This past Friday we had the chance to sit down with Sir The Baptist in Zurich. He was in town performing at the prestigious Kaufleuten, supporting August Alsina. We talked about the Grammys, his music and . Later on I had the chance to shoot some pictures during his set and of course see him perform.
Shortly after Sir The Baptist and his crew arrived at the venue, I found myself sitting in one of the upper floors of the Kaufleuten, waiting for Sir to arrive. What was planned to be a 10min slot ended up being a nice 20min long conversation with an incredibly inspiring artist.
Interview with Sir The Baptist
Welcome to Zurich! You’re playing a rather small venue here. How is it different (apart from the obvious) compared to playing big festivals like Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo or at the Barclays Center?
You know, the smaller the better sometimes. Some people get more scared with the smaller crowds because everybody is really focused on you. I don’t mind, it gives me time to build up eye connection. You get to really see into someone and see their reactions and what they’re feeling. I prefer the smaller venues… Although, playing the Barclays Center right after Beyonce came on. There were 30’000 people in the arena and a few million online, so that is still good, but in smaller venues, it’s more effective. I can apply music as medicine to people.
Talking about scared… That time you quit your job and for a short time lived in your car. Did that no scare you?
By the time you’re about to do this, you need to be 1000% sure that you’re ready to take the risk. I was sure I was going to do something with my life.
So even when you were sleeping in your car – you weren’t scared or doubting yourself?
No, I used it as research and lessons. That’s when I understood that I needed to apply music as medicine to people. It was really just that. I was 1000% committed to this.
Rap, Hip Hop usually has a reputation of being about money, women, drugs and power. Your music is a bit different to that. Have you ever received negative feedback from either side, hip hop or gospel/religious?
I did at first… But I just kept going and they realized “this guy is not going to stop and he’s going to show up everywhere”. I understood marketing, and I was like, everywhere they’re going to be at, I’m not going to be there for that reason. I would turn it to different causes. I was on a mission, I wasn’t trying to be cool. The support of people in hip hop, like Jay Z, Nelly helped… They are doing well and I’m performing for some of these people and I’m able to be myself. And you know, Jay Z ended up bringing out an album that was gospel influenced. On the other side you have gospel, they didn’t accept me at all, they actually disqualified me for the gospel Grammys, just because I was too honest. I won’t say it was because I was cursing. It was because I was too honest, I smoked with a lot of preachers, smoke as in weed. I drink with a lot of preachers and I even went to a stripclub with some. They would keep quiet about that. It’s what they chose to do and because they get paid to pretend, they have to shut up and not tell you the truth about their lives.
So how was that for you at the Grammys. You were there… Didn’t it feel weird being there, even after you were basically robbed of the chance to maybe get an award yourself?
Oh well, in gospel, the awards don’t matter. Nobody will put those people on the mainstage and give out the awards there. The gospel Grammys happen on the side, on another stage. And you know, it reassures me that I’m doing the right thing in a way. I want to change our culture and if I want to change it and bring more holistic healing to both hip hop and Christian or religious music, then I have to switch it over. Combine the tunes. And if I get to do that, I shouldn’t be worrying about the Grammys. I’m Nr 25 nationwide on gospel radio, there’s lot of other things… People are starting to accept it. It took a while, but things that take a while, last forever.
What do you want people to feel when they listen to your music?
I want them to feel like family. At shows, I’ll play some records to have fun, that people know, and I’ll play some they won’t know. I’m really not worried about cool. And my mom will get on stage. It’s really a moment where people should feel like, we’re family.
Your songs all sound quite different, but still have that one thing, that theme that connects all of them. I personally really like “The Wall” also because of the beats. There’s a little house touch in there too, right? What is this song really about though?
Yeah, it really does have the house touch. And it’s basically about Trump, but comparing him to everyone else in the world that put up walls in your life, telling you cannot do something. You need to get into full push mode, people (like labels) saying you need to do this or that, and you’re just thinking, “you sound a lot like Trump there. You want me to do something that’ll hurt the culture, I won’t do that”. That song is referencing other songs, where I did adjust the sound for the sake of the label feeling comfortable. Even in those songs that I did, like in the title track of my album “Saint or Sinner” it was really a rough time for me. I was almost going through a mental breakdown trying to find out if I’m really going to hurt the culture, am I going to be that guy? “The Wall” is a reminder about that.
Eva: You’ve had some rough times in your life. How do you keep your faith?
You keep your faith because you found it on your own. If someone tells you what you should believe in, it’s hard. But even in your weariness, you’ll find pieces, that will sustain you for the rest of your life. And that is where faith pops up. I don’t attach faith to religion. I had to lock myself in a room for a year and I wrote a book called “The Travelogue of a Visionary” I questioned everything and that’s when I found out faith.
Lisbeth: Have you been influenced by any well known hip hop artist.
Definitely Jay Z, what influenced me by Jay wasn’t his talk about drugs, it was his talk about business. I didn’t fall in love with Jay Z s music until “The Black Album” or “Kingdom Come” – I didn’t even listen to the previous albums anymore, because they’re not my struggle. I mean I have brothers that sell drugs and all that stuff, but that’s dumb, that’s not what I wanted to do, that’s stupid. But also Kanye West, with his humour, he has Chicago humour. Chicago people are ridiculously honest with their humour, it’s so silly but it’s fun. And he put great instrumentation over hip hop beats, so he sampled. I am a producer and a composer, so I won’t sample, it’s just not my thing and I believe in the intellectual side of music. I have a 5 song album that I did with Tony Bennett and Lee Musiker! I look up to Quincy Jones, also Frank Sinatra Jr., Louis Armstrong, so it’s not just hip hop. Kanye maybe influenced me, but I don’t want to follow his map, he just gave me an idea.
End the sentences…
The first thing I do after I get off stage is… Try to gather myself, on stage I’m gone, so I just try to “come back”
Writing lyrics feels like… Solving a puzzle.
Dolphins make me… Feel like I want to go swimming.
If I could change anything on my body, it would be… Oh I don’t work out, I need more muscles. I’m a computer geek that went hip hop, I just sit at my computer.
Zurich is… Can I answer that later?
Oh I’m scared now… It might not be that great then (we both laugh)
No I’ll give you an honest answer. Last night somebody said, the crowd was into it, but somehow they were like really a rough crowd. And I was like, no they weren’t.
This is going to be interesting, the Swiss crowd can be rough. Sometimes they are all in and sometimes they just stand there.
Nah really, tough crowds are beautiful to me, because it’s almost to the point where I think, they just need a hug. Having a tough crowd is just like having a tough Lyft passenger, they really just want you to talk about what they need to talk about. Sometimes, the people that aren’t responsive like they should be, they just need to talk about something that bothers them. So by the end of the show, we get to that, we’ve pierced that part of them. That’s more important than them vibing with me all the time. And then you realize, it’s just all about love and family. So yeah, then that’s my answer, it’s about family, Zurich is family.
Shortly after the interview ended, Sir started to get ready for his show. A performance that in my opinion ended up being even better than the one of the main act. It was very personal and energetic. There was a lot of interaction with the crowd, who obviously loved it. At some point Sir hopped off the stage and went into the audience to perform. And like he said, it’s all about being family. His mom made a quick appearance on stage and had a lovely dance with her son.
One thing that really impressed me, was his attitude towards being the “support act”. He’s not there to be cool, he knows people might not know him or like him. But he’s here to get the crowd pumped for August Alsina, and he sure did. So if you get the chance to see Sir The Baptist perform, you need to go see him! We’ll definitely keep you informed, when he comes back to Switzerland.