An Interview with ‘Believin Stephen’ on “The Suffering Servant,” personal pain, and the future of Christian hip hop

Believin’ Stephen graciously agreed to an interview about his life and music from his hometown of Philly (one of my favorite cities in America). I am fascinated by the content of his lyrics because they address the types of topics in the lives of people in the Bible and tells a story of God’s healing and redemption. His latest release is titled “The Suffering Servant.”

AB: What inspired this project? Why did you choose to title this project “The Suffering Servant?”

Believin’ Stephen: God put this topic on my heart about four years ago. I’ve dropped an EP (shorter project) and mixtape since then but this particular project has had special priority. Throughout the course of my life God has given me a lot of comfort undergoing certain trials. My parents divorced when I was very young and my dad moved away to Hawaii when I was ten. I suffered from numerous bouts of depressive episodes, contemplated suicide and never felt like I really fit in because we moved all the time. On top of that I wasn’t always accepted by white kids because they said I “acted black” and wasn’t always accepted by black kids all the way because my skin wasn’t black. God has always comforted me in my trials. My favorite scripture is 2 Corinthians 1:5 “The sufferings in Christ is ours in abundance, but so is the comfort in Christ abundant”. When I look around me at people I know and people in my city I see people hurting and looking for answers. I was inspired to make an album that dealt with the topic of suffering and help people have a biblical perspective of why God allows certain things to happen.

I’m glad that you asked about the title of the project. I want to clarify and let people know that I am not calling myself “The Suffering Servant.” I am a servant of God and have undergone some suffering in my life but I am not “THE SUFFERING SERVANT”. That title belongs to Jesus Christ and Him only. Isaiah 53 is a whole chapter that prophesies about how Christ would “bear our griefs” and how he would be “smitten, stricken and afflicted”. He was acquainted with grief and ultimately was pierced for our transgressions. God delights in getting glory. I’m convinced he gets the most glory when showing us grace and having us delight in and appreciate Him. Christ suffered on the cross to be able to show us grace and forgiveness. So God allowed the entity of suffering to exist so that His son could suffer and show us grace. Christ overcame our suffering. He suffered on the cross so that through faith in Him we wouldn’t have to suffer for eternity. On the album I try to answer heavy theological questions like “why do we suffer?” and “how can God allow bad things?” Ultimately it all centers around Christ in some form or fashion. That is why I named the album The Suffering Servant. I also have two songs on the project that are called “Suffering Servant Part 1” “Suffering Servant Part 2” where I talk about how Christ suffered for us during his time on earth.

On the album I talk about suffering in four key ways
– My own personal suffering
– Other people’s suffering who I know
– Biblical characters’ suffering (Joseph, Job, Stephen, etc)
– Jesus Christ’s suffering

I do all this while trying to answer deep philosophical questions about suffering. God has a purpose for all the suffering we undergo and also comforts believers in the midst of suffering.

AB: What track on the album affected you the most personally?

Believin’ Stephen: I would have to say “My Life Story”. Having to go back and tell the story of my life was difficult to do. There are certain things that had to be left because of time’s sake on there. There are some painful memories that I had to tap into. However there are some marvelous things that have happened in my life and I’m grateful that God could save someone like me. I’ve played this song regularly because it stirs emotion in me and also makes me thankful for what God has done despite the circumstances.

The runner up would be “Grief Observed”. When I have a tough day or am feeling down this song can get me very emotional. The beat is powerful as well as the artists lyrics that I had featured on there (Deadmanwalking, B-Doe, Average Joe) That song ministers to me because it helps me to grieve and grieving is healthy. God has a bottle for our tears.

AB: Why hip hop?

Believin’ Stephen: I’ve been listening to hip-hop since I was seven years old and have been listening to Christian hip-hop since I was eighteen (about ten years now). I’ve noticed that there is a lot of talk about “keepin it real” and “keepin it 100”; yet not many rappers talk about the wide array of struggles that go on in this life. In the Christian scene I noticed that many artists like to be seen as examples of people that have everything in their life in order. What I’ve witnessed behind the scenes is that this is rarely the case. The hip-hop generation is a broken generation that has mainly been raised in broken families.

Due to the fall of man everyone out here is undergoing some type of form of suffering. Most of us like to walk around and seem cool and act like nothing fazes us. Meanwhile we have deep wounds that we’ve covered up and that have never healed. So one of the reasons I made an album like this is because I felt like there was a lack of material that dealt with this topic; despite how important the topic is. One of my hopes is that this project would help people deal with the pain, grief, and unfortunate circumstances that have taken place in their lives; in biblical ways. I wanted people to search their hearts and have true growth as individuals as they seek the God of comfort who works everything together for good for those who trust in him. I’ve learned that to do grow properly we need to look at the gospel, look to our hearts, and then look back to the gospel again. Christ can identify with our suffering but is not the great empathizer. He is our King and Savior who came and suffered for the sins that cause us so much suffering. He conquered death and suffering for us!!

I also hope that this project would allow people to grieve in healthy ways. To be able to cry and let the tears flow but then turn to God who gives comfort. I hope this project would inspire people to start showing more compassion on other people who are hurting in this world and not just be about selfish gain. I hope that people will be more sensitive to their hurting friends and family members and be there for them when they are in distress. Lastly I hope that it will help motivate other rappers to start being more transparent on songs and admit their weaknesses more often.

AB: There’s been some talk that Christian hip-hop can’t reach non-Christians. What do you think about the future of Christian hip-hop and its ability to reach the lost?

Believin’ Stephen: I think it is foolishness to say that Christian hip-hop can’t reach non-Christians. Romans 10:17 tells us that “faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ”. The only way people can be reached and have faith is if the gospel is proclaimed. The power is not in the music form but in the word of God. If Christian hip-hop lyrics contain biblical truth then best believe it can reach non-Christians. I’ve seen it reach many non-Christians on plenty of occasions. I know unbelievers who listen to some of my music and other good Christian rappers. I’ve seen people get saved by God using Christian hip-hop to reel people in. God uses His word to save people and to reach them.

God can use Christian rock, Christian country, Christian punk, Christian jazz, etc. to reach people. Or God can choose to not use music at all to reach people. It is His word that changes hearts.

The Christian hip-hop market is growing for sure. In the last few years we’ve seen several artists like Lecrae, Trip Lee, and Flame hit the top 5 iTunes hip-hop charts. We’re talking plain old “hip-hop charts” not just “Christian hip-hop”. I heard that Lecrae was featured on CNN a few months ago and I saw Trip’s video on BET’s “106 and Park” over the summer. Overall the rappers in the genre are starting to become more creative with how they present the gospel and the topics they cover. The production is getting better and so are many rappers’ deliveries and professionalism. I think more attention could be paid to lyricism and making sure the gospel is proclaimed clearly though. Overall I’m excited to be a part of a movement that has huge potential to reach many who are non-Christians. As long as we stay humble, lean on God and proclaim His word I think we will see some great things continue to happen.

AB: Thanks you very much for taking the timing to share with us. Blessings on your work!

The Suffering Servant album is available on Amazon and iTunes as well as many other digital outlets.

Anthony Bradley is an Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at The King’s College, NYC. This commentary is taken from Bradley’s blog, The Institute, and was also published in the Commentary section of WorldMag.com and is used with permission of the author.