Many times in the Bible, whenever a character would have a direct encounter with God, or a profound conversion or realization of their mission, they'd experience a name change. You saw it with Abram when he became Abraham, Jacob when he became Israel, Simon when he became Peter, and Saul when he became the Apostle Paul.
Similarly, Kevan Bauman is going through a name change. The Chicagoland rapper got his start making the only hip-hop he thought existed--one with negative themes and lyrics. But eventually, through relationships and the discovery of quality Christian hip-hop, God got ahold of the artist formerly known as Bau Down.
Now known as KMB
, the rapper says he is walking with Jesus, increasingly confident in his God-given identity, sharing that in his rhymes to impact lives for eternity. This new direction comes from his latest album, God's Plan
, which released in August--the result of more than two years of growth and refining, a process that Bauman says is far from over.
KMB and I talked recently about the album, Bauman's spiritual and musical evolution, and standing strong in the midst of hard times.
I'm excited to talk to you. I'm a fan of hip-hop. I love what you bring to the table, it's something a little bit different. But let's get to know you, Kevan--or KMB or Bau Down, right?
Yes, I used to go by Bau Down for many years. And then actually this spring, you know, God kinda laid it upon my heart to just change and start fresh with this new mission in mind, you know what I mean?
Tell us about you and really just kind of where you're from, how long you've been making music, that kinda stuff just to let us know a little more about you.
Well, let's see, where do I start? You know, I'm really just a pretty down-to-earth, simple guy. I was born in Memphis to a pastor and a Lutheran school teacher. Kinda one of the biggest things about me that I like to share is that I am actually a twin. So whenever you see a photo of me and you see my tattoo on my forearm with the initials KMB CDB, those are my initials, KMB for Kevan Michael Bauman, and my twin brother's initials Carston David Bauman.
When we were 8 months old he passed away from a heart condition that he was born with. He had surgery to correct it and it didn't go very well, and he lost his life. You know, as a kid I didn't really understand. You know what I mean? It's a powerful thing, because nowadays it really kinda reminds me to live life big enough for two, and to tell his story. So I came in this world a twin.
And my dad... you know, pastors get calls and they travel around. We moved, and my mom was from the Chicago area. She always wanted to come back here to her family. So anyway, my dad took a call out here in the Chicago area and kind of put our roots down as a family. I grew up out here.
Talk about your musical upbringing.
I was big into, as a kid, oldies. I was huge into into it. And I don't know if maybe cause my mom was big into it and she just kinda got me into it. Then I have an older brother who was big into hip-hop. I'll never forget he always hogged the radio in our den area where all the kids hung out. So there's a radio station out here called B-96, that's like the big hip-hop/pop radio station. I'd be listening by myself to the oldies stuff and then I'd go hang out with him, and you know the older brother's always super cool in your eyes.
I was like, "Oh wow! What's him and his friends listening to?" By then that was the '90s and there was all sorts of cool stuff out there like Paperboy's "Ditty" and all those fun hip-hop songs, you know what I mean? Naughty by Nature... it kind of grabbed me in a way that the stuff that I was listening to really didn't and I was like, "Wow! This is really cool and it's fun!"
Then as I got older I started learning more and more about it. My mom was big into the performing arts. She was a teacher at our Lutheran school and she directed all the plays, all the musicals. We were always lead roles in the plays. As a kid it was more like a forced thing to do and then I just got really good at that stuff because my mom was very good at it and she pushed us hard--still to this day. That was a very cool experience for me but I really wanted to do something on my own. So that's when I started to write my own songs. You know when I first started out, I didn't have it figured out, like most people do, you know what I mean? I just liked what I heard and then I tried to mimic that.
When did you start performing?
When I was performing my own stuff I started, I think I was a senior in high school and I did a variety show, you know what I mean? I performed one of my original songs at the variety show and I was just like, "Wow! This is so much fun!" That was kind of the start to the fire, you know what I mean? It didn't even matter if people liked it or not; it was just I loved it so much that I put in hours of work to figure out how to write songs and how to make beats and how to do all that stuff. You gotta start somewhere, I was definitely not very good when I started out. And you know it's funny, nowadays I love sharing this, my heart wasn't really right, you know what I mean? I started to do it, I listened to mainstream hip-hop and it sounded great but the messages just weren't, you know, what I was about. But I still tried to be that.
I was looking on your website at stuff you recorded and saw some Bau Down albums that had explicit lyrics warnings on them. So those warnings were real, then?
Yes. When I first started out, like I said, I didn't really have a vision for what I wanted to do and really embracing who I was. I wanted to be someone else. And along that journey, I worked with or produced people who maybe swore too, so that's why a lot of the explicit stuff is on there. Around the time I dropped my first real full-length album which was called Believe , I kinda started to figure it out. Like, hey, this is me. I mean I definitely wasn't anywhere near where I needed to be, but that's where I realized I don't need to be anyone else. I can be me and figure out my own path along the way, you know what I mean?
So that's where the whole name-change thing comes from. Talk about how you found your calling, your specific mission, this whole thing that led to KMB and God's Plan.
You know, this is actually right here, right now a very hard thing for me to talk about because actually I'm amidst right here, right now, a tremendous relationship breakup. I know for a fact that God put her in my life to change me. You know, this girl, her name is Sarah, she was placed in my life at the weirdest time.
Four years ago I was still full-fledged kinda mainstream stuff. I was afraid to completely embrace who I was in my faith. I didn't know any other Christian music world other than hymns in the church, in the traditional church. I didn't know about like Christian hip-hop until God placed this girl Sarah in my life. That's all she listened to. And I was blown away about how passionate she was about it. And when you start a relationship you know, you want to find out what makes them tick. And this music was like her fuel.
So her coming into my life and kinda showing me about K-LOVE and about TobyMac and all this stuff that I didn't know anything about was like a mind-blowing thing for me. Around that same time I really started getting involved with volunteering at my church leading youth group from middle school and high school kids, being like a mentor to them. It really helps us as humans through our own life to help people. And that's something that I just really loved doing.
Sarah and I had been together for 3 years, and I know she was placed in my life to help change me. I know for a fact that I would not be the person I am, which the music now reflects, if it wasn't for her. The irony in everything is that you think you have it all figured out. Then she had a change of heart and it really tested my faith like I've never been tested in my entire life.
I lost my mom in the blink of an eye and that I thought was the lowest low, losing a parent. What I realize is that humans fail us. It doesn't matter how much faith you put in yourself, or you put in someone that you love and want to spend your life with. They fail us.
That's what's important, I mean, in the end, you just have to trust God's calling and it can look completely different. It always looks better in reverse than in the moment.
I don't know what God's plan is for my life. That's almost the whole point of the album name is that God cannot put His plan in place for your life if you don't pursue things laid on your heart. When He lays those things on your heart, you gotta go out there and put in the work. He can't do the work for you, He can only open the right doors and you gotta be in position to walk through them. So that's where I'm at right now.
Well yeah, I love the sound you have and I kinda talked about that a little earlier. It's funny you mentioned listening to your big brother's '90s rap and stuff like that, because that spoke to one of the questions I had for you. You have kind of an old-school sort of flow to you. I even wrote down, "Did you grow up listening to like LL Cool J and Dr. Dre?" Because I definitely hear some of that in your vibe? It's cool cause you don't hear that as much anymore, you know?
Yeah, that's actually one of the things when I really kinda set my heart out for this, to just kinda bring what I do to the Christian music world as I guess we call it. I think it's something that is just not there. And that's almost why I was compelled to do it because like I said I volunteer with these kids at church and they're all singing these songs that are popular on the radio because they sound good and they're fun. I think the big thing is that it has to be relatable, too. I think one of the big things that always turned me away, especially before Sarah, was when I would be flipping through the radio and flip by something like K-LOVE and just hear it, I'd just be like this isn't for me, this isn't connectable because I'm not perfect.
It's not an easy thing to make the song fun, catchy, and relatable. When I used to write music in the past, it was to just have people have a good time or just have whatever, and now I guess it's almost a completely opposite philosophy. If one person can take something, some encouragement or be led to Jesus from one of my songs, all the hours and days and blood, sweat, and tears into that song is worth it. And whether it affects a million or one person that song was worth it.
How can people be praying for you? That's always a pleasure and privilege of ours. I know just kind of direction it sounds like but is there any prayer requests you'd like me to take?
You know, right now, I could really use prayer for just strength. The reality is, after this past week, I've never in my life been so humbled as right here, right now. So just strength and patience to wait on whatever doors are coming, and wisdom. Those are really the big three things I need. Wisdom to be able to tell what's a good thing and what's not because I'm envious of people in the world that have one passion and that are able to focus their energy and their time on that one thing. And right now for me it's like I have so many things and not enough time to pursue them all. So those are the three things.