T-Bone: The man with the mad skillz

Thursday 5th January 2006

Rapper extraordinaire T-BONE might be appearing in Hollywood movies and rubbing shoulders with film stars but he's still in touch with the music of the streets. He spoke at length to Mike Rimmer.

T-Bone: The man with the mad skillz

Righteous rapper T-Bone is full of revolutionary zeal on his latest album 'Bone-A-Fide' from the cover art where he's posing Che Guevara style or the faked excerpts from revolutionary rabble rousing preaching which punctuates the album. Despite the profile raising movie role in The Fighting Temptations and a continued desire to pursue acting, T-Bone continues to make music and on his latest release collaborates with a number of mainstream producers and artists to create a fresh sound.

It was in the '90s that I first heard T-Bone's music. Back then this Latino holy hip-hop pioneer from San Francisco's mean streets was a demon dissing rapper with a penchant for rapping about spiritual warfare. Throughout the '90s and into the new millennium a series of albums - 'Redeemed Hoodlum' (1993), 'Tha Life Of A Hoodlum' (1995), 'Tha Hoodlum's Testimony' (1997), 'The Last Street Preacha' (2001) and 'Gospelalphamegafunkyboogiediscomusic' (2003) - cemented T-Bone's reputation amongst the hip-hop cognoscente as possibly the most gifted (and certainly the fastest) rapper in Christendom. Today T-Bone has broadened out musically and spiritually and T-Bone begins his latest album with "12 Years Ago" where he nails his pioneering flags to the mast to lay claim to his place in Christian rap. He comments, "It's been a long time and I just like to always remember where I came from and let people know that - maybe first time listeners - where I've come from and the struggle, what it's taken to get this level. It's always good to remember where you came from and to talk about it. I think also being one of the pioneers, it's important for people to realise you've been around for a long time and you've been trailblazing. That's something that's important to me. A lot of rappers come and go and to me, I count it a blessing to be able to have been around as long as I've been around. Most people are around two, three years and then it's over. So it's been a major blessing for me to be able to be doing this as long as I've been doing it."

Sometimes it's been a battle to carry on ministering. In the early days, churches were very suspicious of rappers. He remembers, "Back in the day when we started we were getting kicked out of churches doing what we were doing because they didn't think it was from God. We continued to trailblaze and continued to open up doors and gradually other people were able to step in and continue to do what we'd been doing for so many years. It just started catching on. Nowadays I go into Christian bookstores and you see an entire Christian rap section, which is something that I never thought I'd see. So it's pretty amazing. Everywhere I go, when I'm touring and travelling, I just run into so many people that are doing Gospel hip-hop. It's pretty amazing."

I first talked to T-Bone back in the '90s when he wasn't so enthusiastic about Gospel hip-hop because he thought the quality wasn't there. "I think that it's still got a long, long way to go," he admits. "I think that a lot of people think just because they're saved and they're Christians that they can just put out a record and put some words together. But there's a Scripture in the Bible that says not just to play but to 'play skilfully.' So for me it's about not just trying to be an average rapper, not trying to be a mediocre rapper, for me it's trying to be ahead of even what the world is doing and trying to open up their eyes and have them say, 'Wow, this is incredible! We've never heard stuff like this!' Doing things that have never been done before. I think that's where we need to set the standards, to be the best that we can be, because we serve the King of Kings. We should be on top doing the greatest music we can possibly do."

In Christian circles, particularly in America within the record labels and the radio stations, there's still quite a lot of resistance to hip-hop. Even today, it gets a shameful lack of Christian radio exposure. However T-Bone is untroubled. "I really ain't got time to worry about all that. People are always going down on you. That's why I wrote a song called 'Can I Live?' on the new album. There's a lot of people that are gonna be blockers, there's a lot of people that are gonna hate on what you do, there's a lot of people that are gonna doubt you, there's a lot of people that are gonna say, 'You can't make it.' A lot of people are gonna say you're not saved because you're doin' what you're doin'. At the end of the day man, my whole thing on that song is, just let me live. Let me do what God has called me to do. Let me fulfil my destiny and purpose. You may not agree with the way that I dress, you may not agree with the way that I talk, but at the end of the day this is all that I know. I wasn't raised with country music, I wasn't raised with R&B, I wasn't raised with gospel. I was raised with hip-hop music so that's the language that I spoke. So all I'm doing is giving back to the community and giving back to the world and trying to serve God the only way that I know how. So I can't get concerned with what all the critics are saying. If I was concerned with that then 16 years ago I would never have picked up a mic and started doing this whole Gospel thing. The first time I was kicked out of a church I would have given up, but yet because I haven't given up God has allowed me to be used in a way to be able to reach millions of people throughout the world. So it's just been a blessing man and you can't get caught up with that stuff. You just gotta know when God has told you to do something, you can't question it, you can't doubt it. I know that God has called me to do this and so there's nobody that could ever tell me any different or make me stop doin' what I'm doin'."

It's been a while since the last T-Bone album so I asked him about his activities and it seems he could easily have moved away from making music. "I got to the point where I was almost ready to step away from music and start doing all the other doors and opportunities that are opening up. But you know what man? Music is my love and I know that that's my calling. So I definitely had to come back. The first thing is, I don't like to rush records. To me, when you try to rush art it's kind of like rushing Michelangelo or a famous painter and say, 'Hey, hurry up and paint that thing!' You can't rush art. So you gotta take your time. I had to get with the right producers. I had to get with the right people. The Fighting Temptations opened up even more doors. I've just finished a new movie with Ciara, Laila Ali [Muhammad Ali's daughter] and Adrian from 3LW, called Rumble. So I've been looking towards more of the acting thing as well."

T-Bone: The man with the mad skillz

He continues, "If I'm going to make a record I gotta make the best album that I can make. So in order to make hits and to make the best you gotta go get the best. So we got A-list producers. We got Darkchild who's produced everybody like Beyonce, Destiny's Child, Mary J Blige, Brandy, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. We went and got Dr Dre's right-hand man, Fredwreck. We went and got Buster and Shavoni and all these people. So we wanted to get the best quality tracks that we could get. I also wanted to step up my writing and write about stuff that everybody could relate to and write a record that would be relevant to this generation. So it was just about the right timing, getting the right people. I'm not the kind of guy that rushes that. The Bible says 'Be anxious for nothing.' So until it's time to do what you gotta do and you get the right pieces in place, then you can move on and do what you're doing. In this particular case it took about three years."

In the past T-Bone's albums have been very obviously Christian where 'Bone-A-Fide' is the least obvious. Is he deliberately toning stuff down in order to cross over? "You've got to write stuff that's relevant. At the end of the day, if you listen to this record, a lot of this record isn't even the Gospel in your face, it's in parables because I realise a lot of times when you try to cram the Word down people's throat it scares them away. So I really started studying Christ and said, look how he spoke in parables. He used different things for example. So that's what I stated writing about, just covering more things that people could relate to. The whole demon thing was mainly my first two records. But ever since then I've just tried to write about life, I've tried to write about the things that I've gone through when I'm up, when I'm down, when I'm sad, when I'm happy. I've matured as a man so there's different things now as a man that I'm going to be writing about than I would have wrote when I was a kid. You gotta remember I started when I was 18, so now that I'm a grown man there's a whole lot of different things that I deal with, different experiences that I've gone through."

One highlight is "Few Good Men" which features mainstream west coast gangsta rapper Mack 10. He says that some people found the collaboration controversial. "A lot of people may say, 'Well T-Bone, how come you workin' with these secular artists?' Well the bottom line for me is, you gotta hate the sin but love the sinner. Jesus never rejected anyone. Jesus, he went and he hung out with the tax collectors, with the murderers, with the thieves, you know? Mack 10 is a guy who's called me and said, 'Hey man, I believe in what you're doing. I have your records. I've seen your movie. You know what man? I started going to church. Man, I just wanna be a part of something great.' So I said, 'If you wanna be a part of this thing, that's cool. I'm not going to go down and start doin' gangsta rap or none of that, but if you want to come on here and be real and just share what you feel, let's do it.' When I step into the studio with someone it's not just about work man, it's about ministry - sold out. Three weeks after we did that song I was able to lead Mack 10 to the feet of Christ, which for me was a highlight in my ministry."

Living on the west coast gives T-Bone easy access to Hollywood. He's beginning to get work after the success of The Fighting Temptations although it turns out that the part he played was originally intended for Nelly. "They couldn't work it out with Nelly. Next thing you know LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, Petey Pablo, Keith Murray - all these people started coming out and auditioning for the movie. I ended up doing a small audition and they ended up lovin' it. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis had actually referred me for the part and said, 'You know what man? That's this guy's life. That's what he does. You guys should check him out.' So the directors flew me down, I did my performance thing and they actually loved it. They went crazy. So the rest is history man! That same day they said, 'Hey, we love what you're doin'. We love the fact that you're bilingual so let's put you down. Let's make this thing happen.' I'm so grateful that the Lord opened that door because that was just an amazing door to be opened in my life and it has opened up a lot of other doors. I was able to build some great relationships and minister to a lot of the people on that set and lead people to Christ there as well. Cuba Gooding, Beyonce.all of them became really good friends. For me man, it's just about building relationships. I was able to pray with Cuba every day. Beyonce, I was really able to minister to her, give her some books. I led one of The O'Jays to the Lord; I led little Zane to the Lord. Me and Montell Jordan spent a lot of good-quality time in prayer. So it was a great thing man. That's what it's about, just lovin' on people and being a light in dark places."

It isn't just in movies that T-Bone has been able to prove his acting and rapping abilities. Since the release of his last album, he's also been involved in the American 'Hero' musical. "That was an amazing experience," he remembers, "to be able to go out and share the Gospel in today's terms; the Gospel done in 2005. I was able to work with Rebecca St James, one of my best friends, Mark Stuart from Audio Adrenaline, Michael Tait and all the other great cast members. It was just incredible and a different experience to not only do music - all of us - but to be able to take a break from what we normally do and to come and do songs and collaborate with each other. And then also to be able to do a stage play. So it was definitely an amazing experience."

The last time I talked to T-Bone, he was in a mentoring relationship with Christian singer Carman. I wondered whether that relationship had continued. "Yeah, God used him in my life for several years. He was a mentor and now I know he's kind of doing his own thing right now. I haven't talked to him for a bit but we still remain friends. He was definitely a huge blessing in my life. I always tell people, what do you look for in a mentor? You look for someone who's already been where you're trying to get. And Carman at the time, he'd done movies, he'd done a whole lot of stuff, so he was a perfect candidate to mentor me. When I got to a roadblock he'd be able to look down and say, 'Hey, you know what man? This is what I did in this situation.' He'd already been there. He was definitely a person that God definitely used in my life in a major way."

T-Bone with Laila Ali
T-Bone with Laila Ali

2006 sees T-Bone starring in the Paramount movie Rumble. "It is basically a volleyball movie," he explains. "It's a movie with three girls that are from east LA, schooled in east LA, and then three girls that are actually Caucasian girls and real rich-type girls from Bel Air. They're competing against each other. The rich girls' school - from Bel Air - their school burns down and so the only way for these girls to continue to play volleyball is to actually go to east LA and join that volleyball team against their very rivals. So the movie is basically about differences and how cultures can clash. They didn't get along but at the end they learned how to work with one another. They learn that, you know what man? Being different isn't necessarily a bad thing. They were able to learn about each other's cultures and learn how to get along at the end. Obviously it's a very uplifting story. It tells people, no matter where you come from, it doesn't matter. Don't judge people by where they come from. Get a chance to take the time out to learn about people and their culture and realise what they're really all about. Like I said, you can't always judge a book by its cover. Just because they're different and don't come from where you come from that doesn't necessarily make it a bad thing."

Obviously the movie success of The Fighting Temptations has made an impact on his life. "I think it's definitely changed for the better man," he chips in. "I mean, I've been able to do a whole lot more mainstream stuff. That's what we're doing with this record. This record is about crossing over, man. This record is about crossing over but bringing the cross over. So for many years - the best way for me to explain it is - I've been in my ministry for 12 years, but now God has really called me to my evangelistic ministry. Stepping outside the four walls of the church and going into the clubs and going into the highways and the byways. Just being able to share Christ with people who don't know him. I've always said for years and years that my ministry has never been a ministry that has been one to preach to the choir. I mean, it's great to go to the churches and encourage people but my ministry is a soul-winning ministry. So in order to win souls you gotta go out to where the souls are, you gotta go out to where people are lost. So that's what it's about for me. The Fighting Temptations and Rumble and these records and different collaborations that I've done with different artists have been able to help me just go out and accomplish that mission that God has called me to do; to be evangelistic and to reach these people for Christ."

It seems that he's been successful in leading people that he's been working with to Christ. Is there a secret that he wants to share when it comes to doing that? "There is really no secret," he explains. "The key to that is just loving people. When you love people amongst their flaws, you love people amongst their mistakes and you let them know, 'You know what man? We're all human. Just like you've failed, I've failed.' The key is not trying to put yourself like you're any better than anyone else. The only difference between me and you is that I have the answer - Jesus Christ. I'm a sinner saved by grace. You know what man? For me, celebrities are the easiest people to lead to the Lord because they're not looking for all that stuff no more. They've already found the money, they've found all the women, they've found everything that this world can offer - the fame. But they're still not happy. They know that there's got to be something more.

"I think the other key is, someone that they can respect, someone that they feel is talented and they respect as an artist. When you earn that respect then they tend to listen to you. So then it's like, You know what man? This is one of my peers. He's not a guy trying to preach at me and cram the Word down my throat. He's not trying to judge me, he's just lovin' me and sharing his experience; what God has done for him, and just sharing how God could do the same thing for them. So it's just saying, 'Hey man, God loves you. And you know what man? If you wanna pray I'm here for you.' Just being a person that's there to encourage them and to love them. Above all, love wins everything man."

T-Bone is aware that his ministry is hitting a new level and a new era. He comments, "I think that God is obviously just taking me to new places and new levels. As I said, as you mature as a man you also mature in the things of God. God has just been amazing to me, man. His grace.you know, I screw up every day. I'm far from perfect. And what amazes me is just that God continues to love me. God never turns his back on me. He said he will never you nor forsake you. I'm a bad son but he's a great dad - I'm filthy rags at best. But I just thank God that regardless, he looks beyond my sins, he looks beyond my shortcomings and my faults when I screw up. He just continues to love me.

That's how we've got to be towards people. No matter what people do, no matter how many times they fail - no matter all that - we gotta remember that God didn't give up on us so we can't give up on them." 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.

Reader Comments

Posted by maria ala mckinney in Alameda @ 03:19 on Sep 13 2018

Hello T-Bone
my name is Maria, and I am very happy with your endurance as an artist as you have become. I remember you when I first got saved, you were the first gospel rapper I had listened to and just recently over a month now, I have been listening to your music. I feel like you were ahead of your time, because as I listen to your music, it has advanced to the glory of God. I see you have progressed in music as well as opened doors with many different named artists. I have a special request from My Fellowship named: Soul'd Out Christian Center International is having a Community Field Day event coming up next saturday Sept. 22, 2018, and was wondering if you can do a few numbers to encourage the community. We will be barbecueing, giving away clothes, shoes, praying for people, all free. We do this event to win soul's, and if we win just one soul, we did our job. Thank you for your time, keep up the great work!

Posted by Isaiah'T-Roc'Elisha in Houston,Texas @ 04:26 on Nov 10 2011

Your Testimony is s powerful My. Bone Soprano. You have been my favorite rapper since i was a kid because since i was young i have never been into secular hiphop. your Christian Hiphop has helped me reach many others with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Besides, it's so obvious to me that you can beat Kanye west, Jay Z, T.I, Drake ,Eminem in a Hot battle. your rhymes are powerful and God has really blessed you wth them.

Posted by tony mercado @ 04:01 on Dec 5 2009

hey t-bone I'm a big fan.And I was wondering if you can come to Gainesville,GA for my church and school.I would appreciate it if you could call me or e-mail me,here's my number 770)538-4846.please call me and keep me in touch.

Posted by chuck ryan in oshkosh, wi. @ 01:51 on Jun 19 2009

Hey T-bone M the photographer who took pics of you at christianfaith fellowship church when U opened for Fred Hammond in milwaukee a while back and gave you a pic the 2nd time u were there. Loved U in fighting temptations and a friend from church is Geo. Tillmanns mother-in -law.
M The grey haired Guy. Would love a shout back and an autographed pic.
chuck ryan

Posted by Denzel in Columbus,OH @ 15:57 on Oct 15 2008

sup bro,
ma name is denzel but i go by ordaind klown and im 1/3 of a gospel rap group called d-cubed and i jus wanna give u mad props 4 wat u doin

Posted by Otim Nobert in Uganda kampala @ 00:44 on Jun 12 2008

i love t bone,not bse of Music bt of his background, to me he stands the best person to inform me of the, world outside experiences of the House"CHRIST",bse we christains are compraising standards expalining why we are doing the Purpose of the Holy Spirit,my heart to T bone is not to Pervert the Anointing of Jesus by singing with non believers bse,you affect both nonbelievers to the extent of not considering salvation, while believers are forced to compromise day in day out. REMEMBER YOUR THE LIGHT TO THE WORLD.SO BE THE LIGHT,MANY ARE LOOKING AT YOU AS A FATHER"INFLUENCE"like Christ used to eat,drink with sinners but never allowed them as best friends.

Posted by g-bird in dublin @ 19:34 on Jun 5 2008

i am thankfull for people like T-BONE my he be more blessed.
am from botswana and i need T- BONE'S direct contacts..coz i want to change today's world with him

Posted by aron sanchez in oakland california @ 08:13 on Aug 11 2007

man!!!!! you are the best ever!!!your a great great example for my city!!!we all love t-bone !!!!hes the best.....and GOD may bless him for all his done and doing.....!!!!!!!

Posted by SHARON JONES in SOUTH AFRICA @ 11:22 on Jun 13 2007

your testimony has been an inspiration to my son,daughter and I.We need to have more spirit-filled artist ministring in the way that T-Bone does.May god Bless this Ministry and may you plunder hell and poulate heaven with your ministry.It is all about Him.He is the Alpha and the Omega.The begining and the end.Love Sharon Jones

Posted by Godslilgirl @ 23:29 on Feb 22 2007

Tbone is the best rapper EVER!! his songs have helped me to understand a lot of things in my life and helped me help others... TBONE ROCKS!!!

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

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