It all started with a simple question. And any other Sunday, I would have missed the question.
This past weekend was very busy for me. I was running around from my new job, to V3con’s opening awards ceremony, to an all day adventure with more V3con and the Back to the Future screening. Physically I was drained. So the very next morning, I wasn’t feeling all too energetic. I decided to just take it easy in the morning, not rush out of the house for the men’s Sunday School at 9:30am. I knew I would just show up a little later, but I needed to just rest a little bit more in the morning.
As I was looking through Facebook, I saw the above post. Had I left my house at 9:30 like I normally do, I would have not seen it. But I did see this post and I dropped MC Jin an email.
I had been a fan of Jin since he made his debut with Ruff Ryders. At the time, he was dropping people at 106 & Park with lyrics and rhymes that were intense. It was fascinating to see a Chinese guy try to make it in the tough rap game. I watched his career go super high and then come back down to the earth. In fact, he performed at SJSU back in 2005 and I saw him live. I thought to myself that even though he has skills, I don’t know if the direction he is going would be successful. Then for a while, he kind of disappeared.
It wasn’t until several years ago did I see him resurface in Hong Kong. He dropped this single (and an album) and I was hooked.
I kept an eye out for his work. He would drop some EPs and mixtapes out there, even appear on some TVB shows. He was completely different from when I first noticed him but I really liked what he was doing. He was humbled, he was going back to his roots and ultimately, he just seemed like life was good.
It wasn’t until during that same time I found out that he was starting to talk more about his faith. Having seen stories about how he connected with Jaeson Ma (whom I’ve met a few times while I was in college) I knew that he was on the right path. But more importantly, I was just happy that he was aligning himself and getting his life in order and letting God work in him.
During that time, I would continue just watching him on Twitter and Facebook share his story. Whether it was something silly as AIYA! or collaborating with fans, he seemed really approachable. And the journey he had been through, it was really great to see him where he is now.
After emailing him initially, he and I started emailing back and forth. Apparently he was looking for a ride and I said I had a car. Following Sunday service at my church, we continued to email and he noted that he was going to eat at Chipotle. I figured it was the downtown Los Angeles one since that’s closest to the church we were planning to go to. My friend Sandy and I popped into my car and headed toward DTLA.
Because parking is not available anywhere in DTLA, I started to circle the Chipotle. Sandy went inside as I circled the block to see if he was inside. He was. Jin was initially waiting for another friend but said that they can meet up later. Sandy and Jin got into my car and we headed toward the church.
The service was held at the The Belasco, a club that has hosted big performing artists. I had never been there before but it was really cool to see how this big venue was transformed into a place for worship. While we waited in line to get in (yes there is a line), someone recognized Jin as we stood in line. It was this guy named Frisco (like The City, but don’t ever call it that) and he was attending the service by himself. We asked him to join us and there we were, a group of four all just got together to celebrate God.
The entire experience was great. We were in the mezzanine during worship got to sit right up front of the stage when the message began. The sound was amazing. We were bouncing around and celebrating. The message was even bigger than I expected. It was a simple message on Psalm 23 and how we are the sheep and God is our shepherd. You’re probably heard this Psalm a million times, but the message triggered a reminder that if we go astray, God will find us and correct us so we remember that He is the way.
As much as I have heard the passage over my life, it was still good to be reminded and learn again that we are sheep. We are aimless and can’t do much for ourselves. But if we follow God, we will be protected and our lives will be good. That’s powerful!
I think what was great about hanging out with Jin this whole time was that he wasn’t MC Jin. He was just Jin, a guy who wanted to hang out, tell stories and share with us. We enjoyed the entire time, telling each other our stories and enjoying our time with one another. Following service, a few people recognized him while they were in line for the 8pm service. It was cool how humbled he was with the fans.
When we drove back, Jin wanted to drop by McDonald’s for some food. He offered to buy us something. Unlike a true Chinese person, I didn’t even try to argue that I should pay. We laughed and I said I’ll get him next time we eat — maybe dim sum. We took the food and headed to drop him off at his recording studio The Great Company. This place was located in the unsafe part of LA. I think it was Skid Row. It was in a factory looking like building that had stickers and graffiti on the wall. When we entered in, it was gorgeous.
The place had a wood interior with classic pieces of art and random things on a wall. Jin said it was like this place is a time machine and the designs showed it. The place was where creative people can be creative. It has a kitchen, a place for people to work, a recording studio and even a baptismal tub just in case during one of their many gatherings of worship, somebody was compelled to make that commitment to Jesus.
The place was beautiful. I would love to have a place to hang out like this. In fact, there was a group there already engaging in a Bible study when we arrived. Really neat.
We all sat down and ate our food. We talked more about our lives, what we see down the line with God. It was real. I think that was the biggest blessing for me. As much as I got to follow Jin as a rapper and as a growing man in Him, getting to share a meal with him, talk about life and seeing how passionate he is about Jesus was the truest blessing for me. I think the testimony of his life was a great reminder that God will deliver when we put our trust in Him. And to do it through a rapper I saw once in a concert nine years ago was truly a blessing.
Before we left, Jin wanted to show us some of the tracks from his new album “14:59.” The concept of the album was that everyone has their 15 minutes of fame. But when you have one second left, what’s that lasting impression you want to make?
We went into his recording studio and took a seat. He sampled six tracks for us, including an unfinished demo track and another one he recorded last night. Jin explained that this album is the one he’s most proud to make because for the first time, he has a direction and a purpose. Previously, he was just rapping because what others told him or what he felt could sell. But now that has all been stripped away, he was rapping from what was in his heart and how his life has changed. The lyrics captured all of that perfectly. We got a chance to listen to the introduction track (“Ladies & Gentlemen”) and I think it was a perfect way to enter an album. He said it was like a beginning of a show. And I think the album is like a show, telling a story.
I think my favorite track was the one called “Welcome to the Club.” The club is a reference to fame and fortune and the song talks about what happens when you reach that level and how sometimes it’s hard to get out. The beat was great and it featured a ticking clock in the background. Produced by Mighty Mike. Good stuff.
There were a couple other tracks too that I liked. The last one was called “Hallelujah” and it wasn’t even finished. But listening to concept of the song and the lyrics, I think this might be the most powerful track he’s ever done. I can’t wait for the album to come out!
It was a joy to really get a chance to experience the construction of music like I’ve never seen before and to celebrate God in a way that I normally don’t do. And to hang out with Jin was just a blast. He is a living testimony of how God can work through people in ways that we might not even have thought was possible. That’s how good God is. I was truly blessed to have experienced God through this.
I don’t know when’s the next time I will get to see Jin. But hopefully when we do, it will be over some dim sum and we can share more joys in great company.
EDIT: Thanks Jin!