Loyola’s Jacob DeRusha uses hip hop to reach youth
He knew one thing in middle school for sure – performing hip hop music was his passion.
Since becoming a student in music industry studies at Loyola University New Orleans and maturing in his Catholic faith, Jacob DeRusha has transformed his initial love of popular hip hop artists such as Eminem and 50 Cent into youth performances that are as authentic as ones he’s witnessed from Christian hip hop artist Lecrae.
“When I decided music was something I wanted to do, I decided I wanted to make it strictly Christian music because I had this idea whether it was good or not, it would be respected, at least,” DeRusha, 21, said.
Today, he hopes that his faith overflows in music.
“That’s just who I am. People should be able to see the Christian in me in my music.”
He has performed his mixture of testimony and music locally and throughout the United States at venues such as World Youth Day and Christian churches, a Confirmation event at St. Clement in Metairie and even the Diocesan Catholic Youth Conference in Amarillo, Texas.
“What I’ve learned through experience about what works and what doesn’t is that kids show up to these events and want to be entertained. They want something that’s going to keep them on the edge of their seats.”
He also incorporates crowd involvement in his act.
“I’ve learned they like to be involved in whatever is going on. I bring them up to the stage to sing. And whether they like the music or not, they seem to like the attention, they like to see their friends up there doing something and it makes things more interesting. It gives more of an experience.”
When he performs, he takes into consideration that youth directors and teachers want youth to be educated during a performance, “to be given these sets of values that will last. It’s combining something that entertains them but what’s going to last longer than that event and will give them a little more character, a little more direction.”
Not what is expected
Because of his “non-gangster” hip hop appearance and music lyrics, he says he’s gotten interesting and unexpected reactions from his audiences.
“I guess I don’t really look like a rapper or come off as that type of personality,” he said. “I am naturally more mellow and more on the quiet side in a social context, but then when I rap, it looks different.
His faith deepened
DeRusha, originally from New Mexico, said he was raised Catholic but didn›t take his faith seriously until a discussion in his senior religion class in high school about where we go after death made him realize he was in the state of mortal sin and “it freaked me out. I was really scared. ... I was really trying to change the way I lived, the things I was doing. I had a conversion that I wanted to live out my faith more. Then I wanted to make more positive music, more Christian music.”
His music writing began shifting to a more Christian message to reflect the positive image he wants to gain from his listeners. DeRusha said he’s written more than 200 songs and published 50 to 75 of them, some like “Keys of Love,” “Never Stop,” and “New Orleans” on the popular Soundcloud internet site.
His faith kept deepening as his music career progressed. Those who booked him began asked DeRusha to give testimony and reach youth by discussing relevant topics such as Theology of the Body and mercy, prompting a further desire to learn more about his faith.
Then at Loyola, the emphasis on social justice inspired and motivated him to use music in a way that would further social justice.
“My goal and what I would love to do is to be able to play music for those less fortunate. Maybe like a conference and maybe the next day go to a detention center. I would like the opportunity to entertain in that way. It would give the ministry a whole different perspective.
This semester, he served as campus ministry rector at Loyola and realized he enjoyed the camaraderie of college students.
“I want to go to grad school and get a degree in something pastoral to do that job during the week while still traveling on the weekend traveling to the conferences and playing music and giving keynote addressed,” he said. “Right now the market for my music is strictly Christian, but I would like it to break out of that without compromising who I am, the values. I’d like to be able to speak at a conference while at the same time performing somewhere that is more secular.”
He found his God-given passions in reaching the hearts of youth and positively influencing them through music and uses this tool to bring a more positive lens on the Catholic faith. He encourages youth to find their passions about and work that into their faith.
“You are given certain gifts, and you shouldn’t hide those gifts. And your passions, the things you love to do, are given by God, and that will drive you where you need to go. It’s possible because you are made to do great things.”
His active involvement in the Catholic campus ministry coupled with his music ministry earn him the 2016 St. Louis medallion from the archdiocese.
“It was really cool to see the archbishop,” DeRusha said. “It was a humbling experience to be given the honor of that award. There’s something – not to put myself on a pedestal but the work we all do – to give glory to the church and the work we all do for the church. It shows that it is for a greater cause.”