Raymond “Chizzell” Steward of the group S.O.M. (Soldiers On a Mission) via e-mail to discuss their new album how they’ve witnessed changes in both the group and the Houston Christian hip hop scene.
Sketch: Your new album is titled The Next Chapter and the cover art features one less group member than before and you guys wearing coats and ties in a large library. I’m guessing those things aren’t a coincidence. Can you share a little bit more about those choices?
Chizzell: The choice on the outfits and library was actually made over a year ago. We were going through some transitions in our lives and in our group and we knew that it was time to turn the page – hence the The Next Chapter theme. The look that we wear is "us.” We wanted to reveal who we truly are and what we stand for. Everyone goes through seasons in their lives and an album cover with baggy clothes and t-shirts in front of a car we don't own doesn't represent us. In regards to having one less member that is part of The Next Chapter as well. The Next Chapter and library represents a place of much thought, planning, and prayer.
Sketch: You guy were part of what might be considered the “second generation” of Houston’s Christian hip hop scene. What sort of changes (both positive and negative) have you witnessed in our city’s gospel rap community during your time in it?
Chizzell: Positive changes would have to be the quality in beats, talent, videos, and overall presentation of the genre. It is weird that people look up to us the same way that we looked up to Nuwine and Lil Raskull back in the day. I am impressed by the reduction of "corny" Christian rappers. A lot of these guys are very great at their craft.
The negative side of Christian rap is the same struggle that those had before us and those will have after us which is support and unity! I think that the small market for Christian rap has artists focused more on competition than the call. There is definitely a spirit of "hoarding" in Christian rap that causes people to keep their talent, gifts, and connections for their crew.
Sketch: Two of your group members are twin brothers. How has that impacted group dynamics throughout the years?
Chizzell: The funny thing about that is it is a trademark of S.O.M. It allows people who may forget the name to always say "You're in that Christian group with the twins right?" Just like all brothers they give each other a hard time. However, they are in synch with ministry and that helps when it comes to the unity of the group and our decade of servanthood.
The Lord works in mysterious ways because he gave each of the twins a son and blessed me with twin boys. So, in several years you will be able to ask the next generation of S.O.M. this same question.
Sketch: What are you most proud of about your Christian hip hop ministry efforts so far?
Chizzell: The ability for people to learn from all of our mistakes. The ability to re-invent ourselves based of what God is trying to do. There is nothing great about us so I am proud/honored that the Lord has allowed us to see and do so much with this gift.
Sketch: In your opinion and experience, is Christian hip hop mostly a tool/movement of the youth or is it something that can grow with its audience? Why?
Chizzell: I think that Christian hip hop can grow with its audience. However, growth is, and I believe will continue, to be very slow. We promote an unpopular message and are competing against a formidable foe (media). People have spoken and the majority chooses to support the "popular message" (drugs, sex, alcohol, violence).
I guess the best way for me to put it is all our seeds will pay off (eventually) but I am thinking more like a 401k.
S.O.M.’s The Next Chapter can be purchased online via iTunes, Amazon.com, and other digital distribution outlets.