“That song is basically speaking to everything that has to do with somebody putting their life in a situation where they could lose something important,” he said. “A lot of people gamble their relationships, their lives, their talents.”
In addition to the hip-hop festival gig, the track netted Houston a full scholarship to Berklee’s Five-Week Summer Performance Program, which he is now attending.
Houston got his first break at age 10, when he filled in for a member of his cousins’ worship group at Brockton’s Mount Moriah Baptist Church. He took the stage name Witness from his cousins’ group, Verbal Witness.
Houston’s mother, Minister Shirley Houston, thinks her son’s stage name is particularly appropriate.
“Nyles’ destiny, as he shares, is to attest to the reality of Christ, and His love for us,” said Minister Houston, who publishes a devotional Web site called “The Anointed Quill.”
“As a ‘witness,’ he boldly proclaims that to inherit eternal life in Heaven, we must accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of our life,” she said.
Speaking with a judge’s certainty, “Witness” said that though he is only 17, he is confident in his lyrical content and has never doubted his work’s credibility.
“Everything I do is in full honesty and sincerity,” he said. “That is what I stand behind — I could never worry about credibility. This is why I rap with such authority.”
Minister Houston said she has had the utmost confidence in her son from day one.
“His ability to understand and perceive many of the complexities of life, [which] many of us don’t come to understand until we reach adulthood, was something that I saw in him from the time that he was in the first grade,” said Minister Houston.
Minister Houston grew up in the Bronx — only blocks away from where hip-hop legends Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five had their earliest performances, she said — and is in the process of establishing a nondenominational church with her husband, Leroy Houston Jr. She said she sees Nyles assuming the role of youth minister.
For “Witness,” that wouldn’t be much of a stretch.
“Spreading the word of God will come before everything I do,” he said. “Preaching the message of God without rap — that I know for a fact I could do, even though the art of rap is a passion for me.”
That passion led Houston to make a difficult choice this summer after finishing his junior year at Brockton High School this past June. After careful consideration, Houston decided to forgo a traditional senior year of high school to focus on his music career.
Mindful of the importance of education, however, the Houstons found a path to a diploma that will enable Nyles to commit to music.
“We’ve opted to enroll him in the Gateway to College program at Massasoit Community College,” said Minister Houston. “Through it, he will earn high school and college credits, and a regular a high school diploma. At the end of the program, he can transition into a regular college curriculum.”
The more-flexible hours will put “Witness” in “a better position to pursue his music career,” the minister added.
And to continue his musical education by broadening his horizons and learning new instruments.
“The piano is something I would like to learn to in the future, as well as the guitar, because these are two instruments I would love to rap over in some of my songs,” he said. “This will expand me as an artist in general, since I’m not trying to be one-dimensional. There’s really no limit to what you can do with hip-hop.”