JACKSONVILLE — "I have seen things in my life that would make Dr. Phil crazy," Jacksonville native, ordained minister and aspiring rap artist Stephen I. Crow Jr. said with a laugh. "That's why I don't label my music specifically as "Christian rap" — yes, Christians who love rap can listen and hopefully be uplifted, but I truly want and am trying to bring the word and Jesus' message to people who may never have heard it or don't believe it's for them. People who are lost aren't Christians — I know, I was lost once, too, but I'm hear to tell them, yes, it is for you. God's love changed me, even after I lived a life that would make Dr. Phil crazy."
The 26-year-old, who raps under the moniker Stephen I, admits to a checkered past including drug use, abuse, jail time and even gang-related violence that left him in a coma for a short time.
"I was living the kind of life the rappers were rappin' about," he recalls. "I went from being a straight A student to the 'thug life' and yes, I ended up in jail. Those songs I let define who I was at the time left out a lot of details about the consequences of that kind of life.
"I was in jail long enough to realize I had burned every bridge, squandered every opportunity I'd had. I had no hope.
"But, as they say, the good Lord moves in mysterious ways," Crow continued, voice catching with emotion. "My little sister was attending church at the time and she had written me a letter, wanting to share all the good news she was learning about Jesus, and I guess I was ready to hear it because it really just clicked for me and I understood He was the only one who could help me out of the huge hole I'd dug for myself. I just felt filthy.
"I cried out. His love lifted me, healed me."
Crow remembers it wasn't long after that he began to feel compelled to write his rap lyrics down.
"I'd never done that before," he confessed. "I've always loved music and rap music, especially. I played around with writing songs before that, but I never committed anything to paper."
It was after his first rap performance at the New Jerusalem Church in Jacksonville that he finally knew where God was leading him.
"I'd been high (chemically) before then, but that night I was so high on the Holy Spirit I drove right past my own driveway," he joked. "It was awesome."
Flash forward to the present date, Crow has performed many concerts at area civic events, youth activities and local churches and is getting ready to release his first uplifting rap album, titled "Throne Room Music." Free music downloads are available at www.meeknessmusic.com.
"I've never stopped loving the rap music genre — I just have a much better message to share now," he said. "I want to use my gifts, the ones that God gave me, to reach out to people and let them know there is hope. If He can save me, he can save you."