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From Missionary to Chart-Topping Rapper: How James the Mormon Is Spreading the Gospel Through Music

It was 10 minutes past the time James Curran and his missionary companion were supposed to be home, but they were still out knocking on doors.

Earlier that day, the two missionaries felt very strongly there was someone who needed to hear the gospel in the area they were in, but after hours of proselyting they hadn't had any luck—yet. 

When Curran suggested they head back home, his companion convinced him to keep going just a little longer. As they both turned a corner onto a darkened street, they saw a man walking toward a flickering lamppost. 

"I can't make this up, we're walking toward the lamppost, he walks into the light of the lamppost while we're walking and the lamppost just goes bright like a spotlight," Curran says. 

Taking the hint, the two missionaries introduced themselves and the gospel to the man. Later, after teaching him the missionary discussions, the man accepted the gospel and was baptized. 

Though Curran remembers this as one of his favorite experiences he had on his mission, it wasn't the last missionary moment he had.

Now home from his mission, these days Curran is still having missionary moments, but in a way he didn't expect—through creating his own rap music, under the name Jamesthemormon.

Before James the Mormon

Spending most of his childhood in China, Russia, and Uzbekistan, Curran was used to being one of the few Mormons in the area, sometimes the entire country. 

While living in China, Curran says he remembers listening to Primary lessons on a bottom bunk bed because there was no place to meet for church other than a member's home. 

Though the group eventually met in an office building, when Curran was ready to be baptized he had to make do with an unconventional font.

"I was baptized in China in a Jacuzzi—in a hotel Jacuzzi," he says.

When Curran's family moved to Russia, they met in an old Soviet theater while attending an international branch.

Then when they moved to Uzbekistan, Curran, his mother, and his brother were the only members in the country until another LDS family moved in. 

All this time, Curran never heard one note of rap, let alone knew what it was.

That changed when he turned 14 and moved to the United States. 

Rap and a Mission

From the first time Curran heard rap on MTV, he says it resonated with him.

By the time he was 17, he was writing his own music.

And though his path toward writing rap music seemed bright, his testimony was a little dim at the time. In fact, he says wasn't super active in the Church until a few months before he left for his mission.

"All I knew was this was a good thing," Curran says, "I went on a mission because I was like 'I'll be helping people, it's expected of me, and my girlfriend's dad will let me marry her.' That's why I went on a mission. But I stayed on my mission because I gained a testimony of the restoration of the gospel and the Atonement. I felt it and I loved it—I realized it was the most important thing in the world." 

Curran's passion for missionary work grew as he served in Russia and later Washington, Russian-speaking. But he says he couldn't help feeling a little frustrated with members at times.

Curran says he believed President Henry B. Eyring when he said, "God will put prepared people in the way of His prepared servants who want to share the gospel" (September 2012 First Presidency Message "Sharing the Gospel Heart to Heart"). And he knew members had an important role in preparing nonmembers to receive the gospel.

Yet he sometimes encountered members who knew potential investigators but never let their neighbors and friends know about their religion. Others were simply apathetic about sharing the gospel with others.

"I was just like, 'why don't you fee like me? Can't you see how important this is?' [I thought] in my mind," he says. " I'm not going to be like that. I'm going to keep this fire going."

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When he came home from his mission, Curran changed all of  his social media names to James the Mormon as a way of sharing what he believed. 

Little did he know that name would stick as he became a professional rapper.

I'm Not a Rapper

Still interested in rap when he came home from his mission but not focused on it, Curran soon felt prompted to use genre in an unusual way. 

"It would be the equivalent of God telling some guy in the gym who likes to play basketball, 'Hey, I need you to go the NBA," Curran says. "And he'd be like, 'What?' and God would be like, 'Yeah, this is how I want you to share the gospel.'"

And so Curran began producing his own music. He released his first extended play, "I'm Not a Rapper" on April 17, 2016. By April 28, his album had reached No. 1 on the iTunes hip-hop/rap top albums chart and No. 7 on the iTunes top albums list. 

Hoping to help missionary work in an additional way, Curran donated half of all the proceeds of his successful EP to the general missionary fund.

As his popularity grew, the name he once used for his social media accounts became his artist name. James the Mormon was officially born.

"To be very honest with you, at least once a week I sit there and think, 'James the Mormon is the most ridiculous rap name in the world,'" he says. "After a few songs, I was like 'I can't do this anymore, it's too ridiculous.' But I would try to change it and get sick."

Now his name and his work reflect one of his passions—missionary work. 

Workin'

Despite working three other jobs, Curran continues to write and produce rap songs and music videos, though that sometimes means he has to pay out-of-pocket for his videos or that he goes days without sleep. 

But despite challenges, Curran presses forward, often receiving emails or Facebook messages from inactive members who decided to go back to Church because of his music.

"That's all the gratification or reward that I need," Curran says.

Adding to the uplifting messages in his songs, Curran released "Workin"—a song that was inspired by missionary work.

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The song also features David Archuleta with plenty of appearances in the music video by well-known Mormons like John Roberts from Bored Shorts TV.

The same is true for Curran's other music videos, which feature BYU players, coaches, and local hip-hop artists. 

But perhaps the most distinguishing feature of Curran's music is it's underlining LDS themes. It's even in the name of his is most recent EP, PMG, which stands for Preach My Gospel. 

As Curran looks back at the success he has garnered in a year, he says his ability to reach members and nonmembers through rap music is not entirely his own. 

"I would like people to know that one: It's members coming together in unity and seeing it for more than a rap song," Curran says. "No matter what, it's always more than a rap song. Because God's hand is in this, and that's what this is about." 

Photo courtesy James Curran

To hear "Workin'" and other inspiring songs by James the Mormon, check out PMG.