Rocksteady Rapping For Religion

Viv Ellis meets musician who defies stereotype

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Marvin Joseph aka Key Lyric




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The Cabinet Office recently looked at the relationship between different jobs and how happy they make us. Seems the unhappiest occupations are publicans (closely followed by bricklayers and debt collectors) while the people who get the most happiness from their jobs are vicars and priests.

Marvin Joseph, who grew up in in Ealing, is certainly happy in his work spreading the message of Christianity. Not from a pulpit – but through rap music.

“I grew up in a house full of music” he told me, “my Dad played in jazz bands my Mum sang soul music and I listened to all sorts”.

After studying music at West London University, he started writing and performing rap music under his stage name, Key Lyric, but soon realised that conventional record companies were never going to “get” what he was doing. Solution? Start your own.

So in 2009 he founded The Rocksteady Movement a collection of musicians, rappers, artists and like-minded artists that want to reach out to a generation that they think is lost.

“I got so sick of what I saw all around all the time, the gangs, guns, drugs and violence, I didn’t want any of that. I needed to escape from that life”

Now, he and his fellow lable-mates take all sorts of music; reggae, soul, jazz and more and put Christian ideology into the music styles. “Many people hear the word “Gospel” and think it’s solely a style of music, but it’s not. It’s the message within the music.”

Marvin says having their own label gives all the Rocksteady acts artistic freedom and independence from having to comply with what a conventional, secular record label might expect. “RSM is strictly a Gospel label and we are defined by that.” At university Marvin studied the business and technology side of music too and that put into practice at his studio where they hire out studio space, recording and engineering services. “It’s not a charity, we have overheads”. But he says the band is different. “The band is a ministering entity, we want to spread the word of God. People have been very generous in their support – with donations and also sponsorship and advertising with us.”

RSM has toured in Britain a lot – none of it through church groups – they visit schools and universities and perform at a lot of festivals “the whole idea is to push the music out, out from the church to the wider public”.

Marvin’s religious but not a church goer (regular church attendance in the UK is now less than half of what it was in the 1960s) and he says he thinks his method of ‘spreading the word’ is more relevant to today’s young people. “I use current media and methods to convey ancient truths. Our churches today need to be more open-minded and less cultural to allow today's youth to excel socially and spiritually”

I asked him about people’s reactions when they look at him and see a black rapper but then listen to him and rather than hear tales of guns and gangs and drugs hear messages from the Bible. “Yeah it surprises people” he laughed, “ they’re expecting a certain stereotype. A lot of people are sceptical to start with to see a young, black artist doing this. But then they listen and go “wow”. We get played on a lot of radio stations but to start with they are looking for hidden references – drugs and stuff. But there aren’t any!” In fact Marvin doesn’t even drink or smoke.

You might have seen him perform at this year’s Hanwell Carnival on the stage hosted by Hanwell’s community radio station Westside. “They’ve been playing my records and been really supportive, they’re a great bunch”.

Curious to hear more?


Viv Ellis


29th July 2014