Tony Cummings reports on the intriguing career of Grand Rapids-based rapper and singer, STEVEN MALCOLM
It's a little ironic that the breakthrough song on Cross Rhythms radio for Michigan-based artist Steven Malcolm should not be a rap track, but a sung rendition of an old Bob Marley reggae classic, "Redemption Song". When he was signed to Word Entertainment's newly formed hip-hop label 4 Against 5 in 2016, it was as a rapper, not a singer, that he was presented to the music-buying public. At the time of his signing Steven went to great odds to praise the company who plucked him from relative obscurity. He said, "What Word has done in the Christian music scene is nothing short of amazing and I'm grateful to not only be part of it, but to be the first hip-hop artist. 4 Against 5 is definitely here to make its mark in the Christian hip-hop world."
But whether as a singer or a rapper, one thing is certain: Steven Malcolm is continuing an upward trajectory in his career and ministry and already he has travelled a long distance from his early years in Grand Rapids. The son of a drug dealer and an alcoholic, Malcolm grew up loving basketball, girls and Snoop Dogg, and slid by on barely-good-enough grades in high school in western Michigan. He told New Release Today, "In high school I was a basketball player and my goal in life at the time was to be in the NBA. But going into my freshman year of college, stuff just really hit the fan and life really smacked me across the face. My family was going through hard times and then I started having an identity crisis where I was looking at life and wondering 'what am I here for?' My grades were horrible that year, so I couldn't play ball, my best friend and I fell out and my mom ended up moving, so I was really lost."
Steven continued, "One day a friend of mine, who I played basketball with in high school, invited me to this church, but other than believing in God in a very general sense growing up, I'd never stepped foot in a church before. Now I'm thinking I'm going to have to pick up my pants, it's going to be boring and nobody's going to speak my language, but then he told me it was a hip-hop church, and since I had nothing to do that night, I thought 'okay, sure, why not?' And it was like a breath of fresh air that just smacked me in the face.
"I'm looking around and I see guys that look just like me, they talk just like me and they were so happy and joyful. These guys were up there rapping and dancing for Jesus, and I'm like 'I never knew this even existed!' I was the type where I never knew you could use anything to glorify God and they're up there using lyrics and it just blew me away!"
Deeply affected by what he saw and heard, the one-time party animal turned his life over to Christ. For a year and more he immersed himself in Scripture, then somebody asked him whether he would become part of The Edge Urban Fellowship's worship team. He said, "The feeling of being on stage and having people engage with God became everything to me. It finally felt like my purpose in life."
In 2014 Steven recorded his first album, 'Monsters Ink'. It was after signing with 4 Against 5/Word Entertainment that his profile really began to take off, though. 2017's 'Steven Malcolm' album gained some praise from the critics, but it was 'The Second City', released first as two EPs and then finally in 2019 an album, that brought his still-developing skills into focus. Speaking about his creative development to New Release Today, he said, "I found my voice. The first record, I was still finding my voice. I was still experimenting, still trying to find who I was as an artist. I was still discovering my 'why'. With 'The Second City', I found my sound and my identity as an artist."
Steven is very conscious that today's generation are far less concerned about a song's lyrics than the musical style in which those lyrics are presented. He said, "Literally, we live in a generation where it's not about the lyrics anymore. Now, it's focused on the vibe. It's about the hype. It's about the clout. A lot of times, it's about everything but the music. It's something, that's how you distinguish your real fans."
One thing Steven is adamant about is the need for even the most itinerant of musicianaries to be rooted in their home church. "It's vital, vital, VITAL! If not, they won't last long. It's very important to be plugged into a local church and to be spiritually healthy while possessing accountability. To be in fellowship. You're not integrated into the Body, it's easy to say you might not be spiritually healthy. You're probably not connected to the vine. From experience, I can speak how vital it is to be active within your church home and connected to your pastor."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.