NEW YORK – Ten years ago at age 20, Jin Au-Yeung, otherwise known as MC Jin or just Jin, became the first Chinese solo rapper to sign with a major record label, a deal birthed from his equally historic freestyle rap battles on BET's "106 & Park." Suddenly, he was everywhere — in magazines and movies, on other artists' albums. Jin had finally arrived — or so he thought.
"I [had] just signed a record deal [with Ruff Ryders], pretty much had all the things I had dreamed and desired for ever since the age of 16," Jin told The Christian Post in a recent interview. "At the age of like 16, 17 during my high school years, I had the most conscious and dedicated and committed mindset in terms of these are the things that I'm pursuing: a rap career, stardom, fame, money, finances, girls, houses, cars."
The New York City rapper, who had moved from Miami to pursue his dreams, wanted to take care of his family as well.
But in his mid-20s, a few years after signing with Ruff Ryders and seeing his budding career fizzle, Jin learned the cliché very well: all that glitters isn't gold.
"The best way I can think of describing it is, as quick as I went up is as quick as I went down. I got catapulted into the public eye, the rap community. There was this crazy excitement and I'm on every media platform that you can think of" – he even scored a role in 2003's "2 Fast 2 Furious" alongside stars like Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson and Eva Mendes.
But his sudden rise to fame didn't last very long.
"Then simultaneously as quick as that happened is as quick as I kind of vanished into obscurity," he added.
It was at that point Jin decided he was done. "I didn't want to be in the recording industry anymore ... in the sense of what I thought I wanted prior to that, so I parted ways with the record label. Those were – I refer to them as the dark ages."
From about 2005-2007 the Chinese-American MC was at perhaps the lowest point in his life career-wise as well as physically, mentally and spiritually.
Although he was still making music "by the grace of God," he says, "I was just kind of floating around, just trying to make it through every single day, miserable for the most part."
Then he got a phone call that set him on a path he had never anticipated in all his years of dreaming as a high school kid, appearing numerous times on BET, or putting in work as a Ruff Ryder in the studio. It was a call from Hong Kong, from where his parents emigrated, that would help him to finally acknowledge that there was Someone greater than self and something more important than fame.
Finding Faith and Celebrity in Hong Kong
In 2008, Jin got an invitation to visit Hong Kong to release his Cantonese record locally. While thinking he would only be in the big city for a few months before heading back home, Jin only just returned to New York City last year ... and managed in that time to develop a personally "groundbreaking" relationship with God, get married and become a father.
"I thought I would be there for three to four months at most, try to make a little money and come back," Jin said of his visit in 2008 to Hong Kong. "It ended up being half a year, then one year, two years, three years ... I was there for about three and a half years."
If he had fallen into obscurity in America, what Jin experienced in Hong Kong was nothing short of full-blown fame. His Cantonese album, ABC (American Born Chinese), went platinum when it was released locally in 2008 by Universal Music Hong Kong. In addition to his music, Jin picked up parts in movies, television shows, got hosting gigs and endorsement deals – what the MC likes to call "very productive opportunities."
"But little did I know God was just doing something in me," he added, noting that from the very start, God had brought people into his life to help point him in the right direction. By the time 2010 rolled around he was fully committed to following Jesus Christ, and for the first time in his life, was part of a vibrant church community.
"It was really in the last 24 months, toward the end of 2010, that I really started to see something really amazing happening. I think it was just a matter of me responding to certain things that God was just doing in my life. More than ever, I started to see what gratitude means, what grace is, the love of God. One word I love using in describing all of this is how patient the Lord has been with me. The moment I started seeing all of that ... the critical point was when I started responding to that. Responding in the sense that I started embracing it," Jin shared.
"I started really devoting a lot of my time, energy, heart, focus and everything into wanting to please God, wanting to serve God, wanting to grow in God, wanting to learn about God, be it through studying the Word, fellowshipping, developing a healthy church life, which prior to Hong Kong was pretty nonexistent."
In addition to finding a home at The Vine Church, an independent Christian congregation located in the heart of Hong Kong catering to both English and Cantonese speakers, Jin spent what he described as crucial time with a Bible study group that embraced him.
"So between the Bible study group as well as the church community that I was trying to pour myself into, as well as was pouring into me, these were I believe critical components in the overall walk and growth that occurred in the several years in Hong Kong."
While his life and worldview had turned 180 degrees, Jin still had it in his heart and mind to return to New York City, and finally found a catalyst when Carol, whom he married in 2011, became pregnant with their baby boy, Chance, who arrived in the same month Jin celebrated his 30th birthday.
God, Family and Second Chances
When asked to describe his transition from Freestyle Fridays and Ruff Ryders Entertainment to his "Crazy Love Ridiculous Faith" mixtape and "Brand New Me" EP on the Catch Adventures record label, Jin of course pointed to his relationship with God, in addition to his new family.
"For me, the 30-year-old Jin is a husband, the 30-year-old Jin is a father. More important than that, the 30-year-old Jin is an absolute lover of God and Jesus and what Christ is doing in me, and what he's done for me."
The MC's gratitude for God's patience is reflected in the name chosen for his son, Chance.
While explaining that he and his wife wanted to avoid more common names like "Mark" or "John," Jin told CP that the name "Chance" kind of just came to him, and wasn't an immediate hit with his wife.
"My wife, she didn't ban it, but she didn't really want to commit to it right away either so she kind of just said 'we'll put that in the maybes list,'" he explained. "By the time she went into labor and he arrived and it was time to do the birth certificate and things like that, we kind of looked at each other and said 'he's Chance.'
"... I feel like God has been so patient with me just giving me chance after chance to kind of redeem myself I guess, or for Him to redeem me and my life. And without a doubt, Chance is probably the greatest gift and the greatest chance He's ever given me."
As for married life, Jin described it as an "an ever-growing, ever-changing, ever-learning experience," adding that for him, "it's about wanting to learn more about your partner, wanting to understand your partner more, wanting to be able to have your partner learn more about yourself, find out how you can compliment each other in the sense of just figuring out what's each other's weaknesses and strengths. God must have put us together for a reason.
"I saw that a while ago already, but now as we are a little bit more deeper in our marriage – technically we're only about to hit our two-year anniversary – but it's such a blessing that in the short time, we've been able to experience a lot of beautiful things together, naturally one being the arrival of our little boy."
Jin credits Carol and Chance in his desire to grow in his relationship with God.
"It's amazing. Now more than ever, particularly pertaining to marriage and fatherhood, [I'm] seeking God's guidance, God's grace, and wisdom from God and direction as the man of the household how to lead this family, how to love this family how to serve this family."
That seems a far cry from Jin's goals 10 years ago, but looking back, the MC told CP that he's certain God was already present in his life, even as a 20-year-old whose sole focus was money, fame and girls.
"At that time, if you were to ask where were you in terms of your relationship with God, was He present – I didn't know then, but I know now that yes, He was ever so present," he said.
"But the biggest difference was I don't think I ever acknowledged Him in the sense of only if something was wrong I might turn to Him and say 'oh God please get me through this.' Other than that, there was no love, there was no gratitude, there was no ... there was just no real relationship, like a real tangible relationship," he added. "There was zilch."
Now, the 30-year-old Jin seems to have so much, and he's keen on sharing it with the world for the glory of God.
Read part two of CP's interview with Jin, in which the MC talks about his return to hip-hop in the states, his views on the "fallen" state of rap and the new album he's working on that he says is unlike anything he's ever done before.