The Billboard charts-topping hip-hop artist shares God's hope on his new album Tomorrow We Live.
- Posted on Jun 26, 2015
Trying to pigeonhole hip-hop artist KB is a lot like trying to box in his music: impossible. The 26-year-old Tampa native is a husband, a father, a boxer, and a Christian -- who raps.
KB uses his mic to share the message of redemption and hope in Christ, pouring out his imperfections, insecurities and deepest desires all over a dope beat. That winning combination has produced critical acclaim for the young rapper, whose sophomore studio album Tomorrow We Live, released in April, hit the top of Billboard’s Christian Albums. It also made the top 10 on Digital Albums (#3), Independent Albums (#2), and Top Rap Albums (#4) and #18 on the Billboard 200 charts.
Following in the footsteps of his mentor and founder of his label, Reach Records’ Lecrae (the Grammy Award-winning rapper credited with revolutionizing Christian hip hop), KB is flooding the mainstream music industry with the Gospel.
But the artist is very clear: “I’m not the Christian Kanye West.” He tells Guideposts.org of his Reach Records crew, “We’re our own artists and when we come into the industry, we have to deal with [being dismissed as copies of secular rappers]. We have something [original] to say, we have a style of music that isn’t just reproducing."
"We’re changing the narrative of Christian rap. As opposed to trying to divorce ourselves from Christian rap -- because people are going to call you what they’re going to call you. It’s not what they’re used to. We’ve been able to really redeem it. So now, moving forward, people are going to say, 'No, Christian rap is good, because these guys are killing it.' I think we’re going to be earning the name."
Critics across the industry agree and have praised KB for his ability to push the envelope stylistically and break out of the traditional boundaries of Christian hip hop. His second single, the conviction-stirring, soul-level cry to God, “Crowns and Thorns” is a layers-deep confession of someone who, like Paul, longs to do God’s will but wrestles with sin:
Struggling, oh, I be struggling / My idols are mimicking Jesus / I bury my sin, in 3 days it’s back up again
“I want to make music about the kinds of things that keep me up at night,” the artist says of his new album. Influenced by his love for history and the early church and recorded in South Africa, Tomorrow is an album for the oppressed and his latest single, the high-energy “I Believe” is its anthem. With its war cry, “I believe that we will win!” KB speaks to people facing impossible circumstances—cancer, institutional racism, suicide and poverty, to name a few—and provides them with a new hope in Christ. It’s a raw look at what makes the man and the artist tick; what inspires him, what motivates him and what pains him.
Even more revealing than the lyrics on his new album is the short documentary he filmed to accompany his sophomore release. In it, KB gives his fans a look inside his own closet, pulling out his skeletons to introduce his music and his life’s purpose to others who may draw strength from sharing in the journey.
KB was born Kevin Burgess. The artist’s parents divorced when he was a child and his father abandoned the family. KB and his mother had to live in an unsafe community on the south side of St. Petersburg, Florida.
“It does things to you psychologically [when you are not] trying to live but [just] trying to survive. When you think of life all through the lens of survival as opposed to trying to build a life, it does something to you,” he says.
The artist has also been open about the impact his broken relationship with his father had on him and his documentary expands on that, revealing details about his long search for his dad. He hired a private investigator--and discovered that the man who created and abandoned him had died just a few years earlier.
“The challenge is talking about him in a way that’s honest but also honoring,” KB says of the on-camera search for his dad. “I didn’t realize that a piece of my identity was missing in not knowing who my real father was. I almost immediately felt healing when I found out what he was and what he was about.”
Through it all, his pain and struggles have shaped both him and his craft. “I think the most beautiful thing is that it’s really given me a heart of compassion. I wouldn’t change it for the world,” KB says of his difficult childhood.
“Even living in fear and in an under-resourced environment, it opened my heart. I feel so much compassion towards people who are there. I want my life’s work to empower and help people who are there. Everybody is fighting a battle that is deeper than you could ever imagine, so be kind to them, be patient with them. They’re hurting just like you.”
Thanks to a kind, patient and encouraging mother, he excelled in school and was accepted into an accelerated college program, though he was just a junior in high school. But more than just his life changed as a result—his soul changed too.
“I got into this program—such an amazing program—and it didn’t satisfy me,” KB says. “It wasn’t enough. The American dream isn’t enough. It was at that point when I was introduced to Jesus, that I was able to find purpose.”
A friend handed him a Christian rapper's CD of at lunch one day on campus and he heard the Gospel presented on wax; that began his love affair with Christ and hip hop. He graduated from Trinity College with a degree in theology and wound up forming an alliance of creatives and missionaries called HGA (His Glory Alone).
Flash forward a few years and KB is now one of the most exciting artists to watch in the hip-hop world, making healing music from which those struggling with their own issues can draw encouragement and motivation. It’s the purpose behind his new record and, more important, the reason he believes God put him on this planet.
“Tomorrow We Live expands on the idea that God hasn’t forgot about us,” KB said. “It may be difficult today, we may not have a lot to sing about today, but we can always look forward to where He’s taking us; where we will be, how things will be and use that to fuel what we’re doing today. Tomorrow We Live isn’t about forgetting about today and waiting for something to happen, it’s about being encouraged because we know we will win. We know things are settled. We know we’re moving towards a better existence; therefore, we care about fighting hard to bring that into today’s reality.”