By Zach Collier
If you’ve been keeping up with the news on this site the last week or so, you’re probably familiar with Jamesthemormon – a Provo rapper who made waves with his breakthrough single, “Motivation.” The song led to a spike in sales for his EP, I’m Not a Rapper, which earned top positions on several charts. I got to speak with Jamesthemormon, discussing his feelings about the last few weeks, the purpose behind his music, and his advice to young Mormon musicians. Check it out.
Thanks so much for letting me talk to you.
Absolutely! I appreciate you guys wanting to cover me.
Happy to do it. You’ve been working hard, and you deserve it. Do you mind if we dive right in?
Yeah, let’s jump right in.
To start off, you were on U92 recently and got to talk about I’m Not A Rapper and its rapid chart climb. Did you ever think your music would be on the radio?
To be honest with you, I’ve tried to make music that sounded good enough to be on the radio, but the fact that I was on the radio was kind of surreal. And I didn’t expect that. What’s really interesting to me is that right now, in Kansas City – Jeremy Guthrie, do you know who that is? He used to be the starting pitcher for the Royals. He’s LDS. He played for BYU. He’s a huge fan, and basically he’s pulling every string to get the music played. Right now, Kansas City is playing “Motivation” in rotation.
Like during games and stuff?
No, I’m saying like their hip hop station! In Kansas City!
Yeah! He got that pulled. But U92 just did like a, “Hey, here’s a song!” It’s very interesting to me because I feel like in other places, if this were to happen, the city would rally around that person, you know what I mean? This is our guy – that type of thing. But because Utah is so polarized when it comes to the Church, it’s a very sticky situation to support someone who is very open about being Mormon and has that name.
Yeah, I feel like you’ve had a massive wave of support from people who are LDS and who identify with it, but it’s been very competitive otherwise. Like people who feel like they’ve been in the hip hop scene here and like they’ve been working really hard and haven’t seen the same success haven’t been as supportive. It’s kind of unfortunate to see that.
Here’s the thing. Those people can see it how they want, but I think that if you really look at it, this didn’t happen – the success was a rapid wave like you said – but I myself have been making music consistently since I was seventeen. I didn’t like say, “You know what? I’m going to throw this together today!” and then throw it up. And then as far as the promotion of the album, I didn’t sleep for a week before I released it. I spent hours a day trying to promote it and get it out there. Not for myself, though. The more I think about it, I really think that this could be huge for the Church. Because there are so many non-LDS people who are enjoying the music, and they’re identifying in a love group that loves something called Mormon. You know, [LDS] missionaries come by five years later and they’re like, “Hey, we’d like to talk about the Book of Mormon.” And they’ll be like, “You know what guys? This dude is in one of my playlists and his name is Jamesthemormon. I love his music. Come on in.” That’s what I hope happens.
Anyway. I’m literally, for lack of a better term, killing myself. And all these people say they’re putting in the work. Well, I am grinding to the bone trying to promote this thing. And nobody even understands how much of my own money I’ve spent. I’m not going to make any money, to be honest with you, after I give half of what I get to the Church. And I don’t care! Because this could be huge for the Church and for the truthfulness of the gospel and I want to get that everywhere.
That’s awesome, man. So talking now about some of the chart success you’ve had. I’m Not a Rapper peaked at #7 on the iTunes Top Albums chart, making its way onto the iTunes front page. It dropped to 17 the next day, and a week later it’s at #109. So I guess this part is kind of a two-fold question. You got a lot of public attention. What impact has that had on album sales and social media growth? And how do you plan to sustain its success?
Basically what we’ve done is every time we’ve had the opportunity on the state level to be on a blog or on the news or something we just promote that and we share it. We want everyone to know what our true goal is. As far as social media, it’s blowing up. I don’t have metrics for you or specifics, but it’s definitely growing pretty fast. We went to #1 [on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums Chart] and our social media is growing just as fast.
Awesome. I mean the iTunes hip hop charts were even better. You were #1 that day and you dropped to like #3 the next day –
Right now I think we’re still in the top 20. For the first two weeks we were in the top 10 for sure. That week we were in the top 5 the whole time.
So how did it feel to know that you only lost the #1 spot because Drake released Views and had both an explicit and clean version of his album?
[Laughs] Drake’s like my idol. That’s to be expected. Hitting #1 was exactly what we needed. And to be honest with you, the more I look back on it, God’s been guiding everything. I accidentally released it on a Sunday. That was a complete accident. I thought the 17th was a Monday, but I released it on a Sunday. Not that that did anything, but there were small things that happened and happened and happened up until the video release. All the things came together. I was able to get the BYU head coach in the video. That’s not an easy task, in my opinion. But God made it happen.
It was really interesting to see Tyler Glenn release something super oppositional to the LDS Church that same week. I don’t know if you saw that.
I did. We’re releasing a response to that. He said, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” We’re taking the same line and calling everyone treasure. It’s basically about how God loves all of us, and how God sees all of us as treasure.
That’s a very interesting concept. I’d like to see that.
Always, in hindsight, I’m seeing, “Oh, that’s why.” Like, it wasn’t my exact plan to have everything happen the way it happened. Like things got pushed back or things happened and got moved around. But if it didn’t get released when it did, then that thing [Tyler Glenn’s release] would have been what everyone’s focusing on instead of the positive. I dunno.
So your album is still #1 on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart. You’re only 25 spots away from breaking into the Hot 100. Do you have any big plans to push for that to happen?
Honestly, I’ve done everything I could. It’s really up to anyone who wants to support the cause or enjoys the music to push it there. There’s not much more I can do at this point. I do have a call with a publicist today to see if I can get the story on the national level, but I think we’re kind of losing time. But if God wants it to happen, you know? I’ve done everything that I could do. I honestly do feel like I’ve done everything that I could do to use the momentum to get it to a national scale. I think my last card I’m gonna play is a publicist. If he can help, that’s great. If not, I’m sure God will do exactly what he wants with what he wants.
You mentioned on your blog that rapping is a pretty rewarding and cathartic experience for you. It helped you deal with your past. What about it helps you deal with the problems in life?
I don’t know. I started blogging after my mission. I don’t have an answer. But there is a release when I creatively write it down. Putting it out there somehow makes it easier. I don’t have an answer for you. I absolutely love making music. Good music comes from passion and from emotion and from feeling. I feel like because there’s so many feelings about it [my past], that helps me with my writing and in turn helps me feel better. Does that make any sense?
That makes perfect sense. [Laughs]
Last two questions. What fears did you have when you first started pursuing music? And what advice do you have for Mormons who want to pursue music full time but may be holding themselves back?
Okay. So, one, I’m not pursuing music full time. That’s the most important thing. I have three other businesses that I run, which is why music is not a career and is a hobby. Even if I signed or got a big deal with someone, it’s still a hobby. I’d only make those moves because I feel like it would benefit the Church and the message of the Church – of the Restoration. Those are the only reasons I’d make those moves. I don’t need the money, and I probably would use what money I’d get either to help the missionary fund or to use it to market the album more so that it can get into more non-members’ hands. That’s number one.
Two. If you don’t mind, I’m going to take your question but I’m going to flip it a bit, if that’s okay.
Go for it.
What I would say to people, whether you’re a musician, creative – whoever you are. If you believe this to be the one true Church on earth and this is the path back to our Heavenly Father, then I guarantee you – and I’m not saying go make rap albums or put yourself out there by making music videos and stuff – but I guarantee you Heavenly Father has given you a talent. And he’s waiting for you to use whatever talent that he’s given specifically to you to build His Kingdom. I invite you to figure out what that is and push to use it to build His Kingdom as much as you can, because that is why we’re here. And that’s why we were given that gift and we’re blessed to have it. It’s our job to share it.
That’s wonderful man. Thanks so much for letting me talk with ya. Congratulations with all that’s been going on. It’s been fun to watch. Hopefully it keeps going.
Thanks. We’ll see what happens!
I’m Not a Rapper is available on iTunes. It’s also available to stream on Spotify. Make sure to like Jamesthemormon on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @Jamesthemormon. You can watch his video for “Restoration (Ft. Jay Warren)” from his EP, PMG, below.