American Christian Hip-Hop fans sometimes forget there are brethren on the other side of the pond. Don’t be fooled though! The community there is thriving and growing. Rapzilla.com chatted with J Vessel, an upcoming CHH artist, to discuss his experience as a UK artist.
When and why did you decide to go for music as a career?
Growing up my dad was a Christian DJ, so I used to follow him around to his gigs; church youth parties, weddings, birthday parties. Mainly it was for Christian clients requesting only Christian music. It was a fun experience, to say the least. Because my dad was a Christian DJ, all I knew growing up was Christian music. That ranged from the legendary superstars like Mary Mary and Fred Hammond to a lot of UK Christian music, especially UK Christian Rap.
I never really had my eyes set on being a musician in my early teens. I was more so focused on making it as a professional soccer player (I was further from that goal than I realized at the time!). It wasn’t until I was around 14-years-old that I started to sneak downstairs in the middle of the night and grab my dad’s laptop. On it, I found an application called GarageBand, where I started making beats. I fell in love with making music from then on, and I haven’t stopped ever since.
Congratulations on having been nominated for the MOBA and UMA awards. For us Americans unfamiliar with these awards, tell us how important they are and how you got nominated.
Thanks very much.“Amazing Love” got me my nominations for MOBO and UMA. It was the first time I felt like a ‘real artist’ as I was amongst some of my heroes and it started to sink in that I was there for the same reason as they were; art. I still remember finding out I was nominated. I could overhear my dad on the phone. It seemed like a really important phone call, as I could hear the excitement in his voice before he popped his head around the door of my room and said: “Son you’re up for a MOBO.”
The only downside of the whole experience was that it wasn’t followed by a world tour, I had to go to school the next day! The easiest comparison I could make with the MOBO’s is the BET Awards. MOBO stands for Music of Black Origin and, along with the UMA’s, they seek to provide a platform to urban artists unsigned or signed. So yeah, that was a big moment.
Tell us your inspiration and thought process on making your debut EP “The Story of Jordan James.“
In the back of my mind, I wanted to make something that I could play for anyone, from any walk of life, and feel as if it represented the person I am well. I wanted to show the human side of J Vessel, hence titling it after my real name, “Jordan James”: to provide moments of vulnerability and transparency. I’ve personally benefited from seeing distinguished Christian men and women talk honestly about their flaws and share all sides of their personality. Not just the ones that make them look good. I wanted to do that for someone else, to let them know that they’re not alone in whatever they may be going through.
My producer Victizzle and I didn’t head to the studio with a brief or a plan of what we were going to make that day. We just went in, gave it to God, let him use us as vessels, and this was the end result!
So you have an R&B side to you. Do you enjoy rapping or singing more? Which side are you going to gravitate toward as you continue to create?
I’ve heard this a lot from people lately and honestly, I don’t know where this side of me has come from! I enjoy singing, but in a “rappy” way, if that makes sense. If I think back to 50 Cent and Ja Rule, rappers who couldn’t sing like Adele, but when you heard the melody from them, you knew it came from a real place. That’s a similar type of effect I want to have. I really just love melody, chord progressions, harmonies, and the lot. It’s the feeling for me; it takes you places mere bars can’t. I plan to intertwine the two moving forward.
What has been your biggest struggle as an artist?
Self-doubt and comparison. They go hand in hand. Sometimes, although I’m only 21, I look at artists from London who are my age and the success they’ve had, or iconic musicians who I look up to and what they had achieved by the time they were my age and compare myself to them.
Ultimately, I want to be great. You want to be the best you can, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. The problem and the self-doubt come when you think it’s you that makes yourself great and start to put pressure on yourself, not knowing that promotion comes from God and God alone. I’ve learned through this: giving your dreams to God, really takes the pressure off. God hasn’t called us to be successful, he’s called us to be faithful. If he’s called me to do something, my success is in the doing; anything on top of that is just a bonus that glorifies God all the more. No amount of sales or YouTube views determines your greatness; that was already in you.
How did you get features on American CHH artists? How does working with them differ from working with artists in the UK?
I think it’s just timing. I’ve come to work with American artists and other non-UK artists due to work they may have seen of my own or a recommendation from a trusted connect of theirs. It’s been a blessing having those opportunities. I think CHH artists in the US and the UK both have the same motivating factor, which is to see Jesus lifted high and make great art. We also want to be the best. In the UK I’ve witnessed it more because I’m from here, but I’m sure the same is true for the US. We want to have the best verse, make a man re-write his hook, all of that. It’s friendly competition, pushing each other to be the best we can for the glory of God.
What are your aspirations for your career? What are you attempting to work toward?
Honestly, I just want to speak to the kids. I just want the kids and my generation to know that this Christian stuff is for them too, not just their grandparents. By God’s grace, what Kirk Franklin did for his generation, I want to see for mine. God-honoring music that goes beyond the church in order to lead them back to the church. I want my music and my life to reflect that.
Through schooling and just being around people my age in London, I see there is a heart for Christ, what Christ provides (although they may not know it is found in him), and a heart to be better people. I don’t want to make the gospel relevant to them, it already is. I just want to translate it in a way they understand through a medium they are familiar with. Ultimately, make a positive impact on all who come across my art.
What is your message? What do you try to communicate throughout all of your music?
My message is a message of hope. That you may not have it all together right now, but you will one day. Keep going. In revealing my struggles and my flaws, I want to show people there’s light at the end of the tunnel. If God hasn’t given up on us, we shouldn’t give up on ourselves and spend our time beating ourselves up over things God’s already forgiven us for. His grace is more than enough. And also, have fun, don’t take yourself too seriously!
For more on UK CHH artists, click here.