From gangsta to Gospel

by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

North Texas Catholic

Carlos Zamora, aka C2Six, left the world of gangsta rap in 2007. After a period of intense study and prayer, he’s now a Catholic rapper singing about the “greatest story ever told.” (NTC photo/Ben Torres) 

FORT WORTH  — There was a time when Carlos “C2six” Zamora enjoyed his reputation as a “gangsta” rap artist.

Standing in front of impressionable audiences, the Fort Worth native exposed the harsh realities of urban life with edgy, beat-driven music. The hardcore lyrics he mouthed were swathed in profanity, tales of gun violence, and sexual innuendo. Familiar with the gritty-yet-catchy tunes, fans often sang along.

“We sold a lot of records and toured with some national recording acts,” explained Zamora, recalling his years in the secular spotlight with the group Southern Kappin Soldiers. “We were very successful.”

All that changed one evening as he readied to take the stage for an “all ages” event in Fort Worth.

“I didn’t know what ‘all ages’ meant but my attitude was ‘show me the money and I’ll be there,’” the musician admitted.

One look inside the bustling auditorium made him rethink going through with the gig. “All ages” meant middle and high school students.

“We got there and realized, yea, there’s about 1,500 people here and they’re all between the ages of 11 and 16!” remembered a shocked Zamora, who was 30 at the time. “I was appalled. We were going to perform gangsta rap in front of these kids and didn’t have anything positive to say.”Embarrassed, he turned to the promoter and admonished him for booking “a bunch of rappers” for an event geared toward teenagers.

“He looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘I’m not the one rapping. You should be ashamed of yourself.’”

Already compensated for the concert, Zamora and his fellow bandmates performed their rhythmic, gang-oriented songs for the young crowd.

“The crazy thing was the kids already knew our lyrics,” the musician said. “It was a real eye-opener for me. For the first time, I realized what I was doing — polluting young minds and guiding them in the wrong direction.”

After the show, Zamora returned to the VIP room and cried.

“I didn’t know what was happening so I just asked God to lead me and I would follow,” he added.

His decision to leave the world of gangsta rap coincided with another dramatic conversion. Raised in a Catholic home by a devout mother and less than devout father, Zamora fell away from the Church as a teenager when the pull of drugs and partying became more important than Sunday Mass. Eventually the influence of Protestant friends coaxed him even further from the faith.

“I wasn’t just a former Catholic. I was a very anti-Catholic, former Catholic,” he confessed. “I wasn’t very knowledgeable about my faith and began listening to what some ardent anti-Catholics would say about the Church.”

Their arguments, which focused on the usual misconceptions about Mary, purgatory, and the authority of the pope, had a profound impact on the vulnerable apostate. Zamora became zealous about “saving” individuals and his newfound religiosity began influencing his music. But the songwriter soon realized he didn’t have the background needed to write about his beliefs.

“So I started studying and I couldn’t reconcile what my pastor friends were saying about Catholicism with what I was learning,” he explained. “It didn’t connect and it didn’t make sense. Long story short — I studied my way back to Catholicism.”

As part of a Christian rap group called FoundNation, Zamora and company are “always pointing people to Christ. He’s always the headliner.” (NTC photo/Ben Torres)

During his two-year journey back to the faith, the cradle Catholic listened to apologetics on YouTube and other websites. Reading books by lay theologian Scott Hahn led him to research the writings of early Church Fathers Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna.

As part of his research, Zamora knocked on every church door and spoke with pastors and parishioners.

“And not just the Catholic Church either,” he pointed out. “I would find people who would listen to me, ask them questions and pick their brain. I was hungry. I was searching.”

The process was long and painstaking but the rapper finally returned to his Catholic roots.

“I was coming to conclusions that were very, very Catholic and I couldn’t deny it,” Zamora continued. “I was staring history and Scripture in the face.”

Today, C2six still raps but now his lyrics celebrate “the greatest story ever told.” His upbeat hip-hop music focuses on God’s love, redemption, and Gospel truths. Each song is meant to encourage and uplift young people especially those at-risk and marginalized in society.

The now 40-year-old musician performs as a solo artist and with the Catholic hip-hop band FoundNation which is part of El Padrecito Ministries. A Franciscan friar from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Father Masseo Gonzales started the California-based music ministry and provides members with spiritual direction. C2six and FoundNation performed at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, the Catholic Underground in Manhattan, and various diocesan events around the country.

Suprisingly, Zamora’s fan base from his gangsta rap days remains supportive.

“Even my old venues continued to book me after I started doing Christian rap,” he said matter-of-factly. “Sometimes I’m the only Christian act performing with not-so-Christian acts but that’s cool. It allows me to be that witness. In a place of darkness, I can still be that light in the world.” 

After each performance, people come up and ask the Catholic rapper about his faith or solicit advice about changing their own life. Many request prayer.

“There are always people looking for help. There’s always someone touched by what we’re doing.”

Cheers and applause fill the concert hall as C2six walks off stage but the title of his newly released album “Opening Act” with FoundNation aptly describes the musician’s main objective.  

“We might be the ones onstage but we’re only the opening act,” Zamora said humbly. “We’re always pointing people to Christ. He’s always the headliner.”

FORT WORTH  — There was a time when Carlos “C2six” Zamora enjoyed his reputation as a “gangsta” rap artist. All that changed one evening as he readied to take the stage for an “all ages” event in Fort Worth.