What type of revolution would you like to see in Christianity in 2004?
I’d like to see a lot more unity on the Christian side, but talking as far as what I’m really about I’m looking more for a revolution in hip hop music in general. I’ve been in the Christian and gospel market for about fifteen years now and I feel like I’ve moved on from that and I’m doing a lot more mainstream stuff. I think that my vision and what God has placed inside of me now isn’t even a longing for Christian music to be revolutionized. When I came into the game fifteen years ago ‘œRedeemed Hoodlum’ was a revolutionary moment. It was the first real street record to ever be dropped in Christian music and it changed around a lot of stuff, but now with the movies opening up doors and these different deals I feel like hip hop in general needs a change and I feel like God is calling me to be that man to be the revolutionary. I don’t really look at the gospel market as my competition anymore, now I’m trying take the word of Christ out to the masses. I just listen to hip hop music in general and its like everybody has been spitting the same thing for so long about money, about women, about pimping, about thugging. How many more guys are these people gonna murder so for me I really what to see a change happen in hip hop. I want to be able to come out and show people you can lift up the name of God and be positive, make great music and be successful without all of that negative stuff. Let these kids know you don’t have to sell drugs or be a pimp and sleep with a million girls to have money and be successful. I’ve broadened the way I used to think because before it was just in Christian music, but you know what its time take over the world and take this to the masses.
That’s interesting to hear because it seemed to me the artists that put themselves in the Christian music genre secluded themselves from secular music. What pushed you to say let me switch over because like you said you’ve been doing it for a minute.
The reason is because I have been doing this for so long. I don’t think you’re gonna get any other Christian or gospel rapper that has been doing this for as long as I have. The thing is after fifteen years that I’ve been making full on Christian records and putting Jesus in every other line I realized as long as you do that you’re going to only reach so many people. People can’t really argue with me because I’m living proof. So the thing is there has to come a time where I realize if I want to be able to reach the world I have to do it on a different level. The lord began opening up all these doors on the mainstream side and I said now is the time to take the word to the masses. I feel if you’re good at what you do people don’t care what you’re talking about. The Fighting Temptations was kinda like a test and I felt for the past maybe three years I was making these records I wasn’t even focused on being on the Christian side. For so many years I felt like I was wasting my time because I feel like I can hang with the best of them and rhyme better than 90% of the rappers out there. I feel like I’m still reaching the same 200,000 ‘“ 300,000 people and I need to go out and reach the masses for Christ. The lord opened up the door for the Fighting Temptations and people went hysterical over the stuff that I did on there and that’s when I felt that’s when God gave me the green light and really gave me a burden to want to reach the world now. Jesus said a person in good health is in no need of a physician, its those that are sick so we have to get outside the four walls of the church and stop saying I have to make this music for Christians or our people. Our music is supposed to be evangelistic, at least my music because I’m speaking for myself. T-Bone’s music is evangelistic. I’m not about keeping it in church and just going to churches and just rocking churches or Christian events and seminars. I need to go out and reach the world because they’re the ones that are on there way to hell. If we have the answer and we’re saved then praise God, now lets move on an tell somebody else. I know when I was lost had it not been for somebody having enough love and God putting enough grace on them to say go out and reach that young thug then I’d be in the same position I was in twelve years ago. I thank God that somebody did that and that’s what I’m called to do, to go out and reach that other T-Bone, that kid that was just like me that drug dealer or gang banger. Christ didn’t just stay in the temple, he went out and talked to the tax collectors, the murderers and the prostitutes. That’s what we’re supposed to do.
I wanted to touch a little bit on the gang activity. Was there one situation that scared you that brought you over to Christianity or was it a calling you had?
Well for me being from California and all the crazy gang stuff we were involved in, one of my best friends was actually shot twice once in his back and once in his chest in a drive by. He laid on the ground twitching and everybody was yelling Ralphie get up and the thing that hit me was the last words he had to say was just tell everyone to wear red at my funeral. That’s what he died for and he felt it was an honor for him to die for this color, for this gang. When I was thirteen years old my parents had gotten saved and become pastors so I always had that conviction in me, yet I was doing all these wild things with my boys. My sister got met amphetamine factories all across California, she had 150 girls under her as a gang leader and with all this craziness going on it was like there has got to be more to life than this. I either could continue to stay on this path and end up like all my friends, dead or locked up, or I can make a change. So I was really at a point where I was tired in life and I went to my father’s church and it was a Spanish church and there was a guy that came from Nicaragua to speak. It was one of those sermons where it’s like he is reading a book on your life and knows exactly what you are going through and he is addressing every incident that is happening in your life like a movie. It really just touched me and when he said if you want to know who God is come up to this alter I got up and hit that alter and ever since then that’s when I say I became a redeemed hoodlum. I fell down on my knees, I never felt so much love and so much peace, and from that day forward it was my goal to reach the other T-Bone’s out there. I felt like God gave me a ministry right there because I already had a burden when my friend got shot. That’s how I got into that whole thing. As far as the music goes I was always done hip hop music I was doing parties and clubs and after I got saved I realized there was nothing I could really listen too. The gospel music was cool, but that’s not where I was at, I’m from the streets and I listen to hip hop music. So there were like maybe three or four groups out there and they were corny. It was boring, corny, unartistic and untalented and I was like I can’t listen to this. I’m from the Bay area, I grew up buying CDs from Too Short and E-40 out of their trunk. I grew up listening to N.W.A and KRS-ONE and I was like this is the imitation, these dudes were trying to be these guys but I couldn’t be fooled. A lot of kids in the church had been fooled for years because they didn’t know what real hip hop was, but me being raised in it I knew it wasn’t the real deal. There was something missing and I couldn’t listen to it. I started writing rhymes and one of my boys said why don’t you come do these rhymes at my church and I was like nah. There wasn’t even a word for gospel hip hop at the time, but one of my boys, Dave Deon, kept begging me and finally pushed me into doing it. I went and I did it and the first thing that hit me was that all boys from the gang and the neighborhood showed up and the first thing that it showed me was that this music drew people into a church that would never walk into a church. My boys came out to support me and they loved my music and loved my style and I knew those guys had never stepped in a church before. That night I did three songs, the crowd went crazy, my boys were touched, the minister came up and shared the word and I was able to lead about four of my best friends to the lord that night. From that day forward when you are apart of someone being saved it’s like crack because you get hooked.
I saw in one of your interviews you said you don’t rap about the problem you rap about the solution. How do you deal with situations when you run into people that believe in other solutions or other methods?
There are gonna always be false prophets, false religions and false Gods. When I speak, I tell so many people a man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an opinion. You can have all the opinions, but I’m a man with experience and I’ve experienced God for myself. I see what God has done in my life. I’ve experienced having fifteen gang members come into my house and beat me to the point where I was left for dead, but God still saved me through the whole thing. I’ve experienced being in Compton, Ca where five guys walked up to me with shotguns and AK’s and were ready to murder me. I got on my knees, I lifted up my hands fearless, and I said ‘˜God I thank you that today is my graduation day and I thank you that today I’ll be in paradise with you.’ The bible says demons flee when they hear the name of Jesus, when I began to worship God I’m here to let you know all five of those guys dropped their guns and took off running. That’s a powerful God, you cannot argue with me and tell me my God is not real. I’m not a man with an opinion I’m a man with experience. I’ve been broke, down, busted, disgusted, and seen him flip my whole situation around so all I can do is share what God has done for me. I’ve been with Muslims, five per centers and all those guys. One time one of the leaders in Oakland from one of the five per center churches was saying I was preaching a false God and a false doctrine. I was like man let me just pray for you and he didn’t want to let me pray then he finally agreed to let me pray for him. I grabbed his hand and started to pray over him and when we were done he had tears and he raised his hands and said thank you Jesus (then he caught himself) and said thank you Allah. He freaked out. So all I can do is talk about what I’ve experienced and people can’t argue with me because I’ve experienced it first hand.
Do you still encounter any of your former gang members and what happens when you run into them?
Most of them are saved now. A couple of them are pastors and the other ones that still remained in the same thing were the ones that laughed at me and mocked me when I got saved. They’re the same ones who come to me and ask for me to pray for them when they are going through stuff and ask me for advice. When people see you make a complete change and see you’re real about it they respect that and that something the streets respect too. That’s all I’ve experienced.
You’re one of the best rappers I’ve heard as far as freestyling and flowing. When did you find that you could flow that way?
I’ve been rhyming since I was eight years old and I just turned thirty. I started off regular hip hop on the corner after school making fun of girls and freestyling about whatever I saw, but when I saw that people liked what I did it was something that I wanted to take serious and do for a living and that’s when I started getting into the writing and being creative. When I was around sixteen I said I wanted to do something different and that’s when I started incorporating the tongue twisting and the Spanish. So I just started trying to do stuff to be different because I didn’t want to be a carbon copy of what everybody else was doing. I was hanging out with Beyonce and her family for the weekend and we went in the studio and I was telling them to this day I don’t really feel that I’m a great rapper. I get so many compliments, but its just a young kid who took something he could half way do and said let me try to add a couple more things and said God here is my talent. To me I’m in awe of where God has taken me, then to be able to work with legends you grew up listening to like KRS and be able to pray and minister with them its been an amazing experience to do movies and all that. God has blown my mind and I just want to give back to him.
The skills speak for themselves and I’d pay more attention to what you are talking about simply from the way its coming off because the style is fresh. If you were just talking with no style it would be wack.
That’s the whole thing that has frustrated me for years. People always ask me who do you listen to T-bone and they are always expecting me to come back with this Christian rapper or that Christian rapper, but for me its sad because there is no one for me to listen too. A lot of the gospel stuff that’s out there is at such a terrible level that it is unlistenable to me. It’s like taking a Picasso painting and throwing all types of paint on top of it and ruining the whole painting. But now I think that people are starting to step up and rappers are coming with some half decent stuff. It’s amazing for me as one of the pioneers to see how far the genre has come. I remember back in the days it was four or five of us the FFC, the Dynamic Twins, Freedom of Soul and a few other people and they didn’t even call it gospel hip hop there was no name. You would go to the stores and you couldn’t even find the records and now you walk into a store and we have our own section. Its amazing and it’s a blessing but I feel a lot of these guys don’t even know their history or who paved the way. We opened up a lot of doors so that today people can be booked at conferences, festivals and churches and be able to walk in and do a great concert. There was a time when I would do concerts where people would look at me crazy because I was doing this hip hop stuff and the pastor would stop me in the middle of the service and tell me to get out of the church because this ain’t from God. Those were the times where we were paving the way for these guys because it wasn’t accepted back in the day. So for me it was important to make a song about our history on my latest record because I feel like a lot of these kids don’t know or respect the elders of the game and realize the history of it.
It’s almost like if you listen to Christian hip hop you can’t listen to secular hip hop and vice versa. Why do you think it comes off that way instead of just being straight hip hop?
I think from the Christian point of view looking at what’s out there how much secular hip hop is going to feed your soul some good stuff. The bottom line is most hip hop is negative so as Christians I wouldn’t want my kids to listen to them either. There is some stuff that’s positive, but for the most part a lot of it is pretty negative. From a secular point of view I think the reason why most people are going to put up their guard is because its impossible for unspiritual people to understand spiritual things. You also gotta know that in the secular world there are a lot of people who aren’t brought up believing Jesus is lord, so they automatically put their guard up because they don’t believe in what they are saying. I feel the biggest case is that a lot of people hear Christian rap and say that’s gonna be corny and what’s frustrated me for so long is that it has been corny. I don’t even label myself a gospel or Christian rapper no more, I’m a rapper period. When you put that name on you, you limit yourself. A rapper is a person who tells his story and where he comes from and that’s all I’m doing.
I understand Lil Zane is getting back into Christian Rap.
I was actually able to lead him to the lord on set of the movie. I pray with him and I tell everyone to continue to pray for him. I didn’t even know when I met him that he started off as a gospel rapper. He went to a real big rapper, and I won’t say his name, and the guy told him if you want to make some real money you have to talk about getting high and being a playa and that’s the Lil Zane we know. That’s who he became. We talk all the time and he really wants to make a change in his life.
How was the whole experience working on The Fighting Temptations?
It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Who wouldn’t want to work with Cuba Gooding Jr, The Ojays, Beyonce, Angie Stone, Montell Jordan, Lil Zane, Shirley Caesar, we are talking about legends and some of the greatest actors. God blew me away because when God gives you something nobody can take it away. The script wasn’t written for me it was written for Nelly, but Nelly couldn’t work it out. Then they actually had LL Cool J come out and audition, Busta Rhymes, Petey Pablo, Keith Murray so I didn’t beat out some lightweights. It was amazing the way the lord allowed me to take that part. I remembered the last day came and the director Jonathan Lynn came out and said it’s a wrap guys its sad, we’ve been together for three months and everybody started hugging each other. I had to leave and go to my dressing room because I cried. I was so broken hearted that I was going to have to leave my family because after three months of being together you become family. You’re constantly around each other. I know what Angie Stone, Beyonce, and Rue Mcclanahan look like with no makeup on and I’ve seen them not looking glamorous. So that last day was pretty tough on me and the thing that I love was just that I was able to get a whole bunch of friends out of it. We’ve all stayed in touch, I was just with The Ojays and I just went with Beyonce and her whole family to church this past Sunday and went to lunch.
Was anybody trying to get at Beyonce while she was on the set?
Beyonce can’t go anyway without someone trying to holla at her.
The thing is so many people want to judge her, but Beyonce has a great heart. That girl loves the lord as much as the greatest Christian does. She really has a relationship with God. Even the pastor speaks very highly of them. They’ve been in the same church since there were only eight members in the church. Now they have about 800. Anytime someone can tell me they’ve been in the church about ten years that shows me you’re a person that allows themselves to be discipled and the first time you get rebuked you don’t just leave.
Have you considered other acting roles?
Definitely, I just did a short called Black Rose and Loretha Jones who was one of the producers she was like man you are definitely going to do some more stuff with me. She just did a six-movie deal with Paramount so I think acting is a big part of my future as well as taking this music to the mainstream. I’m almost done with a big mainstream deal and we are going to take it out to the masses. That’s what God has called us to do not to be in a box and not to be quiet about what he does just go and share with everyone that there is a savior that loves them.
What kind of criteria do you have for the characters that you play and can you see yourself playing someone that doesn’t share your personal views?
People tried to judge me and come against me because I was playing a prisoner in The Fighting Temptations. How stupid is that? Prisoners are reality, for that matter you might as well not listen to my records because I talk about gangs, I talk about drugs and I talk about sex because I talk about reality. That’s my whole thing I want to continue to do stuff that is reality, but that has a positive outcome just like my music. I don’t just leave you with what the streets is like, I leave you with a positive outcome at the end and that’s the same route I want to take with my acting.
What type of church do you go to?
I go to a church about 40 minutes outside of L.A. I think I would label my church more of just a common church. It’s a very mixed church, one thing I love about it is that you walk in and can’t say this is a predominantly black church or Hispanic or white church. The church is called The Rock and for me I just want to go there sneak in come in with my wife receive the word, get fed and bounce. I don’t go to church to politic, to schmooze or network, I go to hear the word of God.
On the hip hop side how did you link up with KRS and what was it like working with him?
That was amazing man. I don’t know if ya’ll remember the show I did on MTV called ‘˜The Cut’ but if you remember I had been through the whole thing and on the show for weeks and then it gets to the final ten and they bring in the three biggest judges, it was Dru Hill, KRS-ONE, and David Foster. I was supposed to win the whole thing. I had the highest score at the time, everyone was cheering and then instead of KRS-ONE giving me a ten he was kind of hating because he was against Christians at the time. He said I think you were one of the dopest rappers here, the most incredible performer on stage, you took control of the crowd, your rapping is amazing, when you started twisting it blew me away and when you went into the Spanish thing it was over but because you are Christian I’m gonna give you a seven because that’s God’s number. It is God’s number and seven is the number of perfection, but in that arena God’s number would have been a ten. I knew what he was trying to do and I humbled myself went up to meet him and hugged the brother and said thanks it’s an honor to meet you. Four years later I get this phone call, they said KRS has been listening to your music, he really loves your stuff, it touched him and he wants to be able to do a song with you. I was like wow. When we were able to get together I knew it was going to be an opportunity to share my faith. We had bible studies and we became great friends. I’ll never forget we walked into the booth after we spit our rhymes I said Kris before we leave out of this room I want to be able to pray with you. I just grabbed that brother and hugged him and began to pray and when we were done praying I looked up and he just began wiping tears from his eyes and he said thank you man you are the type of friend I’ve been looking for my whole life. He said I appreciate you helping me out spiritually and we have just become great friends since then. I thank God that we’ve done stuff and expect some more stuff from KRS and T-Bone because we are already talking about it right now.
What did you think about his Spiritually Minded album?
I thought it was amazing and I’m gonna tell you why. For a brother to go from rhymes that say ‘˜All you Christians hollering Jesus Jesus but you got to be a killer from the start why do you think Noah had to build an ark.’ For him making rhymes like that to making a record that proclaims Jesus Christ as lord and savior that’s amazing to me. He did a complete 360 and a lot of people hated on him for it but you could see the way God was working in his life and to this day he calls himself Christian.
The Bullets (stupid questions we ask anyway)
These are especially designed for you. I have a couple of biblical questions for you and then I got some bible trivia that I made up especially for T-Bone to see if you’ve been studying them books.
Would you rather have the strength of Samson or King Solomon’s smoothness with the ladies?
Haha that’s a tough one but I’d rather have Solomon’s smoothness with the ladies. I’m a Christian P-I-M-P holla!
Which woman out of the bible would you rather have for a wife, Queen Esther or Queen Sheba?
I’m gonna say Queen Esther
Sweet Potato Pie or Pumpkin Pie?
Sweet Potato pie definitely
Cherry Pie or Kiwi Strawberry Pie?
Kiwi Strawberry because I love the kiwi strawberry drink.
What rapper could you picture as a pastor Lil Jon or Snoop?
I would say Snoop because I know Snoop was raised in the church.
Who could you picture as an usher Jay-Z or 50 Cent?
I could picture 50 Cent because he is a little bit more harsh. He’d be the guy that say hey man get out of the way you’re blocking the aisle. Haha
Now for a little bit of bible trivia, What’s the major ingredient discussed in the bible that we use everyday, but too much of it kills blacks and Hispanics more than anyone?
Oh man I don’t know
Next Question, what is the color of kings, it was used to make a mockery of Christ before he was crucified?
You got that one, next question the oldest person mentioned in the bible?
Nope Methuselah, This one is kind of hard who was the last judge of Israel?
You got me on that one
Samuel, Who was the first king over Israel?
Ahh man you got me.
Saul, Last question, what was the first spoken language before the lord made the tower to Babble?
Yea Aramaic to be specific. You ducked a few bullets but you got hit with like two of them.
I got a question for ya’ll now who were the only two people to never die in the bible?
Elijah and Enoch. Here is one more for ya’ll. Which man in the bible kills off one fourth of the earth’s population?
We give up
Kane because it was Kane, Abel, Adam, and Eve.