The Birth of an Album My hands shook as I opened the CD wrapper to pull out the CD. "Here it is," I thought. The first fruit of all that labor in college; the first step in the direction of, what I believed, creating one of the greatest hip-hop albums the world would ever know. The smooth cellophane slipped away to reveal an all-white disc that held the first serenade to the opus that would be "Hood Story". I listened to it once; I listened to it again; I had to have listened to it five times before I even started my car to head home. IT WAS GREAT! I was so excited! Sure, it was a little rough, but for the first take, I saw and heard platinum in the final product. I wanted my family to know. I wanted them to be as excited as I was. Yet it was at that very moment, that the excitement that had so vigorously flooded my body escaped me just as quickly as it came. My mother and grandmother were both Christians. To complicate the situation further, I was a faithful and gifted choir member and Christian myself. I knew that they, two of the most important people in the world to me, would never share my excitement. Then I thought, "What about God?" While cultivating this newfound gift of an amazing singing voice that I loved to use at church, I'd come to grow a deep relationship with my Father, yet while the reality of secular music's tendency to clash with spiritual things was always present, I would appease the growing fear with an excuse. "Oh, I'm not doing regular rap like degrading women, or glorifying drugs and money and sex. Matter of fact, the whole premise of the album is to shed a light of reality of the gruesome circumstance of improper glorification of material, ephemeral things. I'm different, this is REAL hip-hop. I don't even curse... that much." And with that, the problem had been thrown into the cluttered recesses of my subconscious closet. But it all came careening back to the forefront, and got closer and closer to a violent crash into reality the closer I got home. I swallowed the problem down. Surely, they would appreciate the song. They had to, but the look on my grandmother's face said something completely different, and with one question created the loud bang of the problem, that I had for so long dreaded, as it exploded into the tangible. "How are you gonna sing praises to God on Sunday, and talk about a boy in the hood selling drugs the rest of the week?" Of course, I argued it out, using my well-rehearsed argument that had disillusioned me for so long. Grandma didn't buy it, and I chalked it up to her being old and not understanding. Yet the question still remained to be answered. How would I do it? I quickly realized I had a choice to make, God or the world. That night I prayed about it, and I could feel God answer my question with a question. "How effective will your ministry be if you become a world renowned secular hip-hop artist? If you make a gospel album after, how effective would it be? Make the gospel album first, then, if nothing comes of it, go back to the secular album." With that I knew, that I could no longer use my gift for myself. I had been careless and wasted time. I had been selfish and misrepresented God and myself. This time I will honor my Father; this time I will glorify He who made me and the opportunities I've been given; this time my devotion will go To God. *NOTE* All of the songs of the album are inspired works from God, though I did physically write them, the lyrics and message are all attributed to supernatural help "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." -- James 1:17 (KJV) Consecration Consecrate - To make or declare sacred; to devote irrevocably to the worship of God by a solemn ceremony Since it was clear that the creation of this CD was a direct order from and for God, I deduced that the most correct thing to do would be to consecrate both myself and the object of my offering (my praise to Him in the form of this album). So I fasted and prayed for God to give me the words, the melodies, and the production necessary to create something that brought glory to Him. The first song that I was lead to put on the album was a song of consecration out of reverence and respect for God (although, as a Christian, we are already considered holy by the blood of Jesus). In response to what I felt led to do in the Spirit I created a song of consecration. However, the song that's actually on the album is the second of two songs written for this purpose. The first was the hymn, Let God Guide You, with a prayer in the beginning, yet because of the technical problems encountered with retaining the musicality and fluidity of the song while including all of the components of the song; this song was written in it's stead. You're There This was actually the 2nd to last song written on the album and was given to me during a period of time when I felt I was doing this (the project) all by myself, my friends from college, had all been accepted to various graduate schools and medical schools, some were even graduating. It seemed that my family would daily ask me about when I was going to apply to graduate school and support for my musical aspirations was waning. My friends were going through their own situations and, because of their feeling of being alone also, the sentiment was magnified. It was in that alone place that I cried out to God, and felt His presence and voice comforting me, saying, "I'm here I've always been here." I began to reminisce on the hardships God had already brought me through, drug abuse, life threatening situations, jail, homelessness, suicidal thoughts, and so much more. At a loss for words, God gave me the lyrics to this song. I Am After returning home from a day at the studio (my friend, James', owner of Euphonious Music Productions, house), I was sitting outside the car contemplating the series of events that had just unfolded. A normal session of making music had turned into a very fruitful discussion about God and His power. I had shared with James my vision of winning a Grammy next year, but my uncertainty as to how God was going to do it. Then we began to talk about Abraham and Moses, and we concluded that the "how" is best left in God's hands. All we had to do was stand on God's word and walk in His purpose. Stay Near Me While sweating in the piano practice room of McLennan Community College trying to hone my skills as a fledgling pianist, I came across a particular chord progression that caught my ear, and just as soon as I had hammered it out, I had the first stanza of the song. It filled my mind all day as God dropped tidbits of the song here and there. Of course, complete focus in my classes, was gone, but by the time I arrived at home I had a whole song, albeit on about 17 different mediums of paper. Hold My Hand This was the first song God gave me for the album after I realized I was going to be a gospel artist and marked the beginning of God speaking to me in regards to this project. It came to me in the midst of one of the most physically demanding jobs I've ever held, carpet cleaning. To exasperate the situation, what is traditionally a two-man job was cut down to one man because I worked for a small, privately owned business. So there I sat, or stood rather. Me and some 200 pounds of hose, metal, and plastic, and a 45 foot climb to a musty apartment building that sat on the third floor. I prayed before I approached the first step, "Lord Jesus, be with me" Clunk! "Hold my hand as I climb this mountain" Clang! "Whew! This is rough, but God with you I can make it." Clash! By the time I reached the top of the stair case I was a pool of sweat being brought to a comfortable boil by the warm (understatement) summer heat. Then the hard part started. By the time I had turned the musty apartment into a habitable vacancy. The chorus and majority of the first verse were seared into the back of my brain, and I knew my journey as a gospel artist had begun. Words Meant for the Wind I remember the moments before God gave me this song. My friend, who had a major issue with self-confidence, had, again, started his own little pity party, and, as usual, I had to be the one to encourage him in the Lord. Another friends' brother, who had given up on the Lord long ago, refused to give God a try, while my mother's husband had just blatantly disclosed that he was not interested in fulfilling his role as the high priest in the household and give his life to Christ. Though all of these issues compounded and seemed discouraging, I remembered the words of my uncle's pastor. Paraphrased it kinda went like this, "Let's say after the 14th time of being presented with the gospel someone will give their life to Christ, but you're number seven to present. Though you may be discouraged, that person can't get to 14 without first going through 7 so your ministry was necessary. Plus, when you witness to one person, you may be witnessing to several without your knowing it." It was when God gave me this song that I first truly believed I had a shot at a Grammy (I had convinced myself that I was destined for a Grammy on my debut album). The story, concept, and lyrics were amazing, the melody was completely unique to the genre, and the song in completion was, in my mind, unprecedented to gospel music. This could change gospel worship forever; this could change Christian music forever; this was big. All I had to do was convince the world. Except You No one's perfect. Matter of fact, the bible says "...all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," Romans 3:23 - KJV. I'm no exception. Without going too in depth into my life story and to keep the matter simple, I will put it like this; I used to be a heavy abuser of marijuana and hung around the crowds that were liked minded for the purpose of collectively fulfilling our carnal desires. After repenting of the destructive habit and committing myself more deeply to my heavenly Father, I hung around those crowds for a different reason, to show them the light of Christ in hopes that they too would repent. However, that fleshly desire was still there. Gnawing, biting, eroding at the very back of my subconscious to burst forth from time to time, "You know it feels good when you're high... You've done some of your best creative work with weed... You wouldn't be stressing so much if you just hit the ganga... Come on, a little won't hurt." One night that little voice that I had allowed to grow from a feeble whisper to a confident demon convinced me that one little puff won't hurt. So I did it. In 30 seconds the euphoric feeling flooded my body; unheard melodies consumed my mind; a serene calmness rushed through my being; and one more thing arrived, something that made all of the other pleasantries but a sour fruit at the pit of my stomach; guilt. I immediately felt remorse for what I had done. I was harming my lungs and voice. To vital elements to the gift God gave me. That night in my sorrow and pain, I cried out to God in remorse and pleas for mercy and forgiveness. That's when he gave me this song. What the Bible Says This song was probably the easiest to explain, yet still holds a powerful testimony to it. While analyzing the album as it was and picturing what I wanted the finished product to be (an eclectic, solemn, real and heartfelt representation of my praise to God) I decided that I needed to have a gospel song that, minus the lyrics was reminiscent of a jazzy R&B song. I prayed to God for it, and this is what He gave me, literally. The song was written and musically produced in a day. To God This was it, the title song. This had to be one of the best songs on the album in my opinion and for some reason whenever I prayed about how to go about building the song I kept hearing a mixture of Jill Scott's "You Love Me" with Ginuwine's "Two Way". Soon after lyrics ensued, yet truthfully, this song took the longest to write and spanned nearly the whole developmental period of the project. Only because I wanted the song to be a musical and lyrical masterpiece that accurately conveyed my feelings about my Lord. Unbelievable This was the first gospel song I'd ever written, and in it's original form, was more akin to Brian McKnight's "More than Wonderful" with a completely different 1st verse. BUT, my guitar teacher at the time had just taught me about major seventh arpeggios and chords, and those had just become my favorite chords. So, like any budding musician who falls in love a new chord or arpeggio, I write a song centered around it, and it just so happened that the lyrics to the original Unbelievable fit nicely with the song. After a little polishing and the addition of a new first verse, Unbelievable became just that (this is one of my favorites on the album, by the way). Without Fear "Man! Nothing beats good 'ole homemade Texas barbecue, ice cold beer, dominoes, and good times music! And my homeboy's dad is one of the best chefs I've ever known too! Mmm! *mouth stuffed* thss ish soo goo! And they have to do the push-ups 'cuz they lost! Again! Haha, get on your face! Don't try to weasel out of it you know you can't... wait... what? What's all the commotion outside? Hey you guys stop arguing! So what you're dying old man, don't blame God... just because you feel you lead a better life than your siblings didn't make you immune from trials, don't go down the "Why me? Why me?" road! Oh my God, somebody get a towel call 911, he's coughing up blood!" It is but a single moment; the bat of an eyelash; a piece of a nanosecond; that life can change. That the brightest of joys can morph into the deepest of sorrows, the simplest of pleasures into the most complex of tragedies; the fullness of happiness into the emptiness of broken lament. That's what happened the day my friend's dad, who had just been released from the hospital, displayed the realness of his sickness. He was told he would die in that hospital, yet he lived, and with a new gift of life he chose to eat, drink and be merry despite the ailing of his cirrhosis consumed liver and constant doctor warnings to stop drinking. He was a walking miracle, yet because his disposition was that of someone waiting in line at death's door and not that of one filled with the hope of the power of God, it was only a matter of time. Life circumstances arise that we cannot control or fix, and it is at that very moment that the character of our faith is revealed, because all we can do is trust God and stand on His promises or fall into the despair of what seems. A gifted vocalist with an incredible range, "Aservant," born Femi Ariya has had an affinity for music since he was very young. However, this affinity was originally expressed in playing musical instruments. It wasn't until the singer/songwriter was asked to join his church choir and later the praise team after singing a little too loud from the congregation. What started as a bashful acquaintance grew into a passionate romance as the then Science & Foreign Language major found himself quickly falling in love with ministry and finding the purpose he never knew was missing. As he matured as a singer, he was blessed to cross paths with many gospel greats of the time, including receiving vocal coaching from gospel legend Kim Burrell. Although his writing skills were originally born out of artistic expression in secular rap (yes, he does rap) he quickly became a proficient songwriter allowing the perfect marriage between the powerful, yet soulful voice and the poetic imagery born through his lyrics. With a style completely absent from the contemporary gospel arena, the music and ministry of Aservant is guaranteed to amaze and deeply impact the masses, while leaving them clamoring for more. He is gifted for God's glory, yet humble with his craft. He is made to touch the world, yet lives to touch the soul. He is nothing more than Aservant.