What I Learned After Having Pizza with KJ-52
KJ-52 is for sure a veteran in Christian hip-hop and has amassed an impressive 20 plus years making music and being a part of the culture. Along the way, he has surely impacted yesterday’s youth or future artists in some way. That includes me.
I first heard of KJ-52 in 2002 when my parents owned a Christian bookstore. I was 14. We received an advanced copy of his second studio album Collaborations. The cover featured a white dude with some frosted tips and earrings. At the time I was listening to a lot of Linkin Park and TobyMac. He looked like a guy who I bet made music I’d like so I popped the CD in.
Not only was I introduced to his biggest track, “Dear Slim,” but I got to hear features from Pillar and Thousand Foot Krutch (already liked them), but also other rappers such as John Reuben, Manchild of Mars Ill, Playdough (KRUM), and Pigeon John.
From then and probably a good five or six years after that, I was a big fan of everything KJ put out. I started rapping myself (trying really hard) and would try to do some funny stuff like KJ and also some more intense stuff that could resonate with youth group kids.
Fast forward to 2014, I interviewed KJ for the first time. Is was a pretty cool moment for me to get to talk to someone I admired. Since then, I have interviewed KJ on various topics five or six times.
Finally, this past April 16th I had the opportunity to meet him in Newark, NJ.
First impressions, KJ is a tall guy. I’m a tall guy, but he gives off a big presence. And yes, even all these years later, he very much does look like an emcee.
Before arriving, I had set it up that I would interview KJ-52 for my podcast. I brought my microphones, stands, pop filters, and interface. KJ needed to record a verse for someone. We then proceeded to hook up my stuff to his laptop and created a makeshift studio in his closet. If you would have told 14-year-old me that I’d be “co-engineering” the guy I was listening to at the moment in his hotel 15-years later, I would have thought you were buggin’. Alas, these are my adventures as a music journalist – I love this job!
The next few hours or so I began to understand why he’s been around so long. KJ shared countless tidbits about touring, working a crowd, show horror stories, behind the scenes label stuff and more. He’s faced a lot of adversity as an artist throughout the years. He has also been given a lot of opportunities he should not have had either. He is quick to acknowledge both of these things and the mini paradox of them.
We finished the night off with a few slices of pizza that were surprisingly good for the neighborhood we were in. He left me off with a few stories about how he opened up for Wu Tang Clan and De La Soul. Despite the glamor, it sounded like, it wasn’t. The things KJ cherishes the most is getting to bless people and provide for his family – something he still does daily even if you know him as the “youth group” rapper, a label he won’t run from.
I say all this (much like I did about Social Club Misfits), to tell the story of someone who knows his unique purpose as a servant. KJ-52’s gifting has touched nearly three decades of people’s lives. Rappers that are doing music now probably listened to KJ at some point. He helped open a lot of doors by being the guy willing to tour with rock bands and collab with artists that maybe didn’t make sense. He lived in his car and struggled the first few years after he was married just to obey the call.
To the young rapper reading this, heck, to the older rapper reading this, you may be hot now, but your career can be over in a flash. KJ has seen them come and go, and the ones who did things the right way and understood their lane, are the ones that are still around. I would encourage you to seek some counsel from KJ because he’s full of wisdom to give out.
Listen, KJ is not back. KJ never left and he’s not quitting anytime soon either.
Check out the podcast with KJ for more insight into his long career below: