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Raw authenticity blended with passion—his and that of his Lord. That’s what one hears when Json grabs a mic. But perhaps more importantly, that is what one sees and feels when he shares his prodigal story of redemption…
Live fast and die young. My life could have been summed up in those words. But something interrupted what everyone, including myself, figured would be my destiny. A look into the nightmare that was my life, and it’s unmistakable that I am what I am only by the grace of God.
Like many kids who grow up in the inner city, I lived in a single-parent home. My father passed when I was five years old, so the responsibility of caring for a boy and raising him to become a man fell on my mom’s shoulders. But that load proved to be too much for her to bear. Not only was she arrested on a gun charge that left me to be raised by a family friend, but even after being freed from jail, alcohol and drugs consumed her and crack became an addiction.
You are bound to become what you see, many would say. And while eventually I would realize that I had to take responsibility for my own actions, as a teenager, I just did what I saw at home and in the streets. I started selling drugs, even though I’d vowed that I wouldn’t after seeing what it was doing to my mother and feeling the effects of it. Yet, by the age of 13, not only was I selling, but I smoked weed for the first time. And after that, I got high almost every day for the next eight years.
God had put me in the hood, taken away my father, and given me a crack-addicted mom. I wrote my first song around this time, and the title pretty much captured how I felt—“My Life is [Jacked] Up.” I figured God couldn’t expect much good from me, and no one else did either. So, within the eight years years that followed, I joined a gang, started smoking heroin, and violence and crime became my way of life. Even after losing my best friend, sister and so many others, I wasn’t deterred from the path I’d chosen.
Live like you are God. I never actually said that to myself, but that’s exactly how I was living and planning to die. But fortunately, for me, my plans failed. After getting so strung out on drugs and living so recklessly that my friends actually wanted me to get locked up, I ended up in a prison cell with nothing but a Bible and a vent. Before long, I was having Bible studies through that vent, and I knew that God wasn’t pleased with how I’d been living my life.
While I did regress after being released—drinking and still dealing—Nikki (who’s now my wife) came into my life and by way of her encouragement to go to church, her refusal to continue in sin with me, and God awakening her soul, I eventually came to know Jesus as my Lord. When I was younger, I’d seen one of my friends go from living wilder than me to being a completely new person, I just hadn’t fully understood why or how. But now, I had hope.
At one of the services Nikki invited me to, I saw this guy rapping about Jesus and eventually, Thi’sl (that guy) would become one of the many brothers (along with Flame and J.R.) who helped me become the man God created me to be. They even encouraged me not to dive into rapping just because I had the ability, but to really take time to get to know the Lord and minister from a heart of worship and service.
And that’s why I make music now. I know God is the only reason I am still living, and the Gospel is the only thing that can save men; so I think of my life as something to be poured out. It’s something to be given away.
Json now lives in Iowa City, IA with his wife and kids, while serving as the Co-Director of The Spot Outreach Ministry of Parkview Church.