15-year-old Lewis “Proxy” Brown sat on the side of his bed one southern Calif. night holding a knife to his wrist ready to commit suicide after three years as a gang member left him with nothing but a feeling of emptiness.
The tape player that filled the room with hip-hop music would’ve drown out any of Proxy’s moans from slitting his wrist. Instead of being an accomplice to Proxy bleeding out, the record in rotation—“Testimony” by Gospel Gangstaz—stopped him from taking his life.
Proxy escaped the chains of gang life and now lives to change the lives of adolescents like his former self.
“That was something I needed to experience,” Proxy told Wade-O Radio. “It really gave me the opportunity to understand that population and lifestyle and be able to share the opportunity for hope and redemption out of that.”
Group Vigilant plays a key role in his ministry doing so.
Group Vigilant—a music service company with a roster of Proxy, Verbs and Stefan the Scientist—is redefining what it means to make authentic hip hop and for a Christian artist to engage the culture. Full-time artists don’t make up what Proxy considers a think tank more than a record label.
“Each artist who works at Group Vigilant has a responsibility to find a place to serve the world, something that calls at your heart and challenges you,” said Proxy. “This is not a two-week mission’s trip-type deal. This is committing to the work for years.”
Proxy mentors the young and incarcerated in Denver, Colo. Verbs is a youth pastor in Nashville, Tenn. Stefan the Scientist is what his name would suggest in the Bahamas.
Group Vigilant members are servants first. They then respond creatively by letting their serving experiences bleed out into their art, crafting the most authentic hip hop—or whatever genre of music that they choose to produce—possible. That’s why when listeners hear Proxy’s third studio album, Magnificent, set to release on Sept. 10, they’ll relive much of the last four years of his life.
Proxy has worked with the young and incarcerated for the past six years in a restorative justice approach. He helps show offenders where they went wrong and what they must do right to become a productive member of society when released. Proxy also started a songwriting therapeutic music group in which he not only teaches juveniles how to write songs, but express their adverse experiences through lyrics.
This mentoring shaped and inspired Magnificent. Nearly every track has been influenced by his time with the young and incarcerated, including “History of Me.”
Proxy originally planned to have a young man who went through his songwriting workshop sing the chorus of “History of Me.” The man recorded the hook while on parole, but did it in an all-stone facility which ruined the sound quality of the recording, making it unusable.
During a process of finding the juvenile a job, Proxy lost contact with him for over two weeks. The next time that he heard of the parolee, it was because the young man had stolen a car, fled the state and was killed in a shootout with police. Proxy recorded the hook of “History of Me” himself the day that he heard the news.
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Proxy soon returned to the same facility where he had met his deceased mentee. Upon his arrival, another young man began to beg to join Proxy’s songwriting group. The man was not only friends with the gunned-down parolee who Proxy planned to have on “History of Me,” be he actually ran away and was in the car next to him when he was shot.
The friend went onto write a song about the tragedy, one of the most powerful that had ever come out of Proxy’s workshop, and he surrendered his life to Christ.
“We are all exquisite tragedies being made magnificent,” said Proxy of the concept of Magnificent.
The story behind “History of Me” is just one of the many examples that inspired this concept.
Proxy didn’t mean to meet Verbs, the Gotee Records hip-hop artist formerly known as Knowdaverbs.
Working as a youth pastor for his church over a half dozen years ago, Proxy called Gotee to book Grits for a show. A Gotee representative mistakenly gave Verbs’ phone number to Proxy instead of Grits’ manager’s. A phone conversation about Proxy’s ministerial vision led to Proxy booking Verbs instead.
Verbs invited Proxy on a three-week mission’s trip to Cape Town, South Africa years later after Proxy annually brought Verbs back to Colo. to teach songwriting workshops. Their relationship blossomed behind their similar views on how to marry music and servanthood.
Verbs—who released his debut solo project, The Syllabus, in 1999—is not only a full-time youth pastor, but a husband and father as well. He doesn’t expect to release a fifth solo LP anytime soon as a result.
“There’s some great quality artists out there making great music,” Verbs told Wade-O Radio. “Unless I feel like I have a significant contribution to add to that, I’m content with doing what I do now.”
He added that, in time, he’d be interested in contributing to a group project—something which Stefan the Scientist, who Verbs introduced to and first worked with Proxy on the single “MY,” talked about potentially doing with Group Vigilant in the future. Verbs said, in a return to the mic, his lane would be to reflect on and speak to those in his season of life—young, married fathers who grew up listening to hip hop.
Stefan the Scientist
It’s rare that an artist can claim that they’re more well-known for their day-job than on the mic, but Stefan the Scientist—known to the biology community as Stefan Moss—can. His turtle research has been featured on TBS and he’s been published in Chemosphere, a prominent scientific journal. In a field which often thrives to discredit Christianity, Stefan the Scientist uses nature to defend the faith.
“I try to study the laws of the universe, the things that we understand and use everyday, and try to look at those laws as guideposts,” he told Wade-O Radio. “There’s order in the universe. There are laws in place. How can there be laws if there’s no law giver? For people who try to discredit the existence of God, I ask them, ‘How do we have these laws in nature that are so precise, that are so accurate and that with minor changes could alter life as we know it? How do you explain those things outside of a supernatural creator that orchestrates it?'”
Stefan the Scientist compared nature to a piece of music. When he hears a beautiful piece of artistry, he knows that it couldn’t have been created randomly. It had to have a creator.
He, like the rest of Group Vigilant, uses the same pen that he uses to serve others with to pen his lyrics, as listeners can hear in a song like “Don’t Throw It All Away.”