Toronto hip-hop artist Promise is working on new music to be released for spring 2016 Photo courtesy of iPromise Music

Promise to bear witness

By  Robert Adragna, Youth Speak News
  • October 23, 2015

TORONTO - He’s been on the Toronto hip-hop scene for more than 10 years, innovatively blending R&B, jazz and alternative vocals and rhythms with his self-professed ability to “spit sick.” He’s rapped about a whole host of controversial issues, from pre-marital sex to drugs to abuse to the nature of success.

But Toronto hip-hop artist Promise Jason Jamal Shepherd, or Promise as he’s known, isn’t your everyday rapper/songwriter, selling the typical blend of luxury and fast money with hedonistic sprinkles of sex and drugs. Promise, a devout Christian, is using his music to bear witness to the Gospels in a relatable way.

He makes reference to personal experience, the lifestyles we live and challenges we face as Christians following in the footsteps of Jesus.

“That’s all I’m doing through my music — sharing why I live the way I live, sharing why I do the things I do,” he said.

Promise’s last album, Awakening, is a call for Christians to remember the fundamental and often overlooked presence that God has in all of our lives.

To live fully we should, as Promise said, avoid “majoring on a minor.” That is, avoid placing emphasis on the things in life, such a money or power, that ultimately do not develop our relationship with God and others.

We must also tune in to the inner calling that God has for each of us and follow it, regardless of any obstacles we may encounter.

“The passion and desire in your heart, it didn’t just appear. God imparted that for a reason,” Promise said. “This is the time when you can do anything you want.”

Promise himself tries to exemplify the determined and optimistic attitude he preaches. In his youth, while his friends were getting jobs at shoe stores for employee discounts, Promise worked incessantly to develop his abilities as a producer and artist. Now, after “doing this all day every day for 10 years now” and releasing several studio albums, he said he’s gotten pretty good at this whole music business and he’s proud of it.

“Its not easy to do music full time you know, so when people find out they’re like, ‘How can you do this full time? And in Canada? How is that possible?’ And I give them one stock answer: it’s God you know, that’s it,” he said.

Promise gladly acknowledges the help that a deeper force has played in his personal success — the Lord’s guiding hand.

Instead of falling into the traps of the “street life” which often entices young hip-hop artists, with its excessive partying and drugs, Promise stayed clean — becoming a family man with two children. Because of his personal commitment to his faith, Promise sacrificed many opportunities to achieve quick success, money and fame. But ultimately, he believes his choice was self-evident.

“Me and Drake were like close friends… if I didn’t have a relationship with the Lord I’d just be running with Drake. But I had to make a choice… and I decided to stick with the One, who’s been with me since day one.”

Above all else, Promise’s dedication to God has influenced his career as an artist. By refusing to swear in his music and discussing his experiences and worldview, he distinguishes his work from that of the vast majority of his contemporaries.

“I just desire a balance,” he said. “I’m not looking to eradicate all negative thinking… When we see how bad hell is, it helps us understand what we’ve been snatched from. We just need a lot more of the good stuff, because the scale is way off.”

To achieve this balance, Promise believes it is essential to share Jesus’ message in a relatable and accessible way with the entire world. He writes about his personal experiences with issues facing Christians and all moral people in a casual manner, reminding us that the Lord’s message is just an everyday life and is pertinent even in other faiths.

“That’s what I like to be, a regular guy that people can relate to, people can talk to,” he said. “I feel like if we were more normal, more relatable to people it would be so much easier to share the Gospel with them, to explain why we live the way we live.”

He continues, “You share the Gospel. We’re not called to ‘inject’ the Gospel… I’m not overtly religious, I’m not like ‘Ephesians 5:6 says do this.’ I’m just spitting, spitting life. The Gospel is in my life and I’m just letting it permeate over you… we wear the Gospel, we wear God.”

These efforts are helping Christianity to spread and do good in the world around us. But above all else, as a musician, Promise is simply focused on making good music that reflects and shares his identity. He refuses to waiver on this commitment, despite the confusion and incredulity elicited by his designation as a Christian in the music industry.

“What? Just because I’m Christian, my music shouldn’t be dope?”

(Adragna, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Bishop Allen Academy in Toronto, Ont.)

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