Richie Righteous: The rapper from New York who takes his name seriously

Wednesday 17th November 2010

Tony Cummings reports on Guyana-born rapper Richard Mohammed Ishmael, aka RICHIE RIGHTEOUS

Richie Righteous
Richie Righteous

Richie Righteous is an award-winning rapper who has ministered across America (including places like Bishop Jakes' Potter's House and Bishop Morton's Full Gospel conference), performed in several countries including the UK and runs his own record label Rightous Entertainment. He is also a man with an extraordinary Christian testimony.

Richie was born Richard Mohammad Ishmael in Guyana, South America. He told broadcaster Mike Rimmer, "My Dad was raised from an Islamic background and when he decided to give his life to the Lord and get baptised his Dad disowned him and literally locked him out of his house. He was beaten but he still did it, which is a testimony of his life."

Richie's father eventually became the pastor of a church in Guyana, Eccles Assembly Of God. When Richie was seven an event occurred which was to remain vividly in his memory. He recalled, "Thieves broke into our home and held us at gunpoint. When they were trying to break in the front door we tried to run out the back but one of them was waiting in the back. He said, 'Preacher man where are you going?' My Dad tried to run back up, he was holding me in his arms; my Mom was holding my baby sister. One of the thieves began to fire shots and they ricocheted all around us. Finally they left, taking my folks' wedding rings. Where I'm from, when those types of incidents occur, you don't survive. But we lived, every one of us. When I saw the bullets the next morning and knew none of us was hit, I realised there was somebody who protected us that night."

When he was 11 Richie's family migrated to the USA where they settled in Queens, New York. His father started a church in Queens, Jamaica Assembly Of God. But though Richie played drums in church his lifestyle began to slip. He began hanging out with kids from his apartment building and frequented places where drugs were sold and guns were carried. Strangely though, Richie remained unmoved by many aspects of the sin that surrounded him. He didn't smoke or drink. And though he rarely mentioned God to his friends he still wished that they knew Christ.

Richie Righteous: The rapper from New York who takes his name seriously

Richie's brother purchased a keyboard and soon Richie was experimenting with it and making his first rudimentary tracks over which he rapped. But rather than rapping about girls and guns the young rapper took up the themes of his childhood and rapped about the Christian God. Soon he was performing small time gigs in Queens. Gospel rap was still in its infancy and many churches were virulently opposed to anything to do with hip-hop. Richie explained, "It was the era when the Church really rejected hip-hop, even in my own home church. But when my Dad got to see what I did and saw a different side of me, he saw this potential for God to change his own son and use his own son, he began to embrace it. When we finally began to get a good relationship my Dad passed away. I watched him die right in my home. As he was dying, the thought came in my mind that my Dad would die thinking that I'm a waste because I was not a good kid. My brother came in to the room and said, 'I want you to know that Dad never thought that you were any less; he was proud of you.' For him to say that without knowing what I was thinking I knew God was speaking to me, I knew. But there comes a place in every believer's life where they realise their sin is what separates them from God. I came to that place.

"The final straw came after my Dad died. I just began to doubt God's existence a little bit. Then I got my wife, who wasn't my wife at the time, pregnant. All this while I was still going to church, still doing Christian rap, but this other stuff was going on behind closed doors. People had begun to say, 'Hey man, you're starting to get a little buzz here in New York.' People advised me to abort the baby. I told my girlfriend to take the train to go abort the baby. It was incredible how you could be one thing on the stage and off stage a totally different person. My girlfriend didn't know much about the Lord but she knew enough to say 'you ain't no man.' She decided she was going to keep the baby. I was driving in my car and listening to a Fred Hammond song that said every step of a righteous man is ordered by God. The conviction began to hit. I thought, 'You call yourself Richie Righteous? Righteous means to do what is right.' And I felt God saying, 'If you do what's right, I'll honour you.' I went and dropped before my girlfriend, cried, begged her for forgiveness. I went on to marry her - my son Sehven is 10 years old today and I also have a beautiful daughter, Savannah."

Richie Righteous recognises that his moniker is a challenging one to live up to. "It can be taken as a very heavy name to carry because one might think 'oh man, is he thinking that he's better than anybody else?' But the reality of it, the reason why I chose to carry it is because of what the Bible says: it does say that all man's righteousness in front of God is like filthy rags but then it also says because of what Christ did on the cross we are made righteous through him. So when I say Richie Righteous it's not my own righteousness that I try to show people but the name in itself is a witness that there's nothing inside of us that we can do to become righteous, except accept Jesus Christ and be made right with God again."

Having a passport with the name Richard Mohammed Ishmael has led to some interesting customs situations for the globetrotting rapper. "I told one of my friends on the way into the UK I'm not going to try and conjure up any stories to get in to do God's work. I said, 'Listen, if God is who he says he is, I can't tell people to trust him without me trusting him first.' So when we got to the customs we told the people like it was, this is what we're here for, we're here as ministers to preach the Gospel, and we walked into Britain with no problems. But there have been many times when I've been pulled aside and checked. I've been held up a lot of times when travelling overseas and then come back into the US. They hold me up at the border; give me a whole lot of questioning before they clear me. It's understandable because of what's going on in the world today."

Richie Righteous: The rapper from New York who takes his name seriously

Richie has so far recorded two albums, 'Censorship' in 2007 and 'R.I.C.H.' in 2009. He is a keen follower of the whole hip-hop genre both secular and Christian. He said, "One of the biggest honours I recently had is Kurtis Blow, who is now a minister of the Gospel; we just did an event with him in the Bronx. I was able to get up and perform and do a couple of songs before he got on. When he got on he heard this one particular track I've got called 'Salvation 101' and he said, 'That is one of the greatest songs I've ever heard in my life.' That meant so much to me 'cos Kurtis was one of the founding fathers of rap, know what I mean?"

Despite his passion for hip-hop, Richie doesn't warm to the concept of hip-hop churches. "As much as I'm a rap artist, I'm not into the hip-hop church thing. I believe church is church. I'm not down playing anybody who has been given a vision from God to do their thing that way. But for me personally I love the old school vibe, I love the music in church, I love the clapping, I even love to be reserved at times. I love it all. As I travel i see Reformed churches, i see Pentecostal churches and I love them all. We are separated because of our little difference in theology, but I love it all. I don't want people to feel like they have to become a hip-hopper to come to mine. I want them to know that they could be from any walk of life and feel at home in my church. In America we've got a big problem. There's a black church and a white church - racially divided. Somebody said in America Sunday morning demonstrates how much racially divided America is. 'Cos on Sunday morning you see one group going one way and the other group going another way. I can't stand that. I'm just praying that God gives me all colours, all walks of life. If you love rock we got something for you. If you love country we got something for you. If you love ukulele music we got something for you." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


Reader Comments

Posted by richard in queens @ 01:53 on Nov 24 2014

richie i want to work with you I right songs i want to drop
what i rite is reggae I'm derrick singh cousin please I'm trying to get contact to you god bless

Posted by Andrea G. in Chicago,IL @ 06:20 on May 4 2014

Richie, your testimony is amazing! It just shows how REAL GOD I
IS! It has truly awakened desire to serve HIM! Your music is awesome! Do Not let anyone sway you in a negative direction.Keep representing for the Kingdom of God Brother.

Posted by Lubani in Malawi @ 20:44 on Aug 15 2013

You are the man Richie. You arent in hip-hop church thing

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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