Compton-raised artist Justified could be called a Christian rapper, but he grew up on Ice Cube and Tupac.
Now living in Victorville, the 35-year-old emcee has released thirteen independent albums, containing tracks that vary from inspirational (“Hey Young World”) to socially conscious (“America”) to sexual (“Grind On Me”).
He faced the greatest challenge of life recently; his mother died in 2013, followed by the death of his wife Neccola from breast cancer only 11 months later, in April. (Neccola was known as Justilady, and they rapped together as a duo called Mr. & Mrs. Smith.)
Now, he's raising their two daughters alone.
This double tragedy might have been enough to take down most men, but Justified is standing strong. His latest song "I'm Blessed" is dedicated to the two late ladies in his life.
He performed it at the West Coast Hip-Hop Awards at the L.A. Convention Center last month. His daughters joined him for the song onstage, which absolutely brought the house down. [Peep 3:10 of the below video.]
What inspired you bring up your daughters for "I'm Blessed"?
A few days prior me and my daughters was in the car and my song wasn’t even playing and they were in the back seat singing the whole song. I’m looking through the rearview like, ‘How y’all learn that?’ So I told my daughter Synia, that I’ll take you on stage. But I didn’t expect her to do what she did. I handed her the mic for the last hook and, basically I really thought her mother came inside of her.
She reminded me of her so much with her body movements. It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t rehearsed. I could see her doing her thing but I didn’t know how special it was until I went home and watched the playback. I felt as though her mom is still with us through her.
Why did you decide to shoot the video for “I’m Blessed” inside the church you attend?
I give all credit to the director [Chag G.] who came up with the treatment for the video. Basically it was just showing to get through what you’re going through you have to take it to the altar.
I was carrying what represented those two urns, one for my mother and one for my wife. I’m carrying around this burden, and the only way to get rid of it is to give it to the altar and leave those burdens with God. I was able to walk away blessed.
“I’m Blessed” has no curse words while your other songs have been more explicit.
I would push it in the streets and, especially for older black people, they would be like, "I don’t listen to that" and I would be like, "What’s that? I ain’t even told you what I do."
So basically by looking at me they already came to a conclusion. That really turned me off from a lot of church folks. One of my beefs with gospel rap is that they’re saying what so-called Christians want to hear. [People say] oh "You’re a Christian rapper." No, I’m not. I’m a rapper that’s a Christian. Everything that is Godly ain’t "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus," like encouraging people to keep your head up. So I’ve been an inspirational artist more than a gospel artist.
You survived a near-death experience in 1998, right?
I got stabbed by somebody I hung out with every day. Seven people in the house, and they sat back and watched. [They said] "I got warrants, we gotta leave."
So they left me there bleeding on the floor. No one called 9/11. They all vanished. It was really an angel that I believe that came and saved me because I didn't know how to save myself. When you make it through something like that, you start seeing life differently.
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So that was the start of your spiritual awakening?
I started seeing a lot of evil stuff in the game. My [former] label [in 1999] wanted me to toughen up my image. I wasn’t comfortable and I wanted to stop. I started seeking God and I went through some scriptures in Romans, and every other line kept saying justified.
I was already calling myself that, but it was this transition from Abram to Abraham. I used to go by the name JIBB and it was Justified In Breaking Bitches. I said, "I’m about to drop this negative. I’m just going to be Justified." Instead of making music to make people move, I wanted to make music that makes people think.