MOBO Award-winning artist, Jahaziel, is one of the UK’s most popular and exciting gospel rap talents. During the course of his illustrious career, he has worked with pop luminaries like Daniel Bedingfield, Craig David and Lemar; performed on the same bill as r’n’b star Trey Songz, at a special reception hosted by BET at City Hall, London, and performed in numerous countries, including Pakistan, Ghana and the US.
He’s known for his innovative and insightful rap lyrics, which touch on the reality of life, but point people heavenwards.
Heads Up is the popular rapper’s latest musical offering. It’s his first album on US label Xist Records, and features guest appearances from various artists, including Guvna B, Sean Simmonds, Dwayne Tryumf, and his uncle, reggae star Maxi Priest, who featured on the debut single from the album, ‘They Don’t Know’.
Jahaziel spoke to Keep The Faith about Heads Up, his work as an urban missionary with Eden Network, his journey to faith, and his plans for the Christmas season.
KEEP THE FAITH (KTF): Congratulations on the release of your album, Heads Up, on US label Xist Records. What are your hopes for this release?
JAHAZIEL: Thank you, it’s been a journey. I’ve always worked on the premise of ‘Do your best, and trust God to do the rest’, so I’m excited to see where He’ll take it. My main hope is that everyone who hears Heads Up is inspired in some way.
KTF: Your first single from Heads Up, ‘They Don’t Know’, featured your uncle, reggae singer Maxi Priest. How did you encourage him to duet with you on the track, and what was it like working with him?
JAHAZIEL: We talked and it just seemed right. It was a while after we agreed to do the song together that the song actually came about, as we wanted to wait for the right song. It was an honour working with someone with as much talent and experience as Max, and although I’m his nephew, I’ve long been a fan.
KTF: What kind of response has the track been getting?
JAHAZIEL: From what I’ve been seeing and hearing, the response has been great! The video has been getting a lot of love and exposure on some major websites and blogs, and the comments have been very encouraging – seems people are glad to hear some new material from me.
KTF: What is the overall theme of Heads Up, and what are the key messages you’ve wanted to convey via the album?
JAHAZIEL: I didn’t want to get too abstract or complicated on this project, so I tried to keep the themes quite simple, really. The messages of the album are based around simple truths that carry weight and depth, but hopefully relate to all people in some way. In a way, I’ve tried to make an album that goes back to the formula of the Negro spiritual songs that many still sing today: songs of love, hope, freedom, forgiveness, joy through trials and, ultimately, eternity.
KTF: You’ve got a number of guest artists on the album – American and British. What process did you undertake to decide which artists you wanted to feature on your album and what, for you, are the stand-out tracks on Heads Up?
JAHAZIEL: Every artist that features on this project is an artist that I am a fan of. Honestly, every collaboration was a stand-out song to me.
KTF: Xist Records are an American label. How have the Yanks been responding to the album, and what new doors have opened up for you stateside since signing to the label?
JAHAZIEL: I guess this remains to be seen. Right now, no one’s heard the album yet, but I do look forward to seeing the reviews and feedback from the States when it drops. I’ve always got a lot of love from the US – hence the signing – and this is my first album with Xist, so I’m looking forward to what new doors might open out there.
KTF: For the past few years, you’ve been an urban missionary working for the Eden Network. What do they do, what work do you do for them, and what inspired you to work for them?
JAHAZIEL: Yeah, I’ve been working for the Eden Network, leading a team of urban missionaries for a couple years now. I say ‘urban missionaries’, but really they’re just everyday people with a heart to see the local youth know God’s love. In partnership with the local church, we run all sorts of youth engagement activities from football to job searching to Bible studies. What is special about Eden is that it involves actually moving into the neighbourhood and becoming part of the local community, so you’re not just sharing some of your time, you’re sharing your life – which is what Jesus did.
JAHAZIEL: I used to see church as a place where I go just to get fed; now I see it more as a place where I get to serve and see others fed. It hasn’t changed my attitude towards urban youth or music, but it has confirmed to me that the culture needs godly people to stand up and affect society, rather than sitting on the sidelines talking about it.
KTF: Can you tell me a little about your upbringing, where you grew up, how many siblings you have, what role did faith play in your upbringing and what your childhood was like?
JAHAZIEL: My childhood was affected quite badly by my parents’ volatile break up. You don’t always get to choose how these things affect you, and for me at a young age I automatically responded by becoming rebellious and violent. My school life suffered greatly, and I was constantly kicked out of schools. I have one older brother, and he was always a pretty good example by and large but, as I said, things affect people differently. When we were kids, my Mum took us to Sunday school for a while. There were a lot of things I didn’t like about church, but I was impressed with this God they believed in. It was here, I think, the seed of faith was planted in my heart, but it was a long while later before I realised it. I thank God that I made it through my teenage years without going to prison, getting killed or hooked on drugs, because at times they seemed like the most likely outcomes.
KTF: What inspired you to become a Christian and pursue a ministry as a gospel rapper?
JAHAZIEL: What inspired me to become a Christian was simple: the Gospel. Like I said, I had some kind of faith in God and I’d heard stuff about Jesus, but it was hearing the truth of why Jesus went to the cross, and having it explained to me from the Bible that I was a sinner in need of a Saviour, that brought me to my knees. As far as being a ‘gospel rapper’ – I never planned to be one. Rap was a big part of my life before I was a Christian, and when I came to faith it just seemed natural to translate what I was learning about God into rhymes. I remember the first time someone asked me how long I’ve been doing rap ‘ministry’, and I was like, “I don’t know… What is ministry?” I just kept doing it, as it seemed to affect people’s lives positively and, as long as I keep getting messages of how people are encouraged and blessed by my music, I’ll continue to do it.
KTF: I’m sure there have been many, but what have been the highlights of your music ministry to date?
JAHAZIEL: Honestly, I don’t really have highlights. I’ve had so many great experiences, and I try not to esteem one above the other. I try to give my best, whether it’s in front of 10 or in front of 10,000; whether in front of cameras and celebrities or on a street corner. The Bible says all of Heaven gets hyped over just one soul coming to know God, so if I did have any highlights, it would be when through me or my music someone connects with God. That’s what it’s about for me.
KTF: We are in the season of Christmas. What does this time of year mean to you, and how will you be spending it?
JAHAZIEL: Family and food. The year can zip by and I’ve hardly taken time to let my family know I appreciate them, so Christmas is a great time to make the effort to do that. I’m not really a fan of the religious side of Christmas to be honest, but I appreciate that for many it is a time of reflection on the birth of Jesus and thanksgiving to God, and if that works for you – go for it!
KTF: What should we be expecting from Jahaziel in 2014?
JAHAZIEL: Hopefully, more of what you’ve come to expect from me over the years: top quality music that you can enjoy but that also uplifts your soul. More videos, more collaborations, more concerts, more preaching engagements, more street evangelism.
KTF: And lastly, what Christmas message would you like to share with readers of Keep The Faith?
JAHAZIEL: Bless yourself and someone you know with a copy of my new album, ‘Heads Up’, loool. Really though, beneath the (w)rapping is the greatest Gift. His presence is the best present you can give. If Paul’s handkerchief could touch and change lives, so can this album – go get it and give it.
Heads Up is out now. Visit www.jahazielmusic.com, or like on Facebook at Jahaziel Music, or follow on Twitter @jahazielmusic