Christian rap’s mostly unknown trailblazers and historical landmarks were celebrated on June 21 in Houston, Texas.
Although members of the hip hop culture have been spreading the Gospel through their music and art for over two decades, many of its newer members remain ignorant of their own past. As a result, the All Eyes On Me Achievement Awards (formerly known as the Texas Holy Hip Hop Awards) decided to mark its national expansion by dissolving competitive recognition categories and devoting this year’s entire ceremony to honoring its veterans.Held at Copperfield Church, the weekend’s events included guests and participation from the likes of Stephen Wiley (one of gospel rap music’s first recording artists), Fred Lynch (Preachas In Disguise), Houston’s own Apocalypse (another pioneer holy hip group), A1-Swift’s Alisha Tyler, Lil Raskull, Gospel Gangstaz, and Corey Red.
Two old school MCs who made their name on the other side of the cross were also a welcome part of the weekend. Sparky D, known for one of the first response records in the “Roxanne, Roxanne” battle rap wars of the early 80’s, and Bushwick Bill, from the legendary gangsta rap crew the Geto Boys, both spit God-glorifying rhymes representing their new lives during the event.The two-day celebration began on Friday with a kickoff party/fellowship at The Brighter Side club. This gave out-of-town artists and fans a chance to get to know each other better outside of the music in addition to seeing their performances. RedCloud’s somewhat alternative form of hip hop made many, many new fans that night with his fantastic freestyles that reminded the audience that MC stands for “Move-the-Crowd.”
Saturday’s events kicked off with several artist development workshops and panel discussions at the Hilton Garden Inn Northwest. Here, many of the weekend’s most high-profile guests assembled to share their experience, wisdom, and insight with upcoming members of the community. AEOM founder Bobby “Tre9” Herring and Sketch the Journalist facilitated discussions titled “How Real Do We Have to Keep It?”, “Is There Room for Issues of Social Justice in Christian Rap?”, and a business-focused question and answer session with Danny Wilson (Holy Hip Hop, Inc.) and Tim and Steve Trudeau (Syntax Records.)
Saturday afternoon’s storm clouds necessitated some last minute changes to keep the media red carpet dry, but soon after 5 pm the evening’s various nominees and performers began to file in to take interview and photo requests.
As guests and audience members entered the darkened sanctuary they were greeted by an elaborate stage with special lighting, smoke machines, and night-sky type backdrop. To the side of each stage were large, 10-foot screens to display the introductions and performance footage.
The show was a mix of award presentations and artist performances. Nominees were honored in various categories such as Pioneer Group, Pioneer Classic Record Label, Pioneer Graphic Designer, and Pioneer Film or Documentary.
The performances in between ranged from lyrical (Sean Slaughter / Corey Red), to R&B (Soulfruit / Blase), to hardcore (Bushwick Bill with screamo band Atonement), to hip hop worship (Much Luvv Fam with rock band Laden.)
k-Drama kicked off his set with an unorthodox yodel while the Gospel Gangstaz took it old school by performing “Mobbin’” with former 5th Ward Boyz members 007 and E-Rock flanking the stage. Many acts, like Blasé’ and Bless’T, accented their performances with elaborate multimedia videos and special lighting.
Later, several pioneering music ministers expressed great gratitude for the accolades they received that night.
“I’m proud to receive this honor because so often I feel like my work has gotten overlooked,” Corey Red said. “And I’ll give this trophy to my mom like I always do as a way of giving back to her and apologizing for all the hard times and stress I caused her growing up.”
At the end of the ceremony Tre9 came out on stage to thank the audience and share a message he said had been on his heart all week. In describing the motivation for all the time, money, and energy spent organizing the awards, he noted it was because of his heartfelt passion to make Jesus the Christ known to a broader audience.
Through tears, he asked the crowd to recite an extemporaneous prayer of forgiveness and acceptance that would establish them as heirs of Christ. Several individuals remained standing when Tre9 asked for those who made this decision to make a public proclamation of their newfound faith. And in that moment, an event designed for entertainment transformed into ministry.
“I was overwhelmed by the love and appreciation,” said Stephen Wiley who was recognized for the Pioneer 1st Gospel Rap Tape and as a Pioneer Gospel MC. “I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was literally speechless throughout the weekend.”
The celebration didn’t stop there as the audience was directed upstairs to the church’s youth center to enjoy the Official After Party with DJ D-Lite. Various artists performed there, enjoyed a meal, and further fellowshipped with guests and winners.A special spontaneous hip hop moment occurred in the hallway leading to the After Party. Syntax Records’ DJ Promote set up his own 1’s and 2’s and started spinning his own blends and instrumentals. The only available speaker was a 1980’s style boom box that is generally just a prop on RedCloud’s merchandise table. A spare microphone was also located and plugged into the spur-of-the-moment sound system and as the music pumped, several artists started to crowd the table.
Virgina’s Sean Slaughter was one of the first to step up and start freestyle rhyming. Soon the scene became a full-on open mic session with the stick being passed from artist to artist – including Bushwick Bill who debuted some of the verses from his upcoming gospel rap album “Testimony of Redemption.”
Many remarked upon the great sense of unity that was felt at this year’s event. Members of the gospel rap culture were represented from Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Houston, Cincinnati and all points in between with everyone sharing a common bond of Christ and hip hop.
"My respect for Tre9 and the entire Much Luuv team continues to grow," Syntax Records President Tim Trudeau said. "He has vision. Starting an awards show from the ground up is a task that few could handle. This is why he has our full support. As the hip-hop scene expands, leaders such as Tre9 continue to be revealed through longevity and success."
The event, recorded by five separate cameras including one on tracks in front of the stage, was filmed for television and DVD distribution. The AEOM crew will be diligently working on that project in the coming months.