“Plain James is a Christian hip-hop artist from Atlanta, Georgia. He is the founder of Trap Theology and has a heart to reach people with the Gospel.”
Growing up, Plain James was surrounded by hip-hop culture. He often hung out with friends who would rap together. “I used to help them out with paying for their studio time, and they would tell me, ‘Hey, you should write something.'” He was hesitant at first, but once he started writing, he received lots of compliments on his raps. “My delivery wasn’t the best, I just knew how to put words together. I just kept writing and kept practicing.” As his skills improved, his friends encouraged him to start recording his songs. “People actually liked it to the point I ended up in the studio with some pretty important people.” He was around twenty-two years old at the time.
Many people around him were making money doing things illegally and “doing a lot of flashy stuff,” but he had a reputation for being calm and reserved. “I always stayed low-key. They were like, ‘You’re just plain man.'” With his first name being James, he took on the nickname Plain James, which he retains to this day.
“My mother always had me going to church when I was younger. I went because she made me go.” When he moved out of the house after turning eighteen, James said it was not until age twenty-five that he returned to church. From selling drugs, abusing drugs and alcohol, and doing things he shouldn’t have with women, he was living contrary to the life his mother raised him to live. “A series of events kept happening where I felt like my life was going in a downward spiral. I would always remember that I needed to put my faith in God.”
He was introduced to local Christian hip-hop artist Young Noah through his sister, who was roommates with James’ then-girlfriend. “She would talk to him and say, ‘My boyfriend, he’s a good guy, but he’s just out here in the wrong crowd, and I want to see him do better.'” Though he got to know Young Noah, James wasn’t very interested in the life of faith that Young Noah was seeking to model.
One time, “I was catching up with one of my friends; he was having an issue which turned into a shootout.” A few weeks later, Young Noah, who had heard about the incident, spoke to James about it. “He was like, ‘Man, I know what’s going on in this spot where you’re at, it’s pretty much a trap house.’ He was saying, ‘Man, you need to come out of here. God wants to use you and take you places.'”
Though James listened, he still wasn’t willing to change. A couple days later the police raided his home. James was not there at the time, but his roommates who were ended up in jail. “That was kind of the wake-up call for me.” He believed he heard God tell him, “It’s going to keep on getting worse and worse until you decide to surrender and live for me.” James began to spend more time with Young Noah and other Christians, many of whom happened to also be hip-hop artists and said he started to walk with Christ. He was twenty-seven at the time.
Last month, Plain James released his sixth project, Bread & Water. The album was created in partnership with producer iamLenFlow. “It’s a dying world out there; people are hungry for truth, so we just wanted to give them bread and water.” It is in part inspired by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in which he says in Matthew 5:6 (NIV), “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
The duo wanted the album to explain how the words of Jesus and the entire Bible can relate to a listener’s life. “We go through hard times too. Just because we’re Christians doesn’t mean everything is always woke, but we put our faith and trust in God. That’s what gets us through.”
Bread & Water begins with “Faith > Fear,” encouraging listeners to put faith in God above the fear of failure. “If you trust God and He’s actually telling you to do something, He’s gonna provide the things you need for that to be accomplished. He’s never gonna leave you nor forsake you.” James wants listeners to understand that God is with them through their most challenging times. “He never calls you to an assignment without giving you the necessary tools.”
The next song, “Forward,” is inspired by the experience of feeling like for every step you take forward, you get pushed two steps back. “You get discouraged sometimes, but the Scriptures say that we’re supposed to press towards the mark of the high calling.” James said that Christians will always experience resistance when striving to grow in holiness. The lyrics encourage listeners that “when you come across resistance, you don’t give up, you don’t quit. You just keep your faith in God and ask Him to give you the strength to keep moving forward.”
“Fish Fry” shares James’ personal experiences of “coming from the bottom.” As an artist, he has never had a major co-sign or received a lot of funding from others, but has persisted because he believes that God wants him to make music. “It’s trusting Him, not only with music but in life.” He speaks about the struggle of living in poverty: having to use the oven to heat his home and eating a diet of ramen noodles and hotdogs.
“I just want to create the best life for my family. There’s a lot going on at one time, and you really have to learn to trust God on a different level than you did when you were on your own.” Learning to be a husband and father has been a challenging experience for James, but he has learned that he can do it with his trust in God.
The fifth song on Bread & Water, “Understanding,” was inspired by “making a lot of bad decisions. After a while, I had to understand that seeking God was the only way to get the true understanding and wisdom I needed.” James’ has learned the hard way that at times, following his own desires has led to negative consequences. He said that if we learn how to live according to Scripture, we will have the knowledge to make better choices.
James’ said that he experiences God’s grace daily. He believes that by God’s grace, he is not living on the path he used to, saying that he could have ended up in prison. “God had His hand on me the whole time, even when I wasn’t trying to live for Him. He kept me out of harm’s way to the point that I can be here right now telling people about His goodness.” This is the inspiration for his song “Grace.”
James and his son Rion love watching Anime together, and he wanted to make a song inspired by the themes of some of their favorite shows. The beat of “Sensei” is sampled from Anime show Naruto, and the song speaks about how God “cleanses us of our sins. I wanted to talk about how dirty we were, but through his grace, we were made whole.”
The second-to-last song on Bread & Water, “In My Zone,” speaks on the struggles James’ experienced when he first came to Christ. He had to overcome addictions to alcohol and marijuana. “It was slowing me down and making me lazy. When I kept the weed and alcohol out of the way, I had more energy. I could see and think more clearly.” Though marijuana use has become legal in some states, James’ still believes that people should stay away from it, referencing the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians (10:23, NIV), “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial.”
Bread & Water’s concluding song, “The Way It Is,” is a song of gratitude. “When you feel good, you can think about the things that God has brought you through. When things are going good, don’t forget that Christ is responsible.”
Outside of music, Plain James enjoys playing and watching basketball and football, learning about apologetics, and spending time with his wife and son.