Seun Otukpe hums a chorus barely louder than a whisper.
Known to hip-hop fans by his initials, S.O., Lamp Mode’s first international artist can still recall his earliest recording. So vivid is the memory, it’s like the beat still plays in his head.
Almost instinctively, the rapper repeats the hook.
“I’m here now/And I ain’t goin’ anywhere now.”
S.O. wouldn’t consider the hook – or the song – his best work. Not even close to it. Sonically, it doesn’t belong in the category with Love Is, Sure Thing, Memoirs, Lamentations or other S.O. gems. Yet, the sentimental value of the song can’t be exaggerated.
The chorus belongs to a song S.O. recorded in his first-ever studio trip as a 15-year-old. It was an unforgettable day. For the aspiring rapper, this was bigger than the time that, as a 6-year-old, he rapped in front of his family at his grandmother’s birthday party.
It was even bigger than the time that – inspired by the movie 8 Mile – S.O. started battle rapping with his friends at his secondary school in London. S.O.’s father sent him to live in London for educational reasons. Those friendly schoolyard battles were so hyped that teachers often mistook them for riots.
The birthday party and battle rap sessions were memorable, but this was an actual studio. A chance to record something for posterity. And S.O. didn’t waste a minute.
“In that day, we recorded two songs, made a beat for both songs, mixed and mastered both in that one day,” S.O. said. “It’s crazy now that I think about it.”
The recollections of that first recording – with his dad arranging for him to record in a Nigerian studio – are what break S.O. out in song.
There’s something else S.O. vividly remembers about that first recording. It had no gospel message. Although he grew up in the church, S.O.’s plan was to enjoy his teenage years, and serve the Lord when he got older.
“I was like, ‘Why would I serve God now? I have the rest of my life to do it,’” S.O. said. “Christianity didn’t look like something that young people actually do. It didn’t look like a religion for young people. All I saw really were people that looked like my mom and my dad; suits, African attire, that’s all I saw. And I said, ‘This isn’t for me.’”
There were other reasons as well.
“To be blunt, I wanted to sin,” he said. “I just wanted to live my life Y.O.L.O … I just wanted to live my life.”
As a teenager, S.O. thought he had life all figured out.
Then tragedy struck.
The death of S.O.’s best friend from church youth group forced him to realize that tomorrow wasn’t promised.
Sadly, it wouldn’t be the only time death marked S.O.’s childhood.
“My false reality was destroyed,” S.O. “When she died, I recognized people died when they are young. It started to click literally from then on … It just started to make sense to me. The Holy Spirit was working on my heart, and I just decided I want to live for Him now.”
That lesson – that death can come at any age – is a lesson that would reinforce itself just a few years later. His father, a successful businessman in Nigeria, died in a car wreck while on his way to close out a business deal.
The subject is so painful that S.O. won’t even listen to the song Lamentations, which chronicles his emotions surrounding his father’s death.
“I wish he was here,” said S.O., his voice lowering and softening. “As young men, we need our fathers. I don’t know if there’s any easier way to say it. I miss my dad. It will be 10 years next year, and it’s tough. I see my friends with their dad, and I just cry inside … All of the albums, all of the tours, pictures, accolades and everything, he’s not seeing any of it. He’s not experiencing any of it. That’s tough.”
Had his father remained alive, S.O. thinks he may have taken over his father’s advertising company. With his dad’s unexpected death, S.O. went off to Durham College to study theology.
“It’s weird, because suffering can do one of two things,” said S.O., who was a school teacher before becoming a full-time artist. “It can push you away from God, or it can put you closer to Him. I thank God it pushed me closer to Him.”
So It Begins
The more S.O. learned about biblical study methods like hermeneutics and exegesis, the more it reflected in his music. He wrote the 5 Solas mixtape in an attic while studying at college.
It was that mixtape that caught the ear of Lamp Mode founder and deejay Joshua Wann.
“I met S.O. in London in the summer of 2009, but the first time I remember really hearing him was the 5 Solas mixtape,” Wann said. “I remember thinking, ‘Who is this British chap killin’ it?’ We stayed in touch over the course of a year. We kept talking about working together, which naturally evolved into the relationship with Lamp Mode.”
Initially, the London-based artist was reluctant.
S.O. actually had a different ministry calling in mind.
“I actually said no at first, because I thought I wanted to be a missionary,” said S.O., on the verge of dropping his So It Ends project on Lamp Mode. “I was reading a lot of Jim Elliott and Elizabeth Elliott at the time. I was talking a lot to my pastors. My pastors were MOD, Ministry of Defense, signed with Cross Movement Records. They understand to an extent what I’m trying to do.”
S.O. eventually reversed course and joined the Lamp Mode team. His Lamp Mode label mates think he’s been a key addition.
“S.O. is my dude, man. I love him dearly, I feel like we’ve built a bond that’s dope,”said Jason “J’Son” Watson, Lamp Mode’s CEO. “S.O. brings a freshness to the label. Having someone young and vibrant provokes a certain type of energy. He also brings a uniqueness in his creativity as well. S.O. has an ear for melody and choruses that has benefitted other Lamp Mode artists, too.”
Fellow artist Brian Davis, also known as God’s Servant, agrees.
“S.O. fits in well within our aim to bringing rich theology to bear on life,” Davis said. “And he does so in a way in a unique way. He is one of the most gifted musicians I know, and his heart is to glorify the God that we love. This has made him a perfect fit for the Lamp Mode label.”
S.O.’s first contribution was the critically acclaimed So It Begins album, which featured memorable tracks like Sure Thing and Lows and Highs featuring Leah Smith.
The follow-up, So It Continues, reached the iTunes hip-hop charts top 10 in three different countries. The album starts with S.O. pouring out his heart on tracks like Lamentations, More Than I Can Bear and Memoirs, displaying both the theological richness and authentic vulnerability that his depicts much of his music.
Both projects have set the bar high for his upcoming release, So It Ends.
“So It Begins is just saying, I don’t know what I’m doing here,” S.O. said. “By So It Continues, I’m getting more confident as an artist. With So It Ends, I’m finally here. I’m just trying to grow as an artist and do what God’s called me to do … encourage people that need comfort.”