Article & photos by Hannah Shulman, Multimedia Editor
Sir the Baptist has managed to combine seemingly opposing forces to create a sound that has something to say. His “ghetto gospel” is an irresistibly upbeat take on the gospel music so often associated with Southern Baptist churches, with the added twist of rapped verses. After performing a set at Free Press Summer Festival in Houston, TX where he did everything from jump on a trampoline to jump into the crowd, Sir the Baptist, followed by five other people from his team, chatted with WSN about keeping a balance, what he is trying to accomplish, and some advice he has.
WSN: Jumping right into it, you mix a lot of different styles in your music, so do you ever find it difficult for you to find a balance between them?
Sir the Baptist: You know what? No, because it’s like this world sound, this migration sound, that don’t quite belong to the United States yet. Uh, we’re a little bit from everywhere. You go to a different chord progression, it immediately sound like church, but you take that same chord progression and put two notes into it, it immediately sounds country. So it’s like, it’s always, it’s just a balance of feeling and what you’re feeling at that moment. Like sometimes, like on “Creflo Almighty Dollar,” I have a steel guitar because at that moment, I felt like I was in a tavern singing about this guy who’s taken advantage of my community. And it just felt that way so you just kind of let your feelings go and create.
WSN: And you seem to always be surrounded by a pretty big group of people, both on stage and obviously off here. Do you find that having people to collaborate with helps you produce?
SB: Yeah because you’re constantly talking about the important things in life. You’re constantly reminding yourself. The people that surround me, they left their jobs to be with me. So, it also keeps me down as far as spending because most artist you see will overspend on clothes and on this and that, and I put people around me and they contribute to a culture that contributes to the sound that contributes to my music. I performed four songs today that I had never – I made on the way here. Like maybe three hours ago. So they contribute in a big way. Having a lot of people around you really broadens your spectrum and the more you have around you, the more humble you get – you share a bed with four people. Stuff like that.
WSN: Do you ever find that writing the music quickly then immediately performing it like you did today, does that help you find your sound and keep going?
SB: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Because like, I tell the team all the time, I’m more so Prince than Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson is “spotlight here,” “boom,” “bap,” Prince is whatever, like he’s just feeling it out. So every time, it sort of teaches me how to go back at it again. And, I do it based on the people so I don’t get up there, saying I’m cool, if you don’t get it, something’s wrong with you. No, i’m going like I see you you’re jumping to this, I see this matters to you. I see you like to clap like this, I see you like to wave like this. So you’re constantly changing your music to make it comfortable for people because people are the most important thing.
WSN: Like you’re always aware of what’s going on.
SB: Yeah, the people are more important than just your artistry, you know?
WSN: I get that, I get that. So tell me about Urban Bible your opens letters, and your podcast and that whole side of you.
SB: Woah, good job! You’re the first one to ask me about this. So, my lyrics are often misinterpreted or looked over. You just enjoy the music, boom boom boom boom. But when people want to dig into the interpretation of my music, I have like a few people who are looking into my music and taking it line for line and creating podcasts surrounding the music and the words and the lyrics of each line. They’ll devote a whole podcast to one line. And the reason why that’s important is because I’m trying to say something to us right now, and our future. So, that’s extremely important. Urban bible is a podcast, it’s a lifestyle. We’re constantly doing urban monks, we’re constantly building a team of people, going to charities, pushing out our content. So it’s basically my content outsourced.
WSN: So you do worry about people misinterpreting your lyrics, but do you ever worry about backlash? Because you do talk about a lot of very serious and polarizing social issues.
SB: Yeah, I don’t mind. Because if you don’t understand me, I ask people to ask me to come to your local community spot so we can talk about it. Because you know – wait you know what, hold on [waives over Theory the Vet]
[speaking to Theory the Veteran] community forums. We should do that. We should totally invite – this is Theory the Veteran.
WSN: Hi, nice to meet you.
SB: As long as I’m a rapper and succeeding, he’ll always be with me and there will always be a veteran with me. One, because I’m trying to show hip hop that they don’t have to be against America to fix America. Every hip-hop act will get up and say “fuck the police.” You know they’ll say all of this other stuff. But you know, my dad before [being a] preacher, was a policeman. If my dad got shot by one of the guys in the hood, just because he had on a badge or whatever, where would I be? So [Theory is] proof that hip-hop can collaborate with America and make the ghetto a lot better. So this is our journey together. But I think community forums where if you don’t understand, let a lot of people that may not like me come to this one place, or may not like my lyrics or what I’m talking about, come to this one place and let’s talk about it. Let’s try the first one in like Chicago. I’m from Bronzeville in Chicago, and they are the ones that really don’t understand what I’m trying to do. Everybody else in the world [does].
WSN: What makes you say that?
SB: Well because they are either extremely spiritual or they’re extremely –
Theory: Spiritual or traditional.
SB: Traditional, yeah. So it forces them to think outside of the box and they don’t like doing that.
WSN: What do you think the music industry could do to further this acceptance and to further this idea that hip-hop doesn’t just have to be one thing or an artist doesn’t just have to fit inside preconceived notions of the type of music they make?
SB: Oh you know what? I think there’s not – you said what do
WSN: The music industry as a whole, labels, managers, anything.
SB: It’s not on the labels. I don’t blame the labels. This is something I blame the artist because Julie Greenwald, Craig Kallman, Riggs Morales –
Theory: Michael Kyser.
SB: – Michael Kyser, these people saw me for what I was and what I was representing. And than they empowered it because they saw me doing it already. So these artists, you have to get up early, like the reason we were three minutes late here is because we were helping kids in Idaho that were a part of a family of refugees. So you have to get out and be about it already, and work hard and know that it’s not about you getting cool. You’re contributing to a culture. Like if Jay Z says something’s cool today, everybody’s going to do it. As artists, we have to know that what we represent, the community is going to adjust because of your influence.
WSN: Going back to finding a balance, again, do you ever find it difficult to balance being an artist, being an activist, having a voice, and making sure the people hear your voice and understand?
SB: It’s not hard. It’s really easy because I’ve already tapped into that vain of I want to learn more. Here’s a secret I’ll tell you: I have to write my lyrics over at least twice every time. Every song. Because my first instinct tells me, “talk about myself, how cool I am, whatever.” Second is, “OK, take that away. Somebody else needs to hear something else.” [to Theory] How does “Let Me Move You” go? [to WSN] So I was initially going to say something about me being cool, going for Grammys and stuff like that. Nobody can relate to that shit. That’s what artists do. My second write was: “On that morning train, we need something to bang to/gotta catch a plane, or something to pick your gang up to/find your ass out, or that’s your purple rain suit” You know what I’m saying? Like don’t worry about it. Whatever you’re going to do, be happy. Like no matter what it is, enjoy yourself and let this move you. Be happy. Let the music take you away for just a second. So I you have to – so I have to write twice. But it’s not a struggle. I know, OK let me get this first one out, and than I’m going to do the real one.
WSN: You signed with Atlantic Records, so do you feel they were the ones that let you have this artistic freedom? What made you sign with them?
SB: They understood from a deeper standpoint. The head of Warner came down to a meeting, which they say he never do [sic]. And he was like, I got hit or beat on by one of the brothers in the Catholic school he went to or something like that. And who could ever forget that? So it’s a lot of people, you know connecting his story to mine, I was like “wow,” and connecting more people to what I was doing – they understood the vision, and they understood what it would do for people because religion, even if you choose to say there is no God, you have to acknowledge one to discredit Him. So it’s inescapable, it’s on our money, it’s everywhere, whether you’re Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist – whatever it is, it doesn’t matter – Christian, Catholic, everybody has something that’s connected to their spirituality. Or just spiritual.
WSN: What do you hope your impact is, whether it be on other artist or your fans, or anyone listening to your music?
SB: I hope to connect fans to their grandmas [laughs]
WSN: I love that.
SB: Because your grandma she’s so wise, she’s so spiritual, but understands life, but too old to fake the funk with the politics of religion. My grandma would curse and tell you she loved you. Hug you but also spank you. Tell you about Jesus, but also tell you about the gang bangers that sit on the street. She might be senile or something like that, so she’s saying all sorts of weird stuff, telling people to go to hell, but also hugging them. I want to connect hip-hop and coolness back to the spirituality. Because that’s a problem. We’ve disconnected ourselves. Who we are at church or during spiritual or important times, we’re not that person at a festival. Why not? Why would you disconnect that person? Why would you be so about health, and you get to a festival and you drink, drink, drink, smoke, smoke, smoke, do drugs, do everything, and don’t care about yourself. What’s the disconnect here? Always be yourself and take yourself where ever you go. Wherever you go, stay anchored.
WSN: There should be a juxtaposition or duality between these forces rather than them opposing each other.
SB: Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah. Be that same person. If you like to smoke weed and than you go to church, that’s fine, whatever. Whatever! What I like to explain to people is that even Jesus turned over tables in the church. Jesus was a good villain. He died because people wanted him to die because they figured he was going against the politics of religion. So if anything, I hope to contribute and connect those spiritual pieces in places where they’re not really expected to be. Or put the ghetto where it’s not supposed to be. I just want there to be world peace!