A Heritage of Faith: What Carries WHATUPRG

Words by Ashley Locke

Photos by Joe Gonzales

Last year, J. Raul Garcia, known in the music world as WHATUPRG, was part of the crowd waiting to see Lecrae perform in Atlanta. This year, he’s backstage getting ready to open for him. Ask him about his transformation from fan to performer, and he exudes gratitude. “I just realize at the end of the day, as hard as I’ve worked, none of this would be possible without God.”

124A1456.jpg

WHATUPRG is a first-generation immigrant. His parents moved to Georgia’s Gwinnett County before he was born, and right away it felt like home. “I grew up in a very diverse community, and there were a lot of other Hispanic people,” WHATUPRG says. “At school everyone was mixed in together, and it wasn’t until I got older that I realized that other communities were different than mine.”

His community supported his music from the beginning, but it all started at home. “My mom cooks with music on, cleans the house with music on, drives with music on,” he says. “As a kid it was just a thing that was always prevalent in my house. I started playing music at age seven, doing covers of church songs at children’s services.”

During the services he sang to only 30 or 40 kids. “It was a small group, but everyone was so encouraging, I felt like I had made it every time,” he recalls. “The thing about Hispanic culture, if you see someone who looks like you—it’s across the board—you’re going to want to support them, because if they can do it, you can do it too.”

By age 12, he was writing his own music. By high school he was creating his own beats, and he recorded his first album at age 14. “My parents worked extra to help me pay for it. They helped me invest in my craft, and I fell in love,” he remembers. “You put music out there and you get to connect with people.”

“The first musician I got into was Lecrae, and that’s kind of a testimony to how God works. About a year ago, I met Ace Harris, the artists and repertoire representative (talent scout) at Reach Records, and that’s how I got where I am right now. On my 21st birthday, I was on my phone with my lawyer finalizing the contract,” he says. “When my parents see me at 21 making a steady income off of my music, it’s a relief that they don’t have to pay for it, but it’s fulfilling and satisfying that their support paid off.”

124A1546.jpg

Even though he’s touring with Lecrae, and even though he walks on stage to packed crowds of cheering fans, he hasn’t lost his gratitude. “I’m just a kid from Gwinnett County, Georgia, who stumbled across the right people, and now I’m here,” he says. “I’m just happy I can be a voice.”

WHATUPRG loves meeting fans on tour. He sees Mexican flags in the crowd almost every show.

“Meeting everybody every night, there’s always someone who comes and says, ‘Thank you for what you do. Thank you for representing Hispanic culture,’” he says. “People will wait outside to meet me after the show, and I’m like, ‘You drove to see me and then waited outside after? That’s so amazing! I’m more excited to meet you!’”

You can hear the Hispanic influence in WHATUPRG’s music. “I view my heritage and my music the way I view my faith and my music,” he said. “It’s going to shine through my music no matter what. It’s honest to me. I can’t turn it off and on.”

Even though everything seems to be going right for WHATUPRG, he did not make it to success without struggle. “I went through a season where I was doubtful of the church and of God because of experiences I went through, because of discrimination,” he said. “It took realizing that regardless of how people see me, my family, and my struggles, God still sees me as his son. He sees me as worthy.”

One of his most difficult struggles these days? Being away from his family while he’s touring. “I’m very attached to my mom and my little brother. It’s my first time being away this long,” he confessed. “I can’t wait to play football (soccer) with my little brother and eat my mom’s cooking.”

WHATUPRG stays full of gratitude. Now that he’s found success, he hopes he can use his voice to inspire the next generation to chase their biggest dreams. “I didn’t get where I am today without help.” There was always someone encouraging me.”