Hip-hop performers and rappers have addressed pretty much every topic under the sun at this point, from racism, gang warfare, and police violence, to drug use, sexism, and poverty.
However, Bronx rapper Melvin Windley, who goes by the stage name RabelzTheMC, believes God has called him to spread an unlikely topic for hip-hop: the message of Divine Mercy first promoted by the mystic Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska, who was canonized in 2000.
The Polish woman religious experienced a series of visions of Jesus Christ in the 1930s, eventually inspiring the Divine Mercy devotion, which has steadily grown in popularity among Catholics since her death in 1938. St. Maria Faustina contended Jesus wanted all souls to know he is endlessly merciful to them and the best way to show his love to others is to be merciful as well.
The devotion was vigorously promoted by Sister Faustina’s fellow Pole, St. Pope John Paul II, before as well as during his papacy. Rabelz says he considers the late pope “a rock star” and noted his 1999 “Letter to Artists” inspired him to devote his musical talents to proclaiming the word of God.
“Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world,” the late pontiff wrote.
For the past several years, Rabelz has been exploring the “inmost reality of man” through his art, and recently released new numbers on Spotify such as “Rosary” and “Eagle Wings,” the latter a hip-hop adaptation of the popular hymn “On Eagle’s Wings,” and a collaboration with fellow Catholic rapper John Levi.
In a frank and wide-ranging interview with Angelus, RabelztheMC held forth on a number of topics related to his mission and his music. He notes, for example, that he was pressured to lose his virginity as a young person, even though his heart told him to wait until he was married to do so.
And that’s just one example of how Rabelz is a man who has struggled with the conflicting messages society sends young men, and that he believes he has found a way to discern which messages are helpful and which are hurtful by embracing the Catholic faith. It’s clear from his words and music that embracing the message of Divine Mercy has allowed him to become the person he’s always wanted to be.
His responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Rob Cullivan: You note in one of your online statements that you grew up “angry.” Was it your family situation, your neighborhood, gang violence, racial issues, or a combination of some or all of these?
RabelzTheMC: I’ve experienced many obstacles in life as an adolescent that potentially could be credited toward my anger, but moreover I was angry at the societal way of thinking and how it affected my God-given way of thinking.
Cullivan: Were you raised in a church, or was the Catholic Church the first one to which you belonged?
Rabelz: I grew up in a God-fearing household as I was raised Baptist, but we rarely ever went to church. My mother would make sure we prayed every day we woke up and right before we went to sleep. The Catholic Church was the first church I have ever belonged to. In 2004, I met a Catholic woman who eventually became my wife, and that’s when I first heard about the Catholic Church.
Cullivan: Who were your favorite rappers growing up and why? And if Catholics familiar with hip-hop were interesting in hearing you, what hip-hop performer would you feel your style most closely matches?
Rabelz: My top favorite rappers growing up were Jay-Z, Nas, Tupac (Shakur), (The Notorious) B.I.G (aka Biggie Smalls), and Eminem. Their music was very inspiring to me.
Although I loved hip-hop, I didn’t like the negative connotation. I wanted to be just like those guys, but rapping for God instead. Their music inspired me to be a lyrical wit without having to degrade women, use profanity or glorify money, crime, and violence. My favorite rappers right now are Drake and Future. My style resembles their style, so I’ve heard.
Cullivan: You mention getting shot by a stray bullet once. How did that happen, and have you recovered from your injuries?
Rabelz: I did get shot by a stray bullet in Harlem back in 2005. I was just minding my business, walking home from work and got caught in the middle of a crossfire, then bam! I got hit in my right leg. Thankfully, yes, I did recover.
Cullivan: You’ve been writing since you were a child. Did you perform as a rapper professionally prior to your conversion, and what did you rap about?
Rabelz: I started writing music at 8 years old. I started off as a secular artist up until I had my conversion in 2005 in the Catholic Church.
Cullivan: How did you get introduced to Sister Faustina?
Rabelz: I was gifted a book called “The Diary of St. Faustina.” It took me a while before I started reading it, but once I started, I knew I had an obligation to spread this message.
Cullivan: How do you put together a track? Do you do it all using software, or a synthesizer and other instruments?
Rabelz: First things first, I start praying. Then I randomly open the “Diary of St. Faustina” and read a few paragraphs for inspiration. Then I put on a beat from YouTube and start writing.
Cullivan: How do your Catholic audiences react to your message?
Rabelz: I randomly receive emails and comments on how my music encourages them to express Divine Mercy in their lives. One guy told me he ended up going to confession after listening to some of my songs, and he hadn’t been to confession in 13 years. Another woman commented on my music video, saying she’s a grandmother, and she never thought she would like a rap song until she listened to my music.
Cullivan: What was the most exciting show you’ve put on?
Rabelz: The most exciting show I did was in Auckland, New Zealand. There was a youth refugee camp present, [the members of which] all experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse, and [who were] struggling with forgiving their offenders. The message of mercy that I rap about encouraged them to forgive their offenders for the sake of self-healing.
Outside of performing, one of the most exciting experiences as a Catholic artist was when my “Novena” music video aired live on EWTN during Divine Mercy Sunday in April 2018.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about RabelzTheMC, visit facebook.com/rabelzthemc/, rabelzthemc.bandcamp.com/, or rabelzthemc.blogspot.com/2015/04/christian-hip-hop-artist-rabelz.html.