By Jonathan Boldt
If you ever run into James Curran, feel free to call him a Mormon - in fact, he insists you do - but don't call him a rapper.
That seems kind of odd, especially for someone who has an album that reached No. 1 for hip-hop on iTunes as well as on Billboard - he even hit No. 15 on Spotify the other day for all of the United States. His album that has been burning up the music scene is titled "I'm Not a Rapper" - and that's because he's Jamesthemormon - his faith is what drives him.
Most people think of Mormon music as either the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or Donny and Marie. Even with an infusion of Mormons on the music scene like The Killers, Neon Trees or Imagine Dragons - most of these bands are Mormons who make music - that's not the case with James.
Jamesthemormon specifically makes positive rap music as a vehicle to share his faith in a way that relates to the average person without wearing a white shirt and tie.
In other words, the mission of his music is missionary work - but he does it all without mentioning God, Jesus Christ or religion.
"I want to teach without preaching, I wanted it to be so anyone could listen and feel God without feeling preached to," Curran said.
"There’s a lot of people in the world that would not relate to what a stereotypical Mormon is, so I try to talk to them through music."
For those who have heard of Mormonism, they think more Mitt Romney than Ja Rule, so changing perceptions is key to Curran's work.
"We are just like everybody else, we just happen to believe a few different things. But we listen to hip-hop, we dress like you, we care about the same things as you – I feel like opening up and letting people know we are Mormon and we're just like you – that’s how we can do missionary work."
With the top hip-hop album and No. 7 in all categories, people are obviously responding to the positive message - but is it really working as a way of teaching the gospel?
"I was at In-N-Out yesterday and this kid come up to me, he’s Dominican and from New York, he was baptized when he was eight stopped going to church… He was on the fence and thinking about going to BYU and thinking about going back to church and then he saw a video I did like two years ago and I was rapping. He said when he saw that I was a Mormon, he felt like he could be too and he could fit in. Stories like that, it’s why I do this," Curran said.
Reaching these heights is amazing in and of itself, but Curran is doing all of this without a label.
"I did ‘Motivation’ with $100 and that was only for food for the people that helped on the day of the shoot," Curran said. "I literally didn’t spend a dime on that, I just hustled. There're hundreds of millions of rap songs released every year, there are millions of albums released every year, and somehow, someone without a label broke into the top 100 – something that’s never been done before - hit No. 1 on Billboard and iTunes and No. 15 on Spotify."
Curran speaks with such boldness and conviction but with overwhelming humility, something he credits to his Creator.
A photo posted by James The Mormon (@jamesthemormon) on
"I have completely felt inspired the last couple of years to do what I’ve been doing and I’ve seen the fruits of (that labor). I mean that kid yesterday is back at church and probably will go on a mission and share the gospel because of a rap video I made two years ago that had nothing to do with the church. God knows what he’s doing and I’m just trying to do my best to follow it," Curran said.
If you aren't substantially impressed at this point, brace yourself. He does this all as his passion and hobby all while working a day job.
"The whole starving musician mentality is ludicrous to me," Curran said. "There’s zero demand, and you’re just a guy with a guitar and you’re going all in? There’s no way to financially support yourself, you are going to starve, you are going to struggle – why do that? You can still make music after work, go get a job, go pursue on the side, put out videos and work hard. Create the demand."
So what advice does he have for those pursuing their dream?
1 - Don't jump all in. Work on your passions on the side but work very hard.
2 - Surround yourself with amazing people. You might not have all the talent or all the answers but if you surround yourself with great people, you can create things beyond your wildest dreams.
3 - Don't give up. Which makes No. 1 so important: Don't spread yourself so thin that you can't handle it and you cave to the pressure.
Besides sharing his faith, pursuing his dreams and working towards a goal are what Jamesthemormon lives for.
"I cannot imagine living my life without striving for my goals, that’s what motivates me, Curran said. "But I’m not the average human when it comes to that… Like the week before an album comes out, I don’t sleep. Because I felt like I had no time to waste, I had to get every ounce into it and that’s how you use faith – you do everything you can and then ask for help. And that’s how miracles happen."
To make lasting change for the better and to create a culture that will lift and create rather than debase and destroy, it will most definitely take a miracle. Check out Jamesthemormon.com and watch for his new video and you might just see miracles really do still happen.
Jonathan Boldt is a daily contributor for GlennBeck.com. He studied journalism at Utah Valley University and interned at the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. He has since worked as the Sports Editor for papers in Oregon and New Mexico.
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