By Mireia Bonilla
Guillermo Esteban is 25 years old and comes from Madrid. His fans know him as Grilex. He calls himself a “Christian rapper” because he uses rap music to communicate Christian values to the younger generation. But he wasn’t always a rapper, or a Christian.
When Guillermo was 17, his younger brother developed a serious illness, with doctors giving him little chance of survival. Guillermo panicked and found his only refuge in rap music. It was while he was writing a song for his brother that he realized music gave him release and allowed him to cope.
The song went viral and Guillermo became famous almost overnight. But being a celebrity quickly went to his head. For the first time in his life, he says he felt powerful and superior. He started behaving in a way that was damaging to himself and to those around him. Slowly, his friends drifted away and Guillermo was left alone. Instead of recognizing his mistakes, he blamed God.
Lonely, angry and hurt, Guillermo expressed his resentment through music and through an interior dialogue with a God he wasn’t sure even existed. The only thing he was certain of was that, if he was lonely, angry and hurt – it was God’s fault. And he would use the lyrics of his songs to let everyone know.
Guillermo entered a spiral of hatred and resentment that alienated him even further from friends, family, and the faith. It was his Mother who brought him back. She invited him to join her at Mass one day. He refused at first, but Mothers don’t give up easily. Eventually, he agreed, on one condition: “After Mass”, he told his Mother, “I want to know nothing more about you or the Church.”
Guillermo had just arrived at the church and was getting out of the car, when a girl ran up shouting his name. She was a fan wanting to meet the famous rapper. They started talking and she invited him to an “Alpha dinner”, an innovative way to evangelize through conversation and sharing around a dinner table. Guillermo didn’t care much about the dinner, but he liked the girl and decided to go ahead and accept the invitation.
Guillermo ended up attending several Alpha dinners. Meanwhile, his career continued to grow. He was the popular rapper, admired and applauded. But, little by little, God was making Himself heard in Guillermo’s life. A friend asked him to join a group of volunteers, which he did, albeit grudgingly. After a while, he was surprised at how volunteering made him feel. For the first time, he started “finding God in people”. He realized he wasn’t the one helping them, they were the ones helping him. The experience worked for some time, and then he returned to his old destructive ways, publishing an offensive rap song. Another friend of his labeled the song “garbage”. The comment was like a wake-up call. Guillermo describes his reaction: “That strong, outspoken judgment opened my eyes and brought me back to earth”. He adds that it was the first time he realized God might be speaking to him through another person.
Guillermo’s conversion process began with him facing his fears. The first step meant opening his heart and realizing that God is not always what you think He is. He is not a judge, ready to punish you if you commit a sin. As time went by, and as Guillermo opened up to this new realization, he felt attracted by this God of love, this God of forgiveness, a God who is close by, and who gives of Himself constantly.
The attraction became stronger, and Guillermo fell in love with God. The impact of this relationship was so strong he began to think that a life without God was meaningless. Guillermo came to realize that God does not work like a magic wand: one touch and your life becomes perfect. He understood that a life of faith is a journey, one that involves carrying a cross as well.
Guillermo became convinced he could use his rap music to do good: instead of wielding his God-given gift as a weapon of power over others, he could transform it into something useful for others. He began composing songs inspired by the Gospel, using rap music to communicate Christian values. “I could help people who are wounded, who feel empty and insignificant”, he says.
Like Guillermo’s life, the lyrics of his songs have changed completely. Today, he says, he writes “for God” with the intention of transmitting the Gospel message to the new generations. Rap music, says Guillermo, can be a powerful means of evangelization.
Guillermo’s story began sadly with his brother’s illness 8 years ago. Fortunately, that story has a happy ending: “Today my brother is fine”, he says. “He does have a few minor difficulties, but he is currently at university doing media studies.”
Still, the story doesn’t end there. According to Guillermo, during his brother’s illness, friends lent the family a relic of St. Padre Pio. It was from then on, that the boy began to heal.