KJ-52 is Not TobyMac and He’s Never Been in DC Talk
Last week, we released a candid interview that showed a side of KJ-52 not often revealed. This week, we return to your regularly scheduled funny and insightful Five-Tweezy.
On KJ’s new album, Jonah, he twice makes a reference to DC Talk and TobyMac. However, KJ’s not praising them, he’s speaking about isolated instances of mistaken identity.
On the song “Get Down Get Down” he shares a story about being in Costco and running into an excited fan. After the gushing fan keeps talking for awhile and asks for an autograph they say, “DC Talk’s my favorite band!”
The song “Day Job” features another reference. KJ explains that as he’s standing in the rain, a fan rolls up and says, “I’ve been listening to you since DC Talk. Can you sign all the CD’s I got? TobyMac, you’re the best man, you really rock.”
Now, of course, KJ says these song examples are a bit embellished to make it a bit funnier, but it occurs semi-often.
“It’s enough to make you go, ‘Wow, you really don’t pay attention’. It’s all absolutely true. We always go for the low-hanging fruit, that’s just the sad truth. We’ve all been pretty lazy at some point or another where we don’t even take the time to find out who an artist is,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve always been pretty self-deprecating, I’ll make fun of myself before I make fun of anyone else. But if I make fun of you, it’s because I like you.”
He continued, “Whatever hot white rapper is out, you will get that comparison. I’ve gotten whoever that regional white rapper is to that person. ‘You sound like G-Easy, you sound like Lil Wyte from Three-6 Mafia. I’m like, ‘No I don’t’. You have to make light of that stuff because it makes great content.”
KJ always used to get the Eminem comparisons when he was younger, and it was mutually agreed that even though he really doesn’t sound like Slim Shady, he sounds even less like TobyMac. Although, he’s not helping himself by rapping Toby’s part on the Newsboys cover of “Jesus Freak.”
With all kidding aside, something KJ has always been serious about is connecting with young people. He admits that most of his audience is from youth groups or people in their 30s that were in youth groups when he came out. He’s perfectly fine with that, but at the same time has had to mature his music more based on his life experiences.
“I obviously can’t write the same records I’ve always written,” he said. “How does it look, a 41-year-old man writing the ‘Mountain Dew Song’? I now have experience of a grown man but still, operate in the same space that is by youth for youth. I don’t mean for young people, but as the voice of the youth who didn’t have a voice.”
52 said he taught a series in churches over the last year called “20 Things I Wish I Knew at 20.”
“That’s kind of what birthed some of this. It’s easy for me to go, ‘hey, this is all the things I’ve been through, maybe you can relate because this is a universal problem’. When I wrote ‘Hold On’, it’s easy for me to look back at three points in my life but there are so many people in the same situation. Even ‘Nah Bro’ there’s an underlying message, you were told that you should have given up but you can speak to that situation.”
He continued, “‘Lockdown’ is not the typical song about young love. It’s literally saying, this is what it feels like to be in a marriage, coming up on 19-years. That’s just all perspective. Almost every song has a tinge of that. I wasn’t going to write, eight gut bearing songs, no one wants to listen to that, but every bit of it comes from that perspective.”
KJ’s passion for young people runs deep enough that even if he, in fact, had a “regular” day job, he’d still try and work within the church at some level.
“If I’m not rapping…it’s probably what I’m getting ready to do, work at a church level. Not anything specifically out in the open, but working in ministry or with teenagers at a youth center.”
If he made it to King J Mac, but never advanced to KJ-52, he would be disgruntled a bit.
“I would be that frustrated guy at the club wearing my dad jeans talking about, ’In my day’…sitting on the porch with my Tribe Called Quest shirt on yelling at kids. Out of touch trying to relive his glory days. I swore I’d never be that guy.”
In the last article with KJ, it addressed how people told him he’s “too corny, too old, too irrelevant.” Admittedly, he changed his style up a bit on this new record, which has garnered him praise. The veteran rapper has been doing Christian Hip-Hop for around 20 years and has seen much come and go. KJ believes that over this time the faces have changed more than the actual genre.
“I don’t think the quality is any different or better, I think we just have more people open to it. The hip-hop generation has grown up, there are now key people in key positions who weren’t there when I got in,” said KJ. “There has always been quality Christian rap and there has always been crappy Christian rap. That has never changed. What’s happened now is it gets the support on radio, retail, concerts, touring, but that’s mainly because the older generation got pushed out or has left and the younger generation is in power.”
He continued, “Like anything, with growth comes problems. I think there are some things that are problematic. I believe, just like I’ve always believed, that sooner or later God’s gonna either prune you because you’re bearing fruit or he’s going to cut you off because you’re not. I’ve seen so many come and go and I’ve seen so many stay because of that. The reality is, nothing impresses me and nothing discourages me either. Time will always tell.”
From there, the topic of Christianity being manifested in mainstream packages came up – for instance, Chance the Rapper.
KJ said this “scenario” has happened “a billion times.” He cites examples such as Puff Daddy’s gospel album or the Boogie Monsters hip-hop group from the early 90s.
“This is nothing new, anytime someone says it’s new, I just laugh,” he said.
“I don’t know. If you feel he’s [Chance] not a believer and the music doesn’t benefit you, you don’t have to listen to it. Don’t listen to it, pray for the guy and that’s it. It’s not a complex issue,” said the emcee. “I think he’s super talented. I do find it hilarious that people find it so innovative that he uses gospel choirs with trap beats over it. How is that different than anything we’ve done a thousand times? That’s not a Christian thing, that’s ‘Yo, if we did the exact same thing, you talk about us as corny and cheesy and church rap’. Chance is super dope, but I didn’t find myself getting a lot of replay on it because it feels like Christian rap, with more abrasive topics. It wasn’t anything I haven’t heard before.”
Believing that hip-hop will always be the same in certain ways has forced KJ to work in other capabilities as well. He’s got the new album, two tours coming up, but he’s also venturing into other prospects.
“I’m working on a thing like Hamilton for the life of Peter for summer camps, I’m working on a theme song for Assembly of God’s Speed the Light program. I have a lot of corporate graffiti stuff. A young adult service in my church…”
“Everything I’ve prayed for, for years is finally coming to fruition. You think I’d have a real job by now.”