In Conversation with Triple O
London is different to the rest of the UK. It’s bigger and busier, its people are richer, its buildings are taller. In many ways it is thought of as cooler and more modern than any other British city. But one unexpected way London differs to the rest of the UK is that its people are much more religious – the antithesis of what is modern and cool, perhaps. But with almost every other Londoner being a Christian, London is, ironically, closer to the traditional religious profile of the UK than the rest of the country. No wonder then, that religious music thrives in the capital, and exists in open dialogue with more popular, secular styles, particularly grime. In this second London Student feature on Christian music in the capital, Joseph Lyons speaks to MOBO award-winning rapper Triple O.
Christian hip hop, otherwise referred to as gospel rap, is a subgenre of hip hop music grounded in the belief that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Saviour of humankind. This is, if heard and believed, pretty exciting; God is coming, after all. Oftentimes, Christian hip hop is not so far from the ‘happy clappy’ stereotype ascribed to gospel (the most known Christian hip hop rapper, Lecrae, is more ‘Light from the Pulpit’ than Fire in the Booth). But not always. To my knowledge, the Christian rapper Triple O’s most recent album Zero Not Equal to One does not have one happy clap. Its musical aesthetic is familiar: not from any Church Choir sheen, but from its East London griminess. Triple O’s raps about depression and doubt are righteous but they ricochet between rage and resentment on the way to revival. It can be a scary ride.
Wondering what was going on in the mind of this MOBO Award Winning Artist, London Student sat down with him at That Stratford Shopping Centre That Isn’t Westfields to talk about writing Christ into the rap game.
London Student: 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?
Triple O: 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 paths 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 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 utilising 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.
What’s next for Triple O?
Just to continue making music. [I want to] make music that edifies and encourages the body, whilst still being very evangelical in the message and forthcoming in terms of what it’s like to be a Christian. 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 [Christian] music that people who are not saved, people who are not Christians, can listen to. And that’s what I’m looking to do.