A lot of folks may not have heard of Sivion. His album, “Spring of the Songbird,” came out last year on a small label called Hip-Hop is Music (and how can you not like a label called Hip-Hop is Music?). While Sivion’s lyrics contain some religious imagery he openly admits he’s not an avid churchgoer and can’t quote any Bible verses. Recently I sat down with him to discuss this interesting dichotomy, as well as his unique views on religion, how the church can be a bad thing for some people, and his run in with a cult on the University of Miami campus.
Adam Bernard: First off start by giving me your background; where you’re from, how you got into Hip-Hop and how you got into religion.
Sivion: Well I actually grew up in Maryland, near DC. I lived off and on in the Dallas area. My mom’s entire family is from Texas and my dad’s side of the family is from Baltimore, Maryland. I went to the University of Miami. During my freshman year I started writing some raps and I have a twin brother and he was at the University of North Texas, which was a little closer to home, so he started writing raps, too, and hooked up with a DJ, so we formed our little group, Phat Kats. I ended up going solo in early 2000 when my brother ended up not being able to dig into Hip-Hop much anymore because of his job and family and stuff like that. As far as my faith I grew up in the church just like anybody else can probably say. Saved at a young age, but you know it’s kinda hard for a child to make that decision for themselves. I think it made me pretty much a good kid all the way up until college and then when I got to college, you know. University of Miami is pretty much known as a party school, but even there I was pretty good, but some things happened in college that made me reaffirm my faith and make the decision to do better and I’ve been on that fervor ever since.
AB: What years were you there?
S: I was there from 90-94. We won one national championship.
AB: So you were there during the Gino Torretta years.
S: Yes! When players would get the Heisman then do nothing with it.
AB: Ha! So was there an incident for you?
S: I had gotten approached by a church group in college that ended up being like a cult. It wasn’t a cult in what you think of textbook definition of a cult, but this particular group was a really zealous one that if you weren’t baptized in their group or part of their group it didn’t matter what you believed you weren’t going to Heaven. I went to a couple Bible studies and they had me in tears thinking I didn’t know nothin. I called my mom and dad, my dad is a minister and he’s kinda like me, he’s not real traditional, he loves God and sometimes he loves God and hates church because of all the traditional things that go on in some churches that really don’t have anything to do with God’s word or having a relationship with God. So we talked and he was just like if you don’t feel love in this then God’s not there. That was like all it took, I was like you’re right, they’re not approaching me in love, this is some crazy condemnation stuff. Of course I ended up getting out of that, they tried stalking me and all that other good stuff that cults like to do. But it reaffirmed my faith. It was a learning experience for me because it opened my eyes to some of the crazy things that people do. I feel bad for all of the kids that got sucked up into that thing because they were praying on freshman hard.
AB: What kind of Hip-Hop were you listening to in those years?
S: Back then all the classics, KRS ONE, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Digable Planets, stuff like that was really my bread and butter. Dream Warriors out of Canada, not too many people know about them but I’m a big fan of theirs. And just really, I’ve always been more drawn to the more positive lighter side of Hip-Hop than the more gangster, thug, trying to keep your rep and all that kind of stuff type of Hip-Hop.
AB: Where do you feel you fit in in today’s Hip-Hop scene?
S: In today’s Hip-Hop scene I don’t really think I fit in, but if I were to fit in I feel like it’s more on just here’s a genuine rapper talking about genuine things, truly talking about what he believes in and what affects his day, what drives him and motivates him. Some people talk about money, that motivates them, that’s what’s in their heart, getting cash, so the bulk of their lyrics are going to be about getting money. Then other people just really love to have sex so they’re going to be talking about having sex all the time because that’s really what they got going on in their heart or whatever. Me, I just don’t have any of that stuff in my heart to that extent. We’re all human, we’re all flesh and blood, and we all have our issues with lust and this that and that third, but I just try not to let that run my life and especially run my art. I’m trying to do art here and there’s so much more to life than sex, money and drugs. That may be an out there statement, but I’m just going to go out on a limb and say there may be more.
AB: What do you hope listeners get out of your music?
S: What I hope listeners get out of my music is just to know that there’s more to life than what you think. For me, personally, my joy is my relationship with God, just knowing that I, regardless of what the situation is, whatever circumstances are in front of me, God will always show me a way out of it or put me through enough where I’ll learn something but not put me through so much where I can’t handle it. That’s just my joy everyday and I think in my music I would love people to see that’s what my joy is. Yeah, I love rappin, yeah I love art, yeah I love music, I have passion and gifts for all of those but ultimately here’s me speaking candidly about my life and about the things that affect my life and hopefully in some way, shape, or form that will point people to God because to me God is life. If you don’t have something that gets you up in the morning then your life may be a little bit different than someone who does. Everybody has something and the thing that gets me up in the morning is God.
AB: You’re also a bit older than some of the rappers out there today, either that or you’re a child prodigy when you went to college.
S: Yeah I went to college at age 12. Nah, I’m a little bit older, a little bit more mature and I think that has a lot to do with where I am musically and it’s the difference between what you hear from a Sivion record or what you might hear from even other, what the secular side of things would call, positive rappers. I like to mix it up and hit both sides, I don’t consider myself a Christian rapper, I’m a Christian that raps. You know, I’m a Christian that likes rappin, I’m a rapper that loves God, whatever you want to call me, but I don’t, consider myself a gospel rapper, per se, I’m not quoting random scriptures and rapping about Bible stories like some of your more gospel artists, and I don’t only perform at churches. I think before about 1999 I didn’t know there was such a thing as Christian Rap, and that was where I performed, that was the scene I was in and to a certain extent I’m still in that scene. I may not be of that scene but I’m still in it. That’s where a lot of my homies are and people that have kind of helped me get to where I am. Like I said it wasn’t until about 1999 or 2000 when I met Freddie Bruno and Playdough from Deep Space 5 and I was like oh, you mean there is Christian Rap? I didn’t even know there was such a genre. That was an eye opener.
AB: You keep saying you’re not religious but in your music, there IS religion in it.
S: Oh yeah. I have strong views and strong spirituality and I believe in the Bible and I believe in God’s word, but when I say religious I mean traditionally religious like I’m not one that goes to church every Sunday, I don’t know I guess from what I grew up as being religious and what I am now are two totally different things. I don’t live in a church. A lot of people they’ll go to church and they’ll get so wrapped in church they never see their family at home and then their family structure breaks down because they’re at church all the time. For some people church is a way to get away from life and get away from other problems that they have. Church has its function, but that’s not what it’s supposed to be.
AB: So you’re saying some people are using it like a nightclub with less of an entrance fee.
S: Exactly. Or maybe more! It depends. Some churches are real sticklers for offering and if you’re not offering enough they send those plates back around and are just really missing the point, to me.
AB: Finally, what would you say your overall goal is?
S: Basically I just want to be a light that’s shining. If it plants a seed to make you think differently about life which ultimately maybe makes you more open minded to hearing God’s word when given the opportunity then great, but it’s not my goal to just go out and walk up to random people and say hey, you’re not saved, you’re gonna go to hell if you don’t believe in Jesus. I truly believe God brings people into your life in a certain way that it’s not meant to be awkward. I think people make Christianity and stuff like that awkward because they try to orchestrate what God already does on His own. God puts people in your life for certain reasons, some people are there for you to minister to, some people He puts in your life just so you can smile at them, so that if for whatever reason they’re having a bad day and they see somebody smile and they see light shining from God you don’t even realize it because all you’re doing is smiling or picking up their groceries or whatever. You’re not supposed to quote scriptures to every single person that crosses your path. And for me that would be hard because I can’t even quote scriptures. God didn’t bless me with wrote memory so when people start asking me about God I just tell them what I think, what I know and what I feel, but as far as pointing them to a scripture in the Bible I’m at a loss. I don’t think I’ve ever quoted a scripture.