Marcus Montana didn’t want to become another statistic. Growing up in Lacombe, La., a suburb of New Orleans, Montana recalled that only about 15 percent of the people from his hometown graduated from high school.
When he was 16, Montana found himself perilously close to becoming one of the 85 percent who wouldn’t graduate from high school—and thus possibly place himself in a difficult position to succeed in life.
“I was expelled from school … for actually something I didn’t even have anything to do with,” he recalled. “I looked at it as I had done so much stuff that I never got caught for. It happens.”
While he sat at home from school grounded by his mother, Montana had some time on his hands. His grounding meant he couldn’t do certain things, but he was allowed to work.
One day he was talking with the mom of one of his friends.
She told him: “We have a youth rally at the church this Friday. Do you want to come?”
Since he was bored of sitting at home and guessed his mother would allow him to go, he said yes.
It was a decision that would forever change the course of his life.
Montana grew up in a semi-religious home. His parents separated when he was three, although he never actually lived with them both at the same time. Up until that point, he had lived with his grandmother.
His mother was 19 years old when Montana was born, and she worked two jobs for as long as he can remember—just to provide for the family.
“Because of that, we never had the greatest relationship,” he said. Montana is quick to point out that there was nothing bad about their relationship; they just weren’t close.
His immediate family didn’t have a strong religious background or faith but as the years have gone by, Montana has learned of the deep spiritual legacy that was planted early in his life.
“More and more I’m learning there was a foundation from my grandmother who I lived with,” Montana recalled. “These weren’t things I knew until after I was a committed Christian and people knew I was a committed Christian. I probably was 20 years old before I knew the faith my grandmother had.”
She had watched Montana for the first three years of his life and helped impart upon him what he believes was the Spirit of the Lord. He later learned that his grandmother had an altar built in her home where she would go and pray, helping to lay the foundation for Montana’s faith years later.
Years of prayer
When Montana was 12 years old, a friend he had known for most of his life talked to him about Jesus. Montana was at a Mardi Gras parade, and the girl was part of a church group that was doing outreach.
“I went and talked to them, and they prayed with me and stuff like that,” he recalled. “It didn’t really mean much at the time.”
Life went back to normal for Montana.
But behind the scenes, things were moving.
This same girl who talked with him about Jesus spent the next four years praying for Montana, lifting him up in prayer each day.
So when Montana decided—because he was basically bored and looking for something to do—to attend the church service that night when he was 16, he had no idea what had been going on behind the scene for years.
His grandmother had been laying a foundation of prayer for him since his birth and this young girl who knew him since grade school had devoted years to praying for him.
Those prayers were about to come to fruition.
“I went to church that night,” Montana said. “I can’t even remember what was being preached. [But] he offered something that I needed. When they had an invitation or altar call to receive Christ, I went down and gave my life to the Lord.”
Getting back on track
Montana’s life was slow to evolve after his commitment to Christ, but the wheels were definitely in motion for the work God was preparing. But first Montana needed to figure out how to deal with his expulsion.
“The majority of my friends were still nonbelievers,” he said. “Because I was kicked out of school, the only thing I could do then was go to church.”
He was still hanging out with his old friends and trying to figure out what faith in Christ looked like.
“When they found out I was born again, it kind of shocked a lot of them,” Montana said. “They weren’t even against it. They were just like ‘that’s something we will do when we’re older.’”
But Montana’s immediate concern was about to be addressed in his favor. When he was expelled, it was supposed to be for the entire year. However, since he had high test scores, school officials decided to readmit him, seeing that he had done the work and had potential.
“I always tell people I was a troublemaker; I wasn’t stupid,” he said.
Introduction to music
Music has always been a fun aspect of Montana’s life. He wrote his first rap song when he was in third grade. It was about the Super Mario Bros.
But his gifting for rap and music came from his mother.
“My mom actually was a rapper,” he said. “She never tried to pursue it as a career or anything, but my uncle was a DJ who would DJ all over the place, and my mom would kind of go along with him and help him out and kind of host events and things like that. She would rap and stuff.”
His first rap performances were in front of his classmates at junior high dances.
“When I gave my life to the Lord, it was probably six months before I did my first Christian song,” Montana said. “I wasn’t pursuing a music career at the time. It was just to bring something more exciting to youth group.”
When he arrived at Trinity Bible College in North Dakota, Montana’s outlook on music began to change.
“I started to share some spoken words and maybe a song here and there,” he recalled. “[I] started to see how the Lord can use the music to minister to people.”
During his last year of college, Montana moved off campus and used the security deposit from his old place to record his first album. While other students enjoyed their Spring Breaks, Montana spent the entire week in a studio in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, recording his first album.
It didn’t stop after his graduation.
“I graduated from college on Friday,” he said. “On Monday, I was on the road for three months. Fresh I. E. [is] from Canada. He’s a two-time Grammy-nominated artist. He pretty much took me under his wing for the first couple of years out of college.”
And since those first couple of years out of college, Montana’s music career has blossomed.
The name Tru Serva originally appeared during youth group back in high school. Montana said that every rapper wants to have his own crew, so he tried to make a crew out of the kids from youth group. It didn’t work well, but the group became known as the Tru Servas.
It wasn’t until later in high school that Marcus Montana took on the name Tru Serva as his own rap name.
While the name can easily be thought of as a shortened version of “true servant,” Montana said it actually represents an acronym:
T = total praise
R = relationships
U = unashamed
S = servant of the call
E = eyes focused
R = rise above expectation
V = vision for others
A = accepting God’s grace
Since he’s been out on his own, Tru Serva has released several CDs, including his latest “The Surrender Sound.” He has toured around the country and developed a loyal following among Christian hip hop fans.
When it comes to working on lyrics for songs, Montana said he develops them in different ways.
“Sometimes it’s … ‘spontaneous,’ where I’m just driving, and I sense something,” he said. “Otherwise, when it’s your job, you kind of work on it. It moves both ways. When you are called to do something, the Lord is going to always be working; especially if you’re connected with Him, you don’t have to wait for Him to give you something; you can ask.”
Montana also considers his audience when he writes lyrics.
“I think of both the nonbeliever and the Christian when writing an album,” he said. “I want nonbelievers to understand or sense the grace that God has for them. And that it doesn’t matter what they’ve been doing, the choices they’ve made, where they are at in life, that there’s still freedom in Christ. At the same time, for a believer … if you are convicted, that’s what should happen.
For believers, part of Montana’s biggest challenge is “if I can encourage you and challenge you to live an authentic Christian life, one that represents Christ … then I fulfilled my job.”
Many years later, Montana can look back at his life and feel thankful for the spiritual legacy that helped him rise above being just another statistic.
Learn more at www.truserva.com.
— by Scott Noble