He’s Christian Hip Hop’s version of Rakim.
The Ambassador certainly didn’t invent the “Holy Hip” genre, but the depth of Bible doctrine, creativity in his wordplay and quality of his delivery set a new standard. His first solo album Christology in Laymen’s Terms, is historically one of the most important Christian Hip Hop projects ever.
Ambassador put his full lyrical arsenal on display in songs like, “Thug Joint.”
“As truth crashed through my heart ached like a bad tooth
This hard rock got softer than brown spots on bad fruit
I came with a heart stone like a statue
then the rap group got under my skin like a tattoo
They rapped about a man diein’ and I was cryin’
They said He died so I could be saved like Private Ryan
We all could see zoomorphically He’s a lion
Coming to rule from Zion with a scepter of iron”
Ambassador’s group, the Cross Movement, mapped the blueprint for quality Christian Hip Hop. Yet with all that success, things came tumbling down for the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based emcee almost two years ago, as he took a long sabbatical to deal with personal problems. Ambassador talks to HipHopDX about what went wrong, his former and new record labels, and his new project, Stop The Funeral, which dropped July 12.
Ambassador Breaks Down The Inspiration Behind Stop The Funeral
HipHopDX: Talk about your feelings as you come out with your newest album, Stop The Funeral...
Ambassador: Well, it’s a mixture of excitement, curiosity and sobriety, because I know it’s not a shoe-in. We’re in a fickle generation of listeners where people want what they want, and then there’s always what you want them to want. There’s really that, “Man, I hope they can really receive what you spent all this time putting together for them.” Again, I’m excited, but at the same time I’m sober, because I know once that it’s out there, all of the hoopla’s over and we settle into, “Now what impact is it going to have?”
DX: How did you settle upon the album name Stop The Funeral?
Ambassador: I was thinking for a long time for something. Nothing was grabbing me. What we do is the battle between, “Yo, it’s gotta hit. It’s gotta capture it.” It’s gotta lend itself to more than just an album but a campaign. One day I was just wrestling with my feelings, the feelings of hearing both people almost talking like it was over for me, my own insecurity about myself saying, “You know God, I just want it to be over. Forget it,” to one day battling hearing what I thought was the whisper, “It ain’t over.”
I literally grew in this confidence of saying, “It’s not over, because there is a gospel. If you just lay down and commit suicide when really you’re not dead. I am giving grace. I am giving life. You’ll be short-circuiting the opportunity to demonstrate that the gospel really works even for believers.”
So I began to look to others and say, “Stop the funeral. Hold on, it’s not over.” And at the same time I could recognize I could proclaim that to people who feel hopeless, who feel helpless, who feel like it’s over, I could say to them “Stop the funeral.” The double entendre made sense and that’s how I settled on it.’
DX: That makes sense. Talk about how this current album is different than Christology, The Thesis or The Chop Shop.
Ambassador: Okay, well first off it’s different in theme. It’s the first time where I purposely spent a little more time talking about me and less time scolding the culture, less time scolding the surroundings and do more scolding of myself and exhorting from a non-authoritarian standpoint.
I used to be able to stand and talk as sort of an authority, and sort of a scholar. This time I came more like a patient who made it out of surgery and is standing testifying as a layman still in the white sheets that they dress you in, sort of still obviously visibly that I’m one of you out here, but I’m confident that message is truth, so I can boast in it.
I think it’s also more musical than it’s ever been, not as hard and I’m utilizing more people who are singing; new relationships and new people who I haven’t used in the past on any of those albums. In those ways, it’s different.
DX: What song on the new album means the most to you?
Ambassador: That’s hard. It’s really a tie. “Favor” and “Crumbs.” “Crumbs,” because you can’t get any more vivid in what I felt at my lowest moment. I could sense my unworthiness. I live in a world that was re-emphasizing how unfit I was to come around. That’s everything from not being able to go to the baby showers or the weddings. I missed I don’t know how many weddings, because I was not allowed or just I made the scene too awkward. Everybody knew that if I came through I’d mess the scene up. I really felt leprous. That made me feel like, ‘Maybe God feels that way.’ I know theologically that wasn’t the case.’ But it made just want a crumb of what God has to give.
And then “Favor” as well, because that’s sorta like the first song I was able to turn the corner from dismal, solemn songs to triumphant songs, talking about the favor of God “meeting you at the bottom even when bottom is bottomless.” Probably “Favor and “Crumbs.”
DX: While we’re on the subject of “Favor,” there’s been some controversy because of your collaboration with Canton Jones. Can you address that?
Ambassador: The bottom line is I think we’ve been misconstrued, and part of that probably is our own responsibility in not better representing our theology. It’s always been that you collaborate with people who are in concert with where you’re going and what you’re doing. There was a season when he would not have been that type of person.
Where he was going – or where I believed he was going – actually I had to repent because I never investigated enough. He was disqualified just because of the kind of church he went to back in the days. These recent years, loving hands came from those kind of churches. Stiff arms came from the churches that automatically qualified you.
So it was like, “Oh yeah, I’ll do something with you. What church? Oh yeah, that church is bangin.’ Let’s do something.” The stiff arms came from the “right churches” and the love came from the “wrong churches.”
In this season, it became even more imperative for me to collaborate with people who fellowship in love and fellowship in wanting to make Jesus Christ known, and clearly cannot be accused of having an agenda that negates the fact that he puts Jesus Christ on full display and lifts him high, and he wants to urge people to be with the people of God rather than be in the world. Those two things are irrefutable. That puts us in great fellowship during this season. It made perfect sense, and I’m grateful that it came out kinda hot.
Ambassador Explains Leaving Cross Movement
DX: This is your first release that hasn’t come out on Cross Movement Records. How was that different?
Ambassador: Yeah, it was different man. One, I was all over the place trying to scrap up ways to do the project, flying out of town several times. But it in a lot of ways they were in there with me.
Cross Movement [Records] was more hands off. You just sort of did your project. These dudes were in there with me, cheering me on, pumping their fist, getting excited at what was coming forth. You know, familiarity sort of breeds, “Oh yeah, that was hot, Oh well.” But the newness had a little more fanfare with it.
Again, they were very involved. They wanted this to work out well. Sometimes years after being with your squad, you can take each other for granted. Again, I felt like I was in the lab with my squad. We were all celebrating simultaneously even before it was released.
DX: How did your relationship with Xist Music form?
Ambassador: Providentially, it happened in a way that I wouldn’t recommend as a rule of thumb. Just out of the blue I heard that somebody was interested. And at the time, I was so parched for fellowship, parched for unity. Again, in my world it was bone dry. I was still on the outcast, misfits list. When I heard someone was interested, I was more open that I would have been normally. So God providentially rigged it.
The dude said, “Look, we’ll fly you out here. You just get on this song with Sean Simmonds at the time and we’ll see if there’s any chemistry, to see if something would jump off.”
I just wanted to get away, experience that, and I did. We laughed, ate candy and steak, enjoyed music and insights, debated a couple of things. I went home feeling refreshed. It had been so long since I had been refreshed. Again, that’s how God used it to get into my heart.
Then we went on a cruise, me and my wife, Da T.R.U.T.H., and his wife went on a cruise that they sponsored. The rest is history. It really felt right. We kept going and just formed progressively, but you could see that God was with it. Stuff jumped off for them simultaneously as stuff began to jump off for me. It seemed like God was blowing everybody’s dry bones at the same time. By the time dry bones came together, it formed a Voltron, full of all we needed.
Ambassador Talks About Moral Failure In His Marriage
DX: Back then, you had a recent album and you were part of a church plant in Philadelphia that was thriving. How did things unravel?
Ambassador: Well, “unravel” is a great word. The story is this: I think I experienced a season of burn-out, which resulted in a blow-out. And there was a gradual wane. There was a slow and gradual diminishing of my joy, my peace, my confidence, eventually of my insights.
And I think people in hindsight, if they really were to really think about it, they saw it. They just didn’t know what it was. I think some people think it was just age or wear-and-tear or something, but they didn’t know I was dry and that I was spiritually off, but I had to keep the show going. You have to keep showing up. You have to preach. You have to rap. You have to keep showing up and making bricks without straw like The Bible talks about, you know what I’m saying, “Yo, keep making bricks but we taking away the ingredients.” How do I come up with the end product without the stuff it takes to make the end product? And when you have to do that, it just hastens your demise. Eventually, I was exposed as having bugged out in such a way that, you know, cats basically pulled the plug on everything.
What I probably was a little more surprised at was that they knew I was completely on my back that they wouldn’t think, “Okay, [so that’s what’s going on.]” because they sensed something. There were things that were happening where I guess they would say, “Okay, we gave him a lot of chances,” but it was when nothing was really official. So when it was out – when everything was out – it was like I was waving the flag like, ‘Alright, you got me. I am completely flat.”
That’s when I thought the ambulance and the paramedics were going to rush in like, “Okay, now we can actually perform surgery, because he’s not fronting anymore. He’s not lying anymore. He’s surrendered. Let’s go.”
That’s not really how it happened. It got really messy. Again, I was the pink elephant in the room. The technique that was used was more isolationism rather than community. Before you know it, isolationism bred distrust, and distrust bred more friction. And more friction bred more distrust. It just got so bad that they sent me packing. Again, God had a reason for doing it that way, but I’m still looking for a brighter day, a day when God will bring some things full circle.
I was just on a website today where a pastor was talking about one of the key sins he’s been accused of is being unapproachable, not being surrounded by accountability and not reconciling with people who had major beefs with the way he just walked over them.
I said, “You know what, maybe someday someone’s going to address any glitch in reconciliation that existed.” It unraveled, but it was through that God opened up the door for a whole myriad of other things I would have never gone after. I hope He brings those things full circle, because I don’t want to have enemies and holes in relationships that to me we should go to the grave loving one another.
DX: With that being said, how is the relationship with your former church and your former record label?
Ambassador: Both of them are still very strange from what I’m hearing. It’s really from what I’m hearing. The difficulty for me is that the last word I heard from both of them was “Bounce.” I need to hear them say, “You that are far off. We bring you near.”
And they sort of look at me like, “No, you should say something.” I’m saying, “What can I say? I was the one that was told to bounce. I didn’t’ say, ‘You bounce.’” I think they’ve heard me say that, but they are like, “No, he should do something.” I don’t even know what to do, because I really feel like I’m not really wanted.
But I can say this. I’m hoping that once the project comes out and they hear a more comprehensive treatment of what I understand, lessons learned, a sober assessment of myself and my worldview. My hope is the in the gospel. My belief is that Christians above all have the ability to weather the storm, because we have a solution for it.
Again, I’m just hoping one day that it comes full circle and God gets glory from us standing on the same platform, smiling and loving one another. Our kids were supposed to grow up together, you know what I mean. We start talking like, “Hey, maybe one of your sons will marry my daughter.” Now it’s looking like, this is over two years and I’ve seen cats once or twice. In both situations, we went from family to this gap. I’m praying God’s got something up his sleeve.
DX: Talk about the process of returning to ministry…
Ambassador: In my case, it was about believing that I don’t have to earn the right to minister. Now, I have to regain trust and walk slowly but surely, re-demonstrating for people that I’m on solid ground, and God has freed me. And I plan on doing that.
The return for me was after much counseling, after much sitting, after much soaking up the mind of Christ in print. Some pastors and a cluster of people got together and talked about what it looked like, affirmed that me and the wife were strong enough to handle a return to ministry, affirmed that God’s grace, God’s call on my life was still obvious to them, and affirmed that slowly but surely I should move forward, especially with the musical element.
The music has been one of the primary means by which my ministry has gone forth. And they basically began to put the pieces together. Then I just began to realign myself with people who do what I do and facilitate what I do. And the rest is history. It really was a slow process of pastors and a restoration cluster affirming its time, affirming it’s on, then giving me that green light.
DX: How are you different now?
Ambassador: Excellent question. I feel that I am a lot more sensitive to my vulnerability. I am, I guess, a lot more open to relationships that I probably would have not been before. If anything has become clear, it’s that this camp thing – I used to fellowship with a camp – I was forced to find Biblical, Godly Christian nutrition outside of that camp. I think I’m a little more broad in my search of where that nutrition will be found.
I’m more sensitive to the need for accountability. Even the way I understand the way churches run, it hasn’t really shifted. It didn’t change but I got clarity to it in such a way that I see the need for mutual checks and balances with power and with privilege. I’m a little more scared of myself than I was before, a lot more open to see what God is going to be in areas that I would not expect.
DX: What’s next for the Ambassador?
Ambassador: Well, I’m looking forward to getting this and seeing where God takes this [album]. I do want to do another one, one where I don’t have to bear such a strong apologetic tone to it. I want to write.
My vision next is I’m trying to see, “What is the perfect work here? What does this season on being re-received do?” Because, again, people are still wondering about me, wondering like, “Yo, what will the new Ambassador really look like or be like when he’s not telling people something’s coming but he’s living in that reality?”
Right now, everything has been pointing to the release. Everybody wants to know, well, what’s it going to sound like? And then, once they get past what’s it going to sound like, what impact is it going to have? Now that we see the impact, who is he in light of the impact, good or bad?
I think what will be available to me will shape my vision and my aspirations. As it makes impact, for good or bad, then I’ll formulate strategy based on that.
Then, how people view me, I still want to be slow to speak. I was sitting on a panel and barely could talk. All the young bucks were doing all the talking. I didn’t even feel worthy to talk. I still wrestle with that sometimes. People like, “Yo, what’s up?” Then I’ll say a few things.
I’m still trying to see who am I once I get through this last stage of being re-presented and getting a more front row seat of putting my hand on the pulse of the times. I still have been very peripheral to what’s going out up until now. Now I’m finally back, but back for me right now is me finally ready to re-enter, getting into the rhythm of traveling again, if that happens, getting into the rhythm of touring which is happening in the fall, getting in the rhythm of writing and responding, getting into the rhythm of being asked, “What do you think?” by my peers, ‘cause again my peers don’t consult me like they used to, but everybody else does. Soon, I’ll be sitting at the table with the brainstormers, planners and the plotters. I think all of that effects what’s next for me.
At first, it was, Yo, grow old being a pastor and a seminary teacher or a Bible college teacher. Now I’m going to let a few years go before I re-embark upon either of those two. It’s sort of like a clean slate where I’m just going to run in the lane of preaching by invitation, rapping by invitation and then seeing some of the vacancies that I can fill.
Also, I really want to write something, a book concerning this album Stop the Funeral. I’m jumping on that right now.”