Monday, December 13, 2010

Believin' Stephen releases album focused on Christ's suffering

Philly rapper Believin' Stephen's new album, The Suffering Servant, focuses on the trials of Christ and his followers. We recently caught up with him via e-mail for this Q&A.

1. Don't you know this is Christmas time and we're only supposed to be focused on the happy, "sweet little baby Jesus?" Why tackle this topic at this time?

Great question. I’ve been working on this project all year and am strategically putting it out during the Christmas season. I’m all about celebrating the birth of “sweet little baby Jesus.” However, I’m also about celebrating Jesus who was “acquainted with grief” and a “man of many sorrows.”

Everyone knows that we celebrate Christmas because of Jesus’ birthday. But the reason we celebrate Jesus’ birthday is because of what he accomplished while he was on earth! And what he accomplished for us was done through a life of suffering; namely suffering death on a cross so that we wouldn’t have to suffer for eternity in hell. He showed us how to suffer rightly and can sympathize with our weaknesses. When we’re tempted, afflicted, mocked, or physically wounded; Christ can relate.

I think it is very fitting to release a project called The Suffering Servant which highlights Christ’s sufferings during the Christmas season. If he didn’t suffer for us there would be no reason to even celebrate Christmas.

2. Last year you released the free Perseverance mixtape. What type of things have you personally had to persevere and is this a central theme of your music ministry?

I don’t want my response to this question to make it seem like I’ve had some horrible life and that I’m not thankful for the blessings I’ve had in my life. I will just state some of the obstacles I’ve had to overcome and am still overcoming. I talk a lot about this in my new song called “My Life Story.”

One great thing about the Lord is that He doesn’t give up on me. My parents divorced at a very young age. This was real tough on me emotionally. I was real close with my dad but he remarried and moved all the way to Hawaii when I was ten. I would cry all the time because I missed him so bad.

In middle school and early high school I suffered from depressive episodes. I wouldn’t be able to sleep and would go into a funk where my mind was cloudy and I couldn’t think straight. I would dread life during these times and contemplated suicide. Even in the darkest moments somehow I knew things would get better eventually and they did. I get down sometimes but haven’t had a bad depressive episode in over six years now.

Since then I’ve faced other obstacles though. At times it’s been tough being in my brother [who is also a Christian rapper] Timothy’s shadow. I get messages from people all the time asking how he’s doing and what not. Sometimes it makes me feel like no one cares about me and the struggles I am going through - they only care about him. Sometimes it’s made me feel like no one cared about my music.

In addition, while literally everyone around me has been getting married over the past several years I’ve had some rocky relationships. I’ve had one break-up where the person just totally stopped talking to me unexpectedly and then gave me the silent treatment for an entire year. That was incredibly painful man. There have also been a couple of other situations more recently where I’ve tried to do things right but things just didn’t work out with the girl.

I’ve also had some broken friendships with some of my closer guy friends recently too. This has caused me to doubt God at times and struggle with things like jealousy, pride, and sexual sin. It’s safe to say that I “wrestle with God” as I say in one of my new songs.

He’s so faithful even when I’m faithless though Sketch. The gospel gives me hope. It gives me hope because I don’t have to trust in my own performance but I trust in Christ’s finished work on the cross. I know He hears my prayers and all His promises are true. He’ll answer in His timing. Other people have gone through way more than I have but God has still given me a heart for hurting people and so perseverance is definitely a theme of my music.

3. You also work as a strength coach at the University of Pennsylvania. Do the college kids you work with know about your music? If so, what's your impression of their opinion about it?

I didn’t talk about hip-hop at all when I first arrived there but one day all these football kids started saying they saw my “Back In Da Burgh” video! I guess they must have searched me on Google or YouTube. It caught me off guard. They started chanting the hook and saying some of the lines from the song and mimicking my mannerisms in the video. Once the football team found out all my co-workers found out and then pretty much all the athletes at the school found out that I’m a rapper.

I’ve gotten great responses from them and they are definitely feeling the music. I just pray some more of them will be convicted and live for Christ instead of self. For most of them it was the first time they’ve ever been exposed to Christian hip-hop. It’s helped open some opportunities for me to share my testimony and tell them why I rap about Christ instead of rapping about garbage.

One track athlete here at Penn actually dressed up as “Believin' Stephen” for Halloween!

4. You and Philly rapper Japhia Life are known for your "repeat rhyme" flows. Can you explain how that got started and why you use it in your lyrics?

Some rappers were using the repeat lines in the early 2000s but when I heard Japhia on J-Silas song “Waas Good Philly” I lost it. He said “cannon” like three or four times in a row and each time it had a DIFFERENT MEANING!

When me and some friends would be kickin' it sometimes we would come up with different repeat lines for fun. An example is:

“I like to build up, I like to encourage. / Don’t wanna get you mad, don’t wanna incur rage!”

I’m fascinated with words and so it became a fun game for me to play. After that I started writing these repeat lines down. Other rappers have done these type of lines before but I had never heard someone do it for a whole jam! (Braille did it for a whole verse on “Double Dose” which I heard after I wrote the “Repeat Rhyme” song.) So I decided I would do a whole song and coined the term “Repeat Rhymes” for that rhyme structure.

Some people may think that it’s easy to come up with those type of lines because you use a similar phrase. But it’s actually mad hard to come up with them and make it so the next line you are saying is something that sounds the same but MEANS something totally different. If you just repeat yourself and mean the same thing it’s just being lazy in my book; and lots of cats do that but it’s wack.

5. You guys on the East Coast have some different slang than we do down here in the South so I have to ask: What's a "bol?"

Ha! People ask me that all the time. I might have to do a jam about that! We have different slang up here and I’ve always been into slang since I was like 7 years old. I have different phrases I say all the time that only people who are close with me would understand. Me and my brother call them “flavors.”

I moved from Pittsburgh to the Philadelphia area almost ten years ago and I noticed that cats would pronounce “boy” with a “L” and say “bol.” Everywhere you go in Philly you will hear people say “bol.” It stuck with me and I’ve been saying it ever since. I have a ton of slang words but here are some you may hear me say the most:

cannon - Just used for a dude who is wild “loose cannon”

gametime - Said if something good is about to happen or your team won the game

antigametime - Said if something wack is happening

What it cook like?! - Means “What’s up?” or “What’s it looking like?”

Whoo whoo whooo! - Sound I make after I say "gametime"

Believin' Stephen's The Suffering Servant is available on iTunes and Amazon and other online outlets starting Tuesday, December 14.

The Suffering Servant Promo // Believin Stephen from shot by esso™ on Vimeo.

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