Christian hip hop witnessed Thi’sl take the subgenre’s female artists under his wing on Gurl Code, but this isn’t a new phenomenon—he’s had St. Louis under his wing for years.
Tina Carter—the first artist who Thi’sl signed to his record label, Full Ride Music Group—didn’t even know that Thi’sl rapped when she worked alongside him cleaning up “rat residue” and more at Hopeville, a homeless camp previously in downtown St. Louis.
“[Thi’sl] actually gets out there in the dirt,” Carter told Wade-O Radio. “He doesn’t just try to send money. He actually gets out there physically and I look up to him for that because a lot of people don’t.”
Thi’sl isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty because his single mother raised him in the same places that he’s on a mission to rebuild now. St. Louis’ poverty rate from 2007-to-2011 stood at 26.0% according to the United States Census Bureau, compared to the national poverty rate of 15.0%.
The city is not only laden with poverty, but crime. Only Detroit had a higher violent crime rate than St. Louis’ 1,857 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2012 according to Forbes. That isn’t a far cry from when the Morgan Quitno Press named St. Louis the most dangerous city in the United States in 2006.
The people who make up these statistics and those that Thi’sl rapped about on his song “Picture on a Shirt” fuel his burden for St. Louis.
“When I did ‘Picture on a Shirt,’ I was really hearing gun shots every night when I’m laying down, me and my family,” Thi’sl told Wade-O Radio. “I’m hearing this and knowing the realities of there could be somebody that just got killed—that’s another mother that’s going to be crying over a baby.”
The thought of another life lost swelled his eyes up with tears time and time again. Thi’sl had hungered to help the people of St. Louis ever since he became a Christian, but around when he released the album Chronicles of an X-Hustler, his heart ached for his city so badly that he made instilling it with hope his ultimate goal.
Thi’sl believes he’s equipped to do just that because, without God’s grace, he admittedly would be just another picture on a shirt—one without a Full Ride logo.
“I dropped out of school. I grew up selling dope. I’ve been arrested. I got more than one baby momma,” said Thi’sl. “I’m the epitome of the dude that people would see on the street and say, ‘There’s no hope for him. He’s going to be dead.’ I heard that all my life growing up. ‘You’ll be dead by the time you’re 16.’”
Thi’sl survived to see his 16th birthday, but he didn’t overflow with confidence about his ability to do so.
“When people around you dying, you begin to think that’s a reality,” he said. “I remember celebrating birthdays and that being the highlight of my celebration. ‘Man, I made it to another year, I’m not dead.’ Most people who think, ‘Man, I made it to another year,’ on New Year’s Eve haven’t had 10-to-15 different encounters that year they could’ve actually died.”
Thi’sl did. But while he survived those 10-to-15 yearly near-death experiences, his cousin Tank didn’t. He was shot and killed by a close friend of Thi’sl’s, and the tragedy brought the rapper who had everything going for him to his knees.
A 20-year-old Thi’sl was a bona fide hood star. He had girls, money, cars and a buzzing music career that had him opening up for artists from 8Ball to Scarface. But none of that success mattered when Tank died.
“When my cousin got killed, it destroyed me,” said Thi’sl. “It rocked my whole life. It shook everything up.”
The murder of Tank and another in the neighborhood led Bishop George White and about 300 members of his church congregation to evangelize on Thi’sl’s block. Their evangelistic effort paid off. Thi’sl later began to attend the church and from there, he never looked back.
A young Thi’sl routinely strolled down to the local library to read books about music and he would apply that love to learn to his relationship with God. He spent hours a day reading the Bible, listening to R.C. Sproul sermons and researching about apologetics on CARM.org.
“I dedicated my life when I came out the streets to growing [closer to] and knowing God,” said Thi’sl.
During this time of spiritual growth, one of the 300 or so people who visited his block and he became close to was now-Clear Sight Music hip-hop artist Flame.
“I learned accountability and friendship from being Flame’s friend,” said Thi’sl. “I learned how to go the distance with people because he went the distance with me. When I would be in the hood and I’d be high at one o’clock in the morning, he would come pick me up.”
Thi’sl has taken what he learned from Flame, combined it with his all-for-one-and-one-for-all mentality that he learned growing up in poverty and applied it to his relationships with Christian hip-hop artists in St. Louis. Artists who include Carter, DJ Cho’zyn Boy and Lyric of 25 Ta-Lif3 all told Wade-O Radio about the impact that Thi’sl has had on their lives.
He not only inspired Andre Thomas—who, with Reconcile, filmed the music video for the song “Motivation”—to start his own film company, but advised him to consider a career as a DJ. Thomas, who goes by the stage name of DJ Cho’zyn Boy, is now a DJ for Clear Sight Music.
DJ Cho’zyn Boy raved about not only the influence that Thi’sl has had on his life, but others in St. Louis.
“It’s great seeing Thi’sl do outreach around Christmas, giving gifts to people who can’t provide for themselves and being an instrument where there is a need instead of just being focused on music,” he said.
DJ Cho’zyn Boy met Thi’sl for the first time at a Bible study, the same setting where Carter first formally met him. Carter admitted having grown up in a church without a deep theological background. She gave Thi’sl credit for being the first person to break down the gospel for her so that she could articulate it.
Lyric, who used to live up the street from Thi’sl, sang the same tune about the Full Ride artist’s impact in his life. He also talked about Thi’sl’s innate ability to influence those in the poverty-stricken, gang-infested areas of St. Louis.
“When I see him perform in the hood … I mean, when he performs everywhere else, the crowd gets hyped, but in the hood I see a respect that he has,” said Lyric. “Even if people don’t know him, he draws them in by his story and his passion for the street. Knowing he use to live that life, I think he engages the culture better than anybody when it comes to the street life.”
Flame elaborated further on why he believes that Thi’sl is so effective communicating to those caught up in the street life.
“He’s a native in that culture,” Flame told Wade-O Radio. “He’s indigenous. He came out of it. He understands the mindset. Not that you have to be there exclusively to understand it, but God uses it. Like Moses understanding Egyptian culture just because of his life experience. So I think in that way, Thi’sl has an advantage because he would know how to penetrate in such a way that a person may not had they not had his life experiences.”
White told Wade-O that he’s seen firsthand how those life experiences have translated to youth from Thi’sl’s neighborhood looking up to him as a role model.
“I think he’s a great example to them of how you can turn your life around once you accept Christ,” said the bishop. “He’s had a great impact on the community.”
Hopeville no longer exists. City officials chose to clear the camp in 2012 due to health and public safety concerns.
Thi’sl, however, is determined resurrect Hopeville. Not as a riverside camp, but as the entire city of St. Louis.