“I started writing just to get good enough to battle a rapper in my high school that I felt was disrespecting the craft. I was into the culture -- the four elements -- B-boying, MCing, graffiti art, and DJing…he was into getting attention/showing off…I guess you could say he was into rap and I was into hip-hop.”
Darrell Bell, better known as Stephen the Levite (STL), is a husband, father, community leader, and Christian emcee. The California native is a son of the hip-hop movement, a student of the culture, and a leader in a new genre of underground hip-hop music with a Christian message. Growing up in the era when Gangsta rap and East Coast/West Coast rivalries were dominating the urban music scene, STL was a bit different from many of his peers. Taking the time to delve into the origins of hip-hop with his Asian-American, Latino, and Caucasian friends while in high school, fleeting music trends didn’t sway STL -- his passion was tied to the core tenants of the genre.
Heavily influenced by some of his favorite rappers at the time -- Heavy D, Wu Tang Clan, Mob Deep, Common, and others -- STL drew more and more into the music. Never one to freestyle in battles, STL began writing consistently at the age of 15 to hone his craft. The ruggedness, artistry, and competitiveness of hip-hop captivated him -- suddenly the music had become an innate expression of who he was.
Upon graduation from high school, after getting saved in his late teens, STL enrolled in Calvary Chapel Bible College. It was there that he begin rapping in a group (Redeemed Thought), spreading the knowledge he gained from his classes to diverse audiences. From the beginning of his career, Stephen the Levite chose to be direct about his faith in his lyrics. After seeing a musical group perform which did not disclose their faith as a driving force behind their music, STL determined that he would be upfront about his musical intentions to his audiences. STL became engrossed in the music that Philadelphia-based Christian hip-hop group Cross Movement was doing -- the group’s work would become his standard for excellence and a model for his own career.
After feeling led spiritually to move to Philadelphia, Stephen the Levite, along with his group mate (muzeONE), set out to make the city of brotherly love their new home town. It wasn’t long before Stephen the Levite became a part of the Christian hip-hop movement, linking up with fellow lyricists, singers, producers, and more. He soon signed to Lamp Mode Recordings and quickly made a name for himself both in the city and around the nation.
Stephen the Levite reaches not only those in the church but also those that are not with his music. He has a burden on his heart for this generation. “I want to see the family get straight. It all starts with men being responsible, taking care of their kids, being a part of churches and living as upright men. Those are the building blocks of a healthy community.” When asked why the name, Stephen the Levite, his answer is simple -- “Stephen, the martyr, is my hero -- he didn’t have a title or prestige, but he stood up for God and people responded to the message he delivered. That is the type of person I want to model, the legacy I want to leave.”