BYU alumnus James Curran reached No. 1 on the iTunes hip-hop chart on April 28, as well as No. 7 on the worldwide top albums chart, putting Curran one step closer to his goal of dispelling stereotypes about Mormons.
Curran changed his social media handles to “Jamesthemormon” when he completed his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2010. He said his experiences as a missionary profoundly changed him, and he wanted to continue representing the church and sharing the gospel in his everyday life.
He said he’s seeing the fruits of his dedication to missionary work through the recent release of his second album, “I’m Not a Rapper.” His work is receiving increasing exposure as it spreads by word of mouth, social media, and the iTunes music charts.
“I want people to see a song they love and say, ‘Who is that? James the Mormon? Mormon?’ It changes the stereotype of what a Mormon is,” Curran said.
Curran produces rap music with clean lyrics and uplifting messages under the moniker Jamesthemormon. His previous releases include an EP titled “Pmg,” a homage to the LDS missionary guide “Preach My Gospel.”
However Curran emphasized his life goals do not include a career in music.
“I’m not a rapper because I’m not trying to be a musician,” Curran said. “I don’t want people to think I’m pursuing music (as a career).”
Curran said he doesn’t aspire to go on tour or to become a famous rapper any time soon. He hopes to focus on starting a family in the future. He runs several businesses from his downtown Provo office, one of which involves marketing for an app that helps people advertise cars for sale.
Curran implied that his topping the iTunes charts shows people don’t have to give up their lives to music to enjoy it as a hobby and find success.
He cited hip-hop musician Drake as one of his main influences, and said he tries to create music with a similar vibe but with gospel-related messages. For example, his tracks “Motivation” and “I Will Never Stop” from “I’m Not a Rapper” promote endurance and perseverance.
The first track from the earlier-released “Pmg” is titled “Restoration,” mirroring the first of the five LDS missionary lessons. Each of the following tracks contains references and allusions to redemption, the plan of salvation and other topics in LDS theology.
BYU senior Jake Loitz, a fan of hip-hop musicians like Drake, Odd Future and Run The Jewels, said he likes Jamesthemormon because each song is unique.
“His flow is different depending on the song. His lyrics are stellar; he has so many similes, so much symbolism,” Loitz said. “I’m excited to see what else he comes up with.”
Curran grew up overseas with his mother, who was a U.S ambassador. He came to the U.S when he was 14 years old after living in Uzbekistan and China, and fell in love with rap music.
“I remember finding out there was a whole channel for this scene: ‘BET’ (Black Entertainment Television), and I associated with it and loved it.” Curran said.
Curran hasn’t signed to a label, but he said he knows how to market his music and reach listeners. He studied marketing communication at BYU and uses his experience to write engaging blog posts, send out emails and leverage social media followings on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook to grow his popularity.
He also stays engaged with the BYU community, and his most recent video for the track “Motivation” features BYU football coach Kalani Sitake.
Curran said he plans to donate half of the album’s profits to the LDS Church General Missionary Fund. He also announced on Twitter that the LDS Church recently reached out to him and pitched the idea of creating a hip-hop video for the church.
He has already begun work on “I’m Not a Rapper II” and invites people to listen to his album, leave a review and share it with non-member friends.
“‘I’m Not a Rapper’ is just me being myself, and then allowing people to attach quality music that they wouldn’t expect to come from a Mormon, to a Mormon,” Curran said.