After thriving through the seamless transition between a cutting edge newcomer at the tip of the 2000s to one of today’s most respected and ambitious rap/hip-hop heroes, KJ-52 continues pushing the musical and lyrical envelope. With his finger planted firmly on the pulse of current trends while simultaneously blazing a trail for the future class to follow, the veteran’s eighth career long player Dangerous could quite possibly be his most alluring and adventurous to date.
“The theme that runs throughout the record is God is calling us to live dangerously for Him,” states charismatic KJ-52. “We have to be careful that we don’t give into the world, which is like drinking poison out of a gold cup. But as Christians, we can’t go along with the status quo or play it safe. There’s no room for laziness or complacency.”
While it would be easy for the multiple Dove Award winner and sought after collaborator (TobyMac, Newsboys, Thousand Foot Krutch) to rest on his laurels after more than a decade in the game, he aggressively walks that talk across Dangerous, while offering both listeners of faith and the mainstream scene plenty of reasons to relate. Take for instance the title track, which was originally written from a third person perspective, but was changed midway through the sessions to find KJ-52 vulnerably unveiling his own weaknesses.
“At first, I felt it came off too judgmental, so I flipped it and put it on myself,” he reveals. “It’s risky to do something like that, but if that means I have to put myself into an uncomfortable place to allow someone else to come with up with a resolution, then I’m okay with that. That only comes from the confidence God gives me and it’s just me being me, faults and all.”
Aside from putting a microscope towards his own regrets and shortcomings, the collection also chronicles a series of compelling issues like drugs, divorce and racism, even the prejudice that sometimes pops up within the church’s walls. The latter is particularly evident across “They Like Me,” a collaboration with the Grammy nominated Lecrae.
“We could’ve done the typical crunk for Christ type of song, but thought ‘why not address racial issues in the church?’” KJ lets out with a laugh. “The result is a prominent black rapper and a prominent white rapper talking about our unique perspectives, like Lecrae feeling rejected in the black church but embraced in white churches and me growing up first in a black neighborhood, then in a white neighborhood and only feeling accepted in a multi-racial church. I’ve never heard that spoken between a white guy and a black guy with so much transparency. We’re not writing for sympathy, but simply writing from our perspectives.”
Yet Dangerous even has a cheeky tribute “Do the Bill Cosby” about the iconic comedian/TV star who KJ had the honor of meeting during a Get Motivated seminar for businessmen (where he frequently serves as an emcee/DJ, also warming up audiences for the likes of George Bush, Colin Powell and Rudy Giuliani).
“I was accidentally shaving in Bill Cosby’s dressing room and he sat me down when I was done and told me I needed to do a TV show,” recalls KJ. “I spent my whole childhood watching him on TV and this was obviously a huge honor. He also told me he noticed I bring out the childlike nature in people and bring joy into their lives that brings them back to when they were kids again…I always make sure to balance the serious subjects with my sense of humor and try to make my records reflect both sides of that.”
Regardless of the topic being discussed, Dangerous is tied together through undeniably infectious beats, pulsating programming and production sure to fit between a fan’s palette of everyone from Lil Wayne to Drake and Eminem. In addition to KJ overseeing the album, it includes tag teams with producers Tedd T. (Mute Math, Delirious) and Aaron Sprinkle (Deftones, Hawk Nelson, Jeremy Camp), both of whom pushed the performer further than he’s ever delved before.
“Tedd did a good lion share on the project and that really freed me up,” explains KJ. “His producing style is very meticulous but very accommodating and he built up my confidence to make me feel like I could do anything. I’ve known Aaron for a long time and he really encouraged me to sing the choruses of ‘Face Melt’ and “Dangerous’ instead of rapping, which is something I’ve usually turned to a guest artist to do. We’re basically three people who’ve been around a long time that get along really well and I haven’t felt that connection since I started back in the day.
”As KJ reminiscences about the past decade and change, he can’t help but be thankful for such endurance, especially as tastes and trends change practically overnight and many of his previous peers have since tapered out of the spotlight. But rather than have his head swell at the prospect of being a pioneer, he gives all the glory back to God.
“Eleven years is really a lifetime in rap years and now I have guys booking me who say ‘I grew up listening to you,’” he suggests. “I think it’s a result of a lot of things, in part staying in tune with the fans, listening to them, listening to what’s going on musically, always staying on the road and looking to the future. Throughout it all, God’s provided and expanded my platform and He’ll continue to do that until it’s time to move on to whatever’s next.”