(Photo: The Christian Post via Catch Adventures)
NEW YORK — MC Jin, born Jin Au-Yeung, recently spoke with The Christian Post about his transition from the days of pursuing fame as a Ruff Ryder and BET freestyle champion, to finding God and success during a nearly four-year stay in Hong Kong. The Chinese-American rapper, now back in New York, also spoke with CP about refocusing his hip-hop career with the goal of making an impact for Christ.
While much of his success has been overseas in Hong Kong, with various TV and movie roles, hosting gigs and endorsement deals, Jin hasn't been forgotten by fans and admirers watching him stateside. Since his return to NYC last summer, he has appeared on collaborative tracks and spoken and performed at conferences and music festivals alongside other popular artists like Da' T.R.U.T.H. and Lecrae.
Grateful that his reception outside of Hong Kong has been mostly positive, there nonetheless have been enough critics for Jin to take notice, with some saying his music is "too Christian" and others saying that it's "not Christian enough."
"You know, there's people that even to this day feel that I'm straying away from who I really am or who they think I should be, which is an interesting thing," the MC told CP, insisting that everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
"The only thing I can do is [write] whatever God leads me to write and to share and to convey through the lyrics, through the concepts ... that's really all I can do, and leave to God, as it should be, whose ears and which listeners it falls upon and who it resonates with, who gravitates toward it," he added.
"I pray for God to use the music more in any way that He can to speak to listeners, talk to sinners' hearts, and if He can get to the point of transforming lives, praise God, that's amazing."
Jin's own transformation is captured on the Brand New Me EP, released in December by Catch Music Group LLC where Jin is among a handful of artists that include Joseph Vincent and Toestah. The EP is the Chinese-American MC's follow-up to Crazy Love Ridiculous Faith, a 10-track freebie from the summer and his first English-language album in six years. He has also gotten noticed for his one-off tracks like "Y.O.G.O (You Obey God Only)," a response to rapper Drake's "The Motto" that popularized the term YOLO (you only live once), and got props from The New York Times for his Jeremy Lin anthem "Nick of Time" that also got a nod from the former Knick point guard himself.
The tracks on Brand New Me are fun, introspective, hopeful and remorseful, and if its title and lead single don't offer a clue, Brand New Me is Jin's farewell to his old self-seeking ways. He wrote in a blog post last year: "I dedicate this song to anyone in search of that brand new you. One that is not perfect but realizes there is a need for transformation and will spend every moment of life striving to reach that goal."
The lead single has a catchy hook, carefree vibe and bouncy synth beats – and an equally vibrant video to match (see below).
Jin's currently putting energy into producing a full-length album he hopes to have in stores sometime this year.
"It's called Hypocrite. I just started it, still trying to figure my way through it," the MC shared. "It's definitely an album like none of the previous ones that I've ever done. Both in the old sense, you know like during the days I was with Ruff Ryders, or even in the recent years when my music has been a bit more faith-based I guess you could say."
"'Hypocrite' will be different from both aspects. It's challenging."
When asked about collaboration efforts and whether he has a wish-list of artists with whom he'd like to work, Jin shared that he's actually been very humbled and encouraged by the number of people who have reached out to him for projects. "But now more than ever I start to see that collaboration is really something that shouldn't be taken lightly," he said, perhaps reflecting on his role in the Quentin Tarantino inspired film "The Man With the Iron Fists," directed by Wu-Tang Clan front man and producer RZA.
After being questioned by an online reader about his appearance in the November 2012 R-rated film, described as "absurdly violent" by some critics, Jin seemed to express a tinge of regret about participating in the project.
"The whole experience has been quite a challenge in my walk with Christ. In a good way," he wrote. "God really used the entire process of this project (taking the role, filming, the release) to open my eyes in a major way in regards to where I am in my walk and what my convictions are."
Although he's a hip-hop head and occasionally listens to rap on the radio, Jin said he's mostly been listening to worship music from the likes of Hillsong, Jesus Culture and Casting Crowns, and expressed excitement about discovering the works of gospel artist VaShawn Mitchell and contemporary singer Brandon Heath.
As for the music he makes and the genre he falls into, Jin said he doesn't mind the "Christian rapper" label, at least not any more, having the mindset nowadays to "wear it like a badge of honor."
"To me the whole 'if I am or if I'm not' or 'what is a Christian rapper, what's not a Christian rapper' – to me it's worth talking about but I still think it's something that's very trivial and there's way more important things to be focusing time and energy on than that particular label." He went on to explain that what he finds more relevant is whether he's "living out this walk that I say I want to and that I am."
Jin also shared how his views on rap and life in general have evolved over the last 10 years from a mindset of scrutinizing and analyzing things in a very specific way, to embracing the belief that "the world as a whole, society as a whole, mankind as a whole is just at a loss," and that includes his favorite music genre.
"There are a lot of things about it (rap) that are broken, a lot of elements that are, you could say, are even getting worse with technology, in the sense that the messages that are promoted to the youth. You know hip-hop now more than ever is probably the number one vehicle in terms of steering youth culture, steering the youth, like steering [their] mindset, their morals and values and principles," he told CP.
"With that said, it's a powerful machine and it's a powerful monster and the enemy is aware of that and will use it in any way possible," he added, making it clear that he doesn't believe the rappers or the businesses and record labels are particularly evil.
A major controversy that made headlines late last year that reportedly even caught the attention of the Vatican was the album cover art for rapper The Game's latest effort, Jesus Piece. The religious-themed artwork featured popular imagery of Jesus Christ wearing gang paraphernalia and surrounded by marijuana leaves. Jesus Piece, however, was just one of many works that sparked the ire of members of the Christian community, with rapper Meek Mill attracting rebuke from a Philadelphia pastor for his "blasphemous" song, "Amen."
When asked to comment on the dust-ups, Jin took a humble approach.
"To be honest with you, the first thing that came to my mind, it really made me kind of assess where I was at. It made me evaluate what am I doing for the Lord. It made me really check myself in the sense of like before I even go out of my way to say 'oh no, that's blasphemous what Game is doing, we have to address him and condemn him, and I have to correct him and attack him or whatever.' Before I can get to any of that, the first thing that God did in me was 'Jin, what are you doing? Yeah, you're doing these songs about praising God, worshipping, welcoming the Lord of grace. But beyond that, beyond the music, are you still sinning? Are you still living in sin? Are you still struggling with things? Where are you? And if you aren't anywhere near where you can say I'm good, you better slow your roll before you do anything about anybody else.'
"Now, that's not to excuse them and it's not to justify them and that's not to say 'Oh because I'm all messed up and I have to figure things out,' then that means it's okay to be blasphemous and it's okay to do a song called 'Amen' and it's okay to replicate the image of Jesus on your cover."
Jin added, however, that it's not just rappers that push the envelope when it comes to causing offense, noting how movies and even comedians "kind of push the boundaries."
"I think it's a bigger picture than just the rappers and the songs and the album covers," he said.
"The heart of it isn't [just them] but in just this … bigger picture, like the war that we're fighting; the light versus the dark. What can you do besides keep praying and use each one of our individual platforms and talents that God's given us to hopefully shift the tide."
Watch: Jin's Evolution: Former Ruff Ryder Talks Transition