(AllHipHop Features) This weekend concert goers at the Made In America festival will be taken to church. Of course, not in the literal sense. But rising vocalist Sir The Baptist is on a mission to turn the Tidal Stage into a pulpit and the festival grounds into pews.
With audio sermons such as “(Creflo) Almighty Dollar,” “Wake Up,” and “Raise Hell” as part of his repertoire, the preacher’s kid born William James Stokes is instituting another form of a holy sacrament for followers of all beliefs and faiths.
Is he a Hip Hop artist? Or is he a Gospel singer? The sounds that emanate from the mind of Sir is a union of both the secular and the sacred, forming a genre-mixing expression that taps into emotions felt in the sanctuary as well as the nightclub.
Last month, I spoke with Sir The Baptist by phone to talk about being raised in Chicago by a pastor. Part one of the conversation also consists of us discussing his current single, his appreciation for Tupac Shakur, and his upcoming set at Made In America.
Why did you decide on Sir The Baptist as your stage name?
There are a few things. My dad was a pastor of a Baptist church that ultimately became a Pentecostal church. So I wanted to reference where I came from. Names come from places, time, and people’s lives.
Also, John The Baptist was the forerunner for Jesus Christ. Everybody knows Jesus Christ, but not many people know about John The Baptist. The one thing about John The Baptist is that he’s this voice crying out in the wilderness.
Being an artist out of Chiraq, I feel like it’s the wilderness. I wanted to be that voice of reason in a place that’s a little disturbed.
Being a preacher’s kid comes with the stereotype of being a rebellious child. Was that your experience as a kid?
Yeah, you definitely get the expectation of: “You should be doing this because your dad’s a pastor.” Growing up being a preacher’s kid, we also hear the best and the worst about everybody in the church because they go to our parents for prayer. I was exposed to a lot of stuff being raised a preacher’s kid.
Going back to you being raised in Chicago. Some of the artists out of Chicago have decided they no longer want to live there in order to escape the violence. Do you still live in Chicago?
Yeah, I still stay in Bronzeville.
What keeps you there?
The rich culture. I was born in Bronzeville, right there at Mercy Hospital. They call it the “Gateway to Jazz Heaven” because Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke, and a bunch of people migrated there during the Great Migration.
When they couldn’t go downtown, they created their own economic engine and bought from each other. That was Bronzeville. Bill Clinton said that Bronzeville was the sister of Harlem. Economy wise, it was like the Black Wall Street.
The reason I’m trying to stay as much as possible is to do justice to the inheritance I’ve been given. Sometimes when I perform I jump into an impression of Louis Armstrong. I take the people that did great things for my community seriously.
You’ve described yourself as an “urban hymnist.” I also noticed on your social media accounts, your bio reads “Descendant of 2Pac’s Ghetto Gospel.” Can you explain that description?
2Pac came from the same spiritual background, mine was more religious. I listened to 2Pac after my dad died when I was 11. I listened to more rap than Gospel.
[Gospel singers] would say stuff like, “Jesus is gonna work things out.” But they wouldn’t say exactly what was the problem, so I couldn’t relate. But Pac and everybody else was saying “Yo, I ran into the police today” or “My homie just got killed.” I could relate to those things.
Pac made a song called “Ghetto Gospel” that tipped this whole thing on its head. These are the rebels that Pac was. These are the rebels that Jesus was. The kind of guy that the last time he was in a church, he turned over a table.
You have the “Raise Hell” single. It seems like it’s gaining significant exposure. What do you think it is about that particular record that has caused so many people to connect with it?
Some people feel the beat is contagious. But you and I know what that is. It’s the shout music that would be in a Baptist church. It’s very contagious, but it also carries a message where I’m trying to get passed the reasoning stage of people that listen to it.
Enjoy the music, then find out it is very important things being said in there. Now that we’re about to use it for the Birth Of A Nation movie, you really get to hear it and feel it from the different perspective of Nat Turner. [editor’s note: this interview was conducted before the recent controversy involving Birth Of A Nation director Nate Parker]
What I found interesting about the video is that you juxtaposed these images of being in church with the shout music and news clips of protests. What was the message that you were trying to convey through that imagery?
I feel like the energy we put in to escape the problems, we need to use to fight the problem. When my mom’s going through something, she goes to church. As soon as the preacher says “God,” she’s going to shout her ass off. Because she’s going through something and she needs to know there’s something for her on the other end.
For our culture, that’s been the thing for a very long time. If you come to Chicago with me and a few colleges and high schools I’m taking to go see Birth Of A Nation, you get the story of why people try to escape the problems through spirituality.
I just wanted to pair those two visually. The same energy you use to shout, you could use to step outside the church and protest about something that’s going on. Don’t just go to the Lord. Sometimes the Lord puts it in your hand and says, “What they hell are you going to do with it?”
You’re performing at Made In America. What can people expect when you hit that stage?
I’m trying to bring church to the streets in a way that’s not as corny as that sounds. Every time I perform, we’re going to go to church. Most of the people that go to festivals will tell us all the time, “I hadn’t been to church in a year, three years, since I was little, or I only go to church on Easter.” [laughs]
People at a festival are usually high on drugs and even more in tune with their spirituality. Which is really weird. So we’re just going to try to build on that and create a great experience for everybody to enjoy themselves – feel some church.
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Sir The Baptist will be performing on the Tidal Stage at the Made In America festival in Philadelphia during Labor Day weekend. Purchase tickets here.
Stream the Made In America 2016: Official TIDAL Stage Playlist below.