Craig James, better known by his artist name 5ive, is one of the hardest working artists out there in Christian Rap. On the mic, he’s released a plethora of albums and off of it he’s booked and been on the tour for some of the biggest CHH artists, namely “The Heart of the King” tour featuring  Thi’sl, JGivens, Ty Brasel, and J. Monty. He’s finally gotten the chance to be a little more in the spotlight as just this past year, he signed with True Breed Records and released his first album under them entitled Family Business.

Talent draws talent, and 5ive surrounded himself with a bevy of guests for his project, from Datin, V. Rose, Torey D’Shaun, Victorious, and even his own son, Kyren Cyrill. Rapzilla had the chance to interview him and hear more about his musical and personal journey.

The following is a transcription of our conversation, edited for clarity.

5ive

Congrats on your first major-label release! How did the signing with True Breed Records come about? I know you did the indie route for a bit and also were a part of Save the City Records.

Yeah man, well before I say anything: to God be the glory. Thanks for listening to the album. I pray it was a blessing to you. But yeah so, I’ve been independent since I came into CHH. I wasn’t signed to Save the City while I was working with them; it was a licensing deal to help my 2014 project Ain’t Supposed to be Here just reach more people. I’ve been independent ever since I got into CHH.

Man! The indie grind is real.

(Laughing) For sure. But it just so happened that during that time being indie, I did an event with Seventh Day Slumber. After that event, the band and I talked about maybe all doing a tour together along with Benjah. Sadly, the tour never came to fruition but I kept in contact with Jeremy (Seventh Day’s guitar player) and we texted a few times back and forth.

Fast forward to December 2018 or so, and Joseph Rojas, the lead singer of Seventh Day Slumber, starts this thing called Nashville Label Group. He told me later that God had given him the vision to start a rock label, a worship label, and rap label but all three of those would come under Nashville label group. I saw a post he made when he first announced True Breed Records and I hit him up and sent him some music and told him I was interested.

A couple of days after that, a good friend of mine Marcus was interviewing Joseph and asking him about Seventh Day Slumber’s new album, and Joseph mentions how he was trying to get True Breed Records off the ground. Off the dome, Marcus says, “Hey you should check out my friend 5ive” and it’s crazy because Joseph then says, “Man you’re the second person today who has brought up 5ive. My guitar player also mentioned him.” Literally that night he called me and was like, “I just listened to a few of your songs…I haven’t checked at any numbers or nothing but the Holy Spirit told me to sign you.” And here we are now. Excited to see what’s gonna happen in the future.

That’s crazy. Backtracking a little bit, were you always into rap / knew you wanted to pursue music?

(Laughing) Actually, a lot of people don’t know this, but I didn’t rap at all before I got saved. I’m from Texas which is the home of freestyling so of course I’d just freestyle with friends. Also, I’m a huge fan of Tupac, but for the most part, I never did hip-hop. I know that’s different from a lot of people who are in CHH now because they were doing all the recording and rapping before they got saved

You could have fooled me into thinking you’ve been rapping for a while based off of your albums. A testament to your talent and proof that it doesn’t matter where you start as much as how hard you’re willing to work.

Thanks man. To God be the glory.

5ive

Break down your newest album Family Business. I love how you literally have your whole fam up on the cover there to really strike the theme home. You also have a track with your son too. Where’d you get the inspiration for the theme and title Family Business?

Yeah well, Family Business is really personal for me because when the album came out and when we got the deal was after my wife and I just had a miscarriage. When I was talking with Joseph and working through the logistics, this is what my family was going through. But even in light of everything, God offered the birth of a new thing. So, Family Business is a reaffirmation that we as a family trust that God is in the business of keeping us.

As for the track I did with my son (“This I Know”) that’s his first hook and verse he wrote. I loved it so much that I took it for my own album (laughing).

(Laughing) Haha was he cool with that?

Oh heck yeah, he was super excited? He was like “for real?” and I was like, “Yeah of course!” But what’s funny is that when he wrote and recorded the hook and verse, he was about to turn twelve but when the album actually came out he was thirteen! You can totally tell the difference from how he sang back then with the voice he has now. Every time I go out to perform and he’s with me, people want to hear the song but he doesn’t wanna perform it now cuz his voice is so deep. He’s like, “Naw dad I don’t even sound like that no more.”

You gotta re-record it then or do a remix!

(Laughing) Oh yeah for sure. The other part of the Family Business side is that I’ve felt like I haven’t been a part of the CHH family. I’ve been doing this music thing for about seven years full time…I’ve done over 125 events and such. So even though I’ve been around, it never seemed like I was a part of the family. But everyone I got on that record I consider family. My wife is good friends with V. Rose and they talk almost daily. Spec and Plain James are my guys.

Nowadays, I feel like CHH is not the community that will reach out necessarily to you necessarily solely if you have a strong character. If you’re talented, you’re more likely to get those shout outs and love on social media. So what I try to do is encourage artists who are earnestly seeking Him in their walk. I really wanted to do that with this album, but if you look at my track record, you’ll see I’ve been doing it for a while.

5ive

For example, when Bryann Trejo first went viral, I wanted to encourage him and I helped put him on his first tour. Zauntee and I did the same thing. For me, my mentality was, “Let me be part of the family and show these brothers some encouragement. Your super talented and you’re dope…but just keep it Christ-centered.”

So, at the heart, Family Business is this idea that this is what it’s gonna be like in Heaven. We’re all going to be singing one song, making one beautiful melody. That’s what this album was about man. I didn’t want it to be about 5ive…I wanted it to be about us, the body of Christ. I’m not afraid of letting people shine on my album or getting “out-flowed” or “out-rapped.” It ain’t about me. It’s about Jesus.

Yeah, I think you illuminated on how CHH can be very prone to falling into worshipping the same trappings of wanting to pursue fame, glory, and talent in an idolatrous way. Getting accolades is not inherently a bad thing but if that’s what drives someone to do music solely then it can be distracting and destructive. The temptation is so real. It’s great that you’ve been able to, as you say on your track “Intro,” “be on tour with the Thi’sls, Datins, Ty Brasels” and “be on stage with the Mineos” yet remain consistent.

What advice would you have for younger artists who are just getting into CHH on how to remain grounded in spite of achieving success? I’m thinking here of the A.I. the Anomaly who signed with G.O.M., Danielle Apicella who signed with RMG, etc.

What I always say is to remember where God brought you from and remember who brought you from it. If it weren’t for Christ you’d still be in your crisis. I think a lot of people let people begin to change them because they want to fit a certain format. What I would tell the young artist is to be true to who God called you to be.

Be unashamed. I’m reminded about the book of Revelation where God is talking to the churches, affirming that they give, do everything, they are supposed to do but they forgot about their first love. That’s what can happen in the music industry. It can get to the point where the praises of the people have an effect on you. But keep Jesus at the center…don’t worry about being corny or about being wack. I think that’s a stigma with artists about how Christian rap can be corny and wack. You can have Jesus be in your music and it not be corny and wack! People might say you’re corny but if you stay true to who you are and Jesus is at the center of everything, then you’ll be all right.

5ive

That definitely does seem to be a struggle and tension with artists in that they want to be relevant to the current cultural sound but they don’t want to water down the Gospel. It’s great that your message, from Harvest Season MMXVII to Me Against the World Vol. 2, how have you navigated that balance? What does it look like to remain true to who you are but also grow?

See if I wanted to just go into the booth and make relevant dope music for everyone then that would be easy. It’s hard because I really want to keep the message consistent and Christ-centered. I want to be led by the Holy Spirit. As I go into a song I’m always like “Would Heaven play this? Can I hear the angels chanting this?”

It’s been a struggle though to do this. At one point in time, I had the opportunity to do a feature with a very big artist. I said in a lyric: “a light shining on a hill is what I aim to be / so please forgive me if Jesus ain’t what you came to see.” I said that lyric and sent him the verse, and this artist sends it back and is like, “Man…I really want to do this…but we’re going a different direction so can you take this name out right here or say it in a way that the world can understand it.” He was literally asking me to take Jesus out of the song.

I really wanted to do it because I felt that if I got this feature, my career would change. My wife though told me though, “Did God tell you do this?” I was like “No but–“ and she was like “Craig…You know better. This is not what God called you to do.” Then I was like, “Yeah… you’re right.” So I had to hit this dude back and declined the feature.

Way to go Mrs. James!

Yeah, I always say…she was with me in the pit, it’s only right I give her the palace. But yeah on Family Business, I feel did a good job of keeping things Christ-centered and still making people say “wow” lyrically. I think of a song like “No Rings” where I’m displaying the Gospel through basketball.

For sure. Looking at collabs, the features on this album are as diverse as they are bountiful. On each track where you collab, I feel like there’s a real synergy between you and the artists. You definitely share the space equally as opposed to you simply dominating the track. Ones like “Lead the Way” where you let Drew Weeks repeat the uplifting chorus till the very end to “This I Know” where you let your son get the spotlight for a good portion of the song come to mind.

How did some of these collaborations come about and how do you approach each one, whether the individual is a family member or a more established artist like Datin or V. Rose?

It’s definitely relationship-driven whenever I approach collaboration. When I listen to a song, I feel like the Holy Spirit speaking to me and I can hear who should be on a song. That’s how the “No Rings” joint came about with Plain James. That dude is one of my best friends. I’m also good friends with this guy Victorious and I really wanted him on my album so that’s where the “No Rings” remix came about. So, I try my best to share the spotlight and work with my friends. With Datin he and I had always been meaning to work together and “Ain’t Worried” felt like a perfect track to finally unite.

I always like to ask this to artists (and I know it’s hard to pick), but do you have a personal favorite for the album?

Of course, the song with my son I love. But one I keep going back to is “Lead the Way.” That song was written and recorded right when I was in a time where I was almost going to quit music. I felt I had been doing it for years and felt like no one was acknowledging what I was doing. I felt like maybe I need to quit. But then I heard God speak to me clearly and encourage me that He saved me and put me in music that I might show the world His grace.

So literally “Lead the Way” was me making a testimony that I won’t quit until God tells me to. I’m not worried if people think I’m corny. All I want to do is show people Jesus and how he saved this crackhead meth addict without rehab, twelve steps, or withdrawals. I want to share that if God delivered me then He can deliver you. After that, I told Drew to just go off and worship on the record.

(Laughing) Oh yeah he flexed on it. I know you dropped this album a month ago or so. I know you’re always grinding tho. Have any more stuff coming out?

I’ll be doing an acoustic EP of some of the tracks on the album. I want to call it Rap & Worship. Also, I’m helping my son put out his first single called “Little Light,” and I’m in the middle of booking this tour called Family Business: Leaders of the New School. This is where we can have the older artists on tour help the newer, younger dudes on the road life. Trying my best on how to do ministry creatively. I’m taking my son, the Young Disciples, Torey D’Shaun, and Kevi Morse who will be the New School, while me, Plain James, and my dude Santiago are gonna be the older ones.

(Laughing) Aye thanks for that exclusive. Will be keeping an eye out for those songs and that tour.

(Laughing) Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff to look forward to.

Stay tuned, next week we’ll be dropping part 2 with 5ive! He’ll be diving into his personal story and struggles.