By Kharisma Thomas
photo via Sir the Baptist
“I always wanted to make music, but I wrote because I needed that sort of outlet. Most of the writing I do is very emotional,” Chicago musician Sir the Baptist says in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel. The hum of eager Lollapalooza attendees fills the space as he explains life growing up as a preacher’s kid in the south side neighborhood of Bronzeville, a hub for legendary blues and jazz artists like Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong.
As he jokes about attending church seven days a week, Sir admits, “Being in church kept me alive. It kept me out of the streets.” Regardless of being a preacher’s kid, the surrounding violence of Bronzeville and seeing his friends succumb to that violence had a major impact on his music. In addition, he listened to rappers like Tupac and Nas constantly, even though it wasn’t necessarily acceptable in his religious family.
The union of gospel and hip-hop birthed what he calls his brand of music, “Urban Hymns.” Through these, he speaks to the people and documents the day-to-day shared experiences of many. “I’m only speaking about what we’re all going through—what we’re all experiencing and all living through.”
Sir’s debut album, PK: Preacher’s Kid, is due to release August 2016 under Atlantic Records, which he recently signed with this year. During our conversation, we discussed his origin story, his vision, and what it’s really like being a preacher’s kid.
Kharisma Thomas: So you named yourself after John the Baptist, who in Christianity is known to be a famous preacher. How do you feel like that relates to you specifically?
Sir the Baptist: That I’m this voice crying out in the wilderness, in what they call Chiraq. I feel like I’m here, but I’m not the one. I’m the forerunner for someone else who’s gonna come and be greater than me.
What made you want to be a voice for your old neighborhood, Bronzeville, and for the city of Chicago as a whole?
Well Bronzeville, cus for one I was born there, and then two, I was born in the community of people that came to Bronzeville to make it what it is. King Cole, Louis Armstrong—you know all of these great people that came from there, so why wouldn’t I [be a voice too], you know?
How do you respond to people from the Church who may pass judgements or try to accuse your music of being offensive to Christianity?
I usually just make fun of them. Because that means their world view is probably only a block view, or a straight view, or a corner view. You know they’re not looking at the world, and I’m only speaking about what we’re all going through, what we’re all experiencing, and what we’re all living through.
Some of your songs, like “(Creflo) Almighty Dollar,” question the moral compass of the church. What made you want to start doing that?
Being a preacher’s kid, just growing up in church, you deal with people who judge you but they pretty much did the same thing or worse, and it’s just like we’re not here to judge. Even Jesus said, “I did not come to condemn the world but that they can be saved.” So you know condemning people, it’s just not culture for religion.
So you just recently signed with Atlantic. What made you pick Atlantic over other offers?
They understood my vision, my goal. They understand what this is, and they were behind it. And it takes the right people to push you for you to move this fast.
What is your vision?
I wanna be considered the first hip-hop chaplin for our culture. Rev Run could have done something like this. A lot of people compare me to a bunch of other artists, but I say that’s the only other artist you could remotely compare me to, Rev Run.
Can you talk about PK: Preacher’s Kid?
Preacher’s Kid is an album that walks you through having a friend that’s a preacher’s kid, hanging out with a homie that’s a preacher’s kid, smoking with a preacher’s kid, dating a preacher’s kid. Like it really gives you a day-to-day vibe of who I am.
There’s a song called ‘Southern Bell,” and there’s another called “First Lady,” all which are sexual in some sort of way, but it glorifies women instead of making them into some sort of item. I have serious goals with it; I got a song called “For my Nerves,” and it’s literally like I been talking to the lord—that moment of somebody with faith still needing that, not for their faith, but for their nerves. Cus they’re like, “Man, yo, I’m just worrying.”
Do you have a particular audience whom you would hope to hear your music? If so, what is the message you would want them to get from your music?
The younger crowd. I want us to be able to embrace spirituality. And luckily you have people like Kendrick [Lamar], J. Cole, and many others that are opening up the door for us to consider spirituality while we’re in this world and just going to festivals and shit like that. There’s people that’s at the festivals like saying “AMEN!” Like literally they’re high as fuck but like they’re still saying men and they agree with it. I think that will just birth something else, something greater.