TIDAL Rising: Sir the Baptist

TIDAL Rising: Sir the Baptist

Born William James Stokes, Sir the Baptist is a Chicago-bred musician originally hailing from the South Side’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood.

Heavily influenced by his father, a Baptist preacher and notable activist, his music – dubbed “Church Pup Rap” – proves socially conscious and spiritual without being overbearing or “preachy.” Not unlike fellow Chitown hero Chance The Rapper, Sir uses his uplifting, substance-heavy music to benevolently spread morality, humility and positivity – with a particular concern for the betterment and well-being of his hometown.

Merging the likes of gospel, jazz, hip-hop, R&B and pop, his shifting, multifaceted sound often eludes categorization. But therein lies the appeal of Sir The Baptist’s work, which is simultaneously contemporary, classic and wholly worthwhile.

You can see Sir The Baptist performing from the TIDAL Stage at this year’s Made In America festival. Be sure to check out his exclusive Raise Hell Playlist and his episode of the TIDAL documentary series Where I’m From. 

We got to know the rising artist a little better.

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Who is Sir The Baptist? Can you introduce yourself?

I’m Sir the Baptist, a PK from Bronzeville on the South Side of Chicago.

What’s the story behind your name?

My name derives from that of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was the voice crying out in the wilderness. Growing up in Chicago, with its areas of gang, crime and drug-infested neighborhoods, I felt like I was a different voice crying out from this wilderness. And I had always been nicknamed and called Sir growing up.

When did you first get into music?

I grew up in church. My mother’s water broke when she was in my father’s church – he was a Preacher in Bronzeville. So music was engrained in me from birth. I would play in the band and sing nearly every day while growing up. This musical background and interest then turned into songwriting when I was in my early teens or maybe even earlier.

Who were your musical heroes growing up?

I always have looked up to the greats of Bronzeville. I grew up in a home that was just around the corner from the residences of Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and so many jazz greats. This was my first love, along with church music. After my father passed away when I was 11, I started to find pop culture movements and hip-hop and R&B. This lead me to be heavily inspired by JAY Z, OutKast and more.

Name an album, artist or experience that changed your perspective on music?

Walking into the former building that housed Sunset Cafe when I was a teenager (now an Ace Hardware). Sunset Cafe was a legendary jazz club in Chicago … one of the most impactful of the era. It shut down, but when I walked in as an aspiring artist the owner told me that he would turn the store back into a club if I “made it.” This has really been one of my driving forces to see how I can change and revitalize my neighborhood as my career grows. I want to make Bronzeville as great as it way in its heyday.

Your music is rooted in religion and social justice. Why are these subjects important to you? What do you hope to accomplish with your music?

These subjects are personal to me and a part of who I am. My father was a preacher. My mother is a missionary to this day. I was raised with community service and giving back. Furthermore, the issues that I discuss are personal to me. I know people who have been victims of police brutality. My brother has AIDS. My right hand man on stage is a military vet. These aren’t theoretic topics, but once that impact me greatly and I live with everyday.

You’re set to play the TIDAL Rising stage at this year’s Made In America. What can we expect from your performance? Why should people not miss it?

Don’t miss it. That’s all that I can say. I will truly be bringing church to Made in America this year and have a few surprises too.

Recommend another rising artist you believe in.

I know that it’s weird, but I really don’t listen to too much music. When I drive around, I usually critique my music that I was just working on, or just have conversations or think. So I’m really not in tune with the current music landscape that’s out there. But I know what I like when I hear it!

What’s next for Sir The Baptist?

There is a lot coming up! I’ll be hitting a lot of the top festivals coming up this summer, including Made in America, Afropunk Brooklyn, Life is Beautiful, VooDoo Fest and many more. I will also be dropping my debut project VERY soon (this summer).

I’m also honored to have a song on The Birth Of A Nation soundtrack, which is going to be something truly special. I had the chance to see the movie and it’s one of the most powerful pieces of art that I’ve seen. Catch me coming by your city soon and I want to meet everyone at these shows. Never hesitate to come say hello to me!

Looking one year ahead, what was the best thing that happened to you?

Simply being able to have a platform to get out what I hope is a powerful message and truly make change in religion, America and beyond. One year ago I just released my first single and was just coming from being homeless for a period of time. So who knows what the next year has in store for me.

And finally, if your music was a type of food, what would it be?

My music would be your favorite dessert with a little bit of poison in it. I want to make people happy but also give them a little bit of the hard facts or truth that they might not want to recognize or address.

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