The Grammy Award-nominated artist shares his thoughts on overcoming hardship, his legacy, and the Church's role in social justice.
- Posted on Aug 24, 2015
The word legacy weighs heavily on Flame’s mind these days.
In my half-an-hour conversation with the Christian rapper, that theme pops up often. After eight studio albums – his latest, Forward, just dropped July 17 – a handful of Dove and Stellar Award nods and plenty of Billboard chart-toppers, the Grammy-nominated rapper seems well on his way to leaving behind something he can be proud of. But according to the lyricist, none of what he’s doing is for himself. It’s all for God.
Without his faith, Flame says he wouldn’t even be alive.
Born Marcus Gray, Flame grew up in inner-city St. Louis, Missouri. His father struggled with addiction while his mother battled depression and schizophrenia. The environment forced the aspiring artist to grow up quickly, but he’s thankful for it. .
“Those struggles really framed my compassion for the human experience,” Flame says. “Growing up, seeing my mom in and out of psych wards, on medication for depression, schizophrenia and visiting her in those psych wards and seeing how many other people were there, various ages, various backgrounds. I remember thinking, ’Man, this life is hard. Everyone has a story.’ At a young age, I just sympathized with how hard life is.”
Flame eventually dealt with his own struggles. He was booted from his high school and fell into bad habits.
“[I was] making bad decisions,” the rapper says. “Trying to be a good kid. Trying to fit in and be cool and be normal but be myself and have my own identity.”
At 16, two events forever changed the course of Flame’s life. While on his way to a new school, an 18-wheeler struck the vehicle he was riding in. The entire left-side of his body was shattered.
A week later, his grandmother, the person Flame says encouraged his love for lyrics, died suddenly of a heart attack.
It was then that Flame felt called to live out his faith through Christian rap.
The Christian artist became involved with his local church, ministering to juvenile delinquents and visiting prisons. His outlook on life began to change, and so did his lyrics.
The rapper completed his undergrad degree in Biblical counseling at Boyce College and he says his education influenced music. His rhymes often offer counsel on how to deal with the culture as a Christian, giving his fans a way to connect what God has to say about life with how we experience it.
On his latest album, Forward, Flame raps about everything from the Ferguson protests and police brutality to the Constitution, and Christian identity. And he’s not afraid to be blunt. .
“I wanted to raise awareness to the change going on in our nation, especially with the younger generation,” the rapper explains.
Flame’s music suggests Christians have a responsibility to be involved in change and conflict resolution.
On the third track from his latest album titled “Know the Times” the artist raps:
“Some people just don’t want to talk no more/ The culture has shifted since Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York and then Baltimore/ Shout out to churches that are deep in the trenches/ Big into witness and making a difference”
“I’m from St. Louis, Missouri,” Flame says. “I think about the events that took place in Ferguson, that are still taking place in Ferguson. Christians have to be in the mix.”
“Part of the Christian message is Jesus took on humanity Himself, so we should absolutely care about human rights and human dignity. It breaks our hearts when we see young men being gunned down by police officers or anywhere a human is not experiencing the fullness of [life.]. We want to be there, to let them know we’re in touch with the weight of that, but we want to bring the solution and say ‘Let’s fight through law, let’s fight through policy, let’s protest peacefully.’”
Flame hopes his music can add to the conversation about the relevance of the church today.
“I would love to see us progress, especially the younger generation,” the artist says. “I would love to see Christians being in the places where we might not be expected to show up and offering clarity and love and empathy and patience.”
And that’s where the talk of legacy re-emerges. After over a decade in the industry, Flame is beginning to think about passing the torch.
“I would love for my music to be a resource that stands the test of time so the next generation of artists doesn’t have to figure out so much. I don’t want them to have to think through all of the issues that I had to think through from scratch.”
What does he hope people will say about him?
“I want people to say ‘Well, let me explore Jesus because Flame was so obsessed with this Man.’”