Football star, ex-con friend produce rap that touts love of the Lord

Green Bay Packers cornerback Al Harris (31) on the field against the Cleveland Browns during their NFL football game on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2009, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta )
Green Bay Packers cornerback Al Harris (31) on the field against the Cleveland Browns during their NFL football game on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2009, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta )

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. — The sound coming from the tiny Fort Lauderdale, Fla., apartment is raw and angry, but the words are not.

Inside the apartment is Al Harris, a veteran cornerback with the Green Bay Packers nicknamed "The Dirty One." He is swaying his head and signature dreadlocks to the driving beat of hard-core rap.

Childhood buddy and ex-convict Kevin Soto supplies the words from inside a closet-turned-recording booth. Soto raps not about the street gang and drug-dealing life he once lived, but about the Christian life he's embraced.

"We're trying to start a movement with this music," said Harris, who runs his own Christian rap record label called 31Entertainment, after his jersey number. "We're trying to say that you don't have to cuss, or have to sell drugs or whatever, to be cool. You can still be cool and fly, and love the Lord."

Unlike other athletes who come to South Florida in the off-season seeking the South Beach party scene, Harris returned to his hometown of Pompano Beach about two months ago to work with his old friend Soto on an album scheduled for release this month.

"A lot of the album is about being a man," Soto said. "A lot of it is telling everyone what I've done, and this is what it can lead you to, and what (Harris) has done, and where that hard work can lead you to."

The pair met more than 25 years ago in their Pompano Beach neighborhood. Soto lived in Grace Apartments, infamous for crime and drugs until it was razed in 1991. Harris, who lived just a few blocks away, rode the school bus with Soto, and the two often courted trouble together.

Over the years, their lives diverged, but they kept in touch.

Harris moved forward with football, playing for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Packers while appearing in the Pro Bowl twice. Harris admits he was no choir boy but credits regular church attendance for laying a religious foundation. And he cites his father, Johnny Harris, who coached at a high school, as the force that made him stick with sports and keep away from the street life.

Soto stayed in Pompano and excelled at felony arrests, including separate charges of aggravated assault with a firearm, cocaine possession and marijuana distribution. They came with three prison terms.

Harris said they kept in touch mostly through phone calls, usually about the neighborhood.

Harris and Soto had started talking about making a hip-hop album in 1997, but things always seemed to fall apart. Mostly because Soto kept getting into trouble.

"But one day he calls me and says, 'I am going to church,' and the conversation just evolved from there," Harris said.

In 2008, the two finally got serious about putting together an album, this time with the religious twist. Both have teenage sons, and they said their hope is to use the music to steer their children and their children's peers away from falling into the street hustle.

"If all they listen to is, 'I am smoking weed,' or, 'I am going to shoot up this guy,' or 'I am going to go do this,' then a lot of the times you tend to veer off that way," said Harris. "I want to be able to put on a CD my son and I can be into, with a positive message, but one that still has a hard-core street feel."