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From Gangsta Rap to Catholic Hip Hop, With the Help of the Church Fathers

November 11, 2016 7 Comments

Catholic hip hop artist Carlos “C2six” Zamora was raised Catholic, but getting involved in selling drugs and achieving a measure of success in the 1990’s Fort Worth gangsta rap scene led him away from his Catholic roots.  He told the Coming Home Network how the realization of his negative influence, the legacy of his mother, and the witness of the Church Fathers brought him back to the fullness of truth.

Did you grow up Catholic?

I did.  I was born and raised Catholic.  I was a very nominal Catholic — that’s probably an understatement — I was a very unfaithful Catholic.  I fell away from the Church early on.

When people think of violent cities today, they often think of Chicago, Detroit, or Oakland.  Do you think it’s easy to forget how crazy Dallas/Fort Worth was in the 80’s and 90’s?

I think they do.  Honestly, it’s a lot better than it was in the 80’s and 90’s, but it’s still quite a bit higher than the national average.  We’re a 16 county metropolitan area, and we’ve already witnessed 130 murders just in my county this year.

How did that social unrest impact you growing up, especially with your interest in rap, which dealt a lot with the theme of violent crime?

I think a lot of people in Fort Worth felt like gangsta rap was the soundtrack to their lives.  It wasn’t like they felt that someone was glorifying violence, or gangs, or drugs — they felt like it was just telling their story, and they could relate to it.

So where were you in all of this?

Late 80’s I was in middle school.  That was the time when I really started to stray from the Church and my parents’ authority.  I was getting mixed up with the wrong crowd.  I was probably in 6th or 7th grade when I really started drinking and smoking marijuana.

And music was a huge part of this for you.  In middle school, a lot of kids think they can rap on the playground.  When did you start to think to yourself, “hey, I might actually be good at this”?

Ha! You know, as early as 4th and 5th grade, I remember making up raps with my friends, trying to imitate Run D.M.C, The Beastie Boys, L.L. Cool J, KRS-One … it wasn’t actually until high school when I started trying to make a performance out of it.  We’d go perform at house parties, and raves, and whatever, but I kind of gave it up for a period of time, because I thought, “it’s fun, but it’s not going to make me money.  I went on to get involved in selling drugs, because I thought that’s where the real money was going to be.  When I eventually walked away from selling, that’s when I got back into doing music, and I realized I could make some money doing it.

I met my wife in 1996, so it was probably around 1998 when I walked away from the dope game and started trying to pursue music: open mics, emcee battles, and things like that locally — it was just a bunch of guys who were doing the same thing, and it evolved into doing some stuff with a group called SKS (Southern Kappin Soldiers) with our own label.

The entire time I did gangsta rap, I would say that I never lost faith in God. I didn’t, however, necessarily know what to believe about Him, and I didn’t necessarily believe He loved me, but I didn’t have any problem with saying “God is real.” Somehow or another, I still incorporated that into my music, even if it was just a small verse about saying prayers.  I tried to include it without coming across as being soft or weak.  I think that in and of itself is a grace, but I didn’t know anything about my faith.  I didn’t know what to believe, and I was too lazy to figure it out.

Was there a moment when that changed for you?

There were a couple of different moments, actually.  The one that put it in motion was when my mother passed away.  She had pancreatic cancer, and I realized when she was alive, I felt like I never really made her proud, that she never saw me do something good with my life.  I’m sure she would have said that she was proud of me, but I didn’t feel like she should be.  That was always in the back of my head when I was doing my music — she always heard me doing gangsta rap with all this profanity, and never heard me do anything positive.

I started listening to a bunch of different preachers and pastors — mostly evangelical or Protestant.  I was kind of moving that way, and then we got asked to do a concert at a local club, an all ages event.  I wasn’t quite sure what all ages meant.  I figured I’d get my paycheck, and I’d be good.  When we got there, I found out that “all ages” basically meant middle school and high school kids.  There were about 1500 people there, and I realized I was about to say all those crazy things that we said in our music to a bunch of kids who were really vulnerable. 

That was the moment I decided to quit.  I told the promoter, “You should be ashamed of yourself for having gangsta rappers come perform for kids.”  The promoter told me, “I’m not the one rapping it.  You should be ashamed.”

I didn’t get mad at him — point taken.  I walked to the VIP area, put my head down on the table, and cried for two hours.  That night, I told God, “I don’t know what You’re leading me to, but I feel like You’re the one leading me, so I’m just going to follow You wherever You take me.”  I promised that night I’d be done with gangsta rap, and I was — that was the last time I ever booked a gangsta rap concert.

You mentioned you were listening to some evangelical and Protestant pastors at the time, what was it about what they were saying that resonated with you?

A lot of it was hearing them talk about what I was missing in my life: a relationship with Jesus.  At the time, I didn’t understand what kind of relationship I could have with Him as a Catholic.  I knew I wanted that relationship.  In the course of that, I got tied up with some very anti-Catholic Protestant Christians, who led me out of the Church for a period of time.  I became one of those anti-Catholic, in-your-face, “you have to get saved from the Whore of Babylon” guys.

As I continued to write music, I started to ask myself a lot of questions about what I really believed.  I’d hear them say all this stuff about the Catholic Church, but I wasn’t sure if it was true.  Something didn’t fit about it.  I’d catch myself saying something that I heard another Christian rapper say, or a Protestant pastor say, and I’d question it since it didn’t fit with what little I knew about Catholicism.  So, then, I’d study it.  And almost without fail, it’d point me back to Catholicism.  I was like, “wow, what is happening?”

Well, there are a lot of really established Christian rappers out there: Lecrae, Trip Lee, even all the way back to the mainstream top-40 rap of DC Talk, but there’s not a lot of visible Catholic presence in hip hop.  Did you feel out of place?

At first, I didn’t.  When I first started doing Christian rap, I considered myself sort of a non-denominational Christian.  It wasn’t until about two years later that I had my reversion back to Catholicism.  I continued to do Christian rap as a Catholic who had “come home,” but everyone assumed I was Protestant, so people would make these very crude remarks to me about Catholicism, and it bothered me.  I’d be like, “it’s one thing to disagree with the Church, but the Church doesn’t actually believe that.”

I wasn’t trying to go out and be some defender of the Church, but I kept finding myself in the position of telling people that what they were saying wasn’t what the Church teaches — we don’t worship Mary, or worship the Pope, other things like that.  This all eventually led to me reading a lot of apologetics.  I wasn’t trying to be a professional apologist, I just found myself in a position where I needed to be able to give good answers to people, and more importantly, to protect my own faith.  I actually ended up getting pretty good at explaining Catholicism to people.

That’s actually something we hear a lot at CHNetwork — that people learn about the Faith when they find themselves being forced to defend it.  Do you think those attacks on your Catholic faith actually made it grow?

Definitely, because there were a lot of things I thought I knew that I’d never given any real thought to, and some things were completely new to me.  I learned a lot during that time.

Just for example — and this is a really big example, because it’s what sealed the deal for me — as an adult who’d been baptized Catholic, I had no clue what we believed about the Eucharist.  No clue.  It wasn’t until somebody told me, “Catholics believe that Jesus is really present there,” that I said, “I don’t think Catholics believe that.”  They told me, “of course they do!”  I was like, “are you sure?”

That’s actually when I was introduced to the Church Fathers.  I started reading in particular St. Justin Martyr, and St. Ignatius of Antioch.  I was blown away.  When I finally believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, I said to myself, “okay, this is a done deal.  I’m back, and I’m back for good.  If that’s really Jesus on the altar, and we’re invited to approach Him in that sacrament, how could I say no, even if I don’t understand how it all works?”

Kind of like St. Peter in John 6, when he says, “Lord, to whom can we go? You’re the one who has the words of eternal life.”

Amen! That’s exactly how I felt.  And it was shortly after that when all my other questions and doubts started falling away, one by one.  But had I not been challenged on that point of my faith, I don’t know how long I would have gone without understanding that about the Eucharist.

So how did the Catholic hip hop thing come about?

I was still doing Christian rap, and toying with the idea of calling it Catholic rap, if only because everyone kept assuming I was Protestant.  I started Googling “Catholic rap,” and I came across I guy I knew from some groups I’d been in before, a guy named Le from Austin, and he was really good.  I was blown away that he was doing Catholic rap, so I contacted him.  I found a guy named Nick Torres (Dy-verse), and we decided to work together.  We put out a song called “Christ is Alive,” and from there we started getting contacted … I came across El Padrecito, which is Fr. Masseo Gonzales’ ministry.  He was going after a very distinct demographic, unchurched urban minorities — people who were like me when I was growing up.  We’ve all been working together ever since then.

I’m real into social media, so I started up The Catholic Hip Hop Forum on Facebook, and the next thing you know, we’re seeing Catholic hip hop artists popping up in LA, in New York, in Chicago, and everywhere.  It’s a movement now, and it was all based on a dream and a desire to do something for God’s glory.

Check out “Feels so Good,” a track featuring the Foundnation Family, which includes C2six:

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