I was introduced to StefanOtto at a time when I was frankly tired of kiddie rap. I’m no longer the carefree teenager who saved lunch money to buy Christian Hip Hop CDs. Being a decade older, I started searching outside of Christian Hip Hop to find music I could relate to as an adult. But even in looking elsewhere, I knew there had to be Christian Hip Hop artists who reflect the complexity of my life musically and lyrically. Thankfully, I can say that I found one.
StefanOtto, an Orlando based emcee from the island of Dominica, was a breath of fresh air with his poetic sophistication and social consciousness. He has the ability to examine the spiritual battles that affect ourselves, our relationships, and our world, and point to Christ in a culturally relevant way. With StefanOtto’s sophomore album, Love Means War, he intrigued me by his ability to tackle subjects that are both universally relatable and biblically grounded. As a lover of artists who stretch beyond religious boxes, I wanted to learn how StefanOtto maintains both his artistic and spiritual integrity. StefanOtto is an artist aiming to reach listeners who may never listen to Christian Hip Hop, and that’s something I admire.
Imade: As an emcee born in Martinique and raised in Dominica, what were your musical influences growing up? How do you incorporate these influences in crafting your sound?
StefanOtto: It’s funny; although I was born and raised in the Caribbean I would say I did not have your traditional musical influences growing up. What I mean is as a young boy the artists I looked up to were not so much the reggae, dancehall, or zouk (French West Indian) artists. I seemed to gravitate more so towards the Hip Hop artists and rappers. Something about it seemed cool to me. I loved the storytelling of the culture and the honest expression about life, love, and social issues. Listening to how artists could craft their thoughts and convey them in this urban form of poetry just seemed to win me over. The storytelling and sense of consciousness is definitely a big part of my sound. I have written a few dancehall and reggae songs in which every now and then I integrate into my live show to express that part of me. None of the songs are recorded yet, but I do intend in the future to integrate more of my West-Indian culture into my sound.
Imade: Can you describe your journey from doing therapeutic writing in 1998 to being the profound lyricist that you are now? What important lessons would you give to Christian emcees who want to impact the culture outside of the Christian Hip Hop industry?
StefanOtto: To be honest, when I first began writing, I did not do it with the intention of being good at it. I did not plan on having another person read my thoughts or any of my writing so there was no real pressure. There was no music yet, no verses, no choruses needed or any deadlines. Nothing. It was just me, a pen and pad, and a heart that was full. I only wanted to be able to communicate how I was feeling for myself. So when I began writing, I would say it was probably a more selfish act and out of necessity. As time passed I became more intentional at honing and developing the craft and doing it in a way that it could serve others.
To those wanting to impact the culture outside of the Christian Hip Hop Industry, I would encourage you to work hard and to develop your craft. Matthew 5:16 says in the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Whatever you do, do it well and for the glory of God. I believe when you do this so well that even those who don't live a lifestyle that strives to honor God can pause for a moment to give Him glory when they see you. Check out how David played for Saul or how Daniel was used by God with King Nebuchadnezzar. I don't just believe these men were just simply of noble character but also skilled at what they did. Spend that time in the field learning the ins and outs of that sling shot so when its game time you can slay some giants for the glory of God.
Imade: Love Means War is a powerful, eye-catching statement. How did this concept come about?
StefanOtto: The Love Means War concept and came from a season in which I felt like God was taking me through and still is. I remember writing in my journal one day "lovers love, warriors war". I felt like that was the phrase ringing in my heart towards the end of the recording process. I had already chosen another title and everything, but this phrase seemed to speak louder to me than the title I had already chosen. I felt it better described the whole season I was in. It was a calling from one place into another...into the making of the warrior and being un-apologetic in becoming that. What I wrote in my journal to me was not quite fitting for a title although it described things well. I decided to revisit the concept and develop it a bit more and came to Love Means War. When you love truth you war against falsehood. When you love God you war against the world, flesh, and enemy. When you love someone you will war on their behalf. So this album very much speaks of commitment, roles, and relationship. Love Means War.
Imade: Your latest album is a sign of greatness to come. I seriously believe you’re on your way to creating a timeless masterpiece. But as you know from reading my review, I was really thrown off by the album’s pop songs, Here We Glo and Elektric Starz. What made you want to take this approach?
StefanOtto: As I mentioned earlier, when I began writing it was much more of a selfish act for myself. As time had passed, I grew and matured and had to make a decision to not be selfish about music anymore and only make it for myself. It puts you in a different place when you begin to serve people instead of yourself with your music. You want to communicate the same message but do it in a way that you can effectively reach the people you are aiming at. Paul says in scripture that he "becomes all things to all men so that by all means possible he might save some".
As I grow as an artist, I want my artistry to become more effective in reaching as many as possible. When I wrote songs such as Here We Glo and Electrik Starz I was deliberate on having these pop songs on the album. I wanted to communicate the same message I have been communicating but to a new set of people. You never want to limit yourself as an artist. Especially when you have been given a talent for others and have a calling on your life. It would almost be like with holding good from someone when it is in your power to do it. I can honestly say that those two songs stretched me the most while writing for this album. It was a new song writing process for me but enjoyable one at that. Songs like Electrik Starz which poke fun at the lights and club scene in an almost undetectable way are needed. There's a saying, "your method cannot violate your message". If I am speaking about the grace of God, I must be gracious in my approach. If I want to communicate a message to those in the club and caught up in the lights I must do it in a manner that can appeal to them. Your method cannot violate your message.
Imade: Taste of Regret is one of the most personal songs on the record. It seems more like a private letter than a song. Can you decode the meaning of Taste of Regret? What place were you in when you did this song?
StefanOtto: The concept for the song Taste of Regret was actually birthed from a text message I had received from a friend. We were having a dialog about the brokenness of our relationship and not having regrets leaving things as they were. That started the process in me writing the song and taking a few different perspectives on regret. The song is written from three different points of view and about three different relationships. The first is from a romantic relational perspective; the second is from a music/art perspective, and the third and last is from a friendship perspective. The song was very much like a private letter in the sense that I was very honest and wrote as if I was having this personal conversation that just so happened to be shared with the world. I wrote about times in my life when there was opportunity to experience the taste of regret. Regret is something we all as humans deal with especially within relationships. I also believe that through talking things through and reconciliation we can bring resolve and healing to many of our tastes of regret.
Imade: Is there anything that the Christian community can pray for when it comes to your life and your ministry?
StefanOtto: Yes please, would you pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to reveal to me how I can effectively convey this message. Also, that God would continue the open doors to share of His goodness with others who need to hear it. Thanks much!
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StefanOtto continues to impact lives with his God inspired lyrics. He’s rocked stages with artists from Martha Munizzi to Trip Lee. StefanOtto is currently working on a music video for Shine and will be performing for a professional soccer halftime show at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl August 12th. Check out his music video that for "The Rising" that we posted back in February. To stay up to date on StefanOtto’s whereabouts, follow him on Twitter and Facebook.