Community feature: Yaves Ellis spreads message of faith and fearlessness

Erica Thompson

When he was just about 9 years old, Columbus gospel rapper Yaves Ellis preached his first sermon. “He couldn't even reach the podium,” said Ellis' dad, John. “They had to get one of those music stands [for him].”

John was amazed by the courageousness of his son, whose message was about fear. “He was never afraid,” John said of all Ellis' accomplishments. And the list is long. Ellis, now 32, toured the country as a gospel rapper; delivered a speech to thousands in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” voting rights march; and performed at the Nickelodeon complex in a benefit show for Hurricane Katrina.

“At the time, I was telling my story and what I was going through,” Ellis said of his early start in music ministry. “Having a mother who was dealing with drug addiction [and] growing up in a single-parent home — just in a place where everybody was like me. Everybody had that story.”

“I said, ‘Well, even though my mom is dealing with this, even though we're poor, even though I'm seeing all this devastation, what is it that makes me still want to get up in the morning?'” he continued. “And it was my faith. … So if I can take this and I can package it and spread it to everybody I know, perhaps I can make a change in somebody else's life.”

As part of the gospel group Roar, Ellis signed a recording contract with Roots Records at 12 years old. Later, as a solo artist, he often found himself the only gospel rapper in nightclubs, which put him in a surprising position. “[People] who didn't go to church … would come to me confessing,” he said. “And so I felt like the Lord was pulling me in a different direction to be able to help people on a larger scale.”

In response, Ellis earned a master's degree in crisis management and counseling from Ohio Christian University (his bachelor's degree is in business). “I said, ‘Well, let me sharpen my skills to be able to help people … and learn how people think,'” he said. “All these things are important when you're creating music. All these things are important when you're doing ministry.”

Today, Ellis is an independent artist, making music as he feels, such as the song, “Work It Out Freestyle,” released in December, which samples gospel singer Tye Tribbett's “Work It Out.”

“I've had a number of projects that went on Billboard, and a few top 25 iTunes releases … which has been cool,” Ellis said. “But now, as I'm getting a little older, I've been building up the next generation.”

Ellis impacts the local community in myriad ways beyond music. He is a youth pastor at New Birth Christian Ministries, and serves as a mentor for young boys.

“Young men and women need people to be present in their lives,” he said. “Not even to have the answer, but to listen.”

In addition to owning his own company, Sling Shot Media Group LLC, Ellis also works as the director of public affairs and the director of promotions for Radio One, where he hosts talk shows such as “Any Given Sunday” (Power 107.5 FM) and “Eye on the Community” (Magic 106.3 FM).

Though he can be found sitting in on public Columbus City Council meetings with his 8-month-old son, Yaves Jr. — “You should want to know what your city is doing, what's happening with the money, who's doing what,” he said — he has no current political aspirations. But he is often asked.

“I'm content with where I'm at,” he said.

That space also includes empowering his audiences with his familiar message of fearlessness, as he did this year on Martin Luther King's birthday at the King Arts Complex.

“The premise of my whole speech was that the good that's inside of us, the God that's inside of us is way bigger than all the evil that's taking place on the outside of us,” he said. “And I think once we realize that, not only will it make us not be fearful to stand up and to speak out … [but] we would really fight against all the evils and injustice going on a lot more.”