PROVO — Utah-based hip-hop artist James Curran’s national success took him by surprise. In many ways, he never planned to release his first album, which dropped in full on Wednesday.
But there’s another album he wanted to make, and Wednesday’s launch of “We Came to Play” is a step toward that conclusion.
"I wrote a whole other album called ‘Something to Prove.’ It’s a very heartfelt album with a lot of personal things. It’s the album I want to retire off,' " said Curran, better known as James the Mormon, during an episode of KSL’s Sportsbeat Afterhours podcast.
"But I realized if I released that album now, the only people who would hear it are Mormons," he said. "That is literally the opposite of what I wanted to do."
The nearly-overnight explosion of James the Mormon in hip-hop circles has been astounding. Just a few years ago, he was making music for fun out of his home studio, dropping tracks with BYU football, and contemplating a jump into the industry.
You guys.. @jamesthemormon just dropped his album AND IT IS 🔥. Go get that heat off iTunes, get hyped for the @utahjazz vs rockets GAME 2. After @spidadmitchell goes off, tune in to @kslsports later tonight for the recap and updates..#Takenote#UTAvsHOU#GoJazz#JTMpic.twitter.com/skC1QsH8Ye— 𝗛𝗘𝗠𝗔 𝗛𝗘𝗜𝗠𝗨𝗟𝗜 𝗝𝗥. (@HemaHeimuliJr) May 2, 2018
Now he’s debuting music videos on BET and getting shoutouts from some of the bigger names in the world of hip-hop.
“We Came To Play” went on sale Wednesday, but pre-orders have been flying for over a week. Half of all presale orders will be donated to Operation Underground Railroad, a nonprofit that helps rescue children sold into sex slavery.
By the time the full album hit iTunes, it was No. 9 internationally. By Wednesday morning, it had surged to No. 4 on iTunes overall chart before settling into the top 10.
Curran also said he plans on donating proceeds from the first week of his album’s release to the LDS Church’s missionary fund. As an active Mormon, one major goal of James the Mormon has been to spread awareness and positive news of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through an unconventional medium — in his case, hip-hop — and show that Mormons are regular people, too.
He is not, however, an LDS artist, Curran maintains. He’s just a musician who happens to be a devout member of the LDS Church.
"I don’t want to ever make LDS music,” he said. “The music is always going to be secular. But I’ve collaborated with a lot of LDS people who are extremely talented — and a lot that aren't LDS."
That outreach included to his own hip-hop community in Utah. When he burst on the scene with tracks like "Motivation," "Dreamin,'" and "Tellin' You Why," many in his community thought he busted through overnight.
In short, they didn’t identify with the new artist in Provo.
"I was definitely the outsider," Curran said. "They had never heard of me; I had never done a show. In their eyes, I just kind of blew up overnight.
"I think a lot of hate came with it. But it’s very confusing when you find someone named 'James the Mormon' doing that. So I made an effort to go down there and introduce myself."
The outreach eventually became "Buck Wild," a collaborative effort he made with Salt Lake-area hip-hop veterans uMaNg, Zac Ivie, Rhyme Time, Eddington, Shelbadine, Underground Ambitionz, and Dblacc, the latter of whom BYU football fans will recognize as former wide receiver Devon Blackmon.
The track came out in April, and a music video where Curran and the rest of the group cypher in a Salt Lake City boxing gym debuted April 12 on BET.
The track brings together some of the bigger names in Salt Lake City’s Hip-Hop scene, and only one of them is LDS — the one who happens to pen himself as "The Mormon."
"Over the past year, I became friends with a lot of those guys,” Curran said. “In doing this album, I wanted it to be very inclusive and collaborative, and so I decided to have at least one track that was a cipher and I could bring guys on to it."