Rapping on Heaven's Door

Can Christian hip-hop save Enock from his demons?

"How much more shame when you get caught do you have to bear, you know?" he says. Exhaustion had worn him down. "I'm like, Lord, I don't want to get caught and have to deal with the shame of getting caught. Lemme just open myself up, because I really wanna be right in walking with God, so let me just tell on myself, let me just bear the shame of just sharing it, 'cause that's lighter than having my face smashed up on TV."

When he arrived in Houston last January, James marked the new beginning with a renewed effort to get clean. He says he looked at the patterns that often led to his sexual indulgences -- stress, frustration, depression -- and tried to substitute exercise or calling up friends when the devil inside came calling. He went through an abstinence training program in Waco.

"And also, you know what, the biggest thing is looking at women the way that God would look at women," he says, adding that he would reread the Bible to try to regain that innocence he lost at age seven. "Women are not meat, man, and ultimately when you deal with sin, it's basically selfishness, your self-gratification -- it's what you want."

Juan James, holy hip-hop star, tells a tale of contradictions.
Daniel Kramer
Juan James, holy hip-hop star, tells a tale of contradictions.
Lil' J Xavier lights it up at a Houston holy hip-hop awards show.
Daniel Kramer
Lil' J Xavier lights it up at a Houston holy hip-hop awards show.

James, who until recently worked during the day distributing medication for a pharmaceutical company, has remarried, and his wife is expecting. He is now attempting to make it on music and ministry alone, and he says it's not as hard to fight the errant thoughts anymore, because by opening up about his problems to anyone who'll listen, he's made his struggle transparent and, strangely, easier.

"Yeah, of course, you always risk something," he says about AWEthentic. "I was risking like just people questioning my motive for doing this, risking families hearing this and being mad at me. Risking being invited to churches and stuff and getting paid for my concerts." Even so, he says he's gained much more with the positive responses from those battling sexual addiction. Much Luvv touts some of those responses on its Web site, including one from a Dallas minister who admits to the same porn dependence and one from an MC from the UK who seeks to emulate that honesty.

James's mother, Rose Davis, says the family was surprised to hear the material but even prouder of his achievement, because she can remember him dreaming about making an album since his younger days. She says even her father, who's 70, likes it.

"That's a historical piece," says Richie "Slave" Douglas, a friend of James's who runs the holy hip-hop network www.dasouth.com. "Juan has definitely made a mark, and a very deep one, in the history of Gospel rap, and it's really pretty extraordinary, you know, what he did to actually come out and address that." Douglas says that James's confession has been received so well in the scene because it was a preemptive strike; because he hadn't gotten caught first, it's easier to view his honesty without cynicism.

"I've actually already dealt with artists who have also come to admittance because they realized that Juan did it first. So to say that what he did is revolutionary is an understatement."

At this year's Houston Holy Hip-Hop Achievement Awards, James won for lyricist of the year, CD of the year and artist of the year. The album obviously has changed his life. Hip-hop, though, doesn't look much different. That landscape of sexuality may never change. But Juan James says he's confident he won't fall back.

"Ultimately this was my changing point right here," he says. "God showed me -- you see who you are, banging these women, messing with this pornography -- you are who I died for. The pervert. The sexual addict. I died for you."

Having made his own sacrifice for others, the penance seems more complete.

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