Rapper Cory Ard recently released his new album,The Blackout. For further context on the album title, Ard says: "Our world is in a blackout not because there is no light, but because the light of the world is hidden." We caught up with Ard to talk about his new album and how he hopes it helps listeners come closer to Christ.
First, I’d love for you to talk about your childhood in the Washington DC area. You mention you were involved in a lot of gang activity. How did you get out of that?
I was born in Washington D.C. and my dad went to jail when I was 5 months old for attempted murder. My mom married a man in the army who got stationed in Colorado Springs, Colorado. We’ve been here ever since. But, even in D.C., there were a lot of roots in my family with gangs and violence. Growing up, I didn’t have any good examples of fatherly figures, which lead me to rebel and have a hatred towards men. I felt angry all the time and acted out in school—especially towards my male teachers.
My anger lead me to want to be the "tough guy" to hide my insecurities. From elementary to high school, I was a troubled kid. In my 9th grade year, I joined a rap group that 2 friends of mine started, which eventually turned into a gang. We were all closely affiliated with other local gangs, but we wanted to create our own wave. So, over the next 2 years, this gang grew to over 200 high school and college students in Colorado Springs.
We then created a ranking system to help keep things structured. I was a 2nd in command with a few other guys. We’re talking 14, 15, 16, 17 year olds running the biggest gang in Colorado Springs. We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into and things got pretty messy. There were crazy police run-ins, high-speed chases, guns, drugs, sex, robberies, attempted murder, and a list of other things we were involved in.
What caused me to make a change was my desire to not be like the men that I had in my life. I also just really wanted to make my mother proud, because I was such a "hell-raising child." So, after a divine appointment my older brother had with an off-duty officer, who happened to be the head of the CSPD (Colorado Springs Police Department) gang unit, he decided enough was enough. He proceeded to let everyone in the gang know that he was done. I soon followed his example, letting the gang know, “I am done, I’m going to church, and if anyone has an issue with that, we can fight. I’m living for Jesus.” Sounds funny now that that's what I told them, but at the time; it was all I knew what to say. I made dramatic changes in my life, stopped hanging out with everyone who would pull me back in, stopped listening to secular music. And, I never looked back.
Can you share your story on how you came to know Christ?
My grandmother was a praying woman and a strong believer. She taught me to pray every night before I went to sleep, so religiously I did that. I’d come home after a wild night with the guys and say a prayer before I went to bed. So, there were seeds that were planted. And, honestly, I just knew in my heart that the only way for my life to be transformed was Jesus. She ingrained that into me somehow without ever saying it explicitly. After leaving the gang, I told my mom I want to go to church, and it was then that I truly gave my life to Jesus.
With your background, you obviously have a massive heart to reach the lost. How does your music fit into that mission?
The streets are in my DNA. Though I may not do the same things I used to, the streets are a part of what made me, me. On my album, The Blackout, I wrote in a way that would hopefully inspire the body of Christ to reach our streets and engage with people in their own backyards, like they do in other countries. I felt at least with this album, the most impactful thing I could to reach the lost is encourage everyone who listens to do just that. I also strongly believe that my music is not my only calling. I don't want to use my music as an excuse to not live the Great Commission in my own life, so as much as I'm talking about these concepts in my music, I am determined to live them out everyday, too. I also work for the non-profit, World Challenge, so my day to day is outreach and evangelism, and connecting with others who are doing it.
What’s a lyric from your new album that is tough to perform live? Are there any lines that really bring you back every time you say them?
"12:11" is the poetic version of my testimony, so that song gets me choked up sometimes when I look at how far God's brought me. "Be Him" is another song that’ll really chokes me up because I'm very passionate about the body of Christ living the Great Commission and not forsaking their own communities. But, to give you specific lyrics from my album, it would have to be a bar from Story: “Too many times my life flashed, but I survived/Cold steel against my head between my eyes.” Performing live, I usually make a gun with my hand, and put it at the middle of my forehead to show where someone had a gun to my head, but didn’t pull the trigger.
What do you say to someone that doesn’t believe in God? What’s the first step?
That's a tough question, because every person is at a different level in their journey. But, to those seeking truth, I encourage them to not stop seeking. Because I truly believe—and I have seen it—that those who are on a journey looking for truth will find truth. That when they run into the God of the Bible, their truth journey stops—or starts—with Him. I also believe it's important to share my own experiences with God. It's not necessarily about "preaching" at someone, but rather having a real conversation about life. My life has been a journey of how God brought me out of the darkest times and transformed me, so I believe sharing testimonies can break down walls and lead to an honest conversation about faith.
A lot of people are really afraid to dive into the unknown when it comes to ministry. How would you encourage people to witness without hesitation to others?
First, I’d quote 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control].” I would encourage them in that our number one purpose in becoming a disciple of Jesus is to make disciples of Jesus. Just as Timothy says, God didn’t give us fear, so we need to address that fear that comes from the enemy and go and transform lives for the Kingdom. I also think it's important for people to remember that Jesus is love and he did not come to the earth to condemn, but to give eternal life. Sharing the gospel is sharing Good News. In my experience, people are more receptive than we think. They want hope. And, always remember that this life isn't about you, because we are part of a bigger story.
Talk about a few of the singles from your new release.
My first single "Be Him" is the heart behind my whole project. I knew in writing it that it would be a song that hit hard and deep at the roots of church culture, and that it would address some of the habits and legalistic things we do as Christians. And, while it does hit hard, I feel it’s very encouraging, as well as an eye opener that we need to "Be Jesus" in our communities every day. "Roller Coaster" was one of the funnest songs to make. It started as an attempt to remake a beat I already had, then it became its own song. I wrote it to appeal to anyone who listened, that yes, life is crazy and unpredictable, but it’s okay. The message is to make the best of what you have today. I wrote it thinking of my favorite scripture, Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
How can we be praying for you?
Pray for my wife and her health. She has a chronic illness she got from us living in a house filled with mold. Mold is nothing to play with.We are believing for complete healing for her. Pray for me and my music, that the album will reach and encourage people to live the Great Commission. And, that the Lord will continue to lead me and give me His heart for people, that my music would ultimately always be a reflection of Him and an anthem of hope to anyone who hears it.
Kevin McNeese started NRT in 2002 and has worked in the industry since 1999 in one form or another. He has been a fan of Christian music since 1991.
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