Swoope’s Journey to ‘Sinema’ Was Painful
Swoope cemented himself as one of the most celebrated lyricists in Christian hip hop after Wake Up dropped in 2012.
“Swoope’s album the Wake Up woke me up,” Lecrae told Rapzilla. “That album just slapped me man. This dude is raising the bar.”
When an album is so excellent it shocks a future Grammy Award-winner, certain expectations are created. But as Swoope prepared to write his next solo album, Sinema, he suffered from a condition that jeopardized his reputation—writer’s block.
“I couldn’t write at all,” said Swoope. “I wasn’t producing anything of substance.”
In January, Swoope released Circa MMXI: The Collective with the High Society Collective. It received rave reviews. Two months later, Swoope followed up with his Collision Records debut which slapped more than Lecrae, inspiring some to call it a classic.
@MrSwoope WAKE UP. 3•20•12. Preorder it on Itunes. Anointed. Powerful. Classic. Humbled to be apart of this project.
— Christon Gray (@christongray) February 7, 2012
— J.R. (@Jrinstereo) March 20, 2012
— T. Black (@officialtblack) March 21, 2012
Swoope believed he could never outdo Wake Up. Collision CEO Adam Thomason disagreed. An art professor once told Thomason that disciplined artists will improve over time by default, and he relayed that message to Swoope.
“Don’t worry about being better than Wake Up,” Thomason told him. “Just continue to live life, love Jesus, write, produce and research. If you don’t, you won’t grow as a person. Then of course you won’t be able to do anything better.”
Swoope knew completing all the tasks on Thomason’s to-do list would be more challenging after his wife became pregnant with what they thought was third child. Except two babies appeared on the sonogram.
In February 2013, living life for Swoope began to include fathering four children. Living life has included working full-time as music director at his church for years. But free time that he typically spent on hip hop now went toward caring for his twin sons.
Swoope can’t count the number of times diaper changes interrupted writing sessions.
“If I had a buck for every time that happened, I may not even need to put another album out,” he said. “I’d be rich already.”
When Swoope started conceptualizing Sinema last December, though, he couldn’t write anything. He blamed himself.
“I had made an idol out of the talents that the Lord had given me,” said Swoope. “He snatched that from me fast.”
Compliments from strangers were common after Wake Up. Pleasing people became a goal. A lack of recognition frustrated Swoope.
This spring, a friend showed him a podcast counting down Christian hip hop’s top 10 emcees. It named Swoope No. 1. But he still felt annoyed because it didn’t name him No. 1 for his talent, but others’ lack of it.
That day, he wrote and recorded his “Let Me Be Great” freestyle.
Only after months of prayer, studying the Bible and pep talks from Thomason did Swoope escape his Sinema writer’s block.
“Saying I’ll never produce anything better than Wake Up says two things,” said Swoope. “One, I made Wake Up in my own strength. Two, that the Lord doesn’t have enough power to do something greater than he’s done before, like Wake Up was pinnacle of the Lord’s excellence and providence in my life.”
Thomason, a pastor, provided Swoope with accountability.
“Your gift doesn’t make the gospel greater,” Thomason told him. “The Lord allows your gift to continue to point to that thing that’s already shining.”
“Playing through that mindset gave me freedom to make Sinema,” said Swoope … “I didn’t learn that the everything that I had was God and that when he takes that away, I have nothing.”
Once Swoope learned this, he wrote Sinema in three weeks.
Sinema dropped on August 5 and climbed to No. 1 on iTunes’ top-selling hip-hop album charts. Swoope and J.R. produced most of the album. Wit, Alex Medina, Tyshane, DJ Official and Cardec Drums also contributed.
Swoope explained the concept of the album to Rapzilla.
“Sinema is a movie,” he said. “It’s an audio film about the perils of the love-hate relationship I have with a young lady. Our entire story is spelled out from conception to demise, our love that turns into hate.”
Several Bible passages—Proverbs 7, Romans 7 and James 1:13-15—and an interaction Swoope had with a women other than his wife inspired the concept.
“The storyline is very embellished,” said Swoope, “but there was a young lady who I was working closely with musically that, after rehearsal, I’d go out with for a cup of coffee here and there. And there was a point in time when I noticed that I was enjoying that more than I should have—not like I’m in love with this girl or I want to go cheat on my wife. But because I cherish my wife so much, when I started to enjoy going out of for that cup of coffee longer than I should have, we had to cut it out because I knew that if I let it continue, in seven years, I’d be cheating on my wife.
“This is how it starts: very innocent, very platonic, casual, relational meetings that are harmless up front. If you’re not careful, if I let this seed get planted, it will grow into something that I don’t want … No, I wasn’t cheating on my wife. No, I wasn’t attracted to another women. But there was just a ‘this could turn out to be something I don’t like,’ and Sinema grew from that.”
Swoope and Christon Gray next plan on releasing a project available only on their Northern Lights Tour. It will include Swoope’s songs “Jesus Is God” and “Word to My Peoples” which didn’t make the cut for Sinema.
David Daniels is a writer for Rapzilla.com. He graduated from Geneva College and lives in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter.