CARLOS ZAMORA aka C2SIX – A Catholic Hip Hop Artist on Boldness of Speech & Witness [#002]

In this episode I sit down with gangsta rapper turned Catholic hip hop artist Carlos Zamora aka C2Six and talk about how that transformation happened in the first place. We also get into the topic of evangelization, both through music and social media, and discuss the importance of using bold, direct speech to provide clarity on matters of Church teaching, something we both agreed is lacking in the Catholic Church these days.

During his conversion to Catholicism, Carlos actually spent some time church hopping as a Protestant and credits that experience with his zeal for proclaiming the Gospel to his time outside the Church. He still shares an affinity for our Protestant brethren and actually performs at their events and even has an album he put together with a Protestant rapper. His approach leads us into a deeper conversation about how to share the truth in love, how to disagree with someone without dismissing them, and how we have to find a balance between defending doctrine and being pastoral.

Carlos’ Conversion from Gangster Rap to Catholic Hip Hop

Do you prefer hip hop artist or rapper? (00:30)

It doesn’t really matter to me, but I usually say hip hop artists for the simple fact that people usually have a negative connotation with rapper. It sounds a little bit less intimidating. 

How did you get into Catholic hip hop? (01:10)

Carlos remembers his first encounter with hip hop in the third grade, when his older brother—who is now a Protestant pastor—brought home a Run DMC album. As soon as he heard it he was hooked. He started listening to other artists like Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, KRS One, Rakim, and EPMD. He would write his own rhymes and eventually listened to other sub genres of rap, especially the Chicano rappers. Eventually he decided to make it more than just a hobby and became a gangsta rapper in 1998, learning the business side of things and booking shows.

The turning point for Carlos in his hip hop career was when he showed up to perform in front of 1,500 people at an “all ages” show and was caught off guard by the audience of middle school and high school kids. Immediately aware of the fact of his great influence on these young people, Carlos was felt uneasy.

Approaching the promoter, he said “What are you thinking booking a bunch of gangster rappers to perform for a bunch of kids? You should be ashamed of yourself.” The promoter looked him straight in the face and responded, “Hey man, I’m not the one rapping it. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Carlos went to the VIP area and sat with his head on the table and cried. Something came over him and he told God that he wanted to choose a different path for his life.

Was your transition immediate or gradual? (05:52)

Although Carlos didn’t write any more gangster rap or book any further events, but he did have to fulfill some contractual obligations until he was able to quit cold turkey. However, he shares that even before his conversion, there was always references to his faith in his music. So in the interim he tried to perform those songs.

I had a similar experience when I came into the Church, deciding from one day to the next to stop listening to rap for the simple fact that for the most part it doesn’t help me in my pursuit of God.

What is FoundNation? (09:00)

Carlos, along with a group of other Catholic rappers from around the country, formed FoundNation. They reached out to Fr. Masseo aka “El Padrecito” and he has become their spiritual director, helping to keep their lyrics true to Catholic teaching. He himself is a rapper with a similar background.

Where do you guys perform? (12:25)

FoundNation performs at parish and diocesan events. They have also performed at NCYC (National Catholic Youth Conference) and twice at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro and Panama City.

In Rio he met people from seemingly every country in the world. He was blown away that people who didn’t even speak english knew his lyrics. After performing at a few smaller venues, the group was disappointed when their one large event was rained out. Carlos shares that it was a humbling experience for them when they realized that it wasn’t about them, but about sharing their music with the hope that it will touch somebody.

At WYD in Panama City they performed in front of a crowd of 650,000 people, which was by far the largest event they’d ever participated in.

Ecumenical Catholic and Protestant Dialogue

Performing at Protestant Events (17:30)

After his initial decision to leave gangster rap behind, he actually began doing Christian rap and developed a following in the Protestant world. When he later made the transition from Christian rap to Catholic rap he worried how his supporters would take it. In the end he found that most of his fans continued to support him even after labeling himself a Catholic rapper.

Carlos explained that in his experience the same idea that many Catholics are accused of being ignorant about the truths of their faith applies equally to many Protestants. It’s usually only the preachers or pastors who are even able to distinguish the distinctly Catholic content of some of his lyrics. I agreed that many Catholics believe every Protestant to be a biblical scholar, but it’s usually just a handful of verses or teachings that they have memorized. Carlos continues to acknowledge the role his time in the Protestant world played in his own zeal for the faith.

How do you disagree with someone about your beliefs without dismissing them? (23:20)

Carlos tries to affirm the shared beliefs he holds with those he is in conversation with claiming that it helps the other person to let down their guard enough to be open to hearing what he has to say. At the same time he acknowledges that things Catholics and Protestants disagree on are certainly significant.

He explains that he is careful with the way he words things especially online, because it’s hard to hear context when you’re reading something. He tries to use language that isn’t combative or argumentative. People often point out his use of big words and Carlos says, “Hey man, those big words don’t sound like you’re starting a fight.”

People can tell when you’re being genuine and you really care. He likes to reiterate his respect for those who are willing to have conversations with him.

I have been following Carlos for a few years on social media and he will post a statement about a Catholic teaching with limited commentary. This will usually kick off a conversation in the comments and both Catholics and Protestants will weigh in. The benefit of this approach is that those who may have been confused about a preconceived notion of a misunderstood Catholic belief or practice are able to find clarity about it, and as Carlos says, many times they will actually agree with it, which reminded me of one of his lyrics.

“I betcha never seen a Catholic rap apologist,
graduated high school, but never was a college kid.
I almost flipped when they told me that I got a gig,
at a Catholic Church and I’m thinkin’ man I gotta spit,
extra hard cause I’m speakin’ ’bout the Catholic truth,
it wasn’t hard I just had to let the lion loose.”

FoundNation, Get It Poppin’ Remix

Carlos then explained that many times people will go after one another attacking each others beliefs or ideas, whereas what he tends to do is explain what he believes and let the conversation ensue. This way nobody is on the defensive, but are more likely to ask questions to further clarify their understanding.

He related that as a kid he would listen to adult conversations and although it wouldn’t have any impact on him at that moment, years later he would realize that what he heard had planted a seed in his mind and influenced his own thinking later on down the road. I agreed that evangelization is about planting seeds in people’s lives, not ever expecting to see the result directly, but hoping that God would nurture the seeds we had planted, alluding to the meaning the parable of the sower.

Catholic Leadership in the Church and the Family

Clarity from Church Leadership (34:00)

I brought up the fact that in most cases we’re not receiving this level clarity on important issues of doctrine or Church teaching from clergy, especially our priests and bishops, mentioning my conversation with Andy Aguirre about pornography, chastity, and natural family planning, and how in my ten years as a Catholic I have never heard a priest speak about any of these topics during their homily. Carlos said that he shared that seem experience and explained that he tries to give priests the benefit of the doubt, acknowledging the difficulty of finding the balance of stern preaching and pastoral care. He brought up the example of the words of Jesus:

“I have so much left to tell you, but you can’t bear it right now… When the holy spirit comes he’ll lead you into all truth.”

He interpreted that to mean that sometimes we have to be patient and wait for the proper time to share the tough teachings.

Agreeing with his point, I explained that if we look at the example of Christ, there was a distinct pattern to his ministry. He almost always began his ministry by being present to people, healing them, performing miracles, etc. Then after the personal encounter, He would follow up with preaching and teaching. I used the story of Zaccheus to illustrate this point (BIBLE VERSE).
In the Catholic Church we tend to lead with the rules and regulations and leave the relationship aspect for later, sharing that in my experience the first step should be evangelization (encounter with Christ) then and only then coming into the catechesis (doctrine and teaching).

Carlos affirmed his desire for clarity and orthodoxy while at the same time allowing for proper pastoral care. I related this paradox with natural fatherhood and how as fathers we have to be able to show love and tenderness to our children, while at the same time setting boundaries and providing clear direction. 

The Role of a Father (44:00)

Finding ourselves in agreement, I led the conversation deeper into the topic of fatherhood and what the role of a father truly is, stating that most Catholic fathers are not living out their vocation as priest of the home, nor head of the household in general. Fathers are meant to be leaders and, like Adam, when we neglect our responsibility we can expect to see negative results.

Remembering an argument he had with his father, Carlos shared that his father had once told him that although God have given him his talent, he was not using it responsibly as a gangster rap. At the time, Carlos couldn’t grasp why his father couldn’t support him, especially since he was making a good living. He remembers asking his dad, “Why can’t you just be happy for me?” And his dad responded concisely, “God gave you your talent, but all that other stuff isn’t coming from God.” This took place only a few weeks before the concert that changed Carlos’ life forever.

I pointed out the fact that his father, who wasn’t even a very active Catholic, in typical male fashion, used a simple, direct statement that later would bring striking clarity to Carlos. No one else was willing to tell this to Carlos, but his father filled that role naturally. Today, he is glad that his dad was there to speak truth to him and now he makes sure to use the gifts and talents that God has given him responsibly.

Living Up to the “Catholic” Label (51:13)

Carlos explained that to be a Catholic rapper, people expect that he should always be blatantly Catholic or that every word of each song should be about specifically Catholic things, and although that is usually the case, he doesn’t think that to live up to the label of a Catholic rapper you have to always be explicitly Catholic in content. In agreement, I stated that to be a Catholic in general doesn’t mean that every conversation you have revolves around Church teaching either.

He shared that sometimes he’ll find himself writing lyrics that aren’t necessarily about his faith, but he has committed to just write about whatever he is thinking about or going through at that moment, stating that authenticity and sharing from lived experience is one of the things he loves most about hip hop.

Song-Writing in a Group (53:41)

I asked Carlos how that works when writing for a song that will be performed as a group in which each artist only has a small piece to perform. Carlos explained that because the members of the group are literally spread around the country—from San Diego to Texas to Florida—they aren’t usually able to get together and write every song, but that many times they will all go through a batch of beats and each pick a handful of their favorite and come up with topics or themes.

The Importance of a Sense of Humor (57:00)

In discussing how the internet and especially social media is able to bring people together from anywhere around the world, Carlos shared that although it doesn’t always come through in his music, he is big jokester. He’ll often post what he considers “dad jokes” on Facebook, usually on the topic of food or faith.

He says he tries to find a balance between mature topics and humor, especially in his conversations with young people.

Catholic Family Life

Carlos Asks about Life in Southern Utah (58:34)

Carlos turned the tables and asked me how things are going in Utah. I explained that my wife and I had decided to move to southern Utah after spending a decade in Los Angeles. At first, I explained, it was shocking to go from a place like LA where there is a Catholic Church on every corner to St. George where there is a LDS church on every block. I reminisced about the deeply embedded Catholic history of California with cities named for the saints, and how there is only a single Catholic parish in St. George.

I shared the challenge of going from the strong Catholic community of friends we had built in California to basically starting from scratch. I also mentioned that one of the main reasons for moving here was because it is so family-oriented and wonderful environment for raising kids opposed to life in Los Angeles.

Kids at Mass (1:01:35)

Having a bunch of kids at Mass can be very challenging and I explained that our parish has been very welcoming of our family from the very beginning. Despite the fact that there aren’t many other young families in the parish, we receive warm welcomes and positive comments almost every Sunday. 

With a 7 year-old, a 5-year-old, a 1-and-a-half-year-old, and a three-month-old Mass can be a big challenge. My wife usually breast feeds the baby and she sleeps through most of it, while I tend to spend the first 20 minutes wrestling with the other baby until he finally gives in and falls asleep. The two older boys still struggle to sit still through Mass which at our parish usually lasts about an hour and a half. So the encouraging comments are usually well received. In our case we’ve always had positive feedback and even our last parish was very friendly to our family.

Carlos explained that children are the life of the Church and that when he sees a family with several young kids he is always reminded of the words of Jesus to “let the children come to me.” If the Church is a family than we should expect to hear baby noises. I shared that it’s important to feel welcome because many people will stop going to Mass when they have young children because they don’t feel welcome. 

Leading People to Christ

Responding to Negativity (1:05:45)

Carlos expressed the importance of being able to “shake off the negativity” and not let it effect you. He shares a similar experience in people not being open to him because of his career choice and background. I related it to his lyric from the song “Empty Pew”:

“I didn’t know what to think, all I knew was I was suffering,
and the lack of people caring really troubled me,
there was no love, the attitude was more like,
don’t let the door knob hit you on the backside.”

FoundNation, Empty Pew

He shared one experience in high school where he was kicked out of the Church youth group because they feared he was putting the other kids in danger by his presence there, having been involved in gang activity. At the time it hurt and he wished they would’ve embraced him instead of pushing him away.

I related the approach to that of Jesus towards Simon Peter on the Sea of Galilee. When Simon Peter says, “Depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man”, Jesus, instead of pushing him away, invites him to “Come, follow me and I will make you a fisher of men.”

Undesirables and Demographics in the Church (1:14:30)

Being able to relate to young people is something that Carlos puts great emphasis on. We can’t take them for granted. We both expressed thanks for the work that we are doing to reach people for God and doing something about the problems we see especially in the Church.

I shared my surprise for seeing Carlos on The Journey Home with Marcus Grodi, since they are coming from two completely different worlds, yet their faith Christ brought them together for a wonderful conversation. The Catholic Church brings people from different socio economic backgrounds, races, and languages and makes them part of one family.

Carlos reflected how God appeals to every aspect of who we are as human beings and that our differences, though they may be many, God speaks to us all. He shared the cultural diversity of his parish in Texas and how their Catholic faith unites them despite their differences, something he didn’t experience in his time in the Protestant world.

Pursuing the Truth and Challenging Your Thinking (1:21:00)

Carlos shared that when he first started in the Christian rap world he always strived to be authentic in his lyrics, however he would find himself repeating things he had heard from pastors or other rappers. At times he would feel uneasy about certain things and realize that it wasn’t sitting well with him because he didn’t believe it to be true. So he would go back and study it and that is what eventually challenged his thinking and caused him to dive deeper into his faith, finally leading him back into the Catholic Church.

One of his pastors challenged him on the topic of the Eucharist, asking him if he really believed that Jesus is truly present. Carlos studied it further hoping to prove his friends and family members wrong on their belief in the Eucharist. At this time he had a zeal to show the Catholic Church to be false in its teachings, yet he didn’t want to make false accusations. That caused him to do deeper studies and have conversations with priests and other Catholics who eventually challenged him to read the Church fathers. It was then that he realized he had proved himself wrong instead and he knew at that moment that couldn’t walk away from Jesus in the Eucharist which couldn’t be found anywhere except in the Catholic Church.

He suggested that starting with the “source and summit” of our faith might be a good launch point for leading people to the Catholic Church. I shared that my wife and I had recently talked about how for many Protestants the Sunday service is basically a Bible study. If that’s the truth then the Sunday obligation falls through, since I can stay home and study the Bible on my own. However, as Catholics going to Mass on Sunday is about the Eucharist, communing with Jesus Christ in a physical, sacramental way, which can’t be achieved at home.

Where to Find Carlos and His Music

  • Google “C2six” and you’ll find his social media accounts
  • Music is available on Spotify/Pandora