Christian rapper's mix tape brings Gospel to prisoners

MpFree (right) with DJ Andy Ross (left) inside Polmont prison's radio station.

Rapper Mpfree this week released a mix tape that features raps recorded by inmates in Scottish prisons.

Titled 'Writer's Block' the 19 tracks are being sent to 16 prisons in Scotland to inspire inmates with a positive God-centred message.

In the first project of its kind, Marc Pawson, aka Mpfree, took equipment into Her Majesty's Young Offenders (HMYO) Polmont prison to record inmates rapping about subjects including fatherhood, past regrets and positive change.

The 31-year-old rapper, whose 2012 EP 'Battle' reached #2 in the Amazon Hip Hop charts, has spent the past two years developing his own brand of positive hip-hop that has bucked the trend in being given the green light to be played on prison radio stations.

Explaining how the prison service currently filters media, Marc says: "Hip hop music as a genre gets very little airplay if any at all because most hip hop glorifies money, drug abuse, substance abuse and even gang violence. So they don't play it. But my message is more about hope. I don't base my lyrics on the cliché of sex, drugs and money, its based on life, faith and how we go about our day to day lives."

Responsible for Scotland's first ever hip hop concert in prison (80 inmates from HMYO Polmont heard Mpfree), the rapper has already seen the Gospel spark positive change.

"I believe music is so powerful any song can have a spiritual effect on people. Music is such a powerful thing that with a message behind it, it could reach places that were unreachable at the time."

As well as inmates, the recording also features American rappers Bumps INF and Cephas plus London based Keylyric.

Over the past two years of prison ministry, Mpfree has seen a number of inmates make commitments to follow Christ.

"Would I have had an opportunity to give my testimony as a preacher? I don't think so. But through music, its opened the door. That's why God gives people gifts and talents to use for a purpose and I believe God has given me that gift to do music for a purpose. I want to use music to communicate a message of faith hope and love - ultimately the gospel."

During the production stage of 'Writer's Block', Marc says many inmates wanted to be a part of the project, but not everyone was allowed.

"The material that some prisoners had was not suitable. The whole purpose of the mix tape is for other prisoners to hear from prisoners about a change and a hope and a transparency. Music is a powerful tool and it's a good way to communicate any message and we want to use it to communicate a message of faith, hope and love.

"One of my favourite tracks involves me and a few inmates it's called Like Father, Like Son. I've got three young daughters and fatherhood is a scary thing for me. My dad wasn't around when I was young so I was nervous when it came to that time in my life. Through the Bible I was able to grasp what it means to be a father. And these guys are on the song talking about their experiences of fatherhood what they've been through and what they'd like to be in the end. It's a really powerful song."

The release coincided with the beginning of Prisons Week – an initiative which encourages prayer from the Christian community for prisoners.

Rab Hayes Officer HMYOI Polmont said: "Mpfree gave his time to come and help the young men learn the art of rap, he inspired them to complete their own projects. It then dawned on all of us involved that we should get this recorded and let the world know that people from different backgrounds and different life choices can come together and deliver a high quality, entertaining and positive album."

One inmate involved in the project said: "Nobody ever thought I had talent, even me, now after working with Mpfree I can be anything I want to be, make changes in my life, be the father that my kids will be proud of."