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Righteous B  
A Catholic Rapper’s Call to Glory
By Tom Tracy

Bob Lesnefsky grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, before attending Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, where he studied theology. He graduated, married his wife, Kate, and moved to New York City to start a Catholic youth and young adult ministry at a low-income, inner city parish.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into there and they didn’t have a program; we started some outreach and failed at everything we did by using a lot of traditional, suburban youth group models,” said the now Catholic rapper known as Righteous B.

Bob finally moved to what he calls a “relational model” of youth ministry, and at the same time casually began to record rap music with the kids on the block and used a beat machine. “It was mostly just fun and got kids involved, and they responded to that,” he said.

In 2001, Bob recorded the first of several Christian rap CDs, including his most recent project, Sweatshop Sessions, which he recorded in Jacksonville, Fla. Now based in Steubenville, Bob travels around the country performing at weekend Christian and Catholic youth rallies and promoting his own nonprofit youth outreach organization, Dirty Vagabond Ministries. He recently sat down with the St. Augustine Catholic for an interview to talk about his work, Catholic youth ministry and his music.

Q. How did you get into your vocation?
A. God really gave my wife, Kate, and I a passion for inner-city kids. Hip hop for them is a way of life, and as we started traveling more we see it is relevant to all kinds of kids.

Q. Your third and newest recording, Sweatshop Sessions, has made some waves. What do you like most about it?
A. It is my third album, but the first one that I actually like. I still feel like I am learning hip hop and it’s the first time I have felt comfortable enough with myself to really write how I like and not put out a certain type of hip hop. The goal was to be honest, vulnerable and raw, and I feel like we achieved that. In hip hop today, there is a sense of talking about this and that which gives it a bad name, but there is a strong undercurrent who are rapping for authenticity. For Christians that is a great thing — to be a bit vulnerable and not as polished when you are speaking about the gospel and your heart.

Q. What place does Christian rap hold within the overall world of Christian music?
A. It is one of the most relevant types of music out there. You still have some cheesy, lame Christian music, but I think this is one of the stronger genres, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the community always gets behind it. Kids respond well to it, but most of the Christian community is still “weirded” out about rap. It is a shame, but overall it has a great following and whenever there is a concert the kids respond so well to it.

Q. Do you take any negativity or criticism for using the Rap genre for Christian music?
A. All the time. For the most part, when people see it and how we do it and the way kids respond to it and how we share Christ with kids, it is a winning combination. But there is an assumption from adults that this justifies all hip hop as valid, and sometimes there is negativity that there can’t be such a thing as Christian or Catholic rap. Some say the beats are intrinsically evil, and sometimes you laugh and move on. Pope John Paul II, who was one of my heroes, said if the church holds back culture the gospel falls silent. I would say to a parent about rap that if Christ isn’t breathed into that culture, then some other ideology will be. Either we use it as a tool or someone else will.

Q. What’s the one most mistaken impression about rap and urban culture?
A. When we don’t understand something we write it off. An older person could look at urban culture as senseless, stupid and talent less. It would be easy to do that with cultures we don’t understand. People don’t see hip hop art as art; they see it as nonsense. But it arose from people who haven’t had a voice, and there is some real disconnect and a sense of culture shock about this. There is fear of it, but at the same time the biggest supporters and consumers of hip hop are white suburban kids.

Q. How do you feel about most people seeing rap music as coarse or obscene?
A. That is a stereotype. Some think the word rap implies cussing, or that in order to make rap music you have to talk about sex, greed and gangs. The reality is you look at hip hop purists and where it came from. It is a great art form and the key ingredient is being authentic. I think that is the heart of good rap. Some of the stuff people are offended by is a kind of “voice of the people.” Sometimes it feels good to say out loud, “this is what my life looks like.” It is not always about the music; sometimes it is about the rhythm and the message of a song.

Q. What can we learn from urban culture and hip hop?
A. When I did youth ministry for a time in wealthy, suburban Houston, I found urban and suburban kids no different, but most of us have learned to hide our messiness of life really well. Urban culture has never learned how to hide behind things or there aren’t the resources to do it. I find that vulnerable and honest. Look at how uncomfortably honest Jesus was. A lot of us don’t recognize our needs but urban kids know they need a savior.

Q. What is your typical show like?
A. It is a lot of energy, interactive, a little too loud for some; a lot of dancing; jumping up and down, laughing and we goof around a lot. Sometimes it is just a big concert with a little sharing towards the end. We normally end with a song or two on the guitar and the spoken word where we share our hearts and the testimony of our lives.

Q. Regarding Dirty Vagabond Ministries, you write that all your ministry here happens in conversation, relationship and recreation as opposed to formal youth group gatherings. How is that actually happening?
A. We have projects in Steubenville and one in the proposal stage for Queens, N.Y. The idea behind it is that it would be an organization working for the Catholic Church but outside the walls in terms of working with kids who might not be in parish ministry but who would respond to relationships. We have a storefront in Steubenville and the idea is to have missionary youth workers not doing events but just building relationships with kids, mentoring and being disciples to them.

Q. Why is urban outreach so essential but often ignored or overlooked in parish youth ministry?
A. A lot of suburban churches are struggling to pay mortgages, whereas in the inner city they are struggling to get by. Even in churches able to pay a modest salary, might find urban youth ministry a little too messy, a lot of headaches. To do that kind of ministry you have to be in it for the long haul, and maybe with little return. There can be a sense in the church that parishes are autonomous and without the connection to the wounded part of the community. We have definitely experienced people coming alive to that need, but it is easy to be a little removed sometimes.

Q. How do we “call youth to Sainthood” as you describe on your website?
A. By bringing them to a place where they can fall in love with Jesus. Catholicism is there solely to support a relationship with a living God. Through the sacraments and commandments there is a person, Christ, and so if we approach evangelization in any other way then no one gets really fired up. To say I am totally in love with Jesus and to stay close to him and not offend is what I find is the way to call kids to sainthood. We want to bring them to the realization that God is in love with them and is calling them to a relationship. Without that there is no context.

Q. You have said that efforts to win over inner city communities for Christ will take more than a spring break service trip?
A. I talked to the former president of another Christian youth organization and they said their experience is that it takes 10 to 15 years before a community will begin to trust you. (Young people) are always doing a spring break trip to paint a house or go to an Indian reservation or Mexico for a week, and it’s cool. But the idea of actually committing to a neighborhood where there are a lot of people in and out of their lives, the key ingredient is commitment and investment.

Q. Your most memorable spiritual experience?
A. The greatest thing for me is watching some of the kids we worked with in New York. They looked hopeless. Now, eight years later, some are full time youth ministers!

To sample some of Righteous B’s music, visit his website at or to find out more about Dirty Vagabond Ministries, visit