Triple O last spoke to Rapzilla in 2015. Since then, the MOBO Award Winning artist has released his sophomore album Zero Not Equal To One and been nominated for yet another MOBO for Best Gospel Act. Here, we talk about his place in hip hop and putting Christ back into gospel (namechecking Stormzy, Wretch 32, Chance the Rapper, Samm Henshaw, Kanye West and Adele along the way).
A lot of the Christian music that I’ve heard, and that my [evangelical Christian] sister listens to, is wholesome. I would say your music is much more hard-hitting and intense but has the same Christian message – do you think that’s accurate?
You’ve hit the nail on the head. Me and Stormzy, and Wretch , and whoever else can talk about the same exact things. What differentiates me from them is my worldview, which is governed by my faith – being my belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. So, if [they] want to talk about sex, I can talk about sex. If [they] want to talk about crime, I can talk about crime. But I’m going to talk about it from a Biblical perspective. And not in a condemning kind of way. But as an alternative to the path that so many young people walk down.
You’ve namechecked Stormzy and Wretch 32 there. Their music, and oftentimes their lyrical content, has certainly been informed by the Gospel, but it does feel like a phase in their careers as opposed to part of their life mission. What do you think?
The reason why they have that sound is because of the people that they work with, who come from the Church – including their instrumentalists, producers, and band members. They are surrounded by people who are based in the faith. And that’s going to have an impact on the music that they make. It’s interesting to hear mainstream artists utilizing gospel sounds but not necessarily the gospel content.
Would you say that’s your niche? Fusing sounds from East London and Gospel, but ensuring that the content is still informed by the Gospel?
Exactly. But what you usually find is a lot of Christian artists who are making grime and running to whatever sound has [just been popular]. Where I’m going, moving forward, I really want to embrace the Gospel sound; the choirs, the chords. If you’ve got these mainstream artists, who are drawing on Gospel influences, and quote-unquote “making better gospel music than gospel artists,” which is a little bit funny…
Do you think there are people who are making those claims?
Definitely. You’ll see your Chance the Rappers, your Stormzys, your Samm Henshaws … Kanye West, Adele … so many artists will tap into that sound but not necessarily the content, and then make music that touches people (fair enough, that’s only right). But then it’s a thing of, okay, it’s touching people…but the content, to some degree, is contrary to the sound that they’re drawing influence from.
Zero Not Equal to One definitely draws on the Gospel for its content. In particular, the album has lyrics indicative of the traditional evangelical narrative; going from broken to unbroken, from unsaved to saved. Do you think that there was a specific moment or period in your life when you experienced this process?
I was brought up in a Christian home. But at the same time, you have what’s happening around you. At school and whatnot. That then has an influence on the decisions you make. I remember someone once shared with me: sleeping in a garage does not necessarily make you a car. So, you can go to Church…but does that mean you are a practicing Christian? So, in my younger years, I was not necessarily practicing my faith the way I should have been. I think as I got older, I saw that there was something more meaningful and serious here. Then in 2010, I got baptized and started taking my faith very, very seriously.
Then, in 2011, you won a MOBO for Best Gospel Act. This must have felt like a peak in your career. What did that win mean to you? What left is there to do?
That was amazing. But what you find with awards is that they’re very fleeting. People forget these kinds of things. It’s nice, but if you pursue the awards then you’re going to mess up … because you’re chasing the accolades of man. Human beings are very fickle, we move according to the latest trends. So, my thing is: number 1, stay true to the faith; number 2, make the music that I enjoy, and I want to listen to. There will come a time when I’m not on this Earth anymore, but my music will still be here. My music is going to speak volumes and it’s going to be my legacy.
But could you not interpret an award or popularity as a success for Christ? If you’re the most popular artist in the world, then you’ve spread the message of Christ to the most people.
The maximum exposure does allow your message to spread out further. That is a benefit to being in front of as many eyes as possible. [But] it’s touchy ground. You want to be in front of as many people as possible, but at the same time, it’s like: “why am I doing what I’m doing?” If you’re doing it for fame and notoriety, then you’ll miss the mark. If it’s Gospel or Christian music, the focal point will always be shining the light back on Christ. But then, at the same time, [given] the amount of effort, time and money and resources that one does invest into the craft, you’ve got to think to yourself: “you know what, I do want people to see what [I’m] doing, I want people to appreciate what I’m doing and I don’t want it to go unnoticed.” So, it’s about balance; being honest with yourself and finding the right balance between your objectives.
Final question: what’s next for Triple O?
Just to continue making music. For me, I really want to see gospel music taken to a wider platform, where people see gospel music and it’s not just an afterthought. Where people see UK gospel music and it’s taken as a viable alternative to what’s already on the mainstream platforms. People have negative stereotypes about Christian music: saying it’s boring, it doesn’t connect, people don’t listen to it. So, it’s now about making the kind of music that people who are not saved, people who are not Christians, can listen to. And that’s what I’m looking to do.