Unashamed of the gospel. Unashamed of his Christian lifestyle. Unashamed of a growing body of work that includes appearances on chart-topping Christian hip hop albums and a Stellar nomination, his second, for his own full-length release, Lions and Liars.
Sho told TBGB via telephone last week that even as a child, he was fascinated by the world of entertainment. "I wanted to be a talk show host,” he said. “I would interview invisible people!”
Born Amisho Lewis, Sho Baraka spent the first years of his life in Canada, where his father was working at the time. The family returned to the States when Sho was four, settling in Southern California.
In high school, Sho joined a hip hop group. “One of my buddies decided to form a group out of guys on our campus who had certain talents. His father worked with some pretty well known labels and artists, so we had the opportunity to travel with popular artists and rub shoulders with individuals who a lot of people would call important. We got to see the good and the bad of the music business.”
After the group disbanded, Sho took his father's advice and enrolled in college. It was during his sophomore year that he adopted a Christian lifestyle.
“Around 1999 or 2000, I went to a conference called Impact. I was not a Christian at the time, but my brother, who was a Christian and led a college Bible study, encouraged me to go to the conference because he knew it would do something for me.
"While I was there, I heard this man preach about the passion of the Christ, how Christ was crucified for my sins and that I was responsible for putting him on the cross. I’d heard stories before, I’d been to church before, but that was the first time the message of Christ became so real that I felt I needed to do something about it. It was at that moment that I made a conscious effort to live my life for all things above. I changed my life, I changed the people that I lived with, and the circle of friends that I allowed to influence me.”
In the process, Sho made two new and, ultimately, life-changing acquaintances: Christian artists Lecrae and Tedashii.
“I had been attending college in Alabama, but I could no longer afford it. My brother was leading a college Bible study at the University of North Texas and so I transferred there. Lecrae had been at the University of North Texas for a while, but he moved away for a year. He returned while I was there, and a year later, Tedashii came to the university. At one point we were all roommates, living in an apartment in Denton, Texas, using our gifts to glorify the Lord.
“As we were hanging out on campus, being kind of loud and rambunctious for our faith, we felt the need to make our presence known. At one point in our lives, we had promoted a lifestyle of wickedness, but now that we’d changed, we thought, why don’t we promote the lifestyle that we now love? Romans 1:16 was one of the scriptures that encouraged us. So a couple of the guys started walking around campus with shirts that read, '116: Unashamed of the Gospel.' After awhile we became a clique, just organically, a group of guys walking around campus, sharing our faith and talking about the Lord."
Today, former roommates Lecrae, Tedashii and Sho Baraka continue to share their faith as successful Christian hip hop artists signed to Reach Records.
“We love to promote and communicate the idea of community,” Sho said. “It’s what we’re adamant about at Reach Records: being part of one another’s projects and encouraging one another to be great at what God has gifted us in. So you’ll find us ministering on each other’s albums, you’ll find us working as a team on albums. Working together is a Biblical necessity, but no matter what business or field you are in, community and teamwork is important, having people around that make you better at what you do.”
Sho recalls Thirteen Letters (Reach, 2007) as “one of the most difficult, but also the most rewarding, projects I’ve ever worked on. Thirteen Letters was a compilation of the thirteen epistles that Paul wrote. Each artist took one or two letters and transcribed them into rap form, put a beat to them, and did a survey of what the book means. It was difficult because, you know, these were the words of God that I was rapping, that I was communicating, not necessarily just thoughts that I came up with."
This year, Sho was a guest artist on DJ Official's Entermission and Trip Lee's Between Two Worlds, the latter topping both the Billboard Gospel and Christian Album charts. Entermission, Between Two Worlds and Sho's sophomore release, Lions and Liars, are three of the four nominees for a 2011 Stellar Award as Best Rap/Hip Hop CD of the Year.
“The primary message of Lions and Liars,” Sho explained, “is that everyone who is a child of the King has a responsibility to make Him famous. People struggle to feel significant if they’re not pastors, musicians, evangelists or vocational ministers. You don’t have to be a pastor or a musician. If you’re a teacher, if you’re a blogger, if you’re a radio host, no matter what you do in life, you have a responsibility to account for your life. What will you do with this life? Will you make Him famous or will you waste it?”
Have the Billboard chart successes and Stellar nominations changed the way people view Christian rap and hip hop? Sho is cautiously optimistic.
“The hip hop genre, especially in Christian music, is still looked at as an immature music,” he stated. “It’s looked at kind of sideways, you still have to enter in the back door sometimes. So if anything, the [Stellar] nominations will help people realize that this is a serious genre, this is a serious form of music. It’s not just for kids, not just for the youth, but also for adults who enjoy hip hop music. This is a viable means by which God can communicate truth. If those who made the nominations, those who see the nominations, and those who vote recognize this, then it’s a win for all involved. But if the movement continues to be ignored, then it’s all been done in vein."
He added, “It’s hard to not notice what’s happening. I think every generation has had an artist who people tried to ignore, but after a while the movement became so organic or grassroots that they had to take notice. Even in mainstream music, people thought hip hop would fade away, but now it’s one of the leading forms of music. It will serve the gatekeepers of Christian music well to recognize that hip hop is a music that everybody enjoys, and that there are people out there selling records. You’ve got Lecrae who is number one on Billboard. It’s almost impossible to ignore, but if they do, they will be left behind, and that’s unfortunate.”
Sho is currently working on another Reach Records group project with Lecrae, Tedashii, Trip Lee and a newly-signed artist, KB. “I’m also an up and coming actor, director and writer,” he said. “I have a film coming out February 25 called The Grace Card, and another film called October Baby that will be released in 2012."
How does he manage it all?
“I'm just a creative mind," he said. "I never stop creating. I can be in the shower or I can be driving down the street listening to some music and something pops into my head. I make sure my phone is handy, or a pad, so I can jot it down or record it. Maybe I’ll use [the idea] a day from now or maybe a year from now. That’s how I operate. However inspiration comes, it just comes. I just make sure to capture the moment.”