On Friday, while scrolling through my Instagram feed, I stumbled upon a surprising collaboration. Gospel artist Tasha Cobbs Leonard brought R&B sensation August Alsina onstage during her Revival tour in Charlotte, NC to sing “You Know My Name,” from her 2017 album, Heart. Passion. Pursuit.
I haven’t followed August Alsina’s career closely because his rise to fame began right before I stopped listening to secular music. I do, however, remember the single that put him on the map: 2013’s “I Luv This S***.” The song was a street anthem, a hip-hop track sprinkled with R&B flair, addressing the usual hip-hop subject matter (sex, drugs, objectification of women) and riddled with profane language.
The August Alsina I saw in that clip Friday is not the same one from five years ago. The new Alsina has a testimony, a purpose, and a calling, and this post (which I hope he gets a chance to read) is a call to action. What I heard Friday was the sound of redemption.
Check out the special duet below:
Check out the special duet below:
I may not listen to secular music that often anymore, but I appreciate a unique tone in any genre. Alsina definitely has that, but what I heard Friday was...different. There’s a certain something about Jesus music that sets it apart from every other genre. When the worship is for real, there’s a distinctive cry, a raw sincerity that tells listeners that it’s coming from the heart. That’s what I heard, or rather, what I felt, when August Alsina opened his mouth: A shift in the atmosphere, a stirring that let me know that his soul needed to sing that song. From what I know about gospel music, one doesn’t just sing a song with that much conviction unless they have a reason to. I wanted to find Alsina’s reason.
Since I was a little out of the loop on what Alsina’s been up to these days, I googled him—and when I did, I found an interview he did on Jada Pinkett Smith’s “Red Table Talk” earlier this year. During his sit down with Jada and company, he opened up about his struggles with drug addiction.
In the interview, Alsina said, “I was pretty much doing way too many shows, not taking care of myself. I was drinking so much liquor. Smoking so much weed. Just one night at a show in New York, I literally passed out and fell off the stage.” As a result of that fall, which happened back in 2014, he was prescribed Percocet...and before he knew it, he was addicted, taking at least six pills per day. He quit cold turkey, without rehab, and spoke candidly about the steps he took to put his life back together again.
As he sang:
He knows my name
He knows my name
Oh, how He walks with me,
Oh, how He talks with me,
Oh how He tells me that I am His own...
I heard God say, “Give Me back what’s Mine.”
I listened, on repeat, with tears in my eyes, and I was reminded of James 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (NIV). Every gift, singing, dancing, acting, etc., is given by the ultimate gift giver, God. Whether that gift is used in the secular realm or not is a choice made by the person He gives it to...but if it’s secular, it can only stay secular for so long. The Creator will always get the credit for His creation.
August Alsina sang those lyrics as if he realized in that moment that God really does still know his name. He sang like he thought about how long it’s been since the last time he called on Him just to talk, just to tell Him how good He is. He sang like he had the biggest epiphany he’s had in a long time: that no matter how far he walks away from God, he always belongs to Him.
Today, Tasha Cobbs Leonard shared a video on her Facebook page of the backstage moments following her duet with Alsina. In the clip, shown below, Alsina tells Cobbs Leonard how much of a positive impact her music has had on his life:
That moment was so relatable for me. As a gospel music lover and avid gospel concert-goer myself, I’ve had the opportunity to have that moment with a few of the artists I support. It’s a rewarding experience for them and for me. Record sales are great (#BuyKingdomMusic!), but being able to stand in front of these people and tell them how much their art of worship inspires me is priceless. I was glad to see that Alsina was inspired, and I hope he realizes that his worship can inspire others as well.
I pray that in the days that have followed that performance, Alsina has taken time to reflect on who God is in his life and what it is He wants him to do in the earth. I pray that the same conviction he felt while singing that song will cause him to run and never look back, to run into the arms of the One who first loved him.
Dear August Alsina (and every other creative, secular or otherwise)
God knows your name. He knew it long before the crowd screamed it at the top of their lungs. He knew it before you were ever formed. Whether you profess to know Him or not, He is always walking beside you, and He will talk to you if you’re willing to listen. Once you’ve accepted Him as your Savior, you are always His, and He is always yours. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or how long it’s been, He’s always available and accessible to you. Give Him back what is rightfully His—your life and your song.
A music lover who cares
P.S. August, it’s time for a gospel album!