S.O.: A lot of artists will tell you this: they go to church, but they don’t go to church often. How can you? That’s the real question. How can you go to church every Sunday when you’re traveling? How can you do that?

Rapzilla.com: How have you addressed that problem?

S.O.: When I’m here, I’m here — intentionally. That’s the only way you can answer it. When you’re here, you’re here intentionally. Nothing’s going to distract you from being here; from being here in that place, with those people who have loved on you, and who God has called you to love.

***

After Seun “S.O.” Otukpe released his second studio album So It Continues in 2012, churches in other countries began to regularly give him reasons to be absent from his home church in London.

Those reasons were an abundance of concert bookings in America and Africa. The recording artist, who for years had performed at one-off shows here and there, had graduated to touring artist. S.O. lived the life of travel that young artists who don’t know any better aspire toward.

It got old.

“For three years, I was just bouncing from one country to another,” S.O. said. “I personally felt like, ‘What are you doing, bro? No one really knows about your life on an intentional level. You’re not really pouring into anybody. You’re not really serving, outside of rapping. This is going to affect you. Maybe it’s not affecting you now, but it will affect you. And it won’t affect you for the good either.’”

S.O. never stopped attending church. He never stopped studying the Bible. In his music, he never became slothful in zeal for the glory of God. However, when he happened to be in London, he also stopped going out of his way to serve his local church family. His career had taken priority. Plus, popping in and out just felt more right than being present throughout the week. Until one day, that feeling changed.

“I need to get my butt back there,” he thought.

Twice, S.O. has let out sorrow on songs about friends falling away from Christianity (“Memoirs” and “Fall”). The rapper realized that if he continued to lack passion for the Church, he also wasn’t above losing passion for the One who died for the Church. He wasn’t above falling away.

“I was scared that would happen to me, too,” S.O. said. “The people who steer away from the faith, oftentimes, the starting point is, ‘I stopped being an active member of my local church.’”

In 2016, S.O. got married and moved to San Antonio, Texas, where he immediately planted roots at Now Word Covenant Church.

“Now, it’s completely opposite,” he said. “I’m very intentional about letting people know when I’m traveling. I’m very intentional about still being involved, even while I’m away — super connected; life groups, serving, bringing some of the young boys under my wing.”

Now Word Covenant pastor Keith Graham attested to this intentionality.

“He’s such a faithful, sensitive person to the house,” Graham said. “Whatever concerts he’s doing, he’s very accountable with it. One of the unique things about S.O. is he doesn’t try to use his place in the music industry as an advantage in the church.”

At Now Word Covenant, his identity is not “S.O., the rapper.” It’s, “S.O., the fellow church member; the high school ministry leader; the guy who helps out on the media team.” Being present is now a priority. (He said the word “serve” seven times in his interview for this story.) Making disciples on a local level has grown more appealing than making fans on an international level.

And those are not the same thing, he stressed.

“You, as an artist, need to be around people who aren’t praising you all the time,” S.O. said. “You need to wash yourself away from that nonsense. It’s not conducive to your heart. It’s not conducive to your soul to just always be with people who care about your music, and that’s it, and love the fact that you rap or you sing. ‘Oh my gosh. Your song…’ But they don’t know you. They don’t know how you are when you’re at home. They don’t know how you are when you’re offstage. That’s one of the beautiful things I love about being with people who aren’t always impressed with you. You need — you need, you need — people in your life — you need people … you need — you need the local church. How do you do the ‘one another’s’ of the Scripture if you’re not around others to do it with? That’s a tweet. Tweet that.”

S.O.’s wife, Sophia, echoed how investment in a local church is uniquely important for artists.

“Whether they’re a Christian artist or not, they’re still an artist, and they still have a fan base, and they still have people who are going to say, ‘I love your music.’ They’re gonna give them all of that praise… I think being plugged into a local church reminds them that they’re exactly the same as everybody else,” Sophia said. “The fact that you’re a rapper doesn’t make you better than anyone. You’re still prone to the same things. I think it gives them accountability because when people are on the road, they don’t really have that plug. For all you know, during those times when S.O. was going back-and-forth to the U.S., he could’ve been going through depression. Nobody would’ve known. The local church is vital for an artist because you have those people who are always going to be checking with you. And you’re going to come back, and you’re going to get the same love that everyone is getting. You’re going to grow together. You’re going to be accountable to each other. I think it keeps you grounded.”

Every recording artist is a role model for their listeners. The question is, “Are they a good or a bad model?” And whether they truly are worth following is determined first and foremost by how they conduct themselves off the mic, because such conduct informs an artist’s pen.

S.O.’s long-time music producer, Steven “G.P.” Abramsamadu, indeed sees the effect of S.O.’s new devotion to the local church on his music, especially leading Now Word Covenant’s high school ministry.

“It’s definitely influenced and added to his music,” G.P. said. “I would think he would have the idea that the young guys are looking up to him and watching his every move, how he steps, how he handles them.”

“You tend to sin less when you think about other people and being a good role model and discipler to them,” S.O. said. “Ultimately, you’re thinking about, ‘What Christ is going to think?’ But you’re also thinking, ‘Man, that dude really looking up to me. If I do this, it’s going to be really dumb.’”

S.O. practices what he raps, according to his pastor — who provides accountability that couldn’t exist on extended tours, hopping from church to church.

This article originally appeared in The Legacy Magazine. Photo courtesy of Anna Heyward.