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Sharing God’s word through hip-hop

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Josh Angrisano performing at the 2017 Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Perth. PHOTO: Cyron Sobrevinas

A lot can change in five years.

Just ask Dallas-born Josh Angrisano who in 2014 watched his dream of becoming a professional baseball player cruelly unravel. He says he allowed himself to spiral into a haze of fear and substance addiction, which required drastic action and loads of grace to overcome.

Now a hip-hop artist and Catholic missionary, Josh is living in Melbourne, happily married and just released a song about being a first-time dad. He says that as hip-hop culture becomes more entrenched in the mainstream, rapping—spitting out words to a beat—is a way the Holy Spirit reaches the hearts of many young people including the most disaffected.

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“Hip-hop is just one of the many ways that the Holy Spirit can speak to a generation and I think that it’s not really being fully tapped into in the Church,” he told The Catholic Weekly.

“Everybody’s listening to it now and it is shaping culture. And so we need the voices of people who are creating kingdom culture and infiltrating today’s culture through hip hop.”

“It’s kind of like a sneaky homily, you can pack so much into three minutes of content.”

This October Josh will perform at Ignite, a national Catholic youth conference being held for the first time in Sydney. The event at 3-6 October at Freeman Catholic College in Bonnyrigg in south west Sydney and will follow an identical event in Brisbane next month.

The line-up of speakers and performers for this year include US-based Catholic youth speaker Paul J Kim and Sydney priest Fr Daniel McCaughan.

Planning is well underway and Sydney Bishop Tony Randazzo has reached out to young people to invite them to a national Catholic youth conference being held for the first time in Sydney. The bishop has worked with the Brisbane-based organisers of the annual Ignite Conference for many years and seen the “life-changing impact the conference has had with thousands of young people”.

Josh says he’s looking forward to seeing all ages coming together under one roof and praising God as well as seeing the amazing things God’s doing in the lives of the other speakers and performers.

“It’s going to be a really joyful event.”

From failure came hope, and faith

A son of US songwriting evangelist and singer Steve Angrisano, Josh grew up in a loving home but lost the joy of his childhood faith shortly after entering college to study a marketing degree.

“I was basically there to play baseball and once I got there I quickly saw that the dream wasn’t really going any further than this,” Josh explains. “I kind of reached the maximum competition level that I could hang with and I was struggling to even get onto the field at that level. That spiralled me into a deeper depression or fear of where am I going?

“I had this big plan for myself and then had to come to grips with the fact that was not going to happen.”

He had already cut loose from his old youth group and stopped going to Mass, and there was nothing to stop him when he flung himself into the college party scene.

Josh at baseball
Josh Angrisano on the baseball field. PHOTO: Supplied

Josh says what began “as a weekend thing” soon got to a point where for a full year he was rarely sober. “I was really struggling with drug addiction there was just a moment where I sort of hit rock bottom.

“Thankfully I got into legal trouble was kicked off the baseball team. That was when my parents became involved. Dad came to me and said what’s going on? I said I’m not really happy, I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.”

Steve encouraged his son to go on a mission trip with his old youth group, which was heading to Peru.

“It changed my mindset,” Josh says.

“I went there and I was struggling with anxiety and depression but all these people we were serving were 10 times happier than me and my friends back home.

“They had nothing materially, all they had was God and their family, so when I got back home that made me figure out the pillars in the life, what gets me up in the morning and makes me happy.

“And I decided to follow Christ again, or just even try and start my own personal relationship with Jesus.”

Once home though it was too easy to return to old friends and bad habits, so Josh decided to make a complete break and joined Youth Mission Team in Australia for a year in 2016. It was where he met his now wife Emily.

“I needed to completely change the friends I was hanging out with, my daily routine, and I couldn’t do it by myself,” said Josh. “I forced myself into a situation where I couldn’t give in even if I wanted to, and I had to praise God on a daily basis and live like he tells us to live.”

While on the team he began to share some of his songs with students in schools, and began recording. Now a fully-fledged hip-hop evangelist Josh speaks to young people about physical, mental and spiritual health and shares how Jesus strengthens him daily.

“I encourage young people to just use whatever gifts, whatever talents they have, to channel that energy and use is as a medium to walk with Christ.”

“When I was five or six years old I was just infatuated with rap, I loved hearing the storytelling, whether it’s a beautiful story or a painful story it’s just amazing how they kind of paint a picture in your head with words.

Josh with bride Emily on their wedding day last year. PHOTO: Supplied

“Writing lyrics and creating music has just always been a part of my life. Whenever I was struggling or needed to talk to god or even just process the thoughts in my head I would just pull out some paper and start writing, and I guess when baseball came to an end it came really strong on my heart to do that.”

Inspired by fatherhood

Josh’s latest song is inspired by his daughter, four-month-old Willow Anne.

“I hope it gets out and encourages young parents, specifically fathers. We live in a culture where it’s a bad thing to find out you’re going to be parent so something hopefully it will uplift them.

“I’m a pretty average guy and I am close to a couple of secular rappers and they tell me ‘Man, you need to dress cooler, you need to do this and that’, and it just doesn’t come natural to me, I feel like I’m faking so I’m just kind of authentically being myself.”

Registrations close 7 September for Ignite. There are discounts available including 50 per cent off tickets for students in the Sydney Catholic Schools system. For information contact [email protected]
For other all other inquiries call Sydney Catholic Youth on 9307 8152.

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