James Curran is a rap singer, well known by his artist name JTM (formerly "James The Mormon"). He gathered a fan base from his YouTube channel in 2014.
James, the son of a diplomat, grew up primarily in China, Russia, and Uzbekistan. His family was accustomed to being among the few members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the area, or country. When the time came for him to be baptized, the family was living in China and James was baptized in a hotel Jacuzzi. When he was fourteen, the family moved to the United States, and he heard rap music for the first time on MTV. By the time he was seventeen, he had started writing his own music.
He served as a missionary first in Russia and later in Washington State, Russian-speaking. He said he gained a testimony of the restoration of the gospel and the Atonement while serving and came to realize it was the most important thing in the world. He wanted to stay motivated to share the gospel with others once he concluded his mission and returned home.
When he came home, he changed all his social media names to James the Mormon, and the name stayed when he became a professional rapper. According to LDSLiving, James felt prompted to use rap music in an unusual way.
- "It would be the equivalent of God telling some guy in the gym who likes to play basketball, 'Hey, I need you to go the NBA," Curran says. "And he'd be like, 'What?' and God would be like, 'Yeah, this is how I want you to share the gospel.'"
- And so Curran began producing his own music. He released his first extended play, "I'm Not a Rapper" on April 17, 2016. By April 28, his album had reached No. 1 on the iTunes hip-hop/rap top albums chart and No. 7 on the iTunes top albums list. . . . Curran donated half of all the proceeds of his successful EP to the general missionary fund.
It went on to reach #1 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers chart. It hit #1 on Billboard's Hip Hop and Rap charts. But James says he thought about changing his name.
- "To be very honest with you, at least once a week I sit there and think, 'James the Mormon is the most ridiculous rap name in the world,'" he says. "After a few songs, I was like 'I can't do this anymore, it's too ridiculous.' But I would try to change it and get sick."
In addition to writing and producing rap songs and music videos, he works three other jobs. Sometimes he goes days without sleep and pays out-of-pocket for his videos.
- But despite challenges, Curran presses forward, often receiving emails or Facebook messages from inactive members who decided to go back to Church because of his music.
- ”That's all the gratification or reward that I need," Curran says.
Changing his name to JTM, as it turns out, falls in line with the direction from President Russell M. Nelson to eliminate the incorrect use of "Mormon" as an identifier for the Church of Jesus Christ and for Latter-day Saints. However, Latter-day Saint themes underline his music. For instance, he released “Workin”, a song that was inspired by his love for missionary work. It features David Archuleta and other well-known members of the Church of Jesus Christ appear in the music video, including John Roberts from Bored Shorts. His EP, PMG, stands for Preach My Gospel. He says that his ability to reach people through rap music is not entirely his own.
- "I would like people to know that one: It's members coming together in unity and seeing it for more than a rap song," Curran says. "No matter what, it's always more than a rap song. Because God's hand is in this, and that's what this is about."
James graduated from BYU-Idaho in 2010.