KJ-52: Christendom's Slim Shady?

Friday 30th June 2006

With a new remix album in the CD racks, rapper KJ-52 is firing on all cylinders. He spoke to Mike Rimmer.


I have a confession to make. I wasn't sure about KJ when his debut '7th Avenue' was released. I can remember seeing him wandering around in his hoodie in America a few years back. Can a white man sing blues? Perhaps, but what about a white rapper? But that then (2000) and this is now. His album 'Behind The Musik' has simply established him as one of the most skilful rappers on the Christian scene and now he has a truly inventive remix album out.

Inevitably Jonah Sorrentino (KJ-52) has suffered from the Eminem comparisons over the years and these haven't been helped with his two "Dear Slim" songs. So I'm curious to find out whether he's frustrated at the continued comparisons with The Real Slim Shady. " I don't embrace it or try to encourage it," he shares, "but if me being the Christian Eminem to some kid helps him get closer to God and farther away from other things, who am I to scream my artistic pride? Part of it is me keeping it in perspective. A lot of the people that would draw that comparison aren't necessarily what I would consider deep musical critics! It's because I think a lot of what he does has had so much negative connotations for a lot of people. The first and closest remotest thing that they can find that draws comparisons, and people just jump on it. So if it really came from a deep person that I would respect from an artistic level, someone that I could says knows music and knows hip-hop, and they started saying it, then I think I'd probably take it more seriously. But if it's just some 12 year-old kid in nowheresville that just goes, (adopts broad country accent) 'Heeey! You're white too! I think you're the Christian Eminem!' So it's just like, okay, whatever."

"Dear Slim Pt 2" is one of the most arresting tracks on KJ-52's latest album 'Remixed'. What constitutes a remix album is of course a sore point among CD buyers. But anyone concerned that KJ's effort would do little more than make some of the bass lines a tad phatter will be delighted with 'Remixed' which had KJ-52 in the producers seat for the entire project and which includes radical re-assemblages of many of his best known songs and even recorded new verses on most of the tracks. The re-recorded vocals on "Dear Slim Pt 2 (True Story Remix)" make it sound much more personal and the new version includes the story of how a pastor gave Eminem KJ's original "Dear Slim", and the witness he was able to be to the superstar, as told by the pastor himself. Plus the new track gives the song a darker, more serious feel in keeping with the life and death, Heaven and Hell theme of the song. Eight of the songs on 'Remixed' were originally featured on 'Behind The Musik' while his reinventions of older songs like "47 Emcees" where beatbox is replaced by thudding beats courtesy of DJ Morphoziz and with KJ adding a verse hailing a heap of West Coast emcees. Other gems on the set include "Jesus (Reggaeton Remix)" where independent reggaeton artist Funky keeps the Latin vibe flowing and "Are You Real? (Oregon Trail Remix)" where Jon Micah of Kutless, featured on the original, is replaced by Jesse Ribordy and Joseph A Kisslebugh of the rock band Falling Up.

Clearly KJ is a rapper overflowing with fresh creative ideas. But what was it about rapping that first attracted him to the genre? KJ-52 ponders for a second and responds, "I think maybe indirectly it could be the neighbourhood I grew up in. I was the minority. So I think to some degree I could identify with that aspect of a black man's art form. I related to some aspects of the struggle of being in the inner city, of being poor and feeling like the whole world is against you; I could relate to that because I was right there too. So I think part of that was there."

He continues, "But I think honestly, the biggest thing about it was, there was a way to convey a message that most genres didn't. Rock music, still to this day, is mostly about love songs. Pop music is mostly about love songs. All these things are mainly about love songs. Whereas, here's hip-hop music and back then when it was Public Enemy, it was about militant black issues. It was about education. It was about drugs in the community. So hip-hop is about saying something. If you did a love song you were considered soft! So it was everything that was opposite of what I was hearing. There was something about that ability of that emcee to take that mic and to control the crowd. I think too because the musical bed of that was all based on funk and R&B and all these things. There was just something about percussion that I loved as opposed to melody. So it just appealed to me."

KJ did not grow up in a situation where faith came easily to him. He remembers, "I had no faith. I had no spirituality. I was if anything very close to being atheist. It wasn't until someone had challenged me at 15 that I began to examine who God was. The funny thing was, the hardest thing for me to give up wasn't the drinking, it wasn't the girls, it wasn't the partying; it was hip-hop music! That was the hardest thing for me to let go because that was my religion. Because it affected what I thought, what I believed, what I said, how I dressed, how I acted, my values. All those things were affected by that. That was my god. That was my religion. So that was the hardest thing for me to let go of. But God just gave it back to me."

In the beginning after he became a Christian he laid it all down. He remembers, "I threw out about 90 per cent of my tapes pretty soon after becoming a Christian. There was a few that I hung on to and then eventually I threw them out too. And then I just swung to the other extreme where all I listened to was Christian music. Hip-hop had become such an idol. It was like an alcoholic getting saved. They can't even go near a bar. Because that is still there. So for years I just filled my mind with Christian music."

When God allowed him to pick it all up again, KJ-52 emerged as a unique observer of popular culture. "Travelling as much as I do now has completely broadened my worldview. People fascinate me because I grew up with so many different kinds of people. And one thing I always noticed was my dad. He had an incredible ability to relate to everybody in the ghetto. I watched that and I try to transfer that to my music. So for example on the remix of 'Fivetweezy' I totally rewrote that song. I rewrote it basically with the attitude that picked on a bunch more pop stars. But to me, it's fun. It's part of my way of taking my jabs back at the culture."

What does he feel about using humour to make a point or to lampoon elements of popular culture? Aren't we supposed to love people and be nice? "It's dangerous because we're always taught to love people. I totally agree with that and there's a fine line you gotta walk. But if you look at what Elijah did when he was confronted with the prophets of Baal. They were all dancing around and he says, 'Where's your God at? Where's your God at? Maybe you should yell a little louder? Maybe he's on the toilet?!'"

He continues, warming to his theme, "That's pretty hardcore sarcasm! That's like 'Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. You stink!' I think when we're in the right to some degree.I think there's room for satire. I think there's a degree of satire and I try to involve a little bit of that." I observe that we really need to laugh a little more at the world. "I agree," he responds. "I totally agree with you. Especially at the absurdities of some of the things that we are into. But I'll tell you, if anybody's the butt of the joke it's usually me because I find that deflates most of my critics in a lot of ways too."

The one danger with including so many contemporary cultural references on his recordings is that it is possible for his songs to become dated very quickly. He laughs at the suggestion, "Yeah! But I usually churn out records every year or year and a half. But some things are timeless. The funny thing is, in my set, I've done this stupid old-school part in my show and I've been doing the same stupid old-school part for the last six years. There's a part where I play Vanilla Ice and I play MC Hammer and I play Sugarhill Gang. I play those three things and I have not changed that in six years! Part of playing Vanilla Ice is me playing it down and doing 'The Running Man'. And I'm thinking, 'Some of these kids weren't even born when 'The Running Man' was started!' But they still find it funny. Some things are just universally hilarious. But you're right, there are certain lines I've put in songs and I'm like, 'Dang! Why did I do that?! Nobody even knows who that guy is anymore!'"

In the meantime, there's no danger that people are going to forget who KJ-52 is. Each release seems to be getting better and his wit is sharper than ever. There's no danger he's going the way of MC Hammer. 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 kittycatgirl in some place @ 19:16 on Apr 26 2008

this is a response to "Patrick"...

Ok, I am getting really annoyed at seeing stuff like this. you say Eminem is "evil". Excuse me, but who are you to judge? From what you said, I take it you're a Christian. You should at least try to make it look like you've read a Bible. Does it not say, "Judge not, lest ye be judged"? And since it seems like you've all but forgotten the basic teaching of Sunday School, ALL humans are born into sin through Adam and Eve. We're ALL sinners, so you can stop acting all high and mighty.

Now with that said, don't get me wrong; I think KJ's heart's in the right place, but one thing... has Eminem ever denied he is a Christian? Not ONCE, as far as I know, and I'm a pretty hardcore fan of his, so I would know. A few lyrics of his could actually be considered Christian! So next time, actually THINK before you say something that you know nothing about.

Reply by starinshadowland in Sunderland, UK @ 16:10 on Mar 24 2009

Whether Eminem has denied being a Christian or not; his life depicts a certain spiritual condition. And it is not that of someone who trusts God with his life, and is at peace knowing God's got him.

I'm sorry this touched a nerve with you. I definitely don't want to hate on Eminem; but I can't ignore the lifestyle Eminem is living; it's not what a follower of Jesus Christ is called to. He's a talented artist, there's no denying that, but his music doesn't reflect a life made complete in Christ. I think, like many people, Eminem is hurting and searching for the reason he's here rapping in this world at all.
"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'" John 14:6. "Everyone who believes in him [Jesus] will not be put to shame" Romans 10:11.

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Reply by starinshadowland in Sunderland, UK @ 16:08 on Mar 24 2009

I think there's a bit of confusion about the verse you're referencing: "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you" Matthew 7:1-2. We are supposed to see sin for what it is. Sin is evil. I agree with you that we aren't supposed to hate on people. But we are supposed to hate sin. The verse speaks of judging sin; of seeing sin as sin, in ourselves and in others. It does not say "do not judge"; it's simply a warning saying, "if you are going to judge that as sin, if it's in your life, you'll have to judge it the same way". It's a warning against hypocrisy.

I admit to liking some of Eminem's songs. Especially those that could be "considered Christian". But the Bible makes very clear that if we are in Christ, our actions will reflect God's character. The Bible also says: "Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright" Proverbs 20:11. And: "Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you , as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desire" Galatians 5:16-24. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" Ephesians 2:8-9.

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Posted by x3heartbrakenx3 in skool @ 20:09 on Jan 17 2008

I think KJ is an inspiration to all young kids, even adults. Yes he's compared to eminem sometimes, but i think he works alot harder and does a better job. KJ i'm doin a project on you so you must be worth something. =)
speedway girl!!

Posted by Jacinda in USA @ 19:29 on Jun 4 2007

I think KJ-52 is a good guy. His music is really amazing, and he isn't giving up just because a bunch of MTV people think he stinks. KJ-52 (five-two) rocks. :) LOL

Posted by Anthony in P_Town to CMD, NJ @ 02:53 on Mar 2 2007

I gotta agree man... seriously good people like KJ 52 take their own time to help out people like eminem because its the right thing to do...if i c u on the streets beggin people for some change and some dude tryinhelp u pull urself together and i come out and say "Naw he is tending to his business just mind ur own" how would u feel??? so therefore i think its good that KJ52 helpin out those in need and as an individual i feel that society 2day should practice on helpin out oneanother instead of pullin out guns and watnot killin each other....

Posted by Patrick in Lake alfred, fl @ 01:39 on Dec 30 2006

Man, i just dont understand what the world is coming to today... eminem is an evil man, and god forbid hes gonna break the gates of hell wide open if he doesnt stand up for himself in the ultimate battle of eternal life and death. KJ is a good man, and hes trying to help soften eminems soul so that he can understand that god is the only way.its never to late. stand up for god, and stand up for his people.

Posted by Girlie in Mississippi @ 01:52 on Dec 20 2006

You must be trippin'!!! KJ is helping to save Eminem!!!!!!! :-(

Posted by Kristopher Karcher in Decatur,Illinois @ 23:28 on Sep 22 2006

I think KJ-52 needs to mind his own business honestly. I think KJ is cool but Eminem is tending to his business,and KJ should tend to his.

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