Multi-tasking has become second nature for Trip Lee, who balances vocations as a Christian rap artist, a pastoral assistant at a D.C. church and a published author with his duties as a husband and father of a 2-year-old son and a 4-month-old daughter.
And all this while living with chronic fatigue syndrome, which sometimes leaves the 26-year-old bedridden.
Still, over the past year he has helped plan a new church, written his second book, and recorded his fifth album, “Rise,” which was released last week and has reached the No. 1 position on the iTunes hip-hop album chart.
“It’s been a hard couple years trying to figure out how to balance these things,” said Trip Lee, born William Lee Barefield III. “At times, it’s been a disaster: My body’s wrecked. My family’s strained. Church life is strained. People don’t see me for weeks when my body crashes. Really, I look back and think, ‘I have no idea how that got done.’”
In high school in Dallas in 2004, Mr. Barefield met Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae, who mentored the young rapper. He signed with Reach Records and released his debut album, “If They Only Knew,” a few days after his high school graduation in 2006.
He returned from his first concert tour in fall 2007 for his sophomore year at Philadelphia Biblical University, now Cairn University. Exhaustion dogged the biblical studies major, who slept 18 hours a day and spent the other six wondering why his body hated him.
Doctors didn’t know why either, until one diagnosed him with chronic fatigue syndrome, a disorder that affects more than 1 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease has no cure or treatment regimen, and doctors told him to exercise, eat healthy and take vitamins.
His energy waned near the end of six semesters, and he dropped out after having completed about half the credit hours for his degree in four years.
But while in college, he married a fellow student named Jessica, whom he had met as a freshman at Epiphany Fellowship Church in Philadelphia. He also recorded his second and third albums — “20/20” and “Between Two Worlds,” released in 2008 and 2010, respectively. Both charted on the Billboard 200.
As the rap artist toured and worked on his fourth album, “The Good Life,” over the next two years, he felt the urge to pastor a church grow within him. At 17, he had preached his first sermon for his youth group at Concord Church in Dallas.
“It just rocked,” said the Rev. Stephen Brown, Concord’s former youth pastor and now pastor of Greater Bethlehem Baptist Church in Dallas. “It was a supernatural moment where he connected with not only the [teenagers], but the more seasoned adults. When someone that young has a handle on the word of God like he does, that’s a rare discovery.”
After “The Good Life” peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard 200 in 2012, Mr. Barefield decided to take a break from music to focus on ministry at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., where he had been a pastoral intern in 2011.
But chronic fatigue syndrome made it impossible for him to work the 9-to-5 schedule of the pastoral assistant job he had accepted, forcing him to serve part-time.
Though frustrating, the disease offered him flexibility in his schedule that allowed him to quickly complete his album and book, which will be released in January and also is titled “Rise.”
“He has the ambition of two men but the energy of a fourth of one man, and yet he accomplishes so much,” said Matt Schmucker, an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.
If the new album follows the trend of his previous projects, it will do well on the charts. But rather than fixate on sales the day before “Rise” dropped, he spent the morning worshipping at Capitol Hill Baptist and greeting churchgoers.
“Trip is going to prefer ministry over celebrity every time,” said the Rev. Mark Dever, the church’s senior pastor. “If he accepts any celebrity, it will be to the end of accomplishing God-honoring ministry.”
Mr. Barefield plans to move his family next year to the historic Atlanta neighborhood of West End, where he aims to start a church as he continues to rely on faith to endure chronic fatigue syndrome.
“Anytime anything ends up good or impacts people, the Lord’s really clear to me that it’s not my strength that does it,” he said, “because I never cruise through the finish line on anything. I always limp.”