London artist A Star looks to bridge overseas gap with debut EP
Christian hip hop is a subgenre and culture that has continuously been challenged to become more open-minded by the likes of its own. Artists continue to take more diverse routes to express their faith in their music. From pushing the content envelope in songs, experimenting and changing their sounds to mainstream — or trying to drop the “Christian rapper” label in general — the underlying theme in the subgenre has grown to a point where everyone simply wants the freedom to express his or her art in a diverse and enjoyable way.
Upon the release of rapper A Star’s first project, the Revolutionary EP, he comes with a challenge, intent and hope for his music that is unique and foreign by location.
From the age of 16, A Star began rapping by way of London, the largest city in the United Kingdom. The Pink Floyd’s, Led Zepplin’s and, more recently, Adele and Sam Smith’s of the world have proven British artists are able to put their stake in the ground, make quality music and have success while doing it. But in a genre like hip hop, which is oftentimes seceded by ‘Christian’ hip hop, A Star hopes Revolutionary, can create a stronger bridge between British rappers and the entire Christian hip-hop community.
After giving his life to the Lord at 19, A Star was in a rap group called Forever Christ with an artist named of Mystman. After they decided to go in different directions, it took some time for A Star to determine the type of artist he would be. During the process, he realized there was a disconnect between the way artists do rap where he is from and how it has been received from Americans.
“It took time for me to find my style,” he said. “I thought maybe I should make music with a style to reach out to a certain audience.”
Growing up with a heavy influence from Tupac and then being introduced to Lecrae as a Christian hip-hop foundation, the sound that A Star wrestled with making was the likes of more American, traditional hip hop opposed to the heavy grime that he is accustomed to as a London native. The popular style of rap showcased in the U.K. is classified as “grime.” Though similar to hip hop, A Star said the difference in the two styles is often recognized when it comes to his music and any type of hip hop that is commonly made in the U.K.
“Grime is faster beats and faster flow,” he said. “It is more aggressive and passionate. I am a little bit of both hip hop and grime, but the majority of my sound is grime music.” Well known to many fans is “Don’t Waste Your Life” by Lecrae, a song featuring the U.K.’s own Dwayne Tryumf and one that A Star said exemplifies what grime is. But A Star said that, for the most part, he had to deal with listeners not being familiar with the grime style.
“A lot of people from the states listen to my music and say they can’t really understand it because of my accent and because of the way of I flow,” A Star said.
The unfamiliarity of grime eventually motivated A Star to push forward in how he made music instead of compromising the sound he loved in order to be accepted by listeners. For the last several years A Star has been featured on various records, probably the most popular being “Let it Go” on S.O.’s first project So it Begins. While doing Christian hip hop for the last five years, whether as a part of Forever Christ or on features, he has now released his first solo project as an independent artist and is fully committed to his grime roots.
“Back in the day, it was about, ‘What are people going to accept?'” A Star said. “In the last few years, I reflected on what I am good at. I did some features, but I wanted to find out what I am about and on this EP. I feel like this is my sound and what I’ll be going with in the future.”
The hope is for fans to be able to acknowledge, understand and still appreciate the difference in style that Revolutionary will display. For the Christian hip-hop scene in America, he believes there is still work to be done when it comes to Americans having an ear to hear his style.
“Sometimes I get criticism but mostly it’s people saying they love my music but don’t know what I am saying, which can be a little frustrating sometimes,” he said. “I think it is on the listener to be open minded.”
Christian hip hop has become acquainted with those who spit with a touch of a British accent. Artists and friends of A Star, like Jahaziel and S.O., have gained American fan bases and are helping bridge a gap believed to be existent between Christian hip hop in the U.K. and America.
Producer Brian Shepard (BattleAxe) who has produced tracks like “Love Is” by S.O., “777” by Dwayne Tryumf, “The Bride” by Lecrae and “God” by Pro (Derek Minor), believes bringing grime rap into the American spotlight would bode well for the future of Christian hip hop. He sees a guy like A Star, who is only 26 years of age, as a fresh voice.
“Your average popular Christian rapper in the states is over 30,” Shepard said. “Your average U.K. guy doing it over there is like 25. People are starting to realize your popular Americans are getting old in age. You have like a 10-year gap between those guys and the Americans doing it. Those guys can come over here and really turn up.”
While grime is popular in the U.K., the influence of Christian hip hop on the U.K.’s hip hop scene in totality is still growing, similar to the United States. Shepard believes embracing the grime style and the Christian brothers in the U.K. can only benefit Christian hip hop in the public light.
“It will help the world see Christian hip hop is not this narrow window of Reach, RMG and Collision guys,” he said. “If we’re able to bridge the gap sooner, it will help both sides tremendously.”
A Star cannot say for sure that his style will be accepted, but he knows the music on Revolutionary is from a real place and will serve a purpose.
“One of the meanings of Revolution is a social change within an area,” he said. “I want my music to bring a social change. I am a revolutionary. We are all revolutionaries.”
He says he’ll continue to be an urban missionary and go to community centers within his neighborhood and would love to give his project away for free. While he aims to change the social scene in London, he anticipates Revolutionary to help expand the notoriety of grime music.
“Within the U.S., I want people to know about grime music,” he said. “If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t, but there are more cats over here making dope music. I want the U.K. and the U.S. to get closer. The real sound of London is grime music and I want everyone to know that. No matter where we go in the world, we aren’t ashamed of our sound.”