Steven Malcolm had a chaotic childhood that could have broken him. His mother had a substance abuse problem, and his father was deported to his native Jamaica when he was young, which left him and his older sister to fend for themselves. Malcolm couldn’t rely on his family for support and nurturing and as a teenager, he ended up staying at a home owned by one of his friends. It was still chaos as those friends were involved in various activities, but Malcolm found refuge in the basement, where there was a studio set up. The Grand Rapids, Michigan Native leaned on music to keep himself out of trouble and cites Gucci Mane, Jeezy, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, and Lil Wayne as some of the artists he admired growing up.
By the time Malcolm reached his freshman year in college, he was at the height of an identity crisis, wondering what his purpose was in life. His grades were terrible, he couldn’t play basketball like he wanted to and life seemed meaningless. But eventually, a friend invited him to a hip-hop-themed church that resonated with him; he made connections with people with whom he could relate to. The pastor encouraged him to get involved with the church’s music ministry, and the rest is history.
Over a decade later, Steven Malcolm is a living testimony that you can change your life. Malcolm is now a world-renowned voice in Christian hip-hop with a variety of collaborations from Shaggy to Snoop Dogg to Natalie Grant under his belt, and his music having been featured by the NBA, ESPN, and VH1. He released his third studio album, Tree, in early June and as the title suggests, it represents growth.
American Urban Radio Networks caught up with Malcolm to chat about music as his ministry.
AURN: You’re very vocal about your chaotic childhood and how you leaned on music to help you cope. Elaborate on how that influenced you to become a musician.
Steven Malcolm: If I can go back to my roots, I was about 18, 19 years old and my mom was gone, my sister was tripping and I was living with her, and I had a bunch of friends, big bros, and cousins in the streets. They did what they wanted to do and they all shacked up in this one house owned by one of the homies named LZ, and there were three layers of the crib. I always say the basement was the studio, the middle house was for the party and the 2K, and upstairs was for the nightcaps. So I just stayed at that house; I was into sports, I wasn’t in the party scene. So, I was usually in the basement, and one of the homies showed me how to use Pro Tools and so I was just doing it just for fun. I would just mess around in the mornings and record myself, but I ended up recording probably like over 50 tracks. That’s when I really first started doing music and then I gave my life to Jesus, and I took a year to get rooted like, I started going to this hip-hop church and I didn’t grow up in church. I was just a regular dude but everybody said I should check this hip-hop church out and it sounded weird, and interesting and growing up with no father, I’ve always known what searching for identity was, so I decided to check it out.
AURN: What was one of your first memories of that church because a hip-hop church does sound odd but the fact that there were people there who were a reflection of you speaks volumes?
SM: I remember walking into a church with my mom once. She had just got out of rehab for drinking and said “I’m about to start going to church,” so I just went to support her, and the people were like, “Take that hat off while we’re praying!” And I just wasn’t with that. I just fell into not feeling welcome at church so I stayed away and I don’t even remember what they were talking about. But the hip-hop church, man! The first time I walked in, it was mind-blowing because I saw young Black and brown people that dressed like me and talked like me. And then I saw my mans on stage rapping and he had bars that weren’t corny. And then my mans over there, krump dancing, and he gets off stage and I’m like, “Bro, you just killed it!” And he’s like “Yo, glory to God!” I’ve never heard that from a young Black kid who’s also the illest dancer I’ve ever seen. So I was just blown away by seeing that God can actually use young people from the hood to give him glory and have an ill worship session. It wasn’t just lifting your hands and singing hymns, it showed me that there is no limit to God and that was my first eye-opener.
AURN: You started taking music seriously in 2011 and fast forward to now, you’ve released your third album where you’ve worked with a variety of artists from Snoop to a traditional gospel choir. Tell me about your album and how you engineered your sound.
SM: Shout out to Fisk Jubilee Singers, the choir on that intro. It’s an HBCU in Nashville, and it’s so dope that I had them on a track. I had to make that move because it’s a historic college, so that they took time to do that was cool. But the album was me in an Airbnb for a week with a folder of beats and I had just recently had a son.
SM: Thank you, and married for four years now. But I’m at a point in my life where I’m thinking about what type of legacy I’m going to leave for my family, for my son, and his sons or daughters. And so I’m just like, I want to make something that is organically me. And so that’s really what you hear from start to finish. It’s just Steven Malcolm, a kid that comes from a really broken home and is just a hip-hop head who found Jesus, just raps his head off and loves his family. So yeah, the sound is just hip-hop, man. It’s vibes, and then, of course, I got a sprinkle of reggae on there too because that’s the roots, the heritage, so, the sound is just Steven Malcolm.
AURN: And you worked with Snoop and Shaggy, which may seem surprising to some. What were those experiences like?
SM: It has been so refreshing to be able to work with them. Both of them are so cool, so down to Earth. With Shaggy, we were shooting a music video and I was nervous, so I was quiet and he just tapped me like, “Man, you need some drinks? I got some drinks in my room, relax a little bit!” So he was welcoming and cracked a lot of jokes, and just really cool. And with Snoop, he’s who he is on TV and in the movies. He rode in on an Electric scooter, and the first thing he said was, “The dog has arrived y’all!” blunt in mouth and all. But he was just so cool and we weren’t even supposed to get a selfie with him. It was like y’all get one group selfie with everybody but Snoop showed up to me and my mans and was like, “A-yo nephew, you want a selfie real quick!” and so he just gave us all-access passes. It was super legendary working with them both.
AURN: You probably get this question a lot but how do you reconcile the secular with the religious because there are still people who might criticize that?
SM: There really are. So okay, I come from hip-hop culture and I’m a rapper. That makes me a hip-hop artist and me being black. You being Black like, have you had a mom or grandma that goes to church?
AURN: Yup, and aunts. All that.
SM: It’s just literally in our culture. So, I’ve had conversations with my producer and A&R’s, and they try to separate faith in hip-hop, and it’s just like, bro, do you listen to hip-hop music?
AURN: Right! DMX of all people!
SM: Exactly! In every sentimental hip-hop song, you’ll hear them reference God and battling demons and talking about leaning on the lord. Sister, we lean on the lord. Like, we say we love hip-hop and so it’s just like when we see somebody who is real and authentic and they love Jesus, there’s no separating him from the pack. I’ve been there. I’ve been in those circles where I’m like, yes I want to hear this, and I didn’t even know about Christian hip-hop. But I performed at a club, it was an 18 and up club and cats were drinking and I was the only one on the bill talking about what I’m talking about, and during my transitions you could hear a pin drop. I just happen to be a Christian and so there’s no separating that because this is what I come from. So when it comes to music, it’s the language of the people. It’s a universal language. I heard a woman I used to work with, who was Asian, say she learned how to speak English by listening to Michael Jackson records. So with music, it’s the language of the people, and with hip-hop, we all have ties to the church in some way shape or form by some family member.
AURN: It’s like, sometimes you have to hide the medicine in the candy.
SM: Facts! I’ve been in so many situations in clubs where cats will come up to me afterward like, “Ay bruh, I had to listen like hold up you a Christian, wow!” so, yeah.
AURN: Has your life in Christianity been an example to some of your relatives? Have you inspired any of them to follow your path out of chaos?
SM: Yeah. Specifically my mom. Long story short, my mom grew up sexually abused by her stepdad, physically abused by her mom, and told me stories about her mom dragging her by her hair, spitting on her saying she wished she was never born. And her real dad just bounced. And so my mother’s self-worth is low. And when I gave my life to Christ, she followed suit seeing the example, and I actually got to baptize her two years after I committed. But she’s still going through her stuff. Just three days ago, I had to sit with her because her thing is getting in relationships with these wack dudes. I had to give her a know your worth, you’re beautiful, you’re ambitious, you’re smart talk and it’s all from a lack of love. Me being the age that I am and having a family, I realize certain things about life and just realizing what she’s been through and just speaking life into it because she’s never had a male figure, a real man speaking to her life. So yeah, God has really used my life and my maturity as a man to speak into my mother’s life.
AURN: So once everything is said and done, what do you want your impact to be once you leave this Earth?
SM: I want to inspire the world with truth through the medium of hip-hop, and speak life into generations of fatherless young men.