In Paramount’s upcoming movie, “The Fighting Temptations,” pay attention to the tattooed rapper in the orange correctional jumpsuit. That’s not just any actor; that’s Christian rapper and hip-hop artist T-Bone.
T-Bone, on the phone from Miami where he was attending one of the movie’s final screenings before its release tomorrow, talked about the movie, his journey of lost and found faith, and reaching people on the streets.
“The whole experience was incredible,” said T-Bone of his film debut. “Getting to work with Cuba Gooding Jr. was just a dream of mine. I’ve always been a fan of his.” He added that both Gooding and co-star Beyonce Knowles have become good friends of his.
In fact, the whole set assumed a family like atmosphere, he said, prompting many tears on the last day of shooting.
“It was incredible getting to watch the final movie,” he added. “It was such a blessing to work on that.” He said he spent lots of one-on-one time with different members of the cast and crew. He also said one cast member became a Christian as a result.
Leading people to Christ is T-Bone’s top priority. And he does it in a way—rapping—that more “traditional” Christians aren’t used to.
T-Bone was born and raised in the Mission district of San Francisco, an area heavily populated by immigrants from Central America. He spent a lot of time on the streets, but he also spent a lot of time in church.
When he was about 7, his parents became pastors. “I was basically raised in the church,” he said. “I was definitely raised around church stuff and around music.”
T-Bone, whose latest album is “Gospel Alpha Mega Funky Disco Boogie Music,” grew up playing a variety of instruments—drums, guitar, bass, keyboard—all of which came naturally to him.
“Everything I play is by ear,” he said. “I don’t read music. Everybody is blessed with different talents.”
However, he grew up and drifted—away from the positive influences in his life and toward the negative. He acquired the name “Bones” on the streets because he was skinny. Friends eventually added the “T” to make him sound cooler. But his brand of cool made no room for God.
“I didn’t want nothing to do with God,” said T-Bone. “I would actually curse God and tell God I hated him.”
A turning point came, however, when his good friend Ralphie was gunned down in a park.
T-Bone remembered saying to himself, “Wow. You know what? I can choose to do the right thing or the wrong thing.” The Christian music industry knows what he chose.
T-Bone went back to his father’s church seeking a new life.
“I became a redeemed hoodlum,” T-Bone said. And he decided to help the world’s Ralphies—those youngsters caught in cycles of gang violence, drugs, street wars and dismal futures.
“I’m just trying to spread a message of hope,” T-Bone said. That message has continued to snowball as his albums keep gaining attention. In 2001, for example, his album “The Last Street Preacha” was nominated for both a Grammy and a Dove Award. And in addition to appearing in the new movie, he performs on the movie’s soundtrack.
He raps and speaks in most any setting, whether black or white, Hispanic or Asian, church or arena.
T-Bone aims to put a positive message out there, especially for those people who come from backgrounds similar to his. Rap and hip-hop are his tools.
“You can’t go into a Spanish church and talk Chinese,” he said. “You’ve got to come with something they relate to.”
But T-Bone sets himself apart from other hip-hop artists because, ultimately, though the form may be the same, the content is not.
His music “sounds just the same as any other hip hop you would hear, but with a different message,” he said. “They’re rapping about the problem. I’m rapping about the solution.”
T-Bone sees a simple formula as a remedy for the social ills consuming his secular counterparts. Rap is the language of the streets, he said, and God is the language of love.
“You put the two together and see what results take place,” he said.
That’s what T-Bone does. That’s who T-Bone is.
“That’s who I am,” he said. “I’m a Christ-ian. Being a Christ-ian means to be like Christ.”
And the meaning of life comes easy to this self-described redeemed hoodlum.
“To live is Christ, to die is gain,” he said. “That sums it all up. After this life, it just gets better. I get to walk the perfect streets.”
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
Visit T-Bone’s Web site.