S.O. Talks Growing Up in London, Starting Rap, & an Artist’s Legacy
Last week we dropped an article about S.O. as he explained the meaning of his song “White Jesus.” In part two of this interview, S.O talks about an artist’s legacy, his humble beginnings, and challenges for artists.
Let’s shift gears. Can you talk a little bit about your upbringing? Did you grow up in London?
Yes, actually I grew up in Nigeria.
I was born in Nigeria, lived there until I was nine. Then my family and I moved to London. We lived there, and then three years ago, I made the final leap. And I was like, “Yo, I’m going to move to America, fully. I’m just going to do it.” My wife and I got married, and a week later, we moved, which is crazy. I live in San Antonio, Texas. It’s just different. It’s a different culture. We dived in, and we’re learning, and we’re growing.
That’s great, man. How long have you been in hip hop? Did you start rapping at a young age? How did you figure out this is going to be your thing?
So actually… my first rap was at my grandmother’s birthday party, I was six years old. She was 60. She normally takes credit for the start of my career, which is hilarious. It wasn’t really until I got into high school that I started to write raps. Battle rap in the playground, so on and so forth.
I became a Christian when I was 15, 16, and took a year off from creating. I’m old enough to be doing radio sets, where you would go to pirate radio, and a DJ would be playing. They’d hand you the mic, and you rap over the beat. Kind of like what happens now, but you’re recording it, and then you take that tape cassette…(laughs) I’m showing my age. I’m only 30… You take that tape cassette, and you circulate that in the playground, and people hear it.
You really had to show and prove it. I didn’t see a studio until I was 16.
I didn’t know what that was until I was 16. So we would battle on the playgrounds. We would do cyphers. We would go do pirate sets, tape cassettes, and share it around. That’s how your name would buzz around. Now it’s digital, which is great. I love streaming. Streaming – thank you for streaming!
That’s kind of how my career started. So when I became a Christian, I met a group of artists in the UK called New Direction. One of them happened to be [future producer]. My producer’s name is G.P. He still produces for me now.
So yeah, started working with them, doing shows, so on and so forth. And here we are, 14 years later.
That’s crazy. What was that like in London? What was the Christian rap scene like, if there was any at that time when you first started getting into Christian rap?
There definitely was a Christian hip hop scene. Over there, they had a genre called grime, or garage, coming up at that time.
So I never exclusively did that, but obviously, shout out to people like A Star, Triple O, Presha J, who push and do grime. There was Guvna, AFG Nexus, New Direction, Jahaziel, Green Jade, a whole slew of people putting their foot down, being Christians, and doing hip hop. Expressing their faith through their music. I always was appreciative of that. I grew up on Commission…can’t forget Commission. And people don’t work forever, they stop doing, because of life happening, and stuff like that.
So I was fully immersed in that, because my sister used to sing with a group, and stuff like that. New Direction took me under their wing, man. They took me to shows. They even taught me how to write songs, for real.
And G.P. still to this day produces my music. I’m super grateful. My pastors, when I was in the UK, they were signed to Cross Movement. MOD, Ministry of Defense, they were signed to Cross Movement. So we would sometimes get Christian hip hop CDs early. So I remember listening to Da’ T.R.U.T.H. and Phanatik early. Then when I went to senior high, as you guys call it, I met someone there, and they just kind of… I gave them my iPod and they just filled it with everything. Trip Lee, to Lecrae, like a whole slew of stuff I’ve never heard. I didn’t know any of this really existed. I was 17, they just gave me everything. I’m like, “How does this exist?” With the Internet, I was able to find out more, and listen to more stuff, so on and so forth.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing artists now? You brought up streaming. Is there anything you’re witnessing with that? You brought up that give-me-now kind of culture.
Streaming is it. My streaming numbers are good. I never saw streaming as an issue. There was a time when artists refused/didn’t put their stuff on there. They would only put their stuff on iTunes. We can’t fight it now, it’s there, man. I remember in 2008, My friend, Dan, was making me a playlist on Spotify, in 2007.
We didn’t know what we were doing. We were just like, “Here’s a bunch of songs that I really want you to check out and share this playlist.” So from 2008, I thought there’s something here. There’s something different here. As we started to head forward into the digital age, I realized this is it. People don’t even ask you how many have you sold. They’re asking you how much do you stream.
I think the biggest challenge for any artist right now is just to run your race. Forget about what the next man is doing, forget about what the next lady is doing. Run your course. Build your audience. Build your fan base, and serve them. Don’t worry about, “I want to be this, I want to be that.” If you’re consistent, they’ll come. If you’re consistent, and your audience messed with you, yo, that’s it, man.
Christian hip hop is still a sub-genre within a sub-genre. People are making a living off of it. I think that’s the biggest thing for any artist, is just “Yo, listen. I’m going to run my race, man and I’m not going to watch what anybody else is doing.” Even though there’s a temptation and a tendency to do that. I’m going to be laser-focused on what God has called me to do. And I’m just going to run that. That’s where I’m at.
I’m in a space where I’m running my race. I come running my race. I’m doing my own thing. And as I’ve done that, thankfully, the numbers have gone up. God is just blessing it. I said I was going to do one thing, and I do it, and it happens, so I set myself another goal. There was a time when the goal was 100,000 streams on Spotify.
Now the goal is one million. Two million. Five million streams. Thankfully, we’re able to exceed and achieve what you set out to do and push our music forward. I think that any artist, just focus on your thing. And build your catalog. Release bodies of work. Right now, we’re in this streaming, singles, loosies, cool, but you can’t name an artist that has staying power for five, 10 years, that only stays based on singles. That doesn’t exist. All the artists that we know and love, all the legacy acts, all the acts that are still touring to this day, are doing so because they have bodies of work.
Yeah, that’s true.
They’re doing so because, it’s not like, “Yo, man, that one single, I loved it.”
There are some guys though that can build some hype for quite a while. Like Aaron Cole, he did a long run without putting out a full album.
A body of work can be an EP. I know Aaron Cole has done that. I’m just saying that any artist that wants to have a lasting legacy, build-up, release bodies of work. Short EPs, mixed tapes, albums. Release bodies of work. If you’re worried about playlisting, so on and so forth, those become your playlists. The album is the playlist. The EP is the playlist. So people can just put it on, and they drive, and they listen to it. Sometimes there are a million people who listen to one song, two songs. But generally, people want to play the whole thing through, and keep it moving.
For artists. Build bodies of work, build your catalog, and then own your stuff. Because 10, 20 years down… So It Begins came out in 2011. So It Continues 2012. Still get very nice checks off of those today.
Own your music. Because when you own your music, you can then pass on your publishing, pass on your masters to your children, and so on and so forth, and then they can… you know.