Wednesday, January 26, 2011
5 Questions with "All-American Felon" Von Won
I recently caught up with Houston-based Christian rapper Von Won via e-mail to discuss his new album, that Bun B "Hip Hop and Religion" class at his alma mater, and the city's secular and faith-based hip hop scenes.
Sketch: What's with the All American Felon album title? Are you saying you're an All-Star Thug?
Von Won: Ha! No sir...no All-American Thug. If I was any good at being a criminal or gangsta I wouldn't have a felony on my record, I'd have a huge house and a million people wondering what I do for a living.
For the people who are unaware of my story, I gained the "All-American" portion of the title while attending Rice University from 1999-2004. While earning my bachelor's degree in history I also found time to win the WAC conference twice and leaped 26 feet /1 inch at an NCAA indoor national meet becoming an All-American Long Jumper. During college I was ranked as high as #1 in the NCAA and #15 amongst professionals around the world.
The "Felon" part of the title I earned after college. Dealing with depression from my father passing from AIDS, I started smoking marijuana heavily, doing Ecstasy, and cocaine. Coming home from a secular concert I was stopped by police, tased multiple times, and later convicted on drug possession charges and evading with a vehicle.
So I brought together the thing I was most proud of and most ashamed of and created "All-American Felon." I can do all things through Christ! If you know the full context of this scripture you will understand that these titles have prepared me to handle everything life may bring.
Sketch: You recently left Houston to take on a full-time youth pastor role at a church in Roswell, New Mexico but have since moved back home. How would you describe that experience?
Von Won: I will describe the "Roswell Experience" as a serious eye opener. My wife and I made the decision to pack up our life in the city that we loved dearly to be obedient to the Lord and go minister in New Mexico. The church there asked for a verbal three to five year commitment and I gave it to them. They even mentioned that down the line, there existed the possibility of me becoming senior pastor of the church.
When we got there the youth group had about 15 kids and in less than three months some services would have over 60 in attendance. My wife, who is usually quiet, stepped up big and helped me lead the youth group. She prayed with the teens and was a positive female example for the girls to look up to. I was able to focus on Christ and my family without all the distractions that I was faced with as a Houstonian.
I visited Houston for Thanksgiving and shot the "High Beams On" music video. On the drive back to Roswell the next day my phone rang and the senior pastor said the church could not continue to pay my salary and I could only continue to work another week.
I was shocked! I gave them a three to five year commitment and was then let go after just three months! Families from the church were offering to pay my salary to keep me there, but we were unable to reconcile the situation.
In my time there I ministered to hundreds of teens at the church and at the Job Corps. I visited inmates at the jail and even lead a young lady to Christ in Target. (I got to play golf for the first time too!) There were plenty instances that could have been the single reason God brought me out there, but I'm happy for the experience. Overall, I look at the "Roswell Experience" as a paid, three month missions trip.
Sketch: The video you shot for the new album's "High Beams On" single shows you taking a helicopter to Tomball, Texas and then going to visit a retirement home. How did you decide to use that storyline for this clip?
Von Won: I get so much flack from Christian hip hop fans about the content about my music. The fact that I may still make references to cars, money, or jewelry really makes me a target for criticism.
"High Beams On" includes a sample from secular artist Drake and I'm talking about shining so I wanted to shine my light in a way that could display the love of Christ, not ice. If you notice, I didn't wear my earrings or [Jesus] piece and chain in this video.
My good friend Ronnie "Reconcile" Lillard, a fellow Rice University Christian rap artist, who directed and edited "Last Tear," and "Swagg Don't Matter," gave me the idea of going around and doing good deeds. My other good friend Pastor John Richardson hooked up the elderly home, limousine, and the helicopter. HD Publications did a great job of bringing the whole story together and I love this video. I've never seen anything like it. I pray I can continue to make visuals that trigger emotion. Big ups to everyone who helped out with that video, I believe it will be debuting on MTV, BET, JCTV and more in 2011!
Sketch: As a Rice University graduate, what's your take on U.G.K. rapper Bun B's role as a co-teacher in a "Hip Hop and Religion" class on campus there this semester?
Von Won: Making an "A" at Rice University was not a frequent thing for me. I believe I did it in some history classes and an anatomy class that I actually studied for. I feel that without a shadow of a doubt, if Bun B was co-teaching any of my classes I would have gotten an easy, easy, easy A!
I really wish they would have done that when I was an Owl. It goes to show that Rice is thinking outside the box these days. Back then I was a member of the Black Student Association and I'm always excited to see when the university takes strives to do something that can spark the interest of the African-American students on campus. I say next semester they bring me in to co-teach. Everybody gets an "A!"
Sketch: Given that you've been a part of both Houston's secular and Christian hip hop scenes, what differences do you see between the two?
Von Won: I am thankful that I've been a part of the secular and gospel side of the Houston hip hop scene. Working with Money Marc of Def Vibe and Kelly Cryer of Hybrid Marketing (who both seem to work with everyone in Houston,) I hear about what's going on even before it hits the radio. I know what artists are getting deals, who's making enemies, who's earning the most respect and more.
The biggest difference I see between the secular and Christian artists is grind. Christian artists refuse to get off their tails, get out of the church, and market their music to city of Houston. I still see no wrapped vehicles, posters flooding in the streets, heavy radio promo.. any of that.
Until we step up and start doing these things we will always be second rate. What the secular artists have is a 97.9 FM, once they get to that level, the entire city hears them. I thank God for DJ Revelation, DJ Wiz, Pastor Albert and DJ Wiz who gives us those once a week, one hour opportunities to get heard, but until we get an FM station that blasts our music all day long, the Christian rappers will be second rate here in the city.
I'm trying to break these secular artists down and show the city that a Christian rapper can be on top promoting music that isn't sending people to prison or Planned Parenthood - all in the name of Jesus!
To learn more about Von Won and purchase your copy of All-American Felon visit www.vonwon.com.