A cemetery may be an odd place to meet the living, but that’s where I first saw musical artist Sutton Steele, a video camera focused on him as he walked among the graves of PineCrest Cemetery. He was rapping words about inflicted abuse, unknown fathers, loss and lies and ultimately, testimony of survival. Despite the heaviness of his lyrics, he was unusually positive and exuded a boyish gratitude for all that had happened in that year.
Standing near a huge grave (carved for an individual named Certain, a name suddenly striking me as darkly witty,) I asked him what he was filming for, and the story of his childhood and his unfolding music career came to light, like morning sunlight sifting past the shade of an ancient oak tree.
In 2012, Steele had been given an interim recording contract with TRL Records in Atlanta, recording two songs there and three in New York City. (His first album which included these songs was titled “All of A Sutton.”) While in Manhattan, he was asked to open for Chantelle during a Fame Fashion Week performance and show. Nicki Minaj and Cee Lo Green were just a few of music industry’s favorites he got exposure to at the event.
“It was my first time ever on a red carpet, and I was star struck,” Steele, now 20 years old, admits. Though he didn’t find the “Adam Lambert” look the stylist put on him to be quite his own, he rolled with the costuming and coiffing and took in the experience, vowing that in the near future, he’d make it back to that mountaintop experience once again.
On March 7, at the Soul Kitchen, he looks forward to performing as a guest artist with “Tha Boyce.”
His album “For You” is being released the first week of February and is free to download from such sites as Mixconnect.com, NoiseTrade, YouTube, VUBE, BandCamp and SoundCloud.
“The one thing that has changed for me since my first album is that everything in social media has grown for me,” he notes. “In 2015, social media is what is propelling musicians forward.”
With websites like Noisetrade, “you can download the album as many times as you want, and if you choose, you can give a tip, 100 percent of which goes to the artist,” he explains.
His Twitter page is now at 12,000 followers, he says, and this sort of audience is greatly appreciated by Steele. “It’s humbling to see that people are interested in me.”
He recently played a show at the Handle Bar in the Palafox area of Pensacola, and though it may be a humble start locally, he garnered enthusiastic attention. “It was not the Staples Center,” he said, grinning, “but I treated it like it was! I climbed up on the speakers and rocked it!”
Despite physical abuse by his stepfather and witnessing other types of abuse laid upon his mother, he believes his experiences, bad as they were, made him stronger. This is the impetus that makes him want to reach out to others when they are suffering. Music became a refuge for him. “The mental and verbal abuse that happened to my Mom, the physical abuse and the times I had to hide my bruises on my arms, the times I had to sleep outside. It was the environment I was raised in,” he says. In those times, “I’d put headphones on and get lost in the music.
His most current album, “From Me” features a song called “Here For You”, a more polished musical production than his first recording efforts. This song combines his own rap lyrics with a melodic beat and a simply spun video full of the sights of downtown Mobile, from glimpses of a stairwell leading to the Cathedral of The Immaculate Conception’s crypt to sky views of the city, with the RSA and Van Antwerp buildings in the background. Even a few scenes of Mobile’s riverfront float behind his music. It is already available on YouTube.
Produced at Blue Magic Studios in Mobile by Justin Barnhill and Ron G, along with special guest producer Gene Amac and engineer Dustin Jordan, the album “For You” is sure to please rap and R&B listeners or those who are interested in hearing this local musician as he matures in his craft.
“Lyrically, these are the best of my writing so far. This is my art, and it is my craft. It is who I am as a person.” Steele has an edgier approach now, after hearing feedback on his first songs, including one, “Sticks and Stones,” in which he sang out against bullying. But he has added personally meaningful details, like his grandmother’s voice incorporated into the last song on the album, called simply “To You.”
He enjoyed collaborating with several area rap artists, including Jizzle Rogers and Danny Capone on a song titled “No Type Remix”, Solo Dolo and Flexx Stunting on the track “First Time” and Mobile rapper Scotty on the song “Speak My Word.”
He has been invited to perform “Sticks and Stones” on WALA in the past and looks forward to the possibility of another chance to perform on local television for all to enjoy. As for his social media approach to marketing his work, he says, “It’s my goal to get it into everyone’s hands, everyone’s ears, as fast as possible.
As for getting beyond the sticks and stones of his past and into the gleaming light of stardom, Steele says, “I’ve never had it easy, I’ve had to work hard…and I’m ready for it.”