Smile Politely

Ray Glass: Delivering the gospel through hip-hop

A man stands on the sidewalk outside a building with stone walls.
Ray Glass

I haven’t run into too many gospel rappers in my protracted dallying with the music business, but horizons can continually expand, and in my search for singer/songwriters residing in our local music mecca, I was given the name Ray Glass as a person currently active in writing, recording, and performing his own original material.

Christian ministries can be expressed in different ways, and Glass is a rapper on the altar. About 20 years ago, Glass teamed up with a couple of his buddies, DJ Morton and Fontaine Pizza, and they used hip-hop as a means of delivering their message to the people in the pews. Calling themselves Hostyle Gospel, they cut several CDs of original material. The word “hostyle” was used in their group’s name as a way of “blowing” the message out of the pulpit and placing it in the hands of rappers. Said Glass, “There was a notion that it [the message] could only come from a preacher in the pulpit or a priest, or someone had to come by in a suit and preach to you. Our idea with Hostyle Gospel was to say ‘We’re gonna blow all that up, but we’re still going to give you the same message, the same type of integrity, the same heart of your pastor, we’re giving you the same things, just in a different way.’”

Over time, relocations and growing family obligations limited the time he and his buddies could spend together, making it difficult to continue with Hostyle Gospel. Glass, however, has continued to perform and has now taken to the role of performing as a soloist. This has forced him to take on a new function in the process of getting a song from an idea to a final recording — writing the lyrics. Before, Glass was the main person who came up with the beat. He was more involved with the production of the song and left much of the writing of the lyrics to the other guys. Now, however, he pens his own lyrics. “There’s nobody to bounce ideas off,” Glass said in comparing being part of a group to solo work. He feels that has been the biggest transition in the performance of a song. “Where normally DJ or Fontaine would have been in a song, I gotta find something to go in that space,” he said. “But I enjoyed that because I had to create more.”

That creativity has led to an EP release, The Ray Glass EP #1. “I knew that I wanted to do a project that was just me,” he explained. “I did not know how it would be received when I did it until I actually performed it in front of people. So as I’m making it, of course, I’m thinking, it’s good to me. All my music is amazing!” he laughed. “You know I sold a million albums already in my mind!” he quipped. “But until I did the pieces in front of people and saw how people responded to the songs, then it was kind of like, oh, this is good. Yeah, it’s actually okay.” Glass spent a year “crafting and constructing” the EP. He feels the response he got from audiences validated the year he spent crafting the project.

Unlike Hostyle Gospel’s releases, Ray Glass EP #1 is strictly a digital release. There are five original songs: “Hunnit,”; “Neva,”; “Txny Stvrk,”; “Supergirl,”; and “Alive.” He feels a special connection with “Supergirl.” “My daughter has alopecia and started losing her hair around two years old. In about a year and a half, all of her hair came out.” It was a sad time for all of his family. One night, his wife went into their daughter’s room to console her. Glass heard them in the room crying and knew he had to do something to express his feelings toward the two of them. He turned to music and wrote “Supergirl.” “I went to the Tone Jonez website as they’re crying,” he said. “The first beat that I heard was “Supergirl,” or what would turn into [it]. I wrote the whole song that night. It took me maybe six months until it was finished and ready, but that particular piece probably has the most of my heart in it.”

Glass uses his songs in his ministry to others, but doesn’t necessarily stick to just the music. Sometimes he lets the music do the talking, other times he will break from it and speak to the audience. “My dad used to pastor the First Baptist Church in Georgetown, Illinois. Every second Sunday, I would deliver a message. We still do,” Glass said, although now they utilize social media and Facebook Live.

Two CD covers next to each other. The one on the left has a light background and features 2 men standing back to back. It says "Hostyle Gospel" near the top, then "Let Me At Them" near the bottom. The one on the right is a two tone red and black image of soldiers putting up a cross, and it says "Hostyle Gospel Immortal Combat"
Hostyle Gospel, Let Me at Them and Immortal Combat

When performing, Glass lets the “spirit of the room” dictate how he goes about delivering a message. “You can kind of feel what’s happening in the room,” he says. “So many times we were like, ‘no, don’t play music right now, I’m going to say this’, and, yeah, that also ministers in the same way the music would have. Since I can do both, then I can be sensitive to both.”

Glass releases his music through Instagram and Facebook and he can be heard on Spotify and Pandora. Locally, he has performed at Neil Street Blues, Champaign-Urbana Day, and The Audiofeed Music Festival. He is interested in continuing his solo venture with performances as they come along and he wants to do another EP.

Besides his music, Glass can also be heard doing podcasts on WEFT FM 90.1, every second Sunday from 9 to 11 a.m. The show is a discussion about everyday concerns that people encounter and how God would want them to handle the situations.

Glass is available for live performances and/or ministry and may be reached by email at [email protected].

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