“This is my time capsule--the snapshots and the feelings, of a very memorable year,” explains KJ-52. “I am both thrilled and awed by the things that have taken place recently, and I can’t wait to share them with the world.”
A yearbook is a symbol of our best memories. It is a reminder of the moments we cherish, a commemoration of an era in our lives when we felt like kings. In similar fashion, this past year has been a special one for Kj-52. In the past twelve months he has surpassed 500,000 units for his career, won a Dove award, and been nominated for two more. This is his time, his moment. And no other year would be more fitting for The Yearbook.
Five albums of material as a hip-hop artist is a feat in and of itself in an age that has been characterized by many as the dead era of this genre. Three of his four titles have scanned over 100,000--the only Christian hip-hop artist in history to do so. KJ-52 has become one of the most trusted names in music as a songwriter, producer, minister, and comic poet, in spite of many seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Let’s not forget: He is an unabashed follower of Christ, he is white, and he is a rapper. Most have said these things cannot be combined at all, let alone form an equation for success. But KJ has grown more than accustomed to facing his nay sayers head on. In fact, they fuel him:
“I want people to tell me I can’t do this. It’s a big motivator. I love the challenge of proving critics wrong. I watched my own name mentioned on the ‘Forty Least Hip-Hop Moments’ on VH1’ for writing a song to Eminem about who Christ was in my life. I actually love to hear things like that...I don’t mind them talking about me because I am focused on a different goal than impressing those people. If I listened to critics it would distract me from reaching the kids who are in desperate need of help. My music, when you boil it down, is here for those in need.”
Few can dispute the work ethic and dedication that KJ has proven over the past seven years. Consider the fact that he self-produced The Yearbook, and produced seventy-five songs along the way. Yes, Seventy-five. Consider the fact that he has consistently played over 200 songs per year for over half of a decade. And consider the fact that without major exposure on the airwaves, television, or press (beyond the occasional mention on VH1 reruns) he has built a steady, consistent, loyal following of young people who have found a genuine connection to KJ beyond just catchy tunes.
So enters The Yearbook, a diverse collection of only KJ’s best instrumentation, beats, rhymes, and melodies to date. His debut as a self-producer shows impressive hints of staples such as The Neptunes, Timbaland, and DJ Premiere. His songs range from acoustic, programmed, beat-driven numbers to heavy guitar tracks with live drums. Think Rage Against the Machine, Linkin Park, mixed with classic 90’s, golden age hip-hop. The result is an entire album--not just a couple singles--that will keep you interested from front to back. Aaron sprinkle (Kutless, Jeremy Camp) adds production on two tracks as well, and KJ even teams up with rock champions Disciple for a song. Guest appearances also include Toby Morrell of Emery, Ayiesha Woods, and Liquid. This is a virtuous merger of rival factions--hip-hop, rock, and R&B--and a triumph, to say the last, with catchy commercial songwriting and boatloads of singable choruses. But beyond the production achievement, and beyond the solid songs, lies meaning. Eternal meaning.
“Hip hop is all about putting up something that isn't real. For the most part, it’s a style that is has very little transparency because so much of it is about putting up a front. It’s like, if you come from the streets and if you show weakness you are immediately called out. So the music is essentially a facade. But I don't even care...I have always wanted to take the listener places others cant , and after five albums I have a relationship with kids that allows me to do that. On this record I want people to really know me more, so I let down my guard more than I ever have. And in the process I want to broach some very important subjects that will, god willing, help people beyond just giving them a tune to sing along with.”
Kj has become known for his self-deprecating humor, embracing the inherent ironies of his musical existence, but he balances the comedic with the heavy in alternating doses of insight. On “It Ain’t Easy,” 52 laments with candor: Somedays it sure ain't easy waking up and being Tweezy. Used to dudes just booing...when I say I rap for a living, on top of that it’s Christian they like...you must be tripping. On “Fanmail” he includes three verses written from real fans who were in desperate need of help, one of which was with cutting: My arms are sliced up but I’m not embarrassed. It’s the only way I get attention now from my parents...I am writing cause I need some help from you. He speaks delicately to young females who are dealing with eating disorders and identity issues on “Daddy’s Girl”: You feel fat and ugly so your getting thinner. Sometimes you throw up or you skip dinner. Sometimes you hate the face you see in the mirror. You cry at night but nobody ever seems to hears ya. But you got father in heaven though who wants to hold ya...wrap ya in his arms lay ya head on his shoulder. In his own, patented approach, KJ has proven once again he can navigate a variety of serious and and comedic subject with levity, grace, and a presentation of spiritual truth, always seeking to lend a helping hand to those in difficult situations.
Though he jokes of rejection and boos from past live performances at open mics and clubs, KJ has rocked audiences around the globe with a live show that blends live instruments, a DJ, and high-energy antics which never fail to make all those in attendance, sing, yell, and dance. Recently he performed in Morocco--an unfamiliar environment for any non-Muslim--before a crowd of over 50,000 from many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. He refers to this show as a one of the most pivotal in his career. Nearly speechless, he watched the countless hands wave and sing in various languages to his songs, proving that he had overcome yet another obstacle-the barrier of culture. And whether you catch him performing for thousands The Revolve Tour (a national event for teenage girls which focuses on empowering them to overcome identity battles), a foreign country, a packed club, or a festival, you can bet KJ will be hitting every corner of the planet in support of The Yearbook.
Every KJ record has sold more than the previous one. He was voted favorite hip-hop artist in the last two CCM reader’s poll. He has taken on VH1, Eminen, and foreign nations. Yet, he still remains resolute in his motivation. Perhaps this is why there is only one Five-Tweezy. You want further evidence? The Yearbook.
“If you had told me I would be here seven years ago I would have probably laughed. Yet, all the things that have taken place recently are just en evidence of God. Who am I? I am just a kid who grew up in south Florida who loves hip-hop and wants to share my heart with anyone who will listen.”
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