At 22 years old, Tulsa, Oklahoma-based rapper Jarry Manna feels “super old.”
He’s married. His wife is pregnant with their first child. Rapzilla interviewed the now pastoral intern about his June release, as he recessed from Vacation Bible School-duty.
This life is a far cry from the one Jarry lived just over a year ago as RedThaTeller, his stage name before he started to follow God. Back then, music still played a large role in his life, but he spent way more time smoking marijuana than attending church — emphasis on way more.
“I was determined to be the next Bob Marley if it was possible,” he said.
Jarry prayed to become a Christian in 2011, but he soon grew skeptical of God’s existence after watching numerous pro-Darwinism, science documentaries while under the influence. Following a few semesters at Tulsa Tech, he also started to question the reason for his existence at college. Music and marijuana had become a priority over school and football, so he withdrew.
Back home, RedThaTeller’s typical day began with beat-making and a joint of marijuana, which would quickly become a five-blunt rotation with friends. He formed a rap group with some of them called The Kushers, and they released a mixtape in 2013. Its description read, “Made solely for the true smokers. Get high and enjoy.”
In early 2014, though, enjoyment turned into paranoia for Jarry.
“There are levels to weed,” he said. “It will either enhance the good or enhance the bad. When it enhances the bad, you don’t want any part of it.”
RedThaTeller’s buzz in Tulsa had earned him an invite to open for Dizzy Wright, a rapper signed to Hopsin’s label, Funk Volume. However, this happened around the same time that he had grown obsessed with stories of corrupt record deals and the Illuminati in mainstream music. Severely intoxicated, and thinking he would become famous and unable to handle it, fear drove him to depression, and he declined the gig.
“I think I was like eight blunts in that day, and it just really took a toll on me,” he said.
Jarry stopped smoking. The weed was enhancing the bad. As days passed, though, his depression still worsened.
One June afternoon, Jarry grew so desperate to end his misery that he contemplated suicide. His conscience interjected, though.
“Hey, don’t forget about your grandma,” Jarry told himself. “She’s a super spiritual person.”
Needing advice, he reluctantly called his grandmother, a strong Christian, who proceeded to preach to him over the phone. Typically, her recital of the Bible annoyed him.
“As a stoner, I was completely dependent on myself,” he said. “I didn’t want to believe in God ever. I felt like everything [faith-related] I once put my time into was a waste, and now I’m really in reality.”
This time, though — realizing that he couldn’t save himself — the self-dependent rapper surrendered to his grandmother’s biblical wisdom.
After they hung up, Jarry, mentally overwhelmed, fell to his knees in his room to pray.
“Lord,” he said, “if you are real, just take this from me, and I will do your will.”
Jarry walked outside to a nearby pond, sat on a bench and gazed at his surroundings. For the first time in a month, he felt peace. Tears of joy followed, as did a phone call to ask for discipleship from his uncle, a minister who Jarry had chewed out the week before for his belief in God.
A change in Jarry soon became apparent to The Kushers and others around him.
“When I first met Jarry three years ago, I had no idea what he believed in. I am a Christian, but I never asked him what he believed in,” 2peece, who produced most ofUGLY ALBUM, said. “Over time, I started noticing changes like him getting married, not using profane language and going to church. Then one day, he told me he got saved, and all the changes started to make sense.”
Jarry scrapped his debut solo EP, Incredible, and took several months off of music to mature in his faith, The Elevator, a free, seven-track EP, marked his return. The project dropped in January and made him some supporters, one of which is Grammy Award-winning producer Street Symphony, who's the CEO of Track or Die and former A&R of Reach Records.
“Jarry is one of those artists that has the ability to make music that will reach beyond the walls of traditional [Christian hip hop],” Street said. “Although his message comes from a God-fearing perspective, his tempo selection and vibe makes me feel like I'm listening to the cool kids coming up in mainstream.”
Street has mentored him over several conversations. He also introduced some people to Jarry’s music.
“A few months ago while in a session working on Andy Mineo's new album, there was a discussion on the next generation of talent,” Street said. “I played his music for Andy, Alex Medina, Dirty Rice and a few others. Everybody was impressed.”
Three weeks after The Elevator released, Jarry informed his friend and fellow rapper QTheStudent that he wanted to release an album by the summer.
“I laughed and totally disagreed at even the thought,” said QTheStudent, who is featured on track No. 10 of Ugly Album “I mean, to me, it was almost insane and not smart music-wise to release two projects so close together ... On top of that, he was a newlywed, has baby boy on the way, has a life and has a job. ... But his answer was this: ‘Bro this has to come out. Elevator was cool, but this project I feel will tell the people where I am as a person and artist now.’
“I mean, who could argue with that — wanting people to grow with you as you grow in Christ? [Jarry] put in and sacrificed a lot for this project: money, time, chilling with the crew on couples nights and even stepping down as the starting QB for a city league football team here in Tulsa. … So if you want to know how Jarry has grown since last year and since The Elevator EP, here's my suggestion: Listen to the Ugly Album."
Jarry felt passionate about writing a project at this stage of his faith because his burden is to reach young Christians. He's not interning at his church to be a pastor, but rather to learn how to serve and share the gospel better.
“I’m really focused on new kids who are just coming in [to Christianity] and need to listen to somebody that they can relate to — when you’re just coming in, ‘Okay, what do I do from here?’” Jarry said, “but you still want to listen to dope music.”