You know Montell Jordan. But the "This Is How We Do It" singer has abandoned his familiar topics of women, partying and drinking and is now the worship pastor at a church in Atlanta. He uses his brand of pop-leaning contemporary Christian music to lead the multi-ethnic megachurch.
We meet up with him recently in L.A. Now 44, he looks like a soccer dad running Saturday morning errands in his powder blue shirt, grey zip-up hoodie, and matching flat cap. Joined by his wife Kristin, the father of four is not wearing sunglasses, as pop stars tend to do. This appears to be a changed man.
"It was a direct reflection of what street life was for a good kid growing up in the neighborhood," Jordan says of "This is How We Do It," a number one hit in 1995 that was inspired by his South Central childhood
But despite his surroundings, he didn't get involved with gangs. "I was more fearful of my dad than I was the Crips and Bloods," he says. "If we even thought about gangbanging or being around that, he would take us out first."
Instead, Montell's life revolved around the Baptist church. The grandmother of a local Crips leader was a part of the same congregation, which gave Jordan immunity. "That was a Crip neighborhood," he adds. "They knew we were church kids, so it was almost like we had a pass, we had protective covering, we could walk all through the neighborhood."
Still, as his musical career took off, Jordan abandoned his Christian principles to appear as a R&B sex symbol. "Ironically, I was part of the reason," puts in his wife Kristin. "I was his manager the whole time. When we first got married they told us we would sell more records if we didn't let people know we were married."
Although his fame faded, in 2010 things were looking up for Jordan; he had a comeback album on deck and a reality show pilot. But those projects were shelved. And so, Montell and his family joined Victory World Church in Atlanta. After doing a 21 day fast in July of 2010, Montell recalls, "The Lord spoke to me and said 'you got to retire, you got to lay that life down.'" A perplexed Montell grappled with the idea of walking away from a R&B career that spanned almost two decades. "So then the battle becomes, how do you lay down the only life you really ever known?"
In the beginning Jordan served in the shadows, changing diapers in children's ministry.
"One time a worship minister said, 'Hey, would you come and be a part of this service?' I was like, 'I come with a lot of baggage. I don't know if you want an R&B singer on your stage.'"
"I was scared because I knew I wasn't one person," he says. "I was probably fearful that me standing on stage would mean that people were going to think that I'd completely given my heart over to Him when I haven't."
Kristin adds that despite her husband's insecurities, his first time singing in at the chuch had a memorable impact. "One of the songs he sang was 'Moving Forward' by Israel Houghton. And it was just like, [whistles] 'This is a game changer.'"
Not long after, Montell was offered the worship pastor position. "They saw ministry in me that I didn't see." He was soon given a license to marry, baptize, and christen.
Though church leaders trusted Montell, it took time for them to fully understand his vision. "You bring in a black guy and they think, 'Okay, we're going to lose the rock guitars and start doing gospel.'"
Instead, Jordan decided to craft a sound accessible to the entire congregation. With this goal in mind, he started working on a live concert of all new material with a newly formed collective of church musicians, called Victory World Music.
"We were being told that this can't be done. People are not going to pay to come to the church to see the musicians that are here. And I was like, 'Trust me, we're going to be fine.'" Indeed, the group released an album, Shake Heaven, put on a sold-out show, and is now working on another record.
In the meantime, Jordan is releasing a second single from Shake Heaven on "You Are," (above) an attempt to broaden his reach in contemporary Christian music. This is no small feat in a genre where few black artists are able to gain a foothold in that genre.
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"Even when we did 'This is How We Do It' back in the day, we were trailblazers and innovators who were doing something that hasn't been done before," Jordan says. "Victory World Music is for the next kids coming up. This is their worship thing. And the objective now is to get it in the hands of as many kids as possible."