Calgary rapper and pastor James Noble had big plans to release an album last year, but when the pandemic forced him to take on the role of schoolmaster to his four children his priorities naturally took a detour. Now after two years of promotion and a year-long delay, Noble has released the title track of his forthcoming album, God’s Work, and his music career is back in motion.
With a penchant for artistically crafted and socially conscious lyricism, Noble’s triumphant new single celebrates people who are working unseen to uplift others. As he recalls, the idea for both the single and the album emerged when he drove by a billboard advertising a centre for victims of domestic abuse. “I was inspired by what I saw and had the thought, ‘Man, those people are doing God’s work.’ And right there I realized I had a song and title for the album,” he says. “The years I had spent as a parent and pastor taught me that, a lot of times, the most important work in society is the least celebrated — but the work still needs doing.”
In particular the single highlights people like single mothers, first responders, and teachers who face difficult situations thanklessly. “‘God’s Work’ felt like an opportunity to acknowledge anyone in a similar situation and give them a reason to keep going,” says Noble.
For Noble, the desire to reference God, and the idea of being of service to God, is a reflection of his own life and the way it’s been shaped by spirituality. “I see music more as an extension of my life, and the cornerstone of my life has proven to be my relationship with God,” he says.
It’s a relationship he developed early, and he credits it with helping him stay sane amid what he describes as a chaotic childhood in a broken home. “God stepped in where my parents couldn’t, so I owe Him everything for that,” says Noble. “I’d say His influence in my life is more of the central theme on the album.”
Rather than opt for full digital instrumentation like many of his modern hip-hop counterparts, “God’s Work” continues in the vein of Noble’s prior single release, “Say Something,” and features a soulful, organic instrumental that pays homage to classic Black music. “That unique ability of my people to make music for the struggle is a common thread that runs through everything they create,” he says. “I found a ton of inspiration from Stevie Wonder straight through to Lauryn Hill, and everything in between.”
Noble has had a long time to gradually sift through eras of music and find influences and ideals that speak to him, as he’s built his career at his own pace around 18 years of marriage and fatherhood. He initially began rapping while attending college in Texas in 1997, however it wasn’t until summer 2011 that he released his first single “So Wrong” under his previous alias NIII G. It was then another six years before he released “Force Of Nature,” his first single as James Noble. “Timing was everything as far as when I started putting out more music,” says Noble. “Looking back, it’s clear that I had a lot of living to do before I could offer anything of real substance with my music.”
Rather than hinder his career growth, Noble’s patience and willingness to play the long game has paid off. Since returning to the studio four years ago he’s received exposure from Calgary’s notable hip-hop community-building platform, 10 at 10, and Telus Storyhive in B.C. funded his music video for “Force of Nature.” “The visibility brought to what I was doing can’t be overstated,” says Noble. “I gained national exposure through that campaign, and I owe much of that to their organization.”
God’s Work is now scheduled for a 2022 arrival with another single slated for release this fall. Once the album is out Noble intends to resume work on NOBLE 1979, the clothing line he launched in 2019.
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