Flame, a.k.a. Marcus T. Williams-Gray, was born in the inner city streets of St. Louis, Missouri where he was influenced by the Hip-Hop culture. His best friend (his grandmother) was a significant person who helped shaped him – teaching him about life and more importantly, Christianity.
Being part of the Hip-Hop culture and having done secular rap for years, he was drawn to the Gospel rap area of a local Christian bookstore where he picked up a CD by Cross Movement. Impressed by the artistic quality of the music, and the content, Flame found the lyrics saturated in Scripture being both encouraging and challenging.
Flame’s desire to reach people in the Hip-Hop culture grew more intense. In 2000, after being edified through Cross Movement’s music, Flame made his way to one of their concerts in Chicago. He met the group and provided them with a demo CD of his own work. Much to his surprise, he received a call back. Cross Movement began to build a relationship with Flame that was fostered over a couple of years. In 2002, Flame was invited on the Platinum Souls Tour with Cross Movement. Shortly after, Flame was signed to Cross Movement Records.
Recently, Flame took the time to sit down and answer some questions for The Christian Manifesto.
TCM: First, we’d like to thank you for taking the time to interview with us. We really enjoyed your new album and are excited to hear what’s next from Cross Movement Records.
Flame: You’re welcome. Thank you all for your kind and encouraging words concerning my music and ministry.
TCM: Tell us a little about your past. How did you get started in Christian rap? Were you always a Christian rap artist?
Flame: I grew up in St. Louis Mo as a typical kid in the inner city. As I grew up I became infatuated with the world and ungodly ways. Although I was God conscious and influenced by Christianity because of my mom and my grandmother, sin looked much more attractive than God and His ways. I was drawn to Hip Hop culture because there was nothing else around that could compete with it in estimation. Rap music articulated everything that was desirable and worth perusing in my eyes. In 5thgrade I started. Initially I was a positive rapper who would make songs about school and hanging out with my friends. Until I got older and realized that rapping about school was wak! The rest of my early teen years were spent writing about guns, gangs, and girls. I didn’t start doing Christian Rap until I was 16 years old. After the death of my grandmother, Frances Jones, God began to draw me to Himself. After conversion I immediately started writing raps privately unto the LORD as a relationship thing. I had no intentions of sharing my raps with anyone but Him. It all changed when I heard a local group in St. Louis called Du C’zon. When I heard them I was encourage to go public with my secret.
TCM: So, why did you choose the stage name ‘Flame’? What meaning did it have as you started out? How has than meaning changed or grown as you’ve changed and grown as an artist?
Flame: I was always FLAME. It was my nickname before I was a Christian. I added a biblical meaning to it when God saved me. While reading the bible and hearing sermons about the life of Jeremiah and the persecution he was under I became inspired. I noticed that in spite of the persecution coming his way for saying to Israel and Judah what God told him to say, although he grew weary and didn’t want to make mention of God’s message, he could not restrain himself because God’s truth and message was like fire in his bones (Jeremiah 20:9). I felt as if this described my early Christian experience and defined my zeal and passion for the LORD and His glory! I also began to recognize that God’s presence in the bible is often times manifested through a fire. I feel like I am a flame from His consuming fire. This explanation and understanding of my artist name has come out of a continuing desire to be like Him, i.e., a little flame.
TCM: Cross Movement Records has always been known for releasing albums that rival anything that’s in the general market, your own albums included. How did you first connect with CMR and how has that relationship grown?
Flame: I met CM in Chicago IL in 2001. By this point my label mate JR and I had long since collaborated to start a production company called So Hot Production (mostly JR’s idea). We made a 4 song CD and had been doing shows at church and other local venues. This provided us with the projected my friends convinced me to give to them after the show. I was a nervous wreck lol. Needless to say, they accepted it and gave us a call back. It only took them a week! We started having bible studies and prayer over the phone. It went on for about 2 years. We’ve grown closer over the years to the point that we feel blood related.
TCM: Christian rap is still a marginalized genre within Christian music, despite the mainstream success of the medium. Only recently have we seen any real recognition, though it seems limited to known names such as Tobymac and KJ-52. Even after 10 years, the rap duo Grits doesn’t seem to get the recognition they deserve within the Christian music world. People are still surprised at the quality when I pop in a CD from CMR, noticing it is talking about Jesus and lacks swearing. What are some inroads you see being made and have you ever considered partnering with those whom the Christian music community seem to have recognized?
Flame: I definitely see doors opening up for the entire genre. The internet has played a powerful role in the expansion of this brand of Hip Hop culture and Christian Rap. Through internet radio and video programs a lot of attention has been coming our way. Mp3 and ringtone companies have contributed a great deal to the genre as well. We are even seeing various award organizations recognizing the ministry. I typically work with artist that I have a friendship with. Although, I’m not opposed to developing a friendship with any of the Christian Rap artist you mentioned. That would be great!
TCM: We hear you’re in Bible school right now. What class is teaching you the most in terms of your faith? In terms of your art?
Flame: Yes I am in Bible school right now. I’m currently at a school named Boyce College in Louisville KY. I’m thoroughly benefiting in my faith through all of my classes but I must say that my New Testament History 2 and my psychology class is really hitting home for me.
TCM: In the song, “Who Can Pluck Us” you make mention of the fact that the discussion about verses about predestination don’t get much airtime in the church today. Its very difficult for people to talk about it because there are so many views on it. What are your beliefs on predestination? Would you say you’re of a more Reformed (predestination) disposition on the topic or Arminian (free will)?
Flame: First of all I’m very sensitive to the type of emotions this discussion can arouse. I truly and deeply love my brothers and sister in the Lord Jesus Christ who hold to a different view than I do. However, predestination is an inescapable topic in the bible. From the Old Testament (c.f. Jeremiah 1:4-6) to the New Testament (c.f. Ephesians 1: 1-6) it’s seen. I can’t help but to notice in the entire scope of Redemption that God has predestined or beforehand set out to save a portion of humanity from the curse of creation. Yes I do hold a Reformed view of Predestination. Concerning free will I do believe we have it but it’s bound by our sinful nature. With my free will I won’t choose God because in my sin I don’t want Him on His terms.
TCM: What is your personal philosophy of ministry?
Flame: I try to base my philosophy of ministry from the Apostle and the early church. If one were to do a study of the book of Acts I believe they will notice that they didn’t have all the answers and the “Know how” but they were thoroughly persuaded by the great gospel, filled with the Holy Spirit and with wisdom, and deeply in love with Jesus Christ. I notice that they kept the good news of Jesus Christ as the central theme of their message and they knew the culture of the people around them. So I believe, in short, that if you love God and want to see people worship Him that you would boldly but tactfully communicate His message and watch Him add to the church as He did in the case with Peter (Acts 2: 37-41). So what that looks like for me is in my music or my teaching I strive to present a clear gospel message, from different angles that show the relevance of the Bible. My hopes is that the listener would go beyond listening to good music to being confronted with the almighty God who created them and wants to satisfy them forever with Himself! This is a difficult task artistically. It takes a lot more effort to squeeze lofty theological concepts into Hip Hop language, with a pinch of urban swag, and a full cup of cultural relevance. However, it is totally worth the task. Although everyone who hears my music doesn’t instantly become converted and “see the light,” I am comforted in the fact that I played my role. The rest is up to God. To clarify, this is only part of my philosophy of ministry. These are some of the principals that govern my thinking as it relates to writing songs, making albums, and teaching. It takes much more than this to make a disciple (Matthew 28: 18-20).
TCM: Your depth of Scriptural knowledge shines through on Our World Redeemed. The first album Our World Fallen seemed substantially darker (though not utterly hopeless) than this outing. Was this an artistic consideration going into recording?
Flame: Definitely. I wanted to not only provide and explanation of the Fall of Man but also to capture the dreadful and somber mood of the Fall. I wanted to shine some light of hope in “Our World Fallen” but only enough to leave the listener wanting more. I wanted “Our World Redeemed” to be the ultimate climax filled with not only an explanation of the redemption but with the happiness and joy that comes along with that it.
TCM: Between the two albums, what is the overarching theme you were trying to communicate as you put them together?
Flame: My inspiration came from a 15 year old guy in my old hood who had never heard of Adam and Eve. This was a catastrophe to me. I thought to myself this is clearly a sad day and time filled with people who have no clue of the most important issue in the universe, namely the sinfulness of humanity. I sought out to articulate to people that we are a part of something that’s been going on long before we were all created (God’s plan of redemption). Since this is true it is in our best interest to stop trying to redefine life and its purpose and get to the crux of what life is all about, namely God’s glory.
TCM: What have been some of the opportunities that have been presented by God as you’ve ministered to people through rap?
Flame: To name a few I’ve had the opportunity to see people have a deeper understanding of God’s word through my music that encouraged a greater longing for Him. I’ve had the opportunity to see people come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Also, being able to just challenge the thoughts of nonbelievers has been a blessing. I’ve even seen people freed from false teaching! A small blessing that always stands out to me is watching people develop just a little more respect for Christian Rap as a legitimate art form worth lending an ear to. Other things like being able to travel the world and meet people I would have never been able to get close to had not I been a Christian Rap artist have presented themselves.
TCM: Flame, you’ve been so gracious in spending some time with us.
Flame: Thank you for the opportunity.
TCM: Just one more question, though. If Jesus were to comment on the life of Marcus T. Gray, what would you want him to say about you?
Flame: That I genuinely love Him!
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