Sir The Baptist: A Preacher's Kid Finds His Own Sanctuary In Music

Aug 27, 2016
Originally published on August 27, 2016 10:54 am

William James Stokes is the son of a church man, and on his first album he comes right out with it. The Preacher's Kid is the singer and rapper's debut as Sir the Baptist, a name he felt suited his origins in the Bronzeville district of South Side Chicago. "I grew up in a Chicago area where they called it 'Chi-raq' — and I felt like if I was gonna be the voice crying out in the wilderness, I would want to be John the Baptist," he says.

Stokes spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about playing Lollapalooza (where he began his performance by stepping out of a casket), writing about abuse in his extended family and pursuing a more progressive version of the religious education he was born into. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAISE HELL")

WILLIAM JAMES STOKES: (Singing) Good lord. Mama say she going to lose me. She pray the angel's out on duty.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is "Raise Hell," a song by a preacher's kid who calls his debut album exactly that, "The Preacher's Kid."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAISE HELL")

STOKES: (Singing) You're going to have to forgive me, yeah. Imma (ph) raise hell until I reach heaven's door.

SIMON: William James Stokes, who performs as Sir the Baptist, is a singer and a rapper who grew up in the pews of Bronzeville in Chicago. He joins us now from the studios of WBEZ in that city. Sir, thanks so much for being with us.

STOKES: Yes, thank you for having me.

SIMON: And where'd Sir the Baptist come from?

STOKES: Well, my dad was a preacher, and I also grew up in a Chicago area where they called it Chi-raq (ph). And I felt like if I was going to be the voice crying out in the wilderness, I would want to be John the Baptist. So I named myself the Baptist, and Sir is my name.

SIMON: You recently performed at Lollapalooza, the Chicago music festival. You got out of a coffin during your performance, right?

STOKES: Yeah.

SIMON: And the point of that was...

STOKES: Because, one, I've seen so many people die in my community, right? And if you're going to come to Chicago, you should also bear some of the struggles and the beauty and all the pain with the city - shouldn't just come here for what we can offer you as far as entertainment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIR THE BAPTIST SONG)

STOKES: (Singing) If I could show you anything, I'll show you that our hood was once so good.

And for me, you know, in a city where you barely make it out of, it was great to be able to stand on top of that coffin that many would think I would make it in before 21.

SIMON: Yeah, and the coffin where too many people or your contemporaries have wound up, I guess.

STOKES: Yeah, exactly.

SIMON: Yeah. Let me get you to listen to a section of your song, "Deliver Me."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DELIVER ME")

STOKES: (Rapping) I remember my sister Mary would get beat by her husband who was the deacon in the church. And the whole church knew, but no one would say anything. But I remember so clearly she was in the kitchen washing dishes, and she would encourage herself, quietly 'cause she didn't want to start anything, she'll say...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Lord, deliver me 'cause all he seems to do is hurt me.

STOKES: (Rapping) If you know someone dealing with this, pull out your phone and text them, I love you.

SIMON: Boy, is this a true story?

STOKES: Yeah, definitely.

SIMON: How's Mary?

STOKES: She's doing good. She's - what most people don't know is when you're abused or taken advantage of in any sort of way, moving past that moment is a life journey, you know? So every day waking up and re-believing in herself is a journey to the depth of who she is, you know?

SIMON: Yeah. It's hard not to wonder if there are parallels between your father being a preacher and you being this musical - I don't want to call you a preacher.

STOKES: (Laughter) No, it's OK.

SIMON: All right, this musical preacher, Sir the Baptist.

STOKES: Well, I definitely feel that, you know, the parallel is there. I do hope to be the first hip-hop chaplain, one that can tie spirituality into music and culture. So I do see first I have to clean up what he left. And that's a lot of people that was influenced by the church but didn't agree with some of the old-time religion. So I have to clean up and make sure that they're OK. For example, Mary, making sure that she believe in herself again and that it's OK to get divorced because in the Bible it's not but when someone's beating you, should you stay there?

SIMON: Your religious convictions are a little different than your father's?

STOKES: Oh, yeah. (Laughter) Yeah. The things that I deal with, they're similar to his, it's just in a modern day. And when you go through the album, you hear piece for piece what it's like to date, what it's like to have sex before marriage or move around or dealing with anything politically or religiously in the time that - I mean, it's just a tad different from his time.

SIMON: I want to listen to one of the love songs you have. Let's hear a bit of "Southern Belle And Good Water."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOUTHERN BELLE AND GOOD WATER")

STOKES: (Singing) Yeah, Southern belle, Southern belle. Where my deacons at? Ring my line like dinner bells. I'll come through, yeah. Southern belle, Southern belle. Can I get an amen? I'll be back before dinner bells, oh. I will come through for you. I keep you loving on the stove, baby. Keep it hot for me. If she ain't southern, then she's south side.

SIMON: Oh, mercy, amen and amor.

STOKES: (Laughter).

SIMON: So any people who are more to the religious side of music think, boy, Sir, you're getting a little graphic there?

STOKES: Yeah, yeah. You know what? Here's something I'll tell you, right? I got married when I was 21, and I got married because I wanted to do it the right way, right? And in church, you have to wait till marriage, don't have sex, take that young lady and make her your wife and everything like that. But I was one of the ones that had no idea on how to have chemistry. And in church and in religion, we don't teach chemistry or sexual education in a way that's beyond the technique.

But understanding how to romance your - the one that you love, which is why so many - the church and religion, specifically - have a hard time in understanding sexuality, sensuality and chemistry. So I wanted to do that in a lot of these songs is teach them how to do that because, one, you're teaching them how to save a marriage, as well, you know, or dating.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOUTHERN BELLE AND GOOD WATER")

STOKES: (Singing) Give me your good water. Baby, give me your good water.

SIMON: Can you, as a musician, reach into people's souls in a way that takes off where your father may have left off?

STOKES: Yeah, yeah, absolutely 'cause, like - I learned at Leo Burnett that music surpasses your reasoning stage.

SIMON: Leo Burnett's the ad agency.

STOKES: Yeah. So when I worked there, like, I was doing ads and bringing that piece in. So I think a little of why, in the black church, they use hooping - hooping, which is preaching but it's preaching on key, so it's like singing. It's actually where James Brown got his whole sound from and a lot of others that's picking it up now, even hip-hop got it from hooping and preaching. But when you put music to a message, you can really get it through to people.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET IT MOVE YAH")

STOKES: (Singing) Good morning. Let it move you. Let it move you.

SIMON: Sir the Baptist - his new album - "The Preacher's Kid." Thanks so much for being with us.

STOKES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET IT MOVE YAH")

STOKES: (Vocalizing).

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Let it move you, let it move you, let it move you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.