Grammy-nominated producer G.P. shed a tear the first time he watched S.O.’s music video for “So It Ends.”
“Bloody hell,” G.P. said. “This is madness.”
G.P.’s sample of a choir in the song paired perfectly with the aesthetically pleasing sanctuary of St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church in Philadelphia, where Scouts Honor Media shot the music video. His awe at the final product stemmed less from the excellence, though, and more from how far he and S.O. had come.
G.P. had produced all but two songs on S.O.’s past three albums — So It Begins, So It Continues and So It Ends — the latest of which dropped on Oct. 16. The Londoners comprise one of the last exclusive rapper-producer duos in Christian hip hop. The “So It Ends” music video introduced the finale of their trilogy to fans, as well as gave G.P. flashbacks to 10 years prior.
In 2005, Prince Adu Poku, a member of 22-year-old Steven “G.P.” Abramsamadu’s rap group, New Direction Crew, asked G.P. if he could invite a rapper to his studio the next day.
“Don’t bring this guy unless he can spit bars,” G.P. said. “I ain’t got time to waste.”
Prince brought 16-year-old Seun “S.O.” Otukpe to the studio, and he made good use of G.P.’s time.
“He went way and above my expectation,” G.P. said. “There are people who rap, and then there are professional rappers. I felt like even back then, S.O. was a professional rapper.”
G.P. invested time in to S.O., recording numerous songs (that are no longer on the internet), until S.O. moved a four-and-a-half-hour drive away to Durham University in 2007 to study theology.
Despite the distance, their friendship grew over the next few years. Around the same time that someone introduced G.P. to reformed theology in London, S.O. started to have the same conversations at Durham. Around the same time that G.P. crammed into a living room with about 10 other people to study the Bible for two days straight without sleep, S.O. wrestled with someone on his dorm floor over doctrine — literally wrestled.
“This is all happening at the same time,” G.P. said. “You see where S.O. was. He was going through that text as well, looking at the scripture, wrestling with it. Us down here, wrestling with having what we thought was our doctrine swept from underneath our feet and free falling.” Over 200 miles apart, S.O. and G.P. remained in communication. Many of their conversations consisted of questions about reformed theology, and they grew closer as they found answers together — and then shared those answers with others.
“We were very vocal about the things that we learned, willing to share with everyone and anyone,” London-based rapper Serene, a close friend of theirs, said. “There were times when we would literally be debating at other people’s churches about these things. It was really just a hunger to know God’s word and a desire to share it with everyone. Looking back and reflecting on it now, I don’t think we went about it at times in the best way because we were very dogmatic.”
“I guess we were defenders of the faith in some aspects,” G.P. said. “A lot of things were said that I was proud of — a lot of things I wasn’t too proud of. I would’ve said a lot of things much different now. Just the energy I had, I wasn’t trying to win souls or win someone over. I was rather trying to say my doctrine is better than your doctrine and win the argument.” By 2011, the Londoners’ maturity and resumes had grown. G.P. had produced “I’m A Believer,” “Thank You” and “All I Need” for Tedashii’s 2009 LPIdentity Crisis and “New Reality” for Lecrae’s 2010 LP Rehab — all albums which charted on the Billboard 200. S.O. had also built a buzz in 2010 with his debut project, The 5 Solas mixtape.
Lamp Mode Recordings signed S.O. the following year, and with him back in London after graduation, he and G.P. finished his label debut, So It Begins, in three months.
“The unique thing with G.P. and S.O. is, because G.P. knows his story,” Serene said, “G.P.’s able to say, ‘This is the emotion that we went through. This is the emotion that I’ve seen you go through. Let me make the music that can cater toward these things and really bring out the emotion and the feeling you actually went through.’
No song epitomizes this chemistry more than “Memoirs,” track No. 5 of S.O.’s 2012 album, So It Continues. “Memoirs” is a letter from S.O. to a close friend who had abandoned the Christian faith. While most of S.O.’s songs are written from his unique perspective, G.P. also considered the recipient of the letter a close friend.
G.P. related to the story so much that he wrote and, for the first and likely last time, sang the hook. He called himself a very below average singer, but he let the pain flow as he sang. And the pain behind “Memoirs” came in direct opposition to the biblical doctrine they had grown zealous about.
“Reformed theology teaches that if they leave us, it’s because they weren’t among us in the first place,” S.O. said. “It’s easy to say that when you’re talking arbitrarily about somebody else who is not in close proximity to you. But when it comes to somebody who is in immediate proximity, it’s more difficult to believe such a theology.”
This difficulty is expressed by S.O. in the third verse of “Memoirs.”
And this is the hardest sentence, how can what was found be lost again? /
Man, that’s one John’s message — that they left solely ‘cause they were not in Him /
And I pray that it ain’t true about you, but I sigh when I think of that truth
This is just one of the many vulnerable songs on which S.O. and G.P. pride themselves. Perhaps the “Memoirs” of So It Ends came in the form of track No. 4, “Where Do We Go from Here?”
The song’s 30-second intro is a voicemail recording left by S.O.’s niece, who says she misses him — because he’s admittedly neglected her and his family for the sake of his music career.
Is this what it takes to have a place in the rap game, with that fame? /
Never did the plan change, but it’s that plain /
Because I feel like I don’t know those with my last name
“I think one important song that communicates clearly how much he’s grown is the song ‘Where Do We Go from Here?’” Reality LA Pastor Obed Brefo, a close friend of S.O.’s from London, said. “When I heard that, I could hear that God had worked on his heart, and he had matured into becoming a man — a man who knows his priorities; a man who knows it’s God first, then family, then ministry.”
Brefo — perhaps unintentionally — nailed how S.O. views his music. It’s synonymous with ministry. So It Ends stands out in Christian hip hop this year because its content is explicitly Christian.
“My hope and prayer is that this album is refreshing,” S.O. said. “We’re trying to make music still that points people to Jesus in situations. Christians are meant to be given solutions to problems. We’re not just meant to be talking about the problem only. If I’m going through pain, if I’m going through heartache, if my girlfriend left me, if I was going to be married and now I’m not married at this point — all these things are happening around us, but what’s the solution? And that’s where Christian music is meant to be: “Oh hi, here’s the solution. His name is Jesus.”
S.O. and G.P.’s explicit Christian content is fitting, considering that the foundation of their brotherhood is their faith.
“Our faith is what’s made us,” G.P. said. “That is it. Our faith has allowed us to come out the other side because of what we believe and what we hold fast to.”
Why is making explicit Christian hip hop important to you two?
S.O.: I can’t make a song just telling people to stay pure before marriage. But what’s the reason, bro, just to stay pure? But why? There has to be further thinking. I can’t tell somebody, “Oh, you’re going through pain? You’re going through struggle? Well, I understand.” I can’t just have half a thought. That’s my opinion about what’s happening in Christian hip hop. There’s only half a thought here. There’s no solution to the problems that people are highlighting, and the solution is the gospel. For me, it’s important to be explicit in my content because I always want to give a solution, mainly Jesus.
G.P.: I guess another thought we need to be concerned about is, what’s the speed of our response to what’s happening in this world? The world is against anything to do with God’s intention, right? And they’re doing it at a fast pace.
S.O.: Do you find it ironic that the world is getting more explicit about their sin, but Christians are getting quieter about their faith? … And I’m not talking about just rappers being explicit, I’m saying Christians.
I want to clarify. We don’t have a problem with people who are Christians and just want to do art. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what I have a problem with is when people abandon their Christianity at the door for the sake of art. No. It just doesn’t make sense.
How have we gotten to a point where we can boast in our music and that’s okay? We are Christians before we’re artists. There should be a philosophy of Christianity — not of ministry, but of Christianity — that dictates how you do everything. We need to be wise how far we take our art.
G.P.: When it’s all said and done, I don’t want to be known as a guy who didn’t point to Jesus because I wanted to sell records.
S.O.: Yeah, that’s cheesy, dog.
G.P. I hope that’s never the case for us. If I find myself there, I’ve failed miserably.
S.O.: It needs to be more than just, “We want to make dope music.” How can our music contain truth that impact people’s lives? If we’re not doing that, then we’re failing if you call yourself a Christian rapper, if you call yourself a rapper who’s Christian, I don’t care.