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Rapper-Pastor WILFREDO Discusses Grief, Adventist Hip-Hop, and New Album

BLOOMED IN THE MOONLIGHT, released on August 24, 2021, is the first LP from Florida-born rapper Wilfredo. With 13 tracks and a runtime just shy of half an hour, the album ranges from energetic anthems (No Ice) to mournful lam

ents (Phantom Pain). This record is an emotional journey through joy, loss, and faith, all presented through the means of bilingual bars and genre-hopping production.

The Haystack sat down with Wilfredo to talk about all things Bloomed In The Moonlight.

HS: First of all, congratulations on the album release. Who were some of the key players, besides yourself of course, who were important in the creation of this project? Give us all the shoutouts!

Wilfredo: First off, thank you so much for this opportunity and the space you guys are creating for artists that don’t fit what’s considered the normal mold in our denomination. Please keep up the amazing work. There are so many voices that need to be showcased that are doing an amazing and unique work.

Giving credit is extremely important to me because this project could have never been done by me alone. It definitely took a tribe to raise this child. First to the production team for Wayne Klassik, one of the main producers of the album (Fortaleceme, No Ice, I AM, Back 2 U, Oracion). Joseph Augusto for mixing and mastering and producing Phantom Pain. Julian Prosper (King Saul), Kolby Niblack (Moonlight), Joe Hernandez who mixed and mastered all the way from Salt Lake City, UT, and Dennis, an engineer from East Room Studios in Orlando, FL.

Thank you to my family and friends that I would vent about my ideas and send unfinished versions of the songs. Thank you for your patience and feedback Jonathan Wright, Raymond Viera, Manny Arteaga, Manuel Fonseca telling me to do better, Joel Fonseca, Joshua Fonseca, and Michael and Zashira Carey. Big shout out to the support crew that has been holding me up when grief would hit: Bryan Garces, Christian and Giovanna Garces who also developed the amazing cover art for the album, Gabriel and Eileen Cardona, Eric and Admelyz Camarillo, Natalia Alvarez, Isa Zenon, Eddie Rolon, Johans Romero. The features you made the project so much better. Nahkaz, Paula Rodriguez (who was also a part of my support crew), G.I. Jojo (my older brother), Edwin Bliss, Richard Canales and The Way - comprised of Jose Perez, Antonio Acosta, and Cesar Rivera. Last but not least my father Wilfredo Montalvo, who has deeply influenced me with the way he demonstrates not only his love to me and my siblings, but how he loved my mother. And the person this whole project was dedicated to was Rosa M. Flores. I truly wish this project wasn’t birthed as a result of her passing. She was able to hear the song Oración, her two sons professing their love to her and the impact she’s had, she loved the song. She’s the biggest influence in this project and my life and honestly can’t wait to be reunited with her in that wonderful morning where the mourning will cease.

HS: The album title is delivered lyrically in the song Moonlight, as well as on the opening track, and you apply the concept of “blooming in the moonlight” to yourself. Can you unpack that concept for us a bit?

Wilfredo: Originally the working title for the project was “God-breathed” - coming from the word coined by the apostle Paul - because I felt that the whole project came in a flash. The writing process for the songs and the arrangement of what initially was only going to be an EP was roughly around two and half months after the passing of my mama. Then I remembered that my friend Nakhaz featured on “I AM,” who I’ve known since my freshman year of college is a part of a podcast by the same name. I reached out to him and after a discussion agreed to see if I could come up with another title to avoid confusion. I seriously thought that was the perfect title, but as I kept writing this imagery and concept came from a poem I wrote years ago where I mentioned a rose blooming in the moonlight and at once everything fell in place.

The concept and imagery are that of a rose that is opening under circumstances that normally would cause it to close. The symbolic night is a representation of suffering and grief. It’s anything and everything that is seen as an obstacle. And yet the rose continues to bloom and show signs of life despite its surroundings. It’s not because of the rose's grit, but the moonlight that is shining its rays of hope in the nebulous night. The Moon is not the source of light but merely a reflector of the Sun’s light. Likewise, many of us are moons reflecting the Son’s light to many that are in a proverbial night and are pushing forward solely because of our presence. The moonlight is a reflection of all the love and support I’ve received in this very trying and tectonic shifting moment of my life trying to navigate the reality of my mother’s passing. So do I want to be a reflector of the light to other roses that I know are trying to bloom in the night.

HS: Given that you have released other projects before, how much did grief play a factor in your decision to make a full-length album this time around? Did your life experiences give you more to talk about, or had you been planning to do a full record anyway?

Wilfredo: In the development of this project, grief wasn’t the deciding factor in making this a full-length album. Grief was the driving force behind it. It was as if I was trying to hold everything behind a dam of a docile demeanor suppressing a typhoon of emotions. In what seemed like flood flashes songs would develop, all touching on fragments of pain. I was already working on a full-length album titled “Theordinary” since 2020 and I put that on pause to allow the flow of expression that would become Bloomed in the Moonlight. I see every body of work as its own body, so I didn’t want to Frankenstein the project by placing songs that were created before the loss.

One thing that BITML did bring out of me was being more transparent, not just genuine, with what’s going on in my life through the music. The writing process almost felt like I was journaling. The intended release date was on May 9th, for Mother’s Day, but was held back due to production and having to re-record most of the project again. I didn’t want to sacrifice quality just to rush a release. It was because of that decision that two more songs were written “Fortaléceme” and “Back 2 U” and was able to release it on a much more meaningful and significant date: August 24th, my mother’s birthday.

HS: The slight majority of your lines on this album are delivered in English, but there is a significant amount of Spanish here as well. Do you find it easier to write or perform in either one of those languages? What is the likelihood of you taking cues from the last song, Oración, and doing a fully Spanish release?

Wilfredo: I’ve been intentionally writing lyrics for about 17 years, 13 of which were exclusively in Spanish. Spanish was easier for me to the point where I would construct songs by memorization rather than writing lyrics. My 2018 release Story of Redemption was the first time writing a complete song and project in English. When I prayerfully made the decision to begin to create music again I knew I didn’t want to hear “I don’t know what you’re saying but sounds dope!” anymore. I feel like I’m still developing as an English lyricist, but I’ve noticed the progress between the two projects released. I’m at the place where I feel confident writing, recording, and performing in both languages. I have plans to do a full Spanish release.

I’m currently trying to expand and venture into different genres and styles of songwriting. I want to share the gospel and my experiences along this journey we call life, encouraging others in any way possible. In every facet of our human experience a story is waiting to be told and I have the ability and gift to share it through the powerful medium that is music. I feel a sense of responsibility and accountability to honor Christ doing so.

HS: There is a remarkable amount of intertextuality between the first song, Fortaléceme, and the rest of the album. Within the track you make lyrical allusions to the tracks Moonlight, King Saul, No Ice, Carta De Mami, Phantom Pain, Oración, and possibly more references that I’m missing. Was this song written after you had an idea what was going to be on the rest of the album? If not, how did you approach building in these references. And is this something that you do on other tracks on the album?

Wilfredo: The song Fortaléceme was written after the setback on May 9th. I remember that month was particularly rough not just because the project didn’t drop when I said it would, also because it was beginning to experience what seemed like panic or anxiety attacks, which I never dealt with prior to my mother's passing. I wasn’t really dealing with the loss properly and was always at a hundred, just trying to stay busy.

What felt like lapses of concentrated grief began to intensify and one day driving around while listening to some instrumentals I uttered the opening lines to the song “I’ve been up for four days and no I don’t do coke/ most days I feel useless like a wheel without spokes/ cause I’m drowning in depression and I hide it well/ at least that’s what I tell myself/” which was exactly occurring that week and immediately drove to my brother’s house to record it in his home studio. On the way which was about a 10-minute drive I had half of the sound structured and it felt like I was venting. I knew this would be the opening track to the project so I thought of lacing the titles of the songs of the project in order in this opening verse.

HS: You’ve had some opportunities to perform live recently. Tell us a bit about your album release event, as well as your other live appearances. How has it been getting out in front of people, especially in light of COVID? How has the live reception to your music been? Any plans for further touring in the near or distant future?

Wilfredo: Moving back to Orlando, I’ve seen how the Lord has been opening opportunities rather quickly to perform live which is similar to preaching, yet also a whole different experience. A week before the album released on August the 24th I got the last minute idea to throw a listening party. The whole event was planned in four days, I cannot stress enough that without my sister Zashira I. Montalvo, Christians Garces, Emmy Arbelo, Vanessa Valleray, Natalia & Angely Alvarez, Isa Zenon, Jonathan Wright, and others helping put it all together, it would have never happened.

I had never done an album listening party before. I just knew I wanted to celebrate the completion of the project and the people that were a part of it so I made it a formal attire gala event. Food was provided and the artworks of the lyrics were on display on tables. I was trying to go for almost an exhibit of the project with pictures of everyone that contributed to the project. As we went through the album, I explained the stories behind the songs and performed a few of them. At the end, it felt like everyone went on this emotional rollercoaster with me, I just remember everyone singing along and hype and then at the end crying with me, it was beautiful.

Performing is nerve-racking for me; it's the same sensation I get before preaching. I feel excited and nervous simultaneously. But the anxiety for me heightens the performance; it does not hinder it. Once the ice is broken, it’s extremely fun. The most surreal moment for me was when performing at the SALT Outreach Benefit Concert we put together where we were able to raise a little over $2,000 in donations. The moment when I got up to do my set the place got packed and when I began to sing No Ice the crowd was singing the chorus with me to the point where I stopped and just heard them, it was crazy! They were repeating a prayer I had written one night and it blew my mind.

The reception to the music and the live performance has been encouraging to continue creating music. Every show I’ve been a part of has taken our current pandemic seriously following all the protocol, but it’s been amazing to see the support of people to take their precious time and come out.

Thanks to Chris “Crescendo” Mercado and The Verb - a ministry that helps local Christian artists have a space to perform - I've been able to do local shows here in Orlando, FL. I would like to one day do a tour, prayerfully next year. Hopefully 2022 is a better year!

HS: Earlier this year you also appeared on a couple songs on Jonathan Wright’s New Jerusalem album. Between you, him, Edwin Bliss, DBrealmuzik, and FLF, it feels like there is currently a significant surge of young Adventist hip-hop artists. Even ten years ago, something like that would have seemed almost unthinkable. What do you think it means for the future of this particular genre of music in this denomination?

Wilfredo: I think that there are a lot more artists of this genre of music that will continue to emerge in this denomination. Will they be accepted, promoted, endorsed, or supported by the church as much as the individuals that go into full time ministry creating classical sounding music? Probably not. But it won’t stop or slow down the movement. In most of our circles of ministry it seems we are playing an infinite game - a concept developed by James P. Carse in his book “Finite vs Infinite Games.” An infinite game consists of trying to remain in the set game for as long as possible which naturally calls for adaptability to the rules to achieve longevity, only competing with your past work. But the finite game mentality is boxed into rigid rules and instead of trying to play the long game, they focus on trying to beat the opponent and simply win. We focus so much on not doing what others are doing for the sake of being peculiar that we throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I completely agree with Pastor. Marcos Torres when he stated that “instead of attacking culture - a finite strategy - we need to influence culture - an infinite strategy that requires friendship and earning trust.”[1] Churches in other denominations are already seeing the impact this genre is having, and are collaborating, not by demonizing it, but using it to influence and reach a younger generation.

The same way that many churches are up to date on the news and the political world, we need to be up to date with the music world, whose influence is much more far-reaching both in impression and location. I remember going to an isolated island in the Pacific Ocean and they didn’t know who the United States president was, but they could recite rap songs to me, and knew the artist. The future of this particular genre will continue to develop, whether this denomination gets on board or not. A lot more artists will come forth, and I want to encourage them when they feel like they don’t fit in or are misunderstood. I pray you continue to share the values and beliefs that are rooted in your experiences with Christ as you minister to people that most pastors and evangelists will never reach.

HS: What last thing would you like to say to whoever is reading this?

Wilfredo: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1) I truly believe that as followers of Christ we are called to influence and redeem the good qualities of our culture for the use of sharing the Gospel. The same way that God has redeemed you and uses the good qualities of your personality, which is a collection of your experiences, upbringing, education, beliefs, values, traditions etc., that culminate into the beautiful idiosyncrasies that makes the inimitable person that is you.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Pet. 4:10) You are called to be a steward of many things and most times the emphasis is placed on money, but you are called to be a faithful steward of God’s multifaceted and colorful grace. Grace is a state of being from which we live our new life in Christ. Think of it like being a little franchise, a representative of the kingdom in your local area. Each one of us has a particular aspect to share about God’s wondrous love because we all have a story to tell. Some will express it through creating music or films, others writing blogs or books, and others by serving food through a food truck.

“Preaching through your personality”[2] is the goal for me. Being able to adopt and adapt the methods of ministry to display the ever-deepening diversity of God’s bountiful love should motivate us to build bridges to connect to communities with the hope of cultivating meaningful authentic relationships. Not deify decorative walls of separation and make one method the only routine, where it becomes ritualistic. In order for you to be impactful, you need to be impacted. You are a distributor of God’s varied grace. Don't let anyone choke out the creative ways to express the transformative power of the gospel.



[2] Philip Brooks, Lectures on Preaching, 1877

More about Wilfredo:

Location: Orlando, FL, USA

Genre: Rap / Hip-Hop

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