Christian Hip-Hop has been noted to be wildly divided on many things along many different lines. However, throughout the last 15 plus years, there was one person that served as a unifier across all the lines – the lines of sound, style, region, cliques, and crews – Nelson “DJ Official” Chu.
Despite his work toward to unify people in the Body of Christ, his own body was breaking down after he developed a rare blood disease called, Light Chains Disease. It led to him having failing kidneys, lungs and other ailments, and yet he insisted on using what he had to bring together the Body.
We spoke to Lecrae, Propaganda, and KJ-52 to discuss the legacy of DJ Official (aka Fish, a short form of O-Fish-al.) What came from them was the story of a uniter the Christian Hip-Hop scene desperately needed.
“When he was around, there was no Tunnel Rats, Reach, Cross Movement, or any of that. Labels faded to the back and he was just Nelson,” Humble Beast poet and emcee Propaganda stated.
Reach Records co-founder Lecrae points to DJ Official as the person that connected him to the greater CHH movement and gave him a larger opportunity despite the fact that the emcee had some songs that didn’t particularly fly with that camp.
“Fish was the person who brought my CD to John Wells (Cross Movement Records). He edited it and took out the songs and verses he didn’t like,” said Lecrae.
When KJ-52 first met DJ Official in 2000, Fish only hung out with KJ, which was odd to the rapper because Fish was there with his crew and that circle wasn’t the warmest or most accepting toward KJ – And when those tensions grew, Fish was the mediator for unity.
“He was the one that made sure the collab between me and Truth happened.”
When tension and perception kept two of CHH’s most known artists separate, Fish was the bridge builder between Lecrae and KJ. During a four hour layover in an airport where Lecrae just so happened to be in town, Fish took stock of where Lecrae was in life and in his career and told KJ, “Crae needs to hear from you.” That led to an impromptu, long over due meet up between the two emcees that was an “Important conversation for me and Lecrae. Fish made that happen.”
Again Lecrae recalled Fish’s role as a bridge builder, “He pulled everyone together. The Philly rappers, the Texas rappers, 808’s, boom-bap, everybody. He pulled us together.”
He did this while he was so sick, and he cried over his physical inability to have enough energy to help his family by taking out the garbage. This physical pain never silenced his humor. Official used humor, along with his faith to bring everyone together. Scripture informs us that “A merry heart does good like a medicine.”
“Fish always kept us laughing. On the tour bus, on stage, and in our group text thread. He ALWAYS had the memes on deck!” insisted Propaganda.
“Fish would walk on the bus and cut through all the clutter and craziness and at just the right time would yell out ‘IT SMELLS LIKE SIN ON THIS BUS!’” Lecrae reflected.
He didn’t limit his antics to the bus or text messages. He even took advantage of moments on stage to get a laugh out of his crew, both intentionally and unintentionally. “On the Higher Learning Tour, he walked off stage 3/4 through the song!”, Prop recalled while speaking through his own laughter. “I looked back and he was gone. I asked what happened and he said, ‘The stage manager told him ‘You’re over’,’ so he just walked off. But we’re in the middle of a song! Who does that?!”
“I had this deep, profound moment on stage before doing ‘Don’t Waste Your Life’. Then as a prank, to start off the track, he played the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song!” Crae said through laughter, citing this as one of his favorite memories. “This man would sneak whale sounds into a song!”
He was the life of the proverbial party, all while his life was slowly fading.
DJ Official never let his reputation or the humor be the thing that he leaned on for respect of his skill. Instead, he used it as the tool to unite by DJing and producing for various artists.
“‘Stand Up’ was a Fish track. It was the biggest thing in my mind. To have a Fish track was the biggest thing ever to me,” shared Lecrae.
For KJ-52, one of the more exciting collaborations he got to do was “Show Off” on the Entermission album.
“He was always two steps ahead of the curve,” Lecrae stated. “He said EDM/Trap was going to be the next wave a year before it really started and that’ when he made the, ‘It’s A Trap’ track.
All-the-while, Fish compelled people by his skill in production and DJing. He also pushed people to excel in theirs and pushed to make them better.
“We did ‘Power’ on tour and he was like ‘That was terrible. I taped it to show how bad it was’. And he was right, so we worked to make it better,” Lecrae stated.
“Cross Movement took me on tour and Fish was like, ‘Let me help with your set. You should transition like this…’ He was always working to make me better. So we were excited when he offered to DJ for us after CM retired. He made our sets better,” revealed Lecrae.
He would go on to do the same for other Reach acts as well as artists like We Live As Kings.
During those final years, it was his faith in the face of suffering that unified and inspired more than anything. “We talk about suffering in an ivory tower, but he LIVED it. He would walk with me through some of my toughest times. I’m a better man because of him. Truly a king among men,” Prop said of Fish’s impact on him personally.
He continued, “He walked me through the turmoil I was going through. He helped us put everything in perspective. He helped us to see what’s important.”
While waiting for his lung transplant surgery he said, “For me to live, to get a new lung, someone has to die. But this is what the Gospel is: Someone died so that I could have life.”
While laying on the hospital bed with 12% lung capacity, after years of being unable to walk more than 20 feet without help, after needing a breathing nebulizer to go up two flights of stairs, after expressing frustration with his inability to be able to walk down the stairs and take out the garbage, he said “This whole experience has brought me closer to God and I wouldn’t trade it for the anything.”
His faith, life, and influence inspired KJ to do two profound, long-lasting things. First, it inspired him to successfully attempt the world’s longest team freestyle for the Guinness Book of World Records.
“Originally it was supposed to be a fundraiser to pay for Fish’s surgery, but Reach Records and Rapzilla did a campaign and crushed it in a couple days so it was already too late. We did it anyway,” said KJ.
At 12 hours and 51 seconds, it’s likely to be a Guinness record that will stand for a long time. Second, KJ was inspired to create a mural in honor of DJ Official. When he floated the idea to Crossover Church pastor Tommy Kyllonen, he never hesitated to say “Yes. Do it here,” KJ said.
The long-time friend of DJ Official was inspired to do it because “Christian Hip-Hop is such a disposable culture and we are terrible at honoring. Pun, Big, Bambaataa, all have dope murals dedicated to their legacy. We have nothing like that and I wanted to do something permanent that honored the man that I knew. It was my unselfish way of giving back.”
So it was appropriate that the first place that has a long lasting memorial of the life and legacy of DJ Official is also in the hometown of DJ Official’s family.
Through intense suffering DJ Official united CHH through his humor, skill, and faith. As KJ-52 said so plainly, “[There’s] No one like that right now.”
May we honor his legacy and work to mirror his actions.