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Why Bring a Coffin to Lollapalooza? Sir the Baptist Takes the Fest to Church

The South Side musician emerged from a casket on stage to make a statement about gun violence and systemic injustice.

Sir the Baptist performs at Lollapalooza on Sunday.   Photo: Roger Morales / Chicago Tribune

South Side native Sir the Baptist is striving to be the moral songbird of a generation; one that’s growing increasingly conscious of the world, its politics, and systemic injustices.

In his Lollapalooza performance (fittingly, on Sunday), he sang from a casket and preached atop a church pew. It was one of the most widely praised of the four-day weekend, as he had the crowd lifting their hands into the air and shouting in testimony. In this Q&A, the preacher’s kid takes us into his world and the influences behind his unique sound.

So, tell me how you felt about your show.

You know, it was amazing. I got a chance to bring church to Lollapalooza—from the church fans, from the flags, from the praise dancers to everything [laughs]. Everybody just felt good and I’m glad I can give them that experience in a place where they [weren’t] expecting to go to church. But it’s Sunday and I come from a Baptist church so we gon’ have some church.

You were preaching today about Chicago and about the violence and us being our brother’s keepers. Talk to me a little about that.

I felt like [the audience was] there to see me. People started screaming, “Sir! Sir! Sir!” We brought a casket out because I wanted to show them what it’s like to experience a funeral of what could be the person that they love—as growing fans, as family, friends, church members. I’m going to look for their faces when they see me come out in a casket and realize that it could be me. That these bullets don’t have a name on it. It’s a lot of innocent kids dying. There are a lot of policemen dying. There is a lot of everybody and their mama dying. That we have to sort of fix what’s going on here and the only way to really get a glimpse of it is if you came here for fun and you got a funeral.

We talked a long time ago about gospel and hip hop meeting each other and mixing. Can you talk about how you successfully did that today? I mean, you brought out [famed gospel musician] Donald Lawrence…

Right, right, right. Donald took the risk on his sound but he felt like it was needed. I said, I want to do a song about heaven. And he said, “OK, talk to me.” And I said, well, there are a lot of people that get heaven from different places. They’re looking for heaven but they can’t get it. Whether they get it from the drug lord or the good lord, they’re all trying to find heaven. And he was just like, “What are you saying?” I’m saying, everybody’s looking for that feeling. And if we can tell them where heaven is, then they can find that feeling somewhere else instead of looking at the bar or trying to get it from a stripper or whatever have you.

And then, another thing is, in the church growing up, I loved Michael Jackson. I loved Prince. I loved Whitney Houston. I loved all of these people who have died. John Lennon. Jesus Christ. David Bowie. All of these people, I loved them but the church said that they were going to hell if they didn’t sing church music. I wanted to sort of clear the conscience-ness of the next secular singers that feel like they’re going to hell if they don’t do church music. So, [Lawrence] was like, “You know what. I agree with that and as long as they confessed to Jesus whatever they do, they’ve got their chance at heaven.”

How do you feel about the crowd? You gave out church fans. Was the crowd feeling you?

It used to surprise me [at] festivals, that people would get into church so much. But as I started traveling to more and more festivals—we’re on almost 20 right now—I got a chance to see everybody have a little bit of spirituality in their family. Their grandma went to church. Their mama went to church. It’s crazy how it connects, man. Spirituality is so big in this world. I’ve seen Muslim girls, like, just jumping with their hijab on [laughs]. But, they’re having fun. They’re enjoying the church. They understand the messages in the music. So, it’s great.

What can we expect from you in the future?

Album. End of August. I’ve been putting it off because I wanted to make sure that I didn’t prostitute the church sound and not give a message [along with it]. I also felt the weight of Martin Luther King, who is a spiritual leader, Malcolm X, who is a spiritual leader, Nat Turner, who was a slave and a spiritual leader that led the revolution for blacks and slaves. I felt that weight for me to bring the answers instead of just narrating [that] people is dying out here. Anybody could say that. I have to bring answers of citizen asylum or going out and trying to be the first hip hop chaplain for a sports team or going to be the first hip hop bishop of the White House. These are the things I had to go after and fix with the album to make sure it’s right.

How are you defining your sound?

I don’t know how to define it. Let them enjoy it because saying it’s rap will almost strip it of some stuff and saying it’s gospel will make it too corny. So, I just let the people eat off of it. It’s communion. It’s just good music.

It seems like your rise is happening really fast. Are you prepared to go to the next level?

Yeah! I’m always learning. So as long as I keep reading, studying, writing, trying to better myself as a person and keep good people around me and change out people that don’t get the message or that don’t get the mission, anybody who’s looking to stunt. I just moved out of my place just because I wanted to make sure that I’m spending money wisely. I would prefer to spend my rent money on making sure that people are healthy and giving back.

What was your favorite part of your Lolla show?

After “Heaven,” or after “What We Got,” [the moment where he stood on top of the casket]. In order to defeat death, I think we have to really tap into our purpose and live like we wanted to live inside our bodies. That was a moment for me. And everybody is like, “that was a moment for us, too.”

How do you feel coming after Vic Mensa’s performance? He had SWAT on stage. He got arrested and shot on stage. He played audio of a news report on Laquan McDonald. How does it feel to see Chicago artists unafraid to talk about the issues and what’s going on?

I love it—just make sure that we also instill into our community the answers as well. It’s not easy to depict the story, but it’s even harder to find the answers. I think that comes in black economics. It comes in black Wall Street. That comes into looking at other models that’s worked for other cultures, like Indian reservations, and how could we not get our own 40 acres and a mule? As artists, we can still do that stuff.

I didn’t get a chance to see his show, but [when I saw pictures online], I was like, thank you bro. It feels like Chicago artists are on the same page. Like, yo, we’ve been through too much here to pretend. We’re always nervous if we’re gon’ die tomorrow. I’m on tour so much, but I’m not driving. What if they pull us over and try to shoot us? We’re in places where there are no blacks. And that sort of post-traumatic stress is what all of us might have, because we’re scared. We’re going to be the most social-driven artists, because we’re going through a lot. Especially for Vic Mensa, Chance [the Rapper], and all of us, we’re not trying to escape [Chicago] and don’t come back. We come back all the time. [Our] families are still here. We ain’t moving. We’re trying to find the answers and help the community.

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