Interview: Stephn

Stephn is a student and an artist currently based in Washington, DC by way of Nigeria and New York City. Though singing has been an extension of himself since he was a kid landing solos in gospel choir, Stephn’s debut EP Time Before Us bought he and his friends’ creations to the forefront of local musicians and music lovers alike. Just months after his debut, Stephn is back with two new singles that we’re so excited to premiere, “Wit Da Crew” and “24/7.” Listen to both tracks below and read our interview with Stephn to learn more about his Nigerian roots and influence, the process behind beginning to write his own music, opening for Kari Faux, performing at a Smithsonian museum, and more. 

CSDC: 

So nice to finally talk to you! I feel like I've seen your name on flyers everywhere this year, so I figured you were based in DC. But when I got your number from your manager, I saw it was a New York area code. But one look at your socials and everyone will know you rep Naija. Can you give me a little bit of insight on your connection from Nigeria to New York to DC?


Stephn:

I was actually born in New York. My mom gave birth to me in the Bronx. A few months after I was born, she went back to Nigeria. I was brought up in Nigeria until I was 13, then came here to boarding school. I went to a boarding school out in the middle of Virginia. Front Royal, Virginia. I don't think people go there. It's like in the mountains, far away from civilization.

CSDC:

And then you went to school in DC after.

Stephn: 

Yeah. I graduated high school then I went to American University. I went from a school with less than 250 kids to American University, huge. It was a huge adjustment.

CSDC: 

I could imagine! Virginia is a pretty huge adjustment on its own. So, you landed at university in DC, and subsequently the music community. Nice one. And at one point did you start creating music?

Stephn: 

Here's the thing: I've been singing since I was very little. I sang in gospel choir when I was a kid, I did all the solos and everything (laughs). I’ve just always loved music. When I was in high school I sang in the district chorus. 

CSDC: 

What is the district chorus? 

Stephn:

It’s a state-wide program in Virginia where they pick probably less than 20 kids to represent their district in a performance. It was a really huge deal for me then. My friends and I would go to auditions and they’d have us sing classical music, so you gotta hit them notes. All exactly correct. You have to study it. So that's good, training that way. But I would always be doing other people's music, covers. Finally, I was just at this one point where I'm like, “what if I just make my own music?” 

CSDC:

So when did you start writing your own music?

Stephn:

I started writing early 2018. I was looking for people to record with but I wasn't finding anybody. Eventually one of my friends Tanner brought me into the studio because he got studio time. He played me a beat and it was really pop. I wrote a hook but was kind of scared to play it. Like, this is my first time making music. I ended up sending it to all my friends. Everybody was like, you know what? I actually fuck with this, I love this. I decided I was going to put more energy, more effort into it because we were only in the studio for like what, like five hours? For five hours just writing and messing around with the track, we came up with that and people loved it. People started asking me to put it out. It was still raw, but that was kind of how I got into it. I started working with my friend Alex, he’s basically like my coach now. He actually promotes and publishes my music through Cartier Collective Entertainment. Then I met this producer, his name is CJ Shallow. He produced my whole first project, Time Before Us. I worked with Eddie Cascella, he's a guitarist who also goes to my school. He was putting guitar down on a track, and would listen to like some of our songs. Then he’d be like, “Oh, this would sound dope,” and start playing with the song. Cody would plug him into the bay and he would do his thing. 

CSDC:

Was he with you when you opened for Kari Faux? 

Stephn:

Yes, he was. He played the guitar.  She was so sick too.


CSDC:

Seriously! That was an amazing show, and I was so happy to see you billed there alongside her. So, moving forward, I want to know about how Nigeria specifically impacts your music. Obviously it must somehow since you were there until 13? 

Stephn:

I haven't really done anything for back home yet. I'm trying to kind of ease into it. 

CSDC: 

Right. You can kind of hear it in the new single 24/7

Stephn:

I'm inspired by a lot of artists back from back home right now, there's a lot of people changing the game.

CSDC: 

Yeah, they’re definitely hitting here. I'm trying to get into booking these people and all that. 

Stephn:

Yeah. People are creating this alternative scene and making alternative mainstream in Nigeria and it is so inspiring. 

CSDC: 

It is and it sounds authentic as fuck. You can hear the Afrobeat but then there’s some Western inspiration. 

Stephn: 

That it, it’s kind of Westernized. Exactly that combination. I love it because growing up in Nigeria, a lot of people have a very traditional mindset. Most Nigerians at least are sometimes scared to hear a different sound. But these kids are pushing that sound because that's what comes naturally to them.

CSDC:

And we know it's reaching heights, some places that are just crazy. Just crazy to watch it all unfold like this. 

Stephn:

It's an amazing thing, I'm rooting for them and I hope everyone gets to ride that wave.

CSDC: 

Same here. I wish the best for them all. I’m curious to know your ultimate creative dream. Along with making music, you creative direct, style, and more. What would a crossover between creative mediums look like for you? Would it be like your songs playing on No Sesso runway shows, maybe you’d model for Telfar? 

Stephn:

Dream crossover for me would be between my music, fashion, and art. I go contemporary museums a lot. 

CSDC:

We’re so lucky to be in DC for that!

Stephn:

Yeah, we are. I just see all these artists are creating and it's just like so inspiring I've been thinking to myself, “What is a really good cross between my music, my styling and the inspiration from this art?” I feel like a really dope crossover would be kind of like incorporating all three of these expressions into something big. I might like to perform at like museum under my creative direction. I’ll style everything, create the compositions. With dancers, stage design, exclusive art from my friends. That’s where my mind is at now. 

CSDC:

I can totally see that happening for you. I love that you’re always thinking about collaborating with your friends. It’s clear that there’s a huge impact they have on you. Obviously, you are building the foundation for life long relationships with them, but in general, how has your relationship been with the DC community? Like how has the actual environment of the city impacted how you sound, and maybe American University is included in that landscape, but then artists and peers in DC. How do those two factors impact you?

Stephn:

As far as creative scene, it gets very tricky. I feel like compared to like New York, Chicago, or LA, like everybody's kind of like doing their own thing, so it's hard for everybody to get together. There's not a lot of tangible collaboration going on as much as I would like to. 

CSDC: 

Yeah, for those cities you have Zero Fatigue or Standing on the Corner. Even here we have the homies in P0STB1NARY, but we could definitely benefit from more unity. 

Stephn:

Every time we come together, we make magic. Why aren't we doing that consistently? You go to cities like Chicago, you see people like Smino, Jean Deaux, all these people working together. You go to New York and see all these cool people working together in and outside of music. But back home, it’s harder to find that here. I'm still connecting with artists here and it's only gonna keep getting better for sure. I'm excited for it, I just feel like we definitely, definitely all need to collaborate a bit more here in DC. I’m really looking forward to that. 

CSDC:

I’m looking forward to it, too. You’ve had a crazy year regardless and we’re barely halfway through. You released your debut project, opened for Kari Faux. Before we go, I want to know what your biggest highlight from the first half of 2019 is?

Stephn:

My biggest highlight? I got so many things we've done, it's crazy. We've come a long way since I put on my first project and I'm just thankful to God. The biggest thing I've done so far is performing at a Smithsonian museum, the National Air and Space in Virginia.

CSDC:

Oh! Right next to the airport?

Stephn:

Right. My school asked us to do a performance and they basically transported us there. We get in and there are all these planes hanging around. They have like the stage set up in the middle of a huge power sector. We start performing and I’m realizing I don’t know any of these people. I'm performing my song and like everybody's just vibing to it, in a Smithsonian and I'm like, “this is crazy.” It was a really great stepping stone. That's been a highlight so far. Then with Kari, that was amazing. It's been an amazing first half honestly. I couldn't have dreamt it. 













InterviewsAngelie Benn