Tommy Kyllonen, senior pastor at Crossover Church in north Tampa, divides his time between the pulpit and making music.
Kyllonen, known to Christian hip-hop listeners as Urban D, recently released his eighth album with Grammy Award-winning producer Cliff Brown.
The album titled Rebuild, inspired by Kyllonen's 20 years at Crossover, mirrors the pastor's new book of the same.
The book tells the story of Crossover's journey from struggling startup to hip-hop megachurch.
The church celebrates five years at its current location in an old Toys "R" Us building Sunday at 1235 E Fowler Ave.
"God has rebuilt me and I've been on this mission to help others be rebuilt as well," he said. "We're all broken. We're all in need of rebuilding. Crossover Church has always been about that."
I spoke to Kyllonen, 42, about music, writing and what happens when Christianity meets creativity.
Tell me about your background as a hip-hop artist.
I've been recording hip-hop music since 1996 when I released my first independent album. In 1999, I got signed to a national Christian record label, 7th Street Records, and released two albums with them. I then went on to release two more albums with licensing deals; one with Butterfly Music in 2004 and one with EMI Music in 2007. Since then I've released two albums with Syntax Creative. In 2007, I released my first book Un.orthodox with Zondervan.
What makes up Rebuild the album?
The 10 songs are the same exact titles and content as the 10 chapters from the Rebuild book. The album takes you through a journey like the book does. "Chapter 1" starts with talking about confronting our pain. We all have pain in our lives and we have to face it and deal with it in a healthy productive way so we can learn and grow from it. Other topics in the album and book include learning humility, learning new skills, facing opposition, finishing what we started and much more.
The sound of the album was created by Cliff Brown who is also the worship director at Crossover. He had a radical experience with God that caused him to step away from the mainstream and only produce positive music and things that make God smile. Before that he produced for Rick Ross, Drake, Usher, G-Unit, Young Jeezy and has a Grammy from a track he did with Mary J. Blige. He is an amazing musician and producer.
It (Rebuild) has a very musical current East Coast vibe to it.
How did the book-writing process differ from making music?
It took over two years to write the book because there were some long breaks. I signed with a big agent who was pitching it as I only had about three chapters completed with an outline. Time kept passing and nothing was happening. I felt God was telling me to be patient as more of the rebuilding story needed to unfold. In the next year or so, I only wrote about two more chapters and then parted ways with the agent. Shortly after that in December 2014, I signed a publishing deal with InterVarsity Press. I only had a little over half of the book written, but if we were going to release the book by the Flavor Fest Conference I host in October, I needed to turn in the entire transcript in just a month. I had to really press in during January 2015 and complete it. It was difficult, as I have so many things pulling at me, but I do well with deadlines. I hit the deadline and completed it.
What can readers expect from the book?
Rebuild is a book for everyone, as we all experience brokenness at some point in our lives. Even when we have it together we know someone around us that is falling apart. Our rebuilding journey isn't just for us, but it's also to help others. The book walks you through this journey to show you how to personally rebuild, and in turn rebuild your family, your community and your world. Parts of my personal story are in there, the miracle story of Crossover Church rebuilding the abandoned Toys "R" Us is detailed and the biblical thread of Nehemiah is weaved throughout the book, as he rebuilt Jerusalem physically, spiritually and economically. The end of each chapter has a section called Building Blocks where it asks you some questions and gives you some action steps.
Any books you are currently reading?
I'm currently reading Center Church by Timothy Keller from NYC. It's a solid book about doing church in the city.
What music do you enjoy listening to these days?
Christian hip-hop, R&B, reggae, worship, EDM. I'm very eclectic and enjoy urban rhythmic music that is positive and speaks life.
What do you think happens when creativity and Christianity mix?
I think it's beautiful. It's the way it should be as we have an incredibly creative creator. Just look around and see the beauty on this planet and beyond. There has to be a designer and creator who made all this. The Bible says that we are made in God's likeness and his image. He is creative, so we have creativity in us. We are very intentional at Crossover Church to use creativity in our worship services. We give a platform for the arts: singers, rappers, poets, musicians, dancers, painters, film makers, graphic designers, DJs, actors, set designers and more. Crossover Church was listed by Outreach magazine as one of the top 25 most innovative churches in America. We believe the church should create excellent art and set trends, as it has the most important message in the world.
For more information, visit crossoverchurch.org.
Contact Sarah Whitman at [email protected]