Interview with Stephen the Levite
Lampmode artist Stephen the Levite is an underground artist through and through. Although, he may have left behind his subterranean California roots he is still somewhat of an enigma, making appearances on this album, doing a show over at this location, and then seemingly shrinking back into the shroud of mystery he’s been enveloped in since he emerged on the scene in 2004. Rapzilla recently caught up with Stephen at the Legacy Disciple-Making Conference in Chicago to talk about family, upcoming projects, and the possibility of a Redeemed Thought reunion album. Rapzilla: Aight, so I’m here with Stephen the Levite.Thank you for sitting down with us at Rapzilla. This your first time at Legacy, right?
Stephen the Levite: Yeah, yeah it’s my first time. Glad to be here, it’s a privilege. A lot of dope stuff; it’s good to see what’s going on, like what the buzz has been about.
R: What is your initial impression of this conference?
S: Well, first of all, I was just excited to be able to bring my wife. That happened before I even got here, like ‘Oh, my wife can come! That’s what’s up!” You know, it’s not often that I get to bring my wife, especially for out of town trips. So that was bangin from the gate, and seeing all the other rappers with their wives, all the other ministers with their wives and kids and that’s been enjoyable. And then I would say also I’ve just been impressed with the kind of workshops, the caliber of teachers that we have here; there’s like alotta dope resources available. And even just the location – this is a dope location for it, the way that everything is just kinda built. So far, all over, it’s just a dope conference. So, I’m excited.
R: And what do you think the importance of a conference like this is? A conference that is specifically focusing on disciple making?
S: I think it’s mad important! I think anything that spurs you on to do what the Bible calls you to do as something as big as disciple making is, it’s central to what we do as believers. Every believer is called to be a missionary who’s making disciples. So any kind of conference that brings us all together and helps us all to kinda get on the same page again and to rekindle that desire and that passion for it; to offer resources like Logos , you know, other stuff like that, those things are good. So yeah, these kind of things are great. I love these conferences.
R: And lastly, what would you say to anyone who is wondering whether or not they should come to Legacy next year?
S: Come. If you got the funds, come; if you don’t have the funds, ask God to find somebody to sponsor you or something. You know, come. This is bangin; dope opportunities, just for teaching, dope concerts, and this is worth it.
S:Aight, that’s what’s up.
R: So since you dropped “To Die is Gain,” your life has undergone some major adjustments. You started attending Epiphany, you met your wife, got married, and you have a child now, right?
S: Yes, yes.
R: Congratulations, by the way.
S: Thank you.
R: How have all of these changes affected you, first as a person, and subsequently as an emcee?
S: I think primarily it’s matured me. Marriage changes your hermeneutic, it changes your worldview – it changes everything. By God’s grace, for me I learned marriage and ecclesiology around the same time, because I met my wife at the church and my relationship to both grew simultaneously. I met her before Epiphany launched, the big outreach that we did, before it launched, was part of how we got linked up. So when it was on, it was kinda on for us as well. So the relationships have been on the same kind of parallel timeline, and learning the two together had changed my view on alotta stuff, you know, even caused me to repent about some stuff that I used to believe. It changed my thinking on some things that hopefully I’ll be able to correct and bring some balance to over the next few years with other projects.
R: Is there anything you can give an example of?
S: I think specifically, I think about “Spark,” for instance, from my last project. I think with “Spark” I was asking the question, ‘Lord, You see where the world is, You see how limited our effectiveness as a hip-hopper is; what’s the answer?’ And in the song I was like, we need something new. But I think over the last few years, I’ve learned that, naw, we need something old. It’s called the Church. I think a lot of the thinking for a lot of artists is, it’s a parachurch paradigm that’s absent of the Church as an answer to the problem. And a lot of us are on this you know ‘I’m tryin to save the world, by myself,’ thru my CDs; I’m evangelizing online with this free mixtape, but not a lot of connectivity to the Church, so there’s a hindrance in its effectiveness. But I realize that God’s plan has always been the best plan and that was to use the Church to reach the world. Not just to use individuals. Like Brady (Cross Movement artist Phanatik) was talking about in his course just a minute ago, that I was saying about, like how we like to have heroes the way that the world has heroes, just like Israel wanted a king. So we hope for that one bangin Christian rapper, or that one secular rapper who gets saved to kinda carry the movement into the next level and really start getting people saved, but I mean God’s plan has always been to use the Church to reach the world.
R: Wow. Speaking of the Church, you’re a big part of Lampmode’s ‘The Church’ album. Are you pleased with how the project turned out overall?
S: Yeah, yeah, I think it showed a variety of styles; I think it gave a dope overall synopsis of what the book (9 Marks of a Healthy Church) was about, which was kinda what the goal was, to let people in what the book is about. And I think it covered the material very well also. I think it built up an excitement. I think it’s helping people to realize what I’ve been trying to realize over the three years, or what’s God been trying to get me to realize, as far as the importance of the Church, loving the Church, how much it’s part of the identity of a believer, to love other believers in Church. So I think it came out really well. I think it made a pretty good buzz, and I’m praying it continues to do that.
R: Switching gears, just a little bit. You have some – this is such a hip-hopper’s question – I don’t think you’ve ever been asked this, at least not in any interviews I’ve seen – and this is something I’ve always wondered about. You have some of the most intricate rhyme schemes and wordplay styles around. What does your writing process of putting all that together look like?
S: I write from point A to point B. I’m very intentional about following a train of thought. I want to get you from one place to another, so I write one line at a time. I know some people like to write rhyme schemes in different sections like if you ever saw “8 Mile,” like you saw Eminem’s notepad and it was like little words and phrases all over the paper and it wasn’t really any order to it. But I’m real like imma start here, imma finish here. But you know, some days I don’t know what the end is gonna be. Recently it’s been just like I start with a rhyme scheme and then it ends up just being this thing I try to maintain throughout the rhyme, or the Lord’ll lead me in a different direction, or whatever, but I don’t know, I’m kinda OCD. I’m like that outside of hip-hop as well. I’m a janitor, so I like cleaning things, I’m real detail oriented, so I think it’s just part of the way I’m built, in the way that I think to kinda analyze like, ‘Okay, there’s 5 different syllables right there, I can probably get something to rhyme with that.’ It’s systematic in my head, but it’s real organic as I’m writing it. And I erase a lot in my head. A lot of stuff I go over it a bunch of times in my head before I put it on paper. So it’s kinda a slow process. Especially now since I don’t really have time to sit and write, I kinda write and put stuff in my phone, over the day while I’m at work scrubbing toilets. So it’s an interesting process.
R: That’s what’s up man. Thank you very much for that.
S: No problem, man.
R: So you recently released an EP and are then later will release an LP. Can you provide fans with any more information about either project?
S: Well the EP came out in September – it’s called ‘The Forerunner.’ It’s called that for a bunch of reasons, but the main reason being that it’s a forerunner to the LP. So I’m kinda gonna run ahead of it and tell cats, look, something’s coming out. So it’s a brief [CD], the kind of hip-hop I grew up on that I like. It’s a me doing me type of album. Not really a like, like you know, you know when you do an album you try to fulfill a certain formula – I gotta have somebody sing on the hook somewhere, I gotta have a bunch of features, I need to have these people on there, I need to have a track that’s kinda like this, and this album just doesn’t do that. This is the kind of hip-hop I would like to make. So there’s not a lot of hooks on it; no singing at all; sorry, but it’s just a Stephen the Levite, rugged album. I tell cats the theme is John ‘the Boom’ Baptist. Just rugged, “I don’t care,” gully hip-hop. That’s “The Forerunner.” The next project’s that’s coming out will hopefully come out next year. I still gotta write the majority of it, but I’m gonna try to keep the name of it under wraps for a minute, cause I wanna get cats thinking about the title a little bit before it comes out. “The Forerunner” is coming out and it’ll kinda be an appetizer until the album comes out.
R: And we (the fans) appreciate that. The last few questions I wanted to ask you involves Redeemed Thought partially because y’all are like definitely my favorite Hip-Hop group ever, which is saying a lot for me, y’know? So Redeemed Thought is permanently etched in the minds of many Hip-hop listeners as one of the most dynamic rap groups of the past decade. Why did you originally decide to go solo?
S: It was just something we had always planned on doing. I mean Wu-Tang Clan kinda started it, with a group that has individual parts that function individually, you know, the Cross Movement did the same thing – they were a group, but they had individual projects. And it was just something that we always wanted to do like even from the gate, I was writing solo songs, and he [muze-ONE] was writing solo songs, so, yeah, when the opportunity came up we were like ‘Yeah, let’s go for it’ and so we did it. And that’s why I also intentionally put his EP with the [‘To Die Is Gain’] album when it was first coming out. Just to let cats know, Look, we didn’t break-up or nothing. It’s just that we’re doing some solo projects, so that’s kinda the intentions of the even going solo to begin with.
R:So are you and Muze still close?
S: Yeah, I mean we’re not as close anymore just because of time, distance, location you know, when we first got to Philadelphia, we lived in the same house, worked at the same job, went to the same church, did the same ministry, you know what I’m sayin’? So, we were really life on life, we did everything together for the most part. But now, you know, he lives in California, I’m still in Philly, our timezones are different, so all that stuff that life includes. So, you know, the availability to even be that close isn’t really there anymore. So there’s like no, ‘Dag, why is it like that?’ It would be dope to be closer, but like I said, time doesn’t permit and so on and so forth. But as of now, we’re still on good terms and it’s not like we’re beefin’ or anything like that. Life has led us in different directions, more so the Lord has sovereignly directed us in different directions.
R: How is Muze doing from your understanding?
S: He’s doing good! He’s got a new job out in California, he’s enjoying it. Him and his wife and his daughter, they’re doing good. So yeah, he’s doing good.
R: Ah, that’s awesome to hear about. Now the big question, since you talked about the spatial difference. This might not be true, it might not ever happen, but is there a possibility that one day, one day maybe in the far future, if God sovereignly directs it, we could see a follow-up to “Truth, Beauty, and Goodness?”
S: Hey, the Lord is sovereign, He can do whatever He wants. You never know; you never know what’s gonna happen. So it may not be in the Lord’s will. Like you said, there’s time and distance. And part of the reason also for the eventual split was just seeing that the lack of – like when we were together that often, there was a chemistry there, you know what I’m sayin’? And that’s a lot of what fueled the project to have the kind of chemistry that we had on record. So that’s not the kind of thing you can develop from across country. I think the last song that we wrote was “The Big Playback” for the ‘Why Hip-Hop’ project and umm, and it took us two weeks to write that one song, just because we had to do it over the phone. Like you know what I’m saying? Cause there was a lot of back and forth, it was like 2 bars for you, 2 bars for me, 3 bars from you, 3 bars from me, 4– you know what I’m saying? So it was like, Aight, I’m gonna call you, leave a voicemail, this is what I said, this is where I left off, and then try to describe where in the beat we stopped. It was difficult, it was really hard, and I was like, dag, I can’t imagine trying to write a whole album like this. So that was part of it or at least one of the factors. It just kinda eventually, Mmm, aight, yeah, it might be better for it to kinda fall. So yeah. But like I said, the Lord is sovereign, maybe the Lord will hook it up, maybe He won’t. But either way, I praise God for what it was, and that I still hear testimony about how dope people think the ‘Truth, Beauty, Goodness’ project is, you know, the work that it’s put in for the kingdom, so.
R: Amen to that. So, before I let you go, any last things you want to tell the readers?
S: Yeah man, big ups to Rapzilla just for what they doing, even being a sponsor here at the (Legacy) conference, and helping making the cost cheaper for urban broke folks to come out to conferences. I know I appreciate that, even though I didn’t have to pay to get here. I think that’s dope whenever they consider the fact that you’re reaching out to urban people who don’t got jobs like that. So, yeah, I appreciate that from Rapzilla, and just what they’re doing for Christian Hip-Hop. And big ups to Legacy for what they’re doing here, all the artists and stuff it’s dope to be a part of what God is doing among the Christian Hip Hop community.
Check out Steven the Levite at his blog dawhistleblower.blogspot.com