Living the High Life Wasn’t Enough

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As a rapper Johnny Kampa was known as “Lil’ Menace” and he more than lived up to the name.“ (There was) a lot of theft, armed robbery, getting people’s car stolen, broken into; things like that,” he remembers.  “Drugs are always in a part of the equation when you’re out here. This is the high life, man. That’s what this place brings.”

Johnny was raised in South Central Los Angeles. His parents divorced when he was young. “I’m an only child, so I just remember (wondering), ‘is this happening because of me?’ And really never got real clarity out of anything from my family, so I was always trying to be a part of something.”

He lived with his grandmother in a rough area, and before long, Johnny joined a gang and started getting high. The gang gave him the acceptance he craved. “I was a member of a neighborhood and that neighborhood was mine. It was a blood oath. I didn’t shy away. Whatever they called me to do; if it was a gunfight that we had to do, we would get into a gunfight. We were strapped all the time, and we were ready.”

As a hobby, he also developed skills as a rapper, but when a local producer heard him, “That day I got signed to a label and it was actually at the label at the time, ‘Familia Records’ was the label for all Chicano rap. That was the hottest label back then. Little by little, it just blew up.”

He became known as “Lil’ Menace.” By now, he’d moved in with his girlfriend, they had a daughter and he started distancing himself from the gangs. Life was good. “We had a big wedding, and then we bought some cars. I’ve moved my family out the hood and we actually got a nice little pad now in a nice area and we’re traveling around the world.”

As his popularity increased, the stress of the music industry brought on a new habit and new problems. “The music industry got me stressed out because I wanted money. I started getting some psychiatry because my temper was flaring up and my heart was going. I was just having all these issues, man. And so they started giving me some medication. The doctors would say, ‘All right here, take this, take this.’ I had to have my four tablets every day or else I would just like start jittering and start freaking out. My wife was seeing it and she was like, ‘honey, you should slow down.’ But I was like, ‘There’s no time to slow down, you know. I want it. I want to make this.’ I wanted to be known as the best Chicano rapper that ever lived.

Over time, he also distanced himself from his wife and they separated. One day, Johnny was arrested for gun possession. He called his family for help. “Nobody would talk to me. My mom wouldn’t answer my phone call. My grandmother wouldn’t answer my phone call. My wife didn’t want to answer my phone call. Nobody did. It was like I was cut off from the outside world.”

A former gang member told him about how God had given him a second chance at life, but thought he threw it away. “He’s saying, ‘And I had this chance. I was dying before. God gave me a new a new life, but then I dumped it all because I went back to my connect. I went back to shooting up heroin.’

And I’m thinking, ‘Man, the way that he said it was such a powerful way, the testimony that he gave, then he started to cry and he’s like, ‘and I wanted this chance and I wanted it so bad.’”

Johnny thought about his own life, and how he wasted it chasing money and acceptance. “Tears are just flying through my eyes and I’m thinking, ‘What is going on? What is going on? Why am I here crying?’ And this Presence (was there), I felt something. I just felt something. And I felt love. It was God just saying, ‘This is Who I am.’ I’m a man of second chances and third chances, ‘cause I was hearing all these chances that this guy had. But I wanted to appreciate these chances now. I don’t want to be here in jail for the rest of my life.”

After Johnny was released on bail, he called a friend’s daughter he knew was a Christian. She invited him to church. “I remember, man, running up there and just giving my life to the Lord because I knew at that time I needed the Lord. Because all that lifestyle that I was living, I was always searching for something, whether searching for love, searching for attention, searching for money, and all I needed for that whole time, it was obvious to me then, was, Jesus.”

In time, he reunited with his wife, who also accepted Christ. They now have three daughters and a strong love for one another. “I’ve learned how to really just put my family on a pedestal, put them first, and have that bonding time with them.”

Johnny has found his true identity in Christ. Today, he goes back into the same streets that he once terrorized, to bring hope to the hopeless through Christ. “There’s more than that, man. There’s a life, man. There’s a life in Christ.  God wants to take them out of all that bondage and all the oppression that’s behind these places. I know God wants to just transform their lives, man, like he did mine.”

Johnny says. “Jesus is my Abba Father. He’s my Lord and my Savior. He’s my beginning and my end. He’s the Author, the Alpha and the Omega. You know, he’s the Finisher of my faith, man. I really believe that.”

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