“All they said was 6’8” he stood / and people thought the music that he made was good …”
It was July 2012, and yet another cruel social media hoax declared a celebrity dead before his time. The victim this time was the Grammy-nominated R&B singer-songwriter-producer Montell Jordan, who, it was claimed, had died in an Atlanta condo; CNN was blamed for reporting it.
“‘This Is How We Do It’ guy dies,” Jordan remembers reading as he scrolled through 140-character obituaries of himself. Although his most famous single is a platinum-selling classic hip-hop-meets-R&B anthem that still resonates in pop culture decades after its 1995 release, Jordan was uncomfortable with the characterization of his legacy.
“There’s got to be more [to me] than that,” says Jordan.
At the time, Jordan was already going through the process of “becoming unfamous”—letting go of the desire to see his name in lights—as he explains in his 2015 autobiographical e-book, Becoming Unfamous: The Journey From How We Do It to How He Do It. But after seeing how he would be remembered, Jordan re-upped his efforts to leave behind something he felt would be more meaningful: ministry.
“It was always spoken during my life, ‘You’re going to preach one day; you’re going to minister one day,’” he says. “I would hear that as a child and be like, ‘That’s not what I want to do.’”
But life doesn’t always take paths we anticipate. After years of success—Jordan had topped Billboard charts and had written songs for Whitney Houston and Deborah Cox—his career stalled, leaving his family to navigate trying times. He and his wife, Kristin, saw their luxuries stripped away over the years: a car was repossessed, their dream house and all their possessions burned and they were hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt due to money mismanagement, lawsuits, legal fees and back taxes. And their pain would go far beyond material losses: The Jordans, then the parents of two children, suffered a miscarriage in 2002 and both husband and wife admitted to being unfaithful to one another in the past.
Tired of the façade of a perfect life and marriage, Jordan felt God pulling him to the church and his Christian faith to find hope and healing.
“The music had to be silenced in my life for me to be able to know what God’s voice sounded like because I had made music into a god. When fame and notoriety got taken away and there was nothing else there, then I was like, ‘OK, what do I do now?’”
After periods of fasting and praying in 2010, he received his answer in a dream. He awoke one morning feeling certain the prophecy he’d heard repeatedly years earier was true: He was supposed to be a preacher.
Jordan fully dedicated himself to ministry in 2011 and became a worship pastor at the Victory World Church in Norcross Ga. outside of Atlanta, where he, his wife and three of their four children had been baptized a few years earlier.
He and Kristin now use their marriage struggles as an opportunity to minister to couples facing their own relationship difficulties, which includes co-authoring a book on the subject. Jordan has also been able to offer support to men who have lost children.
“It’s a connecting point of healing for me and for other men,” he says. “[In] every single tragedy, we’re finding there was a purpose for it.”
Although he’s still making music, Jordan now wants to make songs that glorify God. His life transformation, he says, “causes me to sing and causes me to make music that impacts people’s lives.”
But Jordan has no desire to reach megachurch stardom.
“I did that in ‘the world’ and saw that it doesn’t satisfy me,” he says. “It doesn’t satisfy anybody.”
Still, he’s not against fame itself. “There’s a promise that God gives to Abraham in the Bible … ‘I’ll make you famous. I’ll make your name great.’ There’s a difference between God making you famous and you making you famous,” he explains.
Whatever notoriety he has, he wants it all to point “in the direction of what [God] can do.” That includes incorporating “This Is How We Do It,” into a gospel song (and the titles of books he’s written).
“That song gives me access to so many different worlds to share with them the greatest joy that I have in my life,” he says of his ministry.
Good music, indeed.
Brooke Obie, J.D., M.F.A., is an award-winning writer and the author of the new novel Book of Addis: Cradled Embers.
This story originally ran in the September issue of EBONY. Pick up the magazine on newsstands now or subscribe right HERE.