ST. PETERSBURG — Marcus Williams wants young people to think he's cool.
But he isn't looking for peer acceptance or a way to boost his own popularity.
The 26-year-old Christian hip-hop artist known as Flame hopes kids connect with his music so they will hear his message of a changed life through faith in Christ.
Flame will bring that message to St. Petersburg on Saturday when he performs at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. The concert will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10, but the first 100 fans will get in free.
Flame calls himself an urban missionary, and he said communicating with the kids he wants to reach means speaking in a cultural language they understand.
"This is perfect because the power of hip-hop music is tremendous, not only here, but all over the world."
More than anything, Flame said he wants to make the Christian message relevant to young people growing up in an urban setting.
Sometimes, people don't think about how that message is delivered, Flame said. "That's a big barrier. Kids say, 'If it's not cool, I don't want anything to do with it.' "
Flame said that his recently released CD, Our World Redeemed, presents a study of the redemption process that changes thoughts of despair to thoughts of deliverance.
Flame has lived his message.
He grew up in inner city St. Louis with a strong religious background, but he said that it really
In fifth grade, he started rapping, and as he entered his teen years, he began to dream of a secular career.
Those dreams led him down a dangerous path.
"I was getting into the club scene, drugs, living in the fast lane and hanging with older guys."
But Flame said every time he thought he might break into the business, there would be a barrier.
"I recognize now that God pretty much shielded me from going into the depths of that world," he said.
When Flame was 16, his grandmother died.
"God used that to bring me to him," he said.
As Flame grew in his faith, he began to use his musical talents to communicate his Christian beliefs.
Drawing from musical influences such as Tupac and Nas, he released his first album on Cross Movement Records in 2004. His third album, Our World Fallen, released in 2007, peaked at No. 7 on Billboard's top Christian album chart.
Joe McCall, the youth pastor at New Hope, organized the show. He became familiar with Flame's music when he was in college and shares the performer's passion to reach kids through a language they understand.
"There's a disconnect between this generation and the voice they hear in church. Let's use hip-hop and change that voice," he said.
McCall acknowledges some critics don't think the Christian message should be married to the hip-hop culture, but he contends music is amoral and simply serves as a communication tool.
"Some people want to demonize the whole culture," he said. "It's not the culture that has the problem. The problem comes from a dark and sinful heart. God is a redeemer. He not only redeems people, he redeems culture."
Michael Maharrey can be reached at (727) 893-8779 or firstname.lastname@example.org.