By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
It takes grace to rise.
It takes humbling yourself.
Looking around and knowing that your friends support you.
That your family always has loved you even though you took that love for granted.
Those are some of the lessons learned by Martin Santiago and Fernando Miranda of Florida-based Social Club Misfits, whose careers have soared since they formed the Christian hip-hop duo in 2012.
The guys are getting ready to embark on a new journey with the release of their latest CD, “Into the Night,” and will be performing songs from the new release when they make a stop at Grand Canyon University Arena at 6 p.m. Sunday as one of six acts in the Rock & Worship Roadshow Tour, presented by Compassion International. The tour also features King & Country, Matthew West, Natalie Grant, Bethel Music and Zach Williams.
Marty and Fern both have spoken about their path to Christian music – a road that hasn’t always been so smooth.
Marty swore he would never go back to church again after a pastor kicked his family out. It was a devastating time for the Santiagos, for whom church was an integral part of their life. His mom and dad were involved in the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir in New York, where Marty was born, and his family was so involved in church that he said he practically lived there.
When their pastor had a “moral failure,” the Santiagos confronted him. But instead of trying to right his wrong, he told the family to leave the church.
It would be years before Marty would find his way back, and he might not have returned if his friends hadn’t remain steadfast and supported him.
Fern’s detour away from God was even rockier.
After his family moved to Hollywood, Fla., the Puerto Rico native decided when he was a teenager that he didn’t want to go to church anymore – a big blow to his family, including his minister father.
For about 10 years, he said he was lost. He found himself at the end of the barrel of a gun more than once. He became addicted to cocaine, drank and eventually started to deal drugs.
He served three years in prison for drug trafficking from 2007 to 2010.
Ironically, that prison stint would be what would save him. It was when he was in prison that he came back to God during a midweek chapel.
He remembers the love showered upon him by his family – the people he thought he had disappointed the most. They would be the ones who would visit him in prison and the ones who celebrated him, with open arms, after he was released. They never turned their back on him. They made sure he knew he was loved.
It’s the sum of those experiences that the two bring to Social Club Misfits. Both come not just from faith-based backgrounds but from musical backgrounds, too.
“My dad was a band director and plays the organ, the piano. He’s tremendously, ridiculously good,” Santiago said. “He is just one of the best. We both do come from musical families, and it’s funny now to see our family going to our shows, supporting us. That’s pretty cool to see.”
Miranda’s father, a minister, played guitar, drum and bass. His mom led worship and his sister sang.
“I wound up being the church drummer, but once I got into middle school, high school, I started playing the trumpet, marched at the University of Miami. So first and foremost, I was a musician,” he said.
They don’t even remember exactly how they got together to form Social Club Misfits.
“Marty was recording something, and I was kind of working on some stuff,” Miranda said. “I just came home from prison and my brother-in-law was doing some engineering, and we extended our services to Marty – ‘Yo, anything you need, look us up, you know?’ He sent us this project, to help him mix it and all that, and then I got the opportunity to write something on the album. I sent it to him and from then on, we just kind of figured that maybe this could work. … It was a God thing. Marty said when you look back and you don’t even remember how it happened, it’s pretty much a God thing.”
The duo’s name comes from the social clubs in New York. Santiago references the film “A Bronx Tale,” in which there’s a Deuces Wild Social Club.
“In the club, they’d always talk about life, relationships. We wanted our music to be a place where we could talk about real things happening to real people,” Santiago said.
Raised in the church, both grew up around gospel and Christian music, but it would be rap that they would embrace.
Miranda said he remembers growing up around his cousin, the rapper in the family.
“He got in trouble, wound up getting some time in prison. He’s actually doing life in prison. I remember getting a phone call and speaking to him, and he’s like, ‘Yo, you gotta take it over.’ He’s like kind of passing the baton. I never thought about rapping, but he kind of put that bug in my ear. I was like, all right, so I’m the rapper in the family now.”
Santiago said rap is the language of his generation.
“This generation has the earbuds in their ears all the time, and they’re listening to something, and so this is how our generation speaks. So us being able to connect to young people and people in their 20s, that’s what we’re really aiming to do, and reaching the world through music and hip-hop is an awesome tool to use.
“We love the fact that we’re always in people’s ears because, while we’re in people’s ears, we’re telling them about Jesus and the sacred power of Him. Every generation has a certain sound, and this is the sound of ours.”
The guys have found much success with their unique Christian hip-hop sound. Their album “Misfits 2” found a place on the Billboard charts, and 2017’s “The Misadventures of Fern and Marty” was nominated for a Dove Award for Rap/Hip-Hop Album of the Year.
Not that the guys had other opportunities. Santiago had a good job with Nordstrom. It was at that time he started to realize that what he and Miranda had musically was something special.
“I had a great corporate job, but we (Social Club Misfits) had a heart for people,” he said. “We wanted to do just ministry. On the weekends I would work corporate, so we’d have weekends off. We’d go to Dallas. We’d do two shows, then come back to work on Monday.
“It’s so funny, but I remember even when we dropped our first project. It was No. 1 on iTunes. My store manager is like, so what’s going on? I said, ‘I just dropped my album.’ She goes, ‘How’s it doing?’ I said, ‘It’s No. 1 right now.’ She was like, ‘Oh my goodness, why are you here?’”
Eventually, the guys did follow their dreams and go into music full-time.
Fern said he and Marty just try to be authentic in their music.
His friends tell him, “‘Hey, man, y’all guys are killing it. How do you guys do it?’ I tell them you can’t go wrong if you give them your life. You can’t go wrong if you give them the authentic. We’re not sitting here trying to talk about stuff we’re not doing.”
Fern said the guys also want to stand out and do something different. He said audiences don’t want color-by-numbers music.
“They want you to bring a message that stands taller than what’s already said.”
Social Club Misfits is doing that with its latest CD, “Into the Night.”
“If you look at Hollywood and at different systems, everything’s kind of breaking down because the system is so corrupt, and it creates corrupt people, and so we want to be a light in the darkness anywhere we are,” Santiago said. “I believe it’s a Christian’s job to stand out by being a light, a beacon to the world. We’re the salt of the earth. We should stand out, and our beliefs should be a part of that. We’re not ashamed to bring the message of God. We live this, and we hope that the listener, when they hear ‘Into the Night’ … that they kind of are encouraged to stand out.”
IF YOU GO
What: Rock & Worship Roadshow Tour 2018
Where: GCU Arena
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $10 general admission, $55 for a VIP upgrade (taxes or fees not included). There’s also a different ticket price for the VIP Experience option.
You can reach GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 602-639-7901. Follow her on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.