Rap it up: Briercrest student uses rap music as a tool in teaching and ministry

Posted: January 21, 2013

Andrew Russell’s work and ministry is all wrapped up in rap music.

The first-year student at Briercrest College and Seminary has been rapping his message to youth for the last 11 years. His stage name is The Journalist and he’s all about spreading the Good News.

“I have a passion to deliver messages to kids in a unique way that they understand,” he said. “I love public speaking, performing, writing and obviously God’s wrapped up in all that.”

Russell’s interest in rap started early in his life.

“I started rapping in Grade 8,” he explained. “I always listened to the music and I thought, ‘You know, I think I could do this.’ Writing was my original passion – creative writing is my favourite. So I just applied that to writing rap songs.”

At first, Russell kept his new-found talent a secret.

“For the first year or so I kind of kept it as a secret – I didn’t tell anybody,” he said with a smile. “At that time it wasn’t so cool to be ‘the white rapper.’”

Today, Russell loves sharing his talent with others and sees it as a powerful communication tool that brings interesting opportunities his way. He most recently performed at Voltage, the chemical free New Year’s Eve party for teens in Moose Jaw.

“Shows just kind of come up,” he said. “I haven’t really been pursuing anything. God just keeps bringing people who ask, ‘Hey, you want to do this?’ So it’s kind of cool that I’m not really chasing stuff down.”

In March, Russell will be performing at the Aboriginal Awareness Week conference at Briercrest. The event has special significance for the rap artist.

“I have an aboriginal background,” he explained. “I have a passion for native youth just because that’s who I am really. It’s been a challenge because I don’t have the visible look at all.”

Russell, who was adopted and grew up in Regina, is learning more about his native heritage.

“I’ve never been to my reserve,” he said explaining how his roots come from the Wood Mountain Sioux. “From what I’ve heard they’re the smallest band in Saskatchewan, near Assiniboia. So I for sure want to visit there sometime.”

The Journalist has special plans for his performance during Aboriginal Awareness Week.

“I’m trying to do a brand new song that’s going to be aboriginal based,” he said. “I don’t know what that’s going to look like yet. I’m just starting to formulate it.”

Recently The Journalist’s gift of rap and love for creative writing have come together in a unique way through an opportunity to present workshops for students in public school.

“I’d never tried it before, but to teach something I’m passionate about – it’s positive and school is just great,” he exclaimed. “My workshops are all about lyrics. So many times we just listen to music. We don’t pay attention (to the words).  I talk a lot about literary devices – writing – tie that in to what they’re learning. Rapping gives you good credibility. Kids that may not pay attention at all pay attention to my workshop and understand it.”

One of the things that Russell says helps students to understand is his “real, raw” songs.

“I think people relate to it,” he exclaimed. “When they listen . . . they say ‘That was me.’ They really relate. Because it’s music, you can apply it to yourself.”

That kind of impact is what Russell says his performing is all about.

“If someone listens and says, ‘that really meant something’ or . . . ‘I’ve gone through that,’ I think that would be my goal,” he said.

Another part of that goal includes recording some of his songs this year.

“This year my goal is to put out an EP project,” he said. “So I’m just praying that it all comes together somehow. The point is to get the message out there. It’s great to come to a concert, but to take (the music) home and share it – that’s what it’s about for me. It’s about spreading the Good News.”

A sampling of The Journalist’s music can be found at http://reverbnation.com/thejournalist306