said Josh Lewis, a high school and college friend of J. monty’s, “so seeing [his music] boom across the campus, through the club, it was pretty cool to see.”
A larger gang, the most prominent in the city, soon became interested in J. monty. He let members use his studio to record music. In exchange, they offered him clout.
“They really latched on to me, and I was latching on to them because what they had was influence in that city,” J. monty said, “and I what I had was music that I wanted to be heard.”
J. monty, who immediately became arguably the best rapper in the gang, won its members over enough that they threw him a birthday party just weeks after he arrived on campus. This failed to excite him, though, in spite of the dozens of women who would attend. Instead, fear overcame him.
“In the beginning of the year, I heard a voice for the first time … say I was going to die on my birthday,” J. monty said, “and I knew it was God speaking to me.”
J. monty connected the dots. The combination of this voice, as well as the fact that the most hated gang in the city planned to throw him a party wasn’t a healthy combination.
Of course, J. monty lived. However, that day, his associates thought up a nickname for him that stuck: Zombie — because of how frequently he was incredibly high or drunk.
“He would just look dead,” Lewis said. “He would just … be there. You could see him. You could talk to him, but it wasn’t the same guy I knew.”
As weeks went by, J. monty grew closer the gang — notorious in the area for drug trafficking. Taylor, who didn’t attend college with J. monty, became concerned after seeing a picture on Facebook of him in a club.
“His eyes just looked like … it didn’t look like the Jordan that I knew in high school,” Taylor said.
But the more J. monty began to fit his Zombie nickname, the more he heard a voice, which he’s convinced wasn’t the drugs talking. He also began experiencing dreams that would proceed to occur in real life, he said.
This happened enough times that a petrified J. monty went AWOL, curling up in a room for two weeks.
“I was so terrified that something bigger than me was actually trying to call out to me,” he said.
When J. monty returned to his normal routine, he attempted to tell the gang he wanted out.
“I can’t do this anymore,” he said. “Listen, God is trying to speak to me.”
Not long after, though, J. monty returned to the club. There, a rival gang member sucker punched him in the face.
“And God just told me that was going to happen to me the day before,” J. monty said. “He’s like, ‘You’re going to look in the mirror, and half of your face is going to be black.’”
J. monty had heard enough. He started to change. He stopped going to the club and slowed his marijuana and alcohol intake.
Weeks of moral progression later, though, J. monty said he heard another message from God.
“He said the blood would be dripping from my dreads,” J. monty said, “and that was my consequence for running away from Jesus.”
That night, he made his comeback to club. Now, as the most prominent rapper in the town’s most prominent gang, J. monty was a recurrent target of rivals. As he and his crew exited the club after a long night, an opposing gang member hit him in the back of his head with a glass bottle.
A brawl broke out. Before long, unfamiliar faces were pummeling J. monty on the train tracks outside the club.
“I couldn’t believe that was the night I turned down going,” Lewis, who heard about the fight from a mutual friend the next morning, said. “I mean, I wasn’t necessarily wanting to be there to get jumped with him, but I would’ve at least wanted to help a little bit.”
As his assailants dispersed, J. monty clutched the back of his head. He then looked at his hand, which was covered in blood.
Blood literally dripped from his dreads.
Police arrived on the scene. One cracked J. monty’s broken nose back into place and told him his head would need stapled shut. After an ambulance rushed him to the hospital, officers asked if he wanted to press charges.
J. monty declined.
“I was smiling through all of the blood that was on my face,” J. monty said. “I had so much joy at that moment because I realized how much God really loved me — to what extent he was willing to go to get my attention.”
J. monty surrendered his life to Jesus as he lay in that hospital bed.
In the coming days, his fellow gang members wanted to seek revenge. He told them to do nothing. Disgusted, the vast majority of them never spoke to him again.
“That’s really when his life changed around,” Lewis said.
J. monty’s maturation wasn’t instantaneous. But forced to drop out of college with straight Fs, he spent much of the next year back home studying scripture. This studying was apparent when he visited Lewis at Georgia Southern in what would’ve been in his sophomore year.
J. monty wanted to evangelize on campus the whole day, following which they went back to the club, where J. monty continued to preach. After they parked, he hopped on the hood of Lewis’ car to get the attention of those standing in line to enter — including some who had known him as Zombie.
“A year ago this time, I was in this same line,” Lewis remembers J. monty saying. “’I got jumped out here on these tracks. My blood was dripping from my head. You guys really need to think about what you’re doing.’ … It was just incredible to see. People couldn’t believe it.”
“I just started to notice that that same zeal that he had in the street,” Taylor said, “he took it to church, and it was just something that I had never seen before.”
J. monty ultimately helped plant a church in Atlanta in 2012 after he connected with Pastor Philip Mitchell. After setting down the mic for a couple years to focus on ministry, J. monty said he felt God call him to return to it in 2014.
On March 16 of that year, he released his comeback music video “Can’t Deny.” And a year later to the day, he dropped Level 54, one of 2015’s most gospel-concentrated projects.
“I’ve been around a lot of young guys in my walk with the Lord — don’t know if I know too many that have grown at the pace he’s grown,” Mitchell said. “He’s come a long way in a short period of time.”
Level 54 earned J. monty much praise from listeners, just like his previous work had accomplished. However, unlike his previous work, not praise but a desire to spread the gospel served as his motivation.
“He’s definitely somebody who I see in a different light, only because I know he takes Christianity so seriously now,” Kelly said. “He practically sneezes the gospel … He’s just different.”
Download J. monty’s free mixtape Level 54 at Rapzilla.com.