Meet CUW’s December commencement speaker and Grammy-nominated Lutheran rap artist, FLAME.
Born and raised in the inner city of St. Louis, Missouri, FLAME has been on the Christian music scene since he released his first studio album in 2004. He recently converted from Reformed Baptist theology, a branch of evangelicalism, to Lutheranism and earned a master of arts degree from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. FLAME tours worldwide and is co-founder of Clear Sight Music, “a boutique record label raising the bar in Christian hip-hop and beyond.”
The artist has released nine albums to date and agreed to answer nine of our most burning questions in advance of his address to graduates at Concordia University Wisconsin’s December commencement ceremony on Saturday, December 17.
1. Where did the moniker “FLAME” come from?
Like the Biblical character Jeremiah, I, too, have been shaped with a fire for speaking Biblical truths, even if it is uncomfortable or when people don’t want to hear it. Jeremiah said, ‘God, I’m not going to make mention of your name anymore, but your word is like a fire shot in my bones.’ I took on the moniker FLAME after learning about Jeremiah as a reminder of my inner fire to speak on behalf of God.
2. Much has been written about your difficult childhood; is where you came from essential to the Grammy-nominated artist you’ve become?
The unique arrangement of things that God exposed me to—the good, the bad, and the ugly—shaped me into a person who sees the world in a way that gives favor to the style of music that I create, the kind of conversations that I have, and the type of emphasis I make in my human expression. I am grateful for all of it.
3. Who are your fans, and what do you bring to their lives?
My fans are rap listeners because the rhythm, poetry, sonic sound, and style fit the genre. They are also people who read, people who think a lot, and people who enjoy thought, discussion, and nuance. They are looking for answers to the disintegration, complexity, and hypocrisy within us, and they want to make sense of it all.
My music bridges lofty theological truths and the lived human experience. I want people ultimately to know that God is for us. He’s kind, He forgives, and we can lean in on him for peace and assurance on the journey.
4. How are you received in the rap community?
In the Christian rap community, I think people enjoy the common themes, things that we all agree with as Christians, and they also appreciate that my content goes beyond what they hear regularly. They like being exposed to academic seminary-type discussions, which is something they may not oftentimes hear or engage in.
In the non-Christian rap community. What people appreciate is that I remain true to the genre. In mainstream rap music, people want clear statements of beliefs. I’m clear about my Christian faith, and I understand that life is rough, but then I want to convey that God cares. People respond to my honesty and transparency.
5. Who were the mentors and role models in your life?
Certainly, my grandmother. She gave me the genius idea of taking what I enjoy naturally, which was rap music and then fusing it with my Christianity and my education. Later on, a group called Cross Movement was doing Christian rap in a way that captured my attention. As of late, I’m inspired by the things I’m exposed to on my Lutheran journey, including the Lutheran Reformation and the heroes like Luther, Melanchthon, and Chemnitz.
6. What advice or wisdom do you offer to the graduating class of 2023?
I love that Lutherans have such a beefy understanding of vocation. Commencement is an excellent opportunity for students well-informed in their craft to move into the world. As they do, I hope that they are kind and gentle and that they do great art, great business, great science, and great math for the good of humanity. I want them to remember that they represent Christianity in all they do and that when people marvel at their intelligence and brilliance, they give credit to our God.
7. Our brand platform is Live Uncommon. What does Live Uncommon mean to you?
I love that challenge to take the normalcy of what God calls us to do while living out loud as Lutherans. For Christians, that means to go out and do good in all you do, in all of your contemporary expressions, and do it to glorify God. Help people know that all you do is tied to ancient realities that stemmed from God’s care for the world in Christ Jesus. I love that!
8. How do you connect with non-believers?
We can all share the emotions and the feelings of just being human. And, as we find ourselves in that common space, I can share with them what drives me to smile or create art in a world where I’ve experienced loss, suffering, and pain. My connecting point with Christians and non-Christians is sharing my frailty, humanity, hope, joy, and desire to live and do good in the world.
9. What’s next?
I have so many things! I just completed a book where I’m articulating my journey to Lutheranism. The book is not the didactic, weighty theological waxing you hear in my music; it is about the joys and the lows of my lived experience and how that impacted relationships. I want to continue releasing projects about vocation, law and gospel distinction, confession, and absolution. I’m also working on things that encourage other artists, dancers, stylists, and people in the arts and film to make good art and tell good stories for the sake of the gospel and the good of humanity.
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