Chicago native Sir the Baptist is a hip-hop artist whose star is rising rapidly; he’s been called “one of the chosen ones” by Universal Music, and he recently signed to Atlantic Records.
Wear Your Voice chatted with him during this year’s Afropunk Festival in New York. During our conversation, Sir the Baptist provided some very insightful commentary about music, Black lives, spirituality, the queer community, and what it means to follow your dreams.
Heather Jones: Your music intertwines spirituality and activism. How did that begin?
Sir the Baptist: I always talk about my dad being a preacher and me being a preacher’s kid, but my mom was a community builder with my dad. Their partnership helped me understand the importance of activism. More than anything, you become passionate about the community you belong to when you find out there’s problems you can maybe fix and relieve the mental burden of the community.
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HJ: How do you think music can inform activism?
STB: Spirituality is that of the intangible and activism is that of which is tangible. I think that in order to be even spiritual, if you don’t take care of what is tangible then you’re removed from your spiritual mission. If you’re a spiritual person but you’re not active in your community then there’s a problem there. Look at the greats: Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, they were spiritual leaders, but also activists. In order to give spirituality, you have to be connected to some kind of human-to-human interaction. I think that anyone who is doing any spiritual enrichment without knowing who they’re enriching is terrible.
HJ: That’s amazing, I love the fact that you don’t see spirituality as an ivory tower.
STB: Oh no, because that causes a dualistic personality where you’re a certain way on Sunday, but you’re fighting yourself all other days of the week. I think that in order to create some kind of healing, you have to balance all parts living in us.
HJ: What do you think the state of Black lives is in 2016?
STB: Enlightened and empowered, but self-enlightened and self-empowered. I was just talking about some of Donald Trump’s speeches. He keeps saying he wants to give us jobs, but most black people these days — all of my homies — don’t want to be given a job; they want to create jobs in the community. We’re really self-empowered and self-educated. I went to my old high school and saw that the books still had my name in it. It’s horrible — so we have to educate ourselves and push our own lives.
HJ: What do you think about the tensions between the Christian church and the LGBTQ community? Many people feel disenchanted by Christianity due to the ostracizing and isolation. How can healing occur?
STB: My brother is gay, and I stand by him 100 percent. I’ve done Pride parades with him to show support. I’m currently one of the only hip-hop artists in Chicago that’s involved with LGTBQ events. The church has taken the stance of judging people when that’s not what we’re supposed to do. They’re also still teaching the Old Testament and I think we only should teach the Old Testament for historical reasons. Historically for people of color, the Bible before Jesus shames everyone. I think we we need to pull back from judgement because sin has no scale, you are who you are, and life has no scale. You don’t know what sin is.
HJ: Who are you inspired by from the past and the present?
STB: I like Kendrick Lamar and Sam Smith, but my old catalog is where I pride myself as a listener so I listen to Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Sam Cook, Ella Fitzgerald, etc. I’m inspired by the way they’ve used their music and lyrics to push us forward.
HJ: What advice would you give to an artist who’s trying to make it in the music industry?
Sir the Baptist: Write your eulogy, because your eulogy tells you what you want at the end — and maybe it’s a music career, or maybe it’s not. Find out what you really want to be passionate about, because all of our days are numbered. Write your eulogy and move back from there to take the necessary steps, and don’t skip a beat.
Check out one of Sir the Baptist’s latest videos “Raise Hell.”