They call him The Ambassador. Born William “Duce” Branch, he represents what on the surface appears to be two competing cultures—the Kingdom of God and hip-hop. In a world that may ask, “Isn’t Christian Hip Hop an oxymoron?” The Ambassador stands as a shining example of how hip-hop can be properly submitted to God and its common corruptions rightly avoided. This tricky navigation did not develop without a struggle but God has clearly maneuvered his steps for such a time as this.
As the Lord would have it, The Ambassador was raised primarily by his father in New York City , coming of age at the same time as that burgeoning new voice of the street—hip-hop. Rearing him in accordance with a biblically-based Christian faith, his father saw absolutely nothing of value in the hip-hop culture, but like second-hand smoke The Ambassador indirectly inhaled its influence, which affected him “like ‘a contact’. I wasn’t allowed to participate, but that urban swagger seeped into my bloodstream. My full exploration was
limited by my Christian upbringing, but its aroma subtly began emanating from me.”
The contrasting elements continued to battle within the hungry young man until his early teenage years, when he moved from New York to Virginia to live with his mother. The straight and narrow path lit by his father was quickly obliterated in the chaos of his new surroundings. In his youthful naiveté, he now thought he would have everything he wanted, but The Ambassador found himself gradually losing everything of spiritual value except his profession of faith. Meanwhile, his reckless, self-indulgent behaviors brought satisfaction to his flesh, but a twinge to his conscience. At the same time, he was connecting with southern DJs and making the house-party rounds, where hip-hop was beginning to shape a new generation at its core. Hungry fans, including The Ambassador, followed the model of the hip-hop heroes, in ways both positive and negative. This would soon change.
By 18, reality checks hit The Ambassador hard. “I realized I had been bamboozled. Hip-hop had not prepared me to be a man. I was unsatisfied and unfulfilled, stuck in the futility of my thinking and had relegated Jesus to the realm of heaven. I wanted my eternal hope to begin when I died, not interfere with my earthly pursuits or pleasures.”
As the Lord began to unravel the lies of the culture, he found himself empty, losing vital relationships, and facing the challenges of becoming a teenage father. That pain led him to cry out to God. A revelation ignited the spirit of the budding artist and he began to consider how his faith should impact his participation in his culture (hip-hop).
“God even invaded my heart through my own raps,” The Ambassador shares. Like the prodigal son, “I knew I was empty because I had left the Lord, and I prayed that God would put me back under my father’s teachings.” Within months, his father agreed to take him back and put him in Bible college, which had actually become a deep desire. It was there that the seeds of his calling began to bud, which ultimately led to his role in co-founding The Cross Movement—the ground-breaking Grammy-nominated Philly hip-hop group that spread the fame of Christ by injecting the culture with what has become known as “lyrical theology.”
Having overcome the urban drama of heavy drug use, petty dealing and sexual promiscuity by God’s grace, The Ambassador went on to prepare for full-time ministry. He began his study of the Scriptures at Philadelphia College of Bible (now Philadelphia Biblical University), but graduated from Lancaster Bible College and then received his Masters in Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). Following his graduation from DTS, The Ambassador went on to co-plant and co-lead Epiphany Fellowship—an inner-city church in North Philadelphia —where he continues as a Teaching Pastor. These fruitful years also prominently included his marriage to Michelle Branch as well as his five children.
Through every turn, for 15 years, The Ambassador never lost his passion for the hip-hop culture, but became increasingly convinced that his faith must be intentionally integrated with it. His burden to proclaim Christ was announced abroad in 1999 with the release of his genre-shifting debut solo album Christology: In Laymen’s Terms—which offered a triumvirate of piercing Bible-based lyrics, banging hip-hop tracks and dynamic flow. In 2004, he followed up with his successful sophomore project The Thesis—a controversial treatise on the intersection of faith and hip-hop—as well as the Grammy and Stellar nominated release HIStory: Our Place In His Story—the climatic finale of 6 successful albums—with the acclaimed pioneers, The Cross Movement. He has toured globally as a solo artist and with The Cross Movement and been covered by media outlets as diverse as Time Magazine, CCM Magazine, VIBE, The Source, Billboard and The Washington Post. His television appearances include BET’s “Bobby Jones Gospel” and TBN’s “Praise the Lord” and “Real Videos.”
The Ambassador’s third solo offering, The Chop Chop: From Milk to Meat, pulsates with the same focus taken to its natural progression: calling the Body of Christ to maturity, to the fullness of the faith. “The new school in the game has rich talent, but is sometimes afraid of maturing into the deeper life. But it’s time to move from milk to meat, to unpack the fullness of our message. It’s time to chop up the meat and take it in. We tend to avoid the weighty, to choose the quick prayers and easy lessons, to do all things on the fly,” says The Ambassador. “But it’s well worth it to get the full weight of Scripture deep into our souls. God has destined us to mature.”
In 2009, The Ambassador stepped down from his duties as an artist and pastor due to some personal issues in his life. We can only pray that God is able to heal him and bring this talented and gifted servant back into the hip-hop niche that he helped shape.
Listen to The Ambassador Here
|Christology: In Laymen's Terms||2000||Cross Movement Records|
|The Thesis||2005||Cross Movement Records|
|The Chop Chop: From Milk to Meat||2008||Cross Movement Records|