Under the bright lights of the stages where he sought to inspire others with the music of his Christian boy band, Benji Shuler was suffering from depression.
In 2015, rapper Benji parted ways with 3for3, the boy band whose song "Halfway" was the most-added single on contemporary hit radio at the time. Benji was one of three teenage members in the group which was named after Psalm 34:3: "O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together."
Looking back at that time, Benji, now 20, admits he had difficulty magnifying the Lord because he hadn't invited the Holy Spirit into his heart.
"It says in 1 Corinthians 12:3 that only by the Holy Spirit do we profess Christ as Lord. I just really hadn't invited the spirit of God into my life," he admitted in an interview with The Christian Post. "When I began to tour in front of all of those people it really put my faith to the test in a way that it had never been tested. Instead of digging deeper to find a revelation of who God really was, I kind of made it about me battling with depression and a lot of stuff."
When he parted ways with 3for3, Benji went through a period of isolation. While his relationship with Jesus suffered, it was in that time of solitude that the rapper and songwriter was able to meet with God.
"I completely lost all faith in God. Interestingly enough I really encountered Jesus for who He really is for the first time as I left the group and kind of was in a weird isolated time," Benji recalled. "That's when I really found Him."
As the son of the Grammy nominated, Dove Award-winning contemporary Christian music singer singer Kim Hill, Benji was raised in church. However, the Nashville, Tennessee-native had to overcome a time where he lost his childhood faith and build a personal relationship with God as a man.
Much of that time inspired Benji's solo effort released this summer, Come Home Now. Just like the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11–32, the rapper and songwriter found himself returning to God after trying to do things his own way.
That testimony inspired the heart of his latest record that is a reflection of Benji digging deep into his salvation story.
"That was a really dark season for me, just not being grounded. I was like 16 or 17 when I started and a lot of life occurred in that," he told CP. "[I'm] able to draw from a deeper place of encountering my salvation in a different way and actually more set on wanting to share my testimony with people."
A fusion of hip-hop, jazz, CCM and a multitude of influences from musicians like Chance The Rapper and TobyMac, Come Home Now does more than just reflect Benji's understanding of the Bible. For him, it's important to showcase that Christians also experience life outside of church and listen to more than just traditional worship music.
"I want to make music that I would listen to and I don't only listen to just blatantly Christian music. I really like that that's happening more within Christian hip-hop," he said. "I want people to listen to the album and have stuff that they can play when they're sitting by the pool and play when they want to listen to more worshipful intentional stuff."
While Benji does express his love for God on his new album and share his testimony, he also opens up about his love life.
"I'm dating a girl right now and it's an awesome Godly relationship. So, of course I'm going to make a few love songs on the record," he said. "I want that to be normal."
If he were a Christian artist that had to rap about Jesus in every song, Benji believes it could feel too forced.
"I think when it becomes forced and all of these songs have to be on this one subject matter then when you are being worshipful and intentional you're not as excited to do it," he said. "You felt like you had to do it every single second or people are going to think that you're drifting away. I think that we're coming into a better understanding of that."
Still, Benji insists that he loves Christian music and continues to drive around with K-Love on his radio. The rapper even decided to flex his vocal chops on his latest album in the worship song "Sing Over Me," which could fit into many Sunday services around the nation.
"It was made in a really powerful moment alone," he said. "It's been cool to see that carry on and make an impact on friends and family pretty deeply like I've never seen my music do before."
Benji began rapping at the age of 13 and has honed his craft for the past seven years. While he is confident in the gift that God has given him, there was once a time when people didn't understand his vision.
"It bothered a lot of people because it was different and people don't like what's different," said Benji when reflecting on the beginning of his career. "Kids are mean at that age. I'm glad i never listened to any of that."
While Nashville has a great deal of country and Christian music influences, he pointed out that the city is going through an interesting time where people from major cities are relocating there. Now, the hip hop movement in Nashville is bigger than it's ever been and Benji is happy that he didn't give up on pursuing his passion.
"Your gifts are for other people," he said. "I was believing that it's going to do something really powerful, be a part of the harvest and just release a sound that makes people drawn to Jesus."
Aside from his music, Benji is also tapping into his love for clothing to release some t-shirts inspired by the album. One design on his shirt illustrates Luke 15:24 which states ,"For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found."
In this new chapter in his career, Benji hopes to touch people's hearts with his gifts.
"I hope this music can bring life," he said. "I hope that it can be a living word for all those that listen to it."
For more information about Benji, click here.