“On a technicality, I am not the first battler that is a Christian. Other battle rappers were Christians in the culture, but they didn’t really wave the banner of their faith as much as a believer should in a culture of darkness. Where I differ … is my boldness in my faith in the battle rap culture.”
Th3 Saga does not like to be called a “church boy,” and he shouldn’t be called that for good reason: he is not.
In urban culture, the term has been weaponized against Black and Brown men.
For some strange reason, the expression invokes an overarching idea that a man is “soft” cause he goes to church or that he lacks the validating experiences that approve people’s “hood cards.” Because most Black and Brown churches are mostly populated by women, “church boy” and “mama’s boy” are social constructs tightly intertwined— slung at men to emasculate. It is a pistol-of-a-notion, birthed from the immature womb of toxic masculinity. To defend one’s self from the phrase continuously has to be exhausting.
The mockery is not the reason he should not be called “church boy.” He shouldn’t be called that because it would not represent truly who he is to the church body nor the world of battle rap. He is a Man of God and moves like that in both spaces.
Often called the culture’s pastor, his creative musing of the Holy Spirit uses his faith to craft bars that make people become believers. While they may not believe in his Jesus, but they have come to believe that the Sensei Saga should not be slept on.
A gifted wordsmith, he stitches together rhymes like a dope preacher, articulating the Gospel through metaphors, pop culture references, and unbelievable schemes that are in a word, “anointed.”
Consider his last battle on a Rooftop against the West Coast Black nationalist B-Dot — that one that is most certainly a contender for not only “battle of the year” but possibly the third from Saga could be the top verse for 2020. The mere exegesis of his material was masterful. As a student, and seemingly a man with something to prove, he broke down his Kemetic understanding of the sacred with his own scriptures and real-man talk.
Actually, for the last couple of years, almost every battle that Saga has accepted has been masterful. Still, he has not received the top mentions, top rankings, top looks, top card opportunities, or even the top bags. It is his cross to bear, to be like Christ, and to have to push through in spaces that don’t appreciate him. That’s just not the dues paid in battle rap, that is per the scripture: Luke 9:22. To boldly be like Christ (even in the battle rap space), the Afro-Latino emcee has to a) suffer, b) get rejected by his peers, and those in high regard and c) rise to his imminent rise in glory.
There is a rise coming. Because of Saga’s epic performance against B-Dot, he got the look to be on what Daylyt has called the biggest card in battle rap history, NOME X.
It has been a long time coming.
Th3 Saga’s first battle on the Ultimate Rap League was six years ago with Blaqu Mugga from Philly. He had blessed with a Proving Grounds battle relatively swiftly, after battling only once a year in college and a few times afterward.
“Immediately after my battle with Blaqu Mugga, we started Ultimate Freestyle Fridays which was in its last season on BET. It was a tournament series and I battled a dude named T-Top. T-Top had way more battles under his belt. Way more experience. He knew how to control the room and he was just on his rise (as we all were coming out of that class of Proving Ground battlers). He had that momentum … so … my first battle I got eliminated.”
The rapper had his first real instruction to battle rap on a supreme level.
“T-Top was the better man that day and he ultimately went on to win the whole tournament. It was a humbling experience also. He pulled the crowd in with a captivating performance, pacing, punching.”
The learning lessons from that experience was vital to the young rapper’s career.
It showed him how to write directly for an opponent, attack, and angle, find your opponent’s weaknesses and find chinks in their armor. It prepared him for his next contest. Top taught him that getting on the stage, Christian or not, needed more than just a “Cover me, Lord” prayer. The Bear made James 2: 14 -26 come alive for the preacher. If this was going to be his ministry, he would have to do the necessary work to develop the craft of battling over his natural gifts.
Saga shares that he took notes, “That day was an eye-opener for me and I applied everything that I learned.”
His next battle was against Prep, the freestyle genius, and swag monster out of Maryland. Saga came for war — not wanting to feel like he felt with T-Top again. And boy did he show up. People have said that this particular battle is actually one of the greatest small room battles of all time.
These two early experiences were important in developing the emcee that you see now. Sure he brings his faith to the table, leading with God. But he had to look at the vocation of battling as a serious craft balancing it like curriculum, as art, and as science.
“I believe it is more art, but there is a science to art. There are so many little intricacies in pacing and word patterns, syllable rhyming, and things of that nature. If you are a student of the game, you are paying close attention to how things are broken down. I also consider it an art because of the beauty of it. Performances and moves … things that are communicated through body language would seem mundane if they were only said using words.”
“Sometimes, when you bring in a certain level of performance (which is where the art comes in) It enhances the feelings and brings out more of the story and brings more depths to the bars.”
He uses some of his peers on URL, those who are considered some of the top competitors in the culture, as examples of why the art of battle rap is beautiful (despite its vulgarity, violence, and sometimes darkness).
“Hitman Holla’s performances are art. Every bar that I’ve seen Hitman Holla land, especially the more of the notable ones and the classic ones from his battles, that outshines his opponents. Every bar, movement, pacing has a certain rhythm to it. He is literally acting out every syllable sometimes to a point that nothing is wasted. Every sense of his identity is put into the performance. His cadence. His projection. It all matters.”
“K-Shine is similar, but he has a more gritty approach in his writing style. With the difference in approach to writing, you perform things at a different level. You add emphasis to different things. While I consider Hitman more performance base, K-Shine is more of a puncher and more lyrical. He is gonna give you a little more depth in the content, but he is going to show you the performance aspect of it.”
“Those are the two primary examples of performance and art in battle rap.”
As a rapper, Saga understands that people look at his commitment to faith as a hindrance. He knows that he represents, as the primary Christian rapper at URL, whatever church hurt that his peers have experienced when he stands before them in each verbal sword fight.
For many, the church has offered gallons of judgment and disappointment, instead of joy and acceptance. More focused on high morality and piety, so many who claim the faith are off-putting and not worried about being a space of sanctuary that invites people in to experience (if nothing else) love. And since people of his ilk are not coming into the church, battle rap in the wilderness that he has gone out into the frame ministry. One-fifth of the Four Horsemen, he uses battle rap in his plan to rescue people, not destroy them.
There are usually three ideas about culture and Christ that people ascribe to Christianity against culture, Christianity of culture, and Christianity in and for culture.
Christianity against the culture is evidenced by those holy rollers looking to wage war against the evil and wicked ones that revel in debauchery. One can see why battle rap, as socially problematic as the culture as it is, feels attacked by the thought of someone with faith as the foundation of their identity being in their midst. Hip-Hop, in general, is a rebellion on that kind of ostracism and moral oppression.
The other way to look at it is Christianity of culture, which takes the approach of I am a Christian in the culture, but my faith is a lifestyle versus a conviction.
Saga, and his cohort of Christian battlers A-Ward, Loso, and Street Hymns, take on the last approach, being in and for the culture.
You can see it in his expression and appreciation for the work that T-Top, Hitman, and K-Shine does. He steps and retires judgment at the door, notes the men in front of them, and elevates with his steadfastness. He doesn’t seem to bow, doesn’t seem to shy away from conflict, and is just as lyrically competent and aggressive as any of the rest of them. But alas, he finds time to show them the face of God in his tone and sound advice.
You can see this played out in his relationship with Nu Jerzey Twork.
Twork, whose mother is clergy and raised him in the faith, has a reputation of being a bad boy and barks out these lyrics as his slogan in all of his battles, “Madness, I’ll clap you in a coma, I can snap at any moment.” He also has a signature waving of his hand that is supposed to imitate him using a gun. Doesn’t sound like a comrade for Saga.
But in their recent battle presented by Charlie Clips TV called ‘Good vs Evil,’ the genius of Saga’s ministry plays out in a music video of deliverance. Moreover, it shows tact and approach when molding both his faith world and the rap world.
The Brooklyn rapper is unapologetically evangelical. He drops seeds in conversations with his peers and in his battles about faith.
“The battles themselves I wouldn’t necessarily include the battles themselves as the aspect of ministry that I champion. What I love is that battle rap becomes the ice breaker, especially for me and my opponents. A lot of conversations that are had off-camera with the fans when I am coming off the stage or with my opponent after everything is done, that’s where God really shows and really flexes His goodness.”
“People are actually able to give you more of their time outside the battles. They have sat through your rounds and have heard your perspective. Now, they have a deeper understanding of who you are (whether they like it or not). It creates conversation afterward where they can say, ‘that was dope. I respected that. Take my number down.’ They feel open enough to whenever they need it to ask for prayer. It offers opportunities to impart The Gospel in their lives. It is a beautiful thing.”
“The battle is the ice breaker, but the ministry starts when the cameras are off.”
“In my opinion, it is like wrestling. People take characters like The Rock and The Undertaker, and they think that this is who they really are 24/7. Sometimes, they get on board as a character because they want to appeal to the crowd and put on a certain persona for the people. When they have that freedom to take off the mask there is that sigh of relief for them. That is when you get to really meet and see who they really are. That is when ministry matters the most. I can’t minister to someone who is trying to put on a facade and deny everything because he is in the public. I’d rather have private conversations with them and get to the root of the matter.”
Saga is clear that he is a “Christian” before he is a rapper. But it is abundantly clear from his testimony, his journey and the way he strings lyrics together to make hood scriptures in each battle, that he is a rapper. He was literally born from his mother’s womb to be an entertainer. His mother was a professional performer in the 80s, experiencing success in the Latin Christian market as a singer. The information about patience and hard work, artistry, and faith, she has passed on through the sacred DNA that they share, but also in the advice she has given to him about always handling business.
And Th3 Saga believes that he is about to handle some business on NOME X against Long Island’s Mike P.
“This NOME is crazy for me because my first PG was a day after NOME IV. To think that six years later, I would be on a card with a lot of these returns, and people I grew up watching (Loaded Lux, Daylyt, Tay Roc, Tsu Surf) is amazing. I have my own flyer … I am on the trailers … There is a part of me that as a kid I am in the mindstate of gratitude and some disbelief. But there is also a side of me now that sees everything that I have worked hard for coming to pass. I am just saying to myself, ‘It is time to keep going. It is time to keep going.’”
But there is someone that wants to put a stop in Saga’s momentum, swearing that it will not be that easy to move through this night of main events. That would be his friend Mike P, who according to both artists has had a mirrored-rise in their career.
Even with The Most High on his side, should Saga worry? Absolutely! He knows Mike’s pen, desire to win, and what this too means for him to take the victory.
“Mike P is one of the most underrated and underappreciated rappers on the URL roster.”
“I have always championed Mike P as he has for me. I respect Mike P as a phenomenal lyricist. I have stood behind him in battles because he is a good friend of mine. We both have seen politics play a part in our careers, and we both understand how important this situation is. So leading into this NOME X, I feel like this is an opportunity for both of us to show that the two guys that don’t fit the mold of what NOME is could actually steal the show.”
There will be a lot of talent on the stage on NOME X. That will be a huge feat to accomplish. Loaded Lux and Tsu Surf will be culture-shifting. Tay Roc and Daylyt is a style clash that came out of nowhere, but most certainly welcomed by fans. Aye Verb and Geechi Gotti will be an intergenerational tangle, while Jey and Fonz will fight for a championship title and a $25,000 bag. There are so many reasons for other people to steal the show.
But battle rap’s pastor has something that will surely not allow any weapon to form against him to prosper: his need to be great.
He has prepared for the day, offered the prayer, and lastly he has a name in the culture that is on the line. This is his season to take all his lessons, study to show himself approved, and took his faith and combined them with his works. Will God show up in his favor, or teach the pastor another lesson? NOME X reveals that for us all.Ruby Recordings AB Tazz Drops Debut Single “Badabang” ft. Trizzy