Mr Ekow (pronounced echo) is a rapper from Croydon, South London. Over the last couple of weeks he has been preparing to release his new EP “Between Haircuts” on Friday 12th May. He took some time out of his preparations to travel to Cornwall to perform at the Gig in a Field event held outside of the small coastal village of St Agnes. I managed to grab a few minutes with him to find out a little more about him and his ministry.
Prior to meeting Mr Ekow I was vaguely aware of his work but I wanted to check whether he was just a rapper or if he had any hidden talents up his sleeve. “I am a rapper, I do spoken word sometimes,” he confirms. Before I can be truly impressed at his versatility he confesses “I just do rap without the music behind it. I have some stuff written up as well.” This gives the impression that one of his skills is freestyle rap. “Yeah, I freestyle a lot, so I enjoy doing that.”
There is a thriving Gospel rap scene in London these days, but where did his desire come from? He explains “I have an older brother, he’s 5 years older than me. He used to play a lot of music around in the house. Aside from that it was very much that Grime was big when I was growing up and I grew up listening to Dizzee Rascal and all that.”
In School “everyone has a few verses that they would rattle off, but then as time went on I got more interested in the Gospel Grime, or Gospel Rap scene.” The influences that he sites here are people still very much on their game like Guvna B and Triple O. “I was listening to this when I was growing up, eventually I came into my own.”
Mr Ekow has only been rapping as a solo artist for the past 4 years, it was 2013 that saw him launch out on his own, but it wasn’t his first performances. “I was in a group with some friends at Church, since around 2007ish.” It wasn’t exactly a balanced group “It was 3 rappers and 1 singer” he confesses, but “we went around a few different churches and performed.”
I love to find out where artists get their names and I was expecting to find out some deep meaning to the name Mr Ekow. “Ekow is my middle name, it is a Ghanaian name that means “born on Thursday”!” So nothing deep and meaningful, or spiritual then. “It’s a very strong read into my identity!” he jokes.
He has released 3 EPs so far but it was the first one that has an interesting story. “The first [EP] was what started the idea of taking it as a solo artist. That was a project called “The Magnificent Journey” and that was to raise money for a trip to Bolivia that I was going to with TearFund for 3 months.”
The Day Job
He’s not quite full-time as a musician, but he’s getting there. Instead his day job is as a youth worker, but not working for a church. “No it's actually a separate charity it kind of started as a Church youth group and then as it grew we made another charity just to reach more into the community and see what we could do, there's some overlap still. So that's what I do 4 days per week. A lot of it I am in charge of doing performing arts stuff, which is obviously up my street, and I'm doing a lot of life-skill workshops, be it cooking or employability, stuff like that.”
“Outside of that I am also studying as well, doing a Masters, final year, praise God, so it's almost over! I have enjoyed it, it's in development, education and global learning. That came about through that trip I told you about to Bolivia which opened my eyes to poverty worldwide and locally as well. So I wanted to see what I could do within that remit and the end result...I'm still working on it.”
Knowing God Becomes Personal
He grew up in a Christian home but it wasn’t until he was in his early teens that he really made his own decision about Jesus. “I was getting into Secondary school and started going the way I shouldn’t. I remember I was in a youth camp quite similar to the one that I help run now, and I was really impacted by that, and I went home and felt it's time to make a decision for what I want to do with this. Since that moment, just kind of growing with God, taking it day by day.”
It’s interesting that a lot of artists, those from a Christian background at least, seem to make their decision in that 13 – 17 age range. This is the time when a childhood commitment solidifies, there may still be some dalliance in that, but this is when they seem to say ‘this is for me’. Mr Ekow agrees “100%, but having made that initial decision then I wouldn't say I was fully on it. It wasn't until I was 16 or 17. I think those years were quite formative for me in terms of my relationship with God and just understanding what the implications were across my whole life."
What can the Church offer?
As a youth worker I am interested into his insight into what the Church has that is appealing to the 13-18 year old bracket. The temptation for young people in these years include experimenting with gangs, drugs, drink and sex.
“In terms of my church specifically, and the organisation that I work for, we do run, in conjunction with the Church, a youth camp over Easter. That's where a lot of the time we are getting newcomers. I would say that around 40%, if not a bit higher, are new there. So you are meeting young people from all different backgrounds and all different types of needs, and it's an opportunity to not only learn about God, but to ask questions as well.”
“I think that's really important for young people growing up and that's what I try to do in my music as well. To bring about a desire, to not just be force-fed something, but actually say "what do you want to know?", "what are your concerns?" In terms of outside of the camp, we do Bible Studies and we do Sunday Services.”
“It's great to have the diversity on the team. There's a guy there who literally was in a gang up to like 3 years ago, and has stepped out of that. Then you've got people like myself who have grown up in church. All different types of backgrounds which I think is really helpful.”
“Our church in terms of feel of it is quite upbeat. I guess it's interdenominational, but I guess you'd say it's a bit more on the charismatic side. All that to say it's about enjoying church. If we believe that this is a thing that has a big implication on our entire lives we should probably enjoy it along the way!”
We tell people that it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship, but quite often we add extra’s to God’s love, we start to add new little rules. You’ve become a Christian so stop smoking, or whatever. “It's come as you are,” agrees Mr Ekow, “and are we really going to live up to that or are we going to say go and sort out your life first. That's not how Jesus acted.”
So it’s time to turn to what comes next. “I’ve got an EP coming out called “Between Haircuts”. That doesn’t sound like a deep theological title but Mr Ekow tells me “It’s actually a bit deeper, it's a bit more personal and explosive. I didn't really set out to make it, but I guess over time I just had a collection of tracks that make sense. It explores a bit about the transition time of life, which is the entire part of life, being a Christian, waiting for glory and heaven and the awkward bits in between. It's about how we navigate that, and be honest about it. I think going back again to my day job, the worst thing that I would want to do with the young people that I work with is just lie and say "you know when you become a Christian life is great, it's just absolutely perfect," and that's just not the case.”