What now? It was May 17th, and I was headed out of town with my wife to celebrate our three year anniversary. We were talking and listening to my IPod as random songs blasted throughout the truck. A familiar voice had just graced the speakers, with one of my favorite songs ever. And like always, I rapped along with him-line for line, like I wrote them. Like we were rocking the stage together. But still… Something was missing. It just didn’t feel right. “Man!!!” I thought to myself. This isn’t the right time or place to be thinking about this. At first my mind flashed to an episode of Friends, when Joey yells, “Why God? Why do you do this to us?” That’s when that question hit me. Again. What now?
It was May 9th, and my wife and I were headed to the Cheesecake Factory for dinner. We had spent the majority of the day apart, and this was a nice end to what felt like a long Saturday. As we headed to the restaurant, she was telling me about her day, which included a women’s bible study. After the meeting, a good friend of hers began to tell her about a nationally known rapper who had compromised his ministry. She couldn’t say who at this time, but she requested that my wife keep him and his family in prayer. “Whoever it is, it isn’t good. My wife continued. The guy was a co-pastor of a church plant, and he’s got five kids.” In my brain I began to think of nationally known artists who minister and who co-pastor a church plant and…. “No!!!! I yelled at the top of my voice. It can’t be?!” My wife startled by my screams, for the next minute or so asked me what’s wrong as I totally spaced out. “He wouldn’t. No. Not him. Anybody but him. How? Why? What now?”
It was the year 2003, and I was desperate for some quality Christian rap that actually said Jesus. I had been searching all year but had found nothing that suited me yet. I had sampled Elle Roc, LA Symphony, John Reuben, Grits, and Gospel Gangstaz, but never purchased their albums. I had purchased Ill Harmonics, Playdough’s first solo album, Lonely Superstar, and Nureau Ink artist Gibraan’s Mockinbyrd Slang. While I liked all of those albums, I still hadn’t found an album that I LOVED. That all ended the day I went to the Family Christian Book Store, and saw an album titled, Holy Culture. Compared to the other albums I had purchased, this was a bold statement. “Holy?” Christian rappers use the word “holy?” This was a must buy based off name alone. As I listened to the cd throughout the week, I was blown away!! Jesus’ name was being mentioned every where! Finally! Holy Culture had some really good songs, (In Not Of, Free, Cry No More) but then track 13 came. It had this really weird Middle-Eastern vibe to it, but you couldn’t deny that IT BANGED. It was the first HHH song that truly captured me. I kept it on repeat for days until I had learned every last word of it. At this point of my life, this song exemplified everything I ever hoped and dreamed HHH could be. It was officially the greatest song ever! It couldn’t get better than this? Does it? Can it? What now?
I sat at the table of the Cheesecake Factory completely floored. I had my wife call her friend and had the following exchange: “I don’t want to get into a guessing match of who I think it is, but tell me who it’s not. It’s not The Ambassador right?” Her response? “I wish I could say that.” The rest of the night was a blur. This wasn’t just a slap to the face. It was Ricky Hatton’s jaw meeting Manny Pacquiao’s fist. KO. In the days to come as word spread slowly through my community, one word was used to describe the news: “sobering.” But were we drunk? Had we drank the proverbial kool-aid? Had we placed The Ambassador on too high a pedestal? Questions were racing through my head at warp speed. How long was this going on? Will he ever rap again? How can I listen to his music now? Do I need to throw away his records? Why couldn’t this happen to a whack rapper that I don’t listen to? (Yes, I really thought that.) Do we really know these artists? Does his failure cast a shadow of doubt on the whole Christian rap community? Is this how Barry Bond’s fans feel? A-Rod’s? Kobe’s? Jimmy Swaggart’s? What now?
It was the next day, and I was still shocked from last night’s news. But I awoke that morning with a new perspective. The panic, fear, and pride from the previous night had vanished. I rose that morning with a humbled heart, praying earnestly for God’s grace. That morning I prayed-not for the Ambassador but myself. I realized that Christian Rap is not like Major League Baseball. The fall of one man from grace does not imply all others are guilty. Nor does it cast suspicion on the Christian rap culture as a whole. I also “sobered” up and realized that if not for God’s grace, I could be the Ambassador. My influence isn’t as far reaching as his, but there are people in my local community who look up to me in some manner. I am not untouchable by sin. This was an opportunity for me to search my heart and be honest with myself and my sin, not speculate how the Amba could let this happen. Finally I prayed for William “Duce” Branch-not the Ambassador. I prayed that God would restore him. I prayed for his family, his kids. I prayed for the church he co-pastored, and those who looked up to him like I do. His fall doesn’t mean that we have to throw away his records, or refuse to listen to any songs in which he is featured. His fall doesn’t mean we throw William away either, or sweep this issue under the rug, if naysayers (haters) bring it up. To be honest, it’s still a little weird to listen to his songs when I think about the current situation. But the more I listen to his words, the more encouraged and hopeful I am for his return someday as a pastor/rapper. He has done too much for the genre we love, and the body for it all to end in this manner. And I pray that when he returns, he returns with jams like the one that rocked in me 2003 and in my car that day on vacation:
We gone live this life/
We gone live it right/
Not just talk it but walk it cause we’re gone live for Christ/
We gone hold it down, stone cold hold our ground/
All my soldiers rise up spark the Holy Culture Blaw!
-Rise Up from Holy Culture
Come back to us soon old friend. We’re eagerly awaiting your return.
By: Carlos Johnson