Fresh off of the release of his new EP, Bones, At'Eaze, born Jordan "Jody" Davis, wants you to know he is not a Christian rapper. To be clear, the 25-year-old is a Christian and a rapper, but even before he had a music career, he rejected that title.
"I did used to do what you could call 'Christian hip-hop', I guess — or that's what I was categorized as," he explains. "But from the age of seven, I always called myself an 'inspirational hip-hop artist,' and I just stuck with that. But because my faith was in my music, people were always just like, 'Oh, yeah, he's a Christian rapper.'"
The label limited At'Eaze's audience, preventing him from reaching his target demographic.
"The people who I was trying to reach were the people who Christian rappers don't touch," he says. "Like my people that grew up with me, that grew up in the ’hood, that grew up selling drugs or shooting people or fighting, or whatever the case may be. They grew up in the gutter, and they're not receptive to that, because they think, 'Oh, you do Christian music? That's clearly not for me, because either I don't believe, or I've done too much dirt.' And I hate that, because I'm not even calling myself this. This is a name someone else gave me."
As a kid born and raised in east Denver, Davis saw the community around him in need of healing and positivity.
"Growing up around a lot of gang activity, drugs, alcohol consumption — just a lot of negativity around me — shaped me into the person I am," he says. "Usually it can have an effect on somebody where you fall into a lot of things, try a lot of things, and it can be detrimental. Which, you know, I've had my fair share of experiments or experiences, but I was blessed enough to have enough positivity around me and favor in my life to just say, 'I want to make changes in where I'm from.'"
That's why he espouses uplifting and inspirational messages through his music rather than sticking with the mainstream hip-hop fodder of drinking, partying, drugs and sex. Refreshingly, At'Eaze is not judgmental of those who choose to indulge, but it's just not for him.
"If you decide you want to party every night and it's not taking a physical or spiritual toll on you, then you're fine," he says. "But I got to be the difference maker; I want to stand out. Like: 'He don't do what?' or 'He does what?' That's what brings eyes and ears my way, and now you can hear what I have to say."
Davis's laid-back lifestyle was one of the reasons he chose the rapper name At'Eaze. But you won't find Davis — known as 'Eazy' to many of his close friends — bar-hopping, clubbing or even enjoying Colorado's legal marijuana. He's more of an occasional-glass-of-wine-with-dinner kind of guy, but he isn't shy about admitting that wasn't always the case.
"I've never been drunk, barely been buzzed. I did my fair share of smoking in high school, but I cut it off after my junior year. I don't want to be the same person ten years down the line that I was in high school. I want to make changes, and I want to grow," he says.
He also chose the name At'Eaze as a tribute to his grandfather, who was a sergeant major in the army.
"I looked up to the way he carried himself," he says. "He's a leader. Being a young black kid and seeing an older black male and the respect that he commanded, I was like, 'I want that about me, too.'"
One thing that sets At'Eaze apart from his musical peers is his refusal to curse in his songs, though he does use the N-word. He knows it's a controversial exception, but he hopes to break its negative associations by including it in his messages of positivity.
"I know with the older generation, that's a word that has a lot of negative connotation behind it because of the way it was used," At'Eaze says. "I'm completely understanding of that, and mean no disrespect to the older generation, but at the same time, the way that I grew up, it was another word like 'bro' or 'family.' It was just another word we used as a term of endearment. So even though it was negative, it was like we took that and made it ours."
At'Eaze is all about authenticity first and foremost, and he felt that it would not be authentic to censor himself entirely, given that he uses the N-word in his everyday speech.
"This is a word I use on a daily basis," he says. "I have mentors who, we conversate like that back and forth — pastors who I've grown up with, and that's still how they talk, because for them, as well, that word has been changed into a word of endearmen: 'I'm not trying to down you; I'm saying we're connected,'" he says.
And while he doesn't curse in his music, that doesn't mean he doesn't let the occasional swear word slip in his real life. It's something he's trying to be better about.
"I'm still working on my cussing. I started cussing at a very young age because I was around cousins and uncles who were in the streets, so that was just how they talked," he says. "So all these years of cussing, I'm trying to undo. I'm still working on it on a daily basis, but I'm doing a lot better with catching myself, especially around my daughter, making sure she hears positive things and words that are good."
That philosophy applies not only to his daughter, but to his listeners, as well. At'Eaze is intentional about what his audience hears him say, because he's cognizant that many may be impressionable kids. He says of his music, "I always want it to be something that can be played for the youth. My biggest thing is standing out in a positive way. Now it's kind of cool to be like everyone else and do the same things, and I want to make it cool to be yourself. I want people to understand it's okay to be yourself 100 percent and be comfortable in that, because there's only one you for a reason."
His new project, Bones, a nine-song EP released in October, is a celebration of self-love, introspection and compassion at any age. Building on the positive vibes first introduced on his 2019 EP, Amani (which means "peace" in Swahili), Bones is a welcome antidote to the black hole of despair that has been 2020. At'Eaze hopes he can spread the love to as many folks as possible.
"You know the saying, 'You're only as good as your last project'? My last project was my best at that point, but it hadn't made the influence that I'm going for. Like, I really have the intention of making a global impact and changing the mindset of my generation and the up-and-coming generation, and I wanted to have more of an impact. With Bones, I was like, 'What could be different about this?' What can be carried on from my last project, but also used on a greater scale? My thought process was, I want it to be like a domino effect, so that's where 'bones' comes from."
On Bones, At'Eaze proves to skeptics that Christian values can go hand in hand with bars and beats. Influenced by classic rappers like Andre 3000, Nas, Tupac and T.I., as well as current heavy hitters such as J.Cole, Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper, At'Eaze strikes the difficult balance between personable and preachy.
Soft choral background vocals and occasional organ riffs lend a gospel feel to many of the tracks without hitting the listener over the head with the whole church choir. The lyrics are hopeful but rooted in reality, bringing to mind the neo-spiritualism of Chance the Rapper and The College Dropout-era Kanye West.
Like the latter album and Chance's Coloring Book, Bones is spiritually minded easy listening for saints and sinners alike.
Ultimately, says At'Eaze of his music, "It is for Christians, but it's also for atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, Black, white, Brown, Asian. It doesn't matter. This is for anybody who can take a piece of my message and use it in their life. I am a Christian. I am a believer. But I'm not a Christian rapper. I'm a Christian who happens to rap — for everybody."
Bones is available now on all music streaming platforms.
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