Aims to bring young people closer to God through Christian rap music
By: Vanessa Icy Gordon

Simply known as PRo, short for prodigal, gospel rapper, Derek Johnson says he is much more than a gospel rapper. He is first and foremost a man of God, pursuing Biblical manhood by being fully devoted to his faith in God and his family, and he is a Christian messenger through his music.

Early in his career, the Nashville, Tenn., native performed as Prodigal, but concerned that fans were confusing his work with an artist with a similar name, he abbreviated it. But he did not abbreviate his purpose.

Johnson, 26, is uncompromising about his music, which he says is to help bring young people closer to God through Christian rap music. He has been performing professionally for the last six years.

A product of what he calls the Hip Hop generation, Johnson started rapping when he was only 12. “When the Lord arrested my heart,” he says, “I knew I wanted to work in the [music] industry.” He graduated from Middle Tennessee State University with a bachelor’s degree in music business, which he says broadened his understanding of the industry.

In July, PRo released his third album, “Redemption” on iTunes. The album is produced by Reflection Records, a gospel recording company based in Nashville that Johnson co-founded. Having written and produced all the songs, he says this album represents his growth as an artist and as a Christian man. “When I made my first album (“Blackout”) I wasn’t focused on the Lord,” he says. “I was focused on making the music and I had a distorted worldview.” Some, he says even questioned his faithfulness as a gospel rapper.

One of the songs Johnson wrote and that is featured on Redemption is titled “I’m a Slave To You.” He says, “I consider myself like Paul in the Bible, a slave to Christ.” Johnson also says he is reaching out to inner city youth, whom he refers to as the urban generation. He describes himself as being a small part of a powerful movement of rappers whose lives are dedicated to showing who God is through their music.

But gospel rap is not produced without its own unique challenges, he says. “When people hear about Christian or gospel rap they automatically perceive it as being corny or less than.” He believes that most young people have no knowledge of gospel rap as an alternative to mainstream rap…. continue.

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