Before Canon released his latest EP, was featured on ESPN and even rapped full-time for Reflection Music Group—he was Lecrae’s hype man. And his janitor. And his student.
“I was like a literal shadow of Lecrae,” Canon told Rapzilla. “Wherever he went, I went.”
Eleven years ago, 14-year-old Aaron McCain met Lecrae at The House, a hip-hop church in Chicago led by Pastor Phil Jackson. McCain, who later adopted the stage name Canon, showed potential as a rapper and a man of God early in life.
“Aaron was a sponge in both trying to grow in the Lord and his craft,” Jackson said.
Canon had the desire to grow. But when he moved to Memphis, Tennessee to attend Crichton College at 18, his potential was far from fulfilled.
“When you come out of high school, you really don’t have any life skills,” Canon said. “You really don’t know who you are.”
He spoke from personal experience.
His first year at Crichton, the Director of Student Life introduced him to campus pastor Adam Thomason, knowing they had similar interests—Thomason having a bachelor’s degree of fine arts in fashion design and connection to Reach Records.
“He came in wearing 10 chains and nine earrings,” said Thomason, now the CEO of Collision Records. “I’m thinking, ‘Who is this kid who has identity issues?’”
Also in Memphis, where Reach headquartered at the time, was Lecrae. He reached out to Canon and plugged him into church and community, which included Thomason and B.J. Thompson. They became mentors to Canon and emphasized the need for consistency in his life.
“From Day 1, we were just trying to get him to understand that being a great artist doesn’t mean that you have matured into manhood,” Thomason said. “You may be able to produce X and spit these bars, but it’s the life skills that really are going to matter when you’re talking about getting married, which he said he wanted to do … Can you show up on time? Can you be excellent in your [class] work? You’re talking about the excellency of Christ over beats, but yet you’re getting Ds and Cs.”
Thomason, Thompson and Lecrae reciprocated the discipleship that they received in school to Canon. Eventually, Lecrae invited him to travel as his part-time hype man.
“I knew ‘Crae was a good artist, a good man, a good brother, a good father, but I really didn’t know what to expect on the road,” Canon said. “From that point on, ‘Crae showed me what it looked like to be an artist and really to sustain himself as a family man.”
When Lecrae and Reach left for Atlanta approximately three years later, he extended another offer—to let Canon move in with him and his family, and Canon did. And he continued to be a sponge.
As Canon rapped part-time, having recently released his mixtape The Great Investment, Lecrae encouraged him to start his own business. Canon Cleaning Company was born. Lecrae lent his car to Canon, who cleaned Reach’s offices and other businesses to make a small living.
Lecrae ultimately offered Canon a promotion—to be his hype-man full-time. From there, Canon shadowed Lecrae nearly everywhere. Here they are performing alongside each other on BET’s “106 & Park.”
Lecrae’s selflessness rubbed off on Canon, and so did his integrity in the face of potential stumbling blocks.
“To see him remain faithful with integrity while on the road,” Canon said. “Artists, we deal with people that may try to catch us at vulnerable times. We deal with people—I’m going to say it—they try to cause artists to stumble while on the road. They try to have us compromise our faith and our leadership, and to see ‘Crae deny and reject that every time, that was big man.
“Women would try to slide him numbers and, in my face, he would rip those numbers up. Women would try to sneak in the locker room and he would ask them to leave. To see him stand up for integrity, even when nobody else may be watching, was big. His faith and how he loves God matters more than his career.”
Lecrae even ensured that they would have a Bible study before every show, Canon said. The integrity that he's witnessed makes it even tougher for him to stomach the criticism that Lecrae and Reach Records have received over the years.
“People have so many assumptions about [Lecrae],” Canon said. “I know him. I see him when he wrestles. I see him at his weakest points. I’ve seen him in moments when he’s failed and he’s admitted to his failures … even when people don’t care.
“People praise and worship an artist, and they don’t care about his failures … But [Lecrae would say], ‘It’s not alright, and this needs to be checked.’ … To see him do that has made much impact on me."
Here are just several testimonies of this impact.
Canon’s mother, Pamela McCain: My appreciation [for Lecrae] goes far beyond the music talent connections, platform exposure and networking relationships. God knew that Lecrae was the right spiritual authority to lead someone like Aaron who, like a young King David in his earlier years, allowed his temperament and head-strong, super-hero attitudes cloud his better judgment in making productive choices.
“Because I followed Lecrae’s music and ministry—years before Aaron began performing—I was overwhelming grateful that God put my son in the care of someone who I know shares common gifts and talents and lives a transparent life in modeling godliness through his own personal struggles as well as his victories. Lecrae doesn’t sugar-coat the gospel nor spares Aaron’s feelings in giving him godly advice.”
Phil Jackson: I think that as Lecrae has had a commitment to really do life with people. In that, that development of those relationships carry weight into whatever God would have people to do. I think that’s a much purer place to be in. One day, Canon and Lecrae are not going to be rapping, but they will love the Lord. And yet, if they only knew each other through rapping, then their commitment to Christ may only be about a performance. So I think the substance of his time spent with Lecrae was affirming and grounding in him even more in who he was as a man of God. And then, "Oh, you rap a little bit too," letting that be not as a priority, but letting his walk with Christ.
B.J. Thompson: When you look at Canon, you’re looking at a man who has legitimately walked from boyhood to manhood—going from being able, to not sure, to being a competent, confident leader who’s initiating and developing a lot of other people. And he’s definitely a super servant. He’s not self-absorbed … A lot of the things that were poured into him, being selfless, being a servant, thinking about a person holistically in their manhood, he’s actually doing that for other people now. I’m definitely proud of him.
Adam Thomason: [Canon] has settled more into his personality. There’s a level of God-esteem—not self-esteem—God-esteem—that comes across in [LCV2], whether you like it or not: “This is who the Lord has made me to be, this is who I’m going to be, and however you receive it, that’s how y’all receive it because this is who I am.”
Fittingly, Canon currently attends the Blueprint Church in Atlanta, pastored by the same man who helped disciple Lecrae, Dhati Lewis.
Canon stopped touring full-time with Lecrae after he signed with RMG, and his concert load became too heavy. The duo continues to be an example of Biblical discipleship, though. Canon is still living with Lecrae until he gets married this fall.
“Nobody gives you your talent but God,” Thompson said. “The way we’re refined, though, is God uses people.”
David Daniels is a writer for Rapzilla.com. He’s been published at The Washington Times, Bleacher Report, Christianity Today and The Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter.