“Shepherd is a 20-year-old Hispanic Christian hip-hop artist in Chicago.”

Around the time of his father’s leaving the household when he was eight, Shepherd began writing rhymes. “I would literally fill out entire composition books, back to front with rhymes.” One time a neighbor of his saw these notebooks and said, “Why don’t you try doing it over beats?” He started recording his raps using the microphone on his webcam.

“It was the worst idea ever but I’m like nine, ten years old at this point.” He and a friend started rapping over beats they found on YouTube. As Shepherd got older, he started freestyling with his peers.

Growing up in Hollywood, Florida, Shepherd went to church regularly and “I believed in God, but it wasn’t like I was living wholeheartedly for Him.”

In middle school, he got in fights and had friends who were gang members and drug dealers, but he stayed away from that. “I was in seventh grade in the bathroom a couple of my friends were dealing.” Shepherd felt conflicted because he was going to church and always wanted to feel accepted, but his peers at school were not good influences to hang around. “It was a difficult time in my life.”

The church he went to baptized people repeatedly. “Around eight grade I remember I was getting baptized for like the thirtieth time, but this time it was different. I really felt like the Holy Spirit was tugging on my heart.” He felt that during this baptism, God was pulling him to surrender his life once and for all.

“From there I started living my life with everything that I’ve got.”

Starting in eight grade and through high school Shepherd was passionate about reaching people at his school with the gospel. “I would invite all my friends who were drug dealers, the ones who were in gangs, the ones I used to fight with a lot, [and I would] invite them to bible studies at my house on Friday nights.”

In high school his group started having services on campus. “We would have them during lunch and we would literally pack out classrooms. Forty, fifty kids.” The Friday night bible studies continues and got so large that Shepherd’s house could not contain them.

“We would have sixty, seventy kids in my front yard because we couldn’t fit in the house. God was moving in a powerful way.”

At age fourteen, seeing how God was using his life, Shepherd began to record his music. “I started having shows all over Florida. Traveling to different places and I just saw the impact that it had on people, the impact it had on me, the passion I had for it, and realizing it could be a tool to share the gospel and bring hope to other people.”

With his music and his life, he said, “I just want to help people realize who they are and who they truly can be.” As a Christian, Shepherd believes that we can only know our true identity if we know who God is. “We’re made in His image. Ultimately it’s through sharing the gospel.”

The Intern is his new album and is a narrative of his current internship at Legacy Christian Fellowship in Chicago. Legacy Christian Fellowship is led by pastor Brian Dye and is known for the Legacy Conference in Chicago every July, but they do ministry in the city year-round. Through his work Shepherd participates in street evangelism, mentoring teens, and more.

The album cover, designed by Eric Flacko, features imagery from South Korea on the left and Chicago on the right. At age 16, Shepherd travelled to South Korea for urban missionary work. “I paralleled the idea of South Korea and Chicago in one world, basically me falling back into it is like me falling into the world of urban missionary work because it’s who God called me to be.”

“In a general sense everybody is an intern basically because throughout our entire lives we’re constantly learning and getting experience. This entire life is an experience preparing us for what’s after.”

Having lived in Florida for most of his life, Shepherd has been in Chicago since February 2017. “I would actually record a single and I would fly back to Florida because I didn’t have a studio to record at here.” Through a mutual friend in Legacy’s mentorship program, he was able to find a studio in Chicago to write and record at.

The album starts out with “Foolish,” featuring singer Laquan Green. “It’s about how God uses what is foolish in the eyes of men to shame the wise. How God uses the unlikely and uses them to do tremendous, beautiful things in the Kingdom.” Shepherd notes that among Jesus’ apostles were tax collectors who were despised and outcasted by the Jews. He also comments on how some non-Christians think that to believe in and worship Jesus is foolish. “To the world what we believe is foolish, but to us it makes sense.”

You may know Laquan Green’s voice from collaborations with Thi’sl or HeeSun Lee. “He’s been with me all my projects and is a great friend, talented dude. He co-produced Bodak Yellow… That’s not really shared too much but its true.” When Shepherd heard Green sing hook the hook for “Foolish,” he was amazed and was glad to put it on the song.

“Aim for the Top” is a response to people looking down on you and trying to take away your identity as a Christian. He and featured artist Serge are “not worried about what people say about us and what the world thinks about us. The song is saying you’ve gotta aim for the top if you’re gonna stop us.” Shepherd says that they are so committed to the gospel that the only way someone can stop them from climbing to the top in life is to take their life.

Shepherd tells a story and perspective of a drug dealer to whom he and his ministry were evangelizing on the song “Fear.”

“I was telling him about Jesus and he’s listening, and he has his brother with him… He was giving away some weed and he looked at me and said ‘My bad bro. But Jesus isn’t gonna pay my rent.’”

This was an eye-opener for Shepherd. “It just clicked in my head. This is the mentality the hood has. God is not a provider so we’ve gotta do what it takes to provide for ourselves.”

“Sunday Smoke” is another storytelling song about Shepherd’s experience with Legacy Fellowship. “Here at Legacy we do house-church.” They host church services at people’s homes to get more people in the community involved.

On Sundays in summer, Legacy would have a barbecue where they give out food to anyone and then invite them to come inside for a service. In the song, Shepherd tells of a man who was high and came to their barbecue to eat after smelling the smoke. “He ends up on our front porch.” When the man came inside, he heard the gospel for the first time.

When Shepherd moved to Chicago, it was his first time living away from home and his family. “It was a rough time in my spiritual life.” His faith community at Legacy Christian Fellowship was simply not the same as his community in Florida. He thought, “am I really supposed to be here in Chicago?”

Despite the challenges of a new environment, he got used to it and persevered knowing that there are brighter days ahead. This was the inspiration for his song “Brighter Days.” Shepherd learned that he cannot dwell on the challenges of the present, but that he must look forward to the future instead.

“Give My All” was the last song that Shepherd wrote and recorded for The Intern. “When I was finishing the album I was like, ‘Man, what do I really want to leave with my listeners?’” Knowing about the mass of Christian hip-hop artists out there, he thought, “what’s gonna be the difference inside of myself. I’mma give my all. I’m gonna use the tools that He’s given me.”

When thinking of the story of Adam and Eve, Shepherd thought about “how we hide from God when we sin.” This inspired “Disconnected,” a song he calls “super-personal” to him.

“The hook is basically God to Adam and Eve after they first sinned. Their first reaction to their sin was to go hide and cover themselves.”

It was inspired by a season of his life where the battle with the temptation to sin was especially challenging. “I felt disconnected from God. I didn’t feel like I was abiding in Him like I should’ve.”

He knew that ultimately, the brokenness cause by sin is what breaks our connection to God and wanted to share that from his own experiences in the song. The brokenness cause by the absence of his father from the home was also a part of Shepherd’s thoughts when writing this song, saying “the idea of abandonment affects the way I view God as my heavenly Father. A lot of people don’t realize that.”

Hip-Hop has been a major influence in Shepherd’s life. “It just makes me feel like I can talk. A lot of times we hold things in. When it comes to hip-hop, I feel like I’m free.” Growing up he loved listening to Eminem, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Black Eyed Peas, J. Cole, and Drake. “It stirs a lot of creativity in me and is an extremely positive influence on my life and how I view the world.”

At only age 20, mentoring teens is Shepherd’s passion. What matters to him is that he is “pouring into the community and really seeing change in young kids lives.”

You can follow Shepherd on Twitter and Instagram.

You can get The Intern on iTunes, Amazon, or Google Play. You can listen on Spotify.