Have you ever stopped to think about who the people we pass on the street really are, and what type of impact they may have had on the world prior to their current state of being? What sort of adventures did the old man or woman standing next to you on the bus participate in during their youth?
Sometimes we have the same assumptions about those in certain positions; we believe that the school teacher, office administrator, or pastor’s whole existence has been in the position in which they currently serve; rarely taking time to meet the person behind the current calling or profession.
It is sometimes surprising that one person can have so many incarnations throughout their lives. When we take the time to get to know someone we are often amazed at the lives they have lived. James D. Croone is one such individual.
As “Captain Crunch,” James was a founding member of Seattle’s seminal rap group the Emerald Street Boys, the predecessors of Sir Mixalot and the archetypes for all Seattle hip hop groups to arrive in their wake. Today, Croone Supervises the Union Gospel Pastoral Care/Recovery Program and is the Senior Pastor at Risen Church in Seattle’s Columbia City where his street credibility helps open doors to communities under siege from drug addiction and gang violence.
The Emerald Street Boys ~ consisting of Eddie (Sugar Bear) Wells, Rob (Sweet J) Jamerson and James (Captain Crunch) Croone are celebrated figures in northwest hip hop history thanks to their early contributions to the culture including the release of Seattles first rap album in 1981; as well as their avant-garde invasion of mainstream radio who was hesitant and even hostile to rap groups at the time.
We’ve come a long way since the 80’s and it might be hard to believe but there was a time when local radio stations had no interest in playing hip hop music. The Emerald Street Boys where essential in changing that and in doing so helped to launch the career of platinum selling rap artists such as Sir Mixalot, Kid Sensation, and EDawg.
Croone’s story starts in 1979, where as a Junior High School student he became interested in an underground dance form called bopping (along with popping and locking, as demonstrated by actor Fred “Rerun” Berry on televisions “What’s Happening!!”). Upon the release of Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rappers Delight” some other students at the school began expressing an interest in hip hop, leading to the meeting of Croone and Eddie (Sugar Bear) Wells. Wells himself was an aspiring rapper and convinced Croone to join him in writing and performing as the “Terrible Two”.
In 1981 the Terrible Two competed in their first dance club contest, taking 2nd place to Jam Delight’s victory at LaTeefs Night Club on Rainier Ave.
Meanwhile, another up and coming rapper Rob Jamerson (known as Sweet J) was rumored to be using some of Wells’s custom-written rhymes and passing them off as his own. Wells recruited Croone with a mission to find and confront Jamerson, but after accessing the situation Wells and Croone decided to invite Jamerson to join their group, and the Emerald Street Boys were born.
Croone credits Wells as being the driving force behind the group ~ regularly travelling to 2nd-hand record stores in the Seattle’s University District to find new music instrumentals and sound samples to use in their songs, acting as the offical band DJ, and even creating the name Emerald Street Boys (ESB).
Part of the Emerald Street Boys success was due to the lack of source material at the time. In 1981 there was no internet, no MTV, and no social media, so the idea of what a hip hop/rap group performance should look like was unknown and open to the artists own vision. As such, the ESB modeled their performances after groups such as the Temptations, with highly choreographed dance routines performed throughout the city including Judkins Park, house parties, and night clubs throughout the NW and up to Canada. It was during this time that ESB was approached by Tony Benton/Teacom with an offer to produce a record. Shortly after the Emerald Street Boys release the Move, backed with Christmas Rap.
As the Emerald Street Boys fame was building they caught the eye of local promoter Ed Locke who was starting his own record label. Although Croone and ESB engaged in conversation about a possible partnership, ultimately Locke opted to sign another artist by the name of Sir Mixalot and the opportunity for an ESB contract never materialized.
As time moved on Croone began to dabble in the sales and exchange of marijuana and other illegal drugs, and by 1985 was more known as a drug dealer than his artist identity. Croone was heavily affiliated with local gangs and deep into street-life, and although his sister would regularly invite him to church Croone explains that “at the time I had a very distorted view of Christianity, believing that I could live a life seeped in sin and still be fine with my relationship with God.”
Croone’s wild living eventually caught up with him when police came to his home in response to a report of a fight that he had been involved in and found drugs and a fire-arm on the premises. Croone was arrested, and upon release was instructed to return to court at a later date to stand trial. During the wait Croone finally gave in and attended church with his sister, where he had a life changing experience.
During the service James felt the calling and gave his life to Christ. He still had court to deal with, but began attending church regularly and studying his Bible. Upon returning to court he plead guilty and was immediately taken into custody in order to serve and 8-month sentence; during which time he continued his Biblical studies, attended church service and even lead group Bible-studies.
According to Croone, the time in jail turned out to be a blessing, as it gave him time to reflect on who God was and to plan the next steps of his own life. His vision was to finish school and become more involved in the ministry; perhaps as a teacher. He stayed focused, achieving his BA and Doctorate degrees, and then in 2007 he founded Urban Bible College. In 2013 he received his Masters in Theology which lead his taking a position at Union Gospel Mission and the launch of the Risen Church (Assemblies of God). “I never wanted to be a pastor,” says Croone. “I couldn’t see myself as the traditional televangelist. I just wanted to teach, and this is the context of how I share the gospel at Risen Church.”
As for his roots in the community, and his previous life as ESB member Captain Crunch, he fully embraces the good and bad associated with that character. In 2012 he reunited with the band to release a new song titled “When Folks was Real (Back in the Day)” and performed at Coolout, Seattle’s premier annual hip hop celebration produced by Georgio Brown.
Croone says that he feels God calling him to repair the damage done by his being a part of the drug scene in his earlier days. Whereas Captain Crunch once gave Croone access to Seattle’s rough and tough neighborhoods, that same badge of credibility now allows him to work on the other side, helping those victimized by drug addiction.
Croone says that the changes in his life have been nothing short of amazing, and when shared with others is truly inspirational. But Croone is quick to remind us that what we see is all thanks to the grace of God through his son Jesus. “There are times when I am speaking to brothers in the midst of their troubles, and I’m able to relate. There are some that ask me, “James, how do I be like you?” James’s answer is that “no, you don’t want to be me. What it is that you see, and what it is that you want is the Christ in me.”
According to Croone, “All my life I was living off a perception of who others said I was ~ the bopper, rapper, gang member, drug dealer. I tried to be what others said that I was. Only recently have I become who God sees me as. When you give your life to the Lord you become who he wants to you be. Where I am today is where God has always wanted me to be. Everyone wants to be loved and wants to know “who” we really are and who we were meant to be.”
According to Croone there is no 3-step program to change. It all starts with taking the first step towards God. Stay diligent in prayer and accept that it takes time. When Croone first starting his walk there were nights where he was lonely, intentionally distancing himself from old acquaintances in order to make time with God. He kept open communication with his pastor who in times of depression would take Croone to Denny’s to help him get focused. Change took time but eventually things began to make sense. He realized that God doesn’t work in sin or lies and that he had to stay honest with credit matters, child support, and so on. And in return God has answered everything that he has asked for.
“God has a structure and plan, which sometimes takes time. We live in a Microwave society so it takes strength to adjust to the waiting. It will take time. I had sowed so much dirt that I had to reap its results. But when I sowed into God’s spirit I reaped better relationships and a full spirit.”
“I don’t regret not making it big, because of who the Emerald Street Boys were back then. What type of damage might have happened due to the mindset I had at that time. And knowing what I know now I would not trade my relationship with God for that fame.”
*Meet James in person Sunday mornings at 10:30am at Risen Church (Assemblies of God) inside the Alaska Cultural Center in Columbia City/Rainier Valley.