How Lecrae, 116 Clique became Melanie Pieper fans
If the 116 Clique had a mascot, Melanie Pieper would wear the costume.
Pieper, a freshman at the University of South Florida, attended her 22nd concert by 116 Clique members when Lecrae and Andy Mineo performed in Orlando, Florida on Nov. 15 via The Anomaly Tour.
“She’s definitely [our] No. 1 fan,” Mineo said. “No one’s even coming close to taking that title.”
The House of Blues’ doors opened at 6 p.m. for a long line of VIPs. Pieper, 18, led the line. She had arrived at 10 a.m.
“People will ask me, ‘You’re getting in early. Why are you here?’” Pieper said. “I don’t know. I love to wait, and I love meeting 116 fans, so it works.”
An estimated two dozen fans at the concert recognized and introduced themselves to Pieper, whose zeal on social media has attracted her own fan base. She has accumulated over 6,700 followers on Twitter and Instagram, which she uses primarily to promote the 116 Clique under the username @1LecraeFan.
Pieper’s fanaticism has also made her fans on the 116 Clique, which every member of follows her on Twitter — except Tedashii, she sighed.
“We love her to death,” Lecrae said. “Honestly, if she graduated from college and said, ‘Hey, I’m looking for a job,’ she most definitely could get an interview up at Reach [Records]. She could have an internship today.”
Reach claims Pieper as its No. 1 fan in a movement of thousands, but she didn’t fall in love with the label at first sight.
In 2006, Pieper flipped through a Family Christian bookstore magazine and stopped at an advertisement for Lecrae’s second studio album, After the Music Stops.
“Christian rap, ha!” Pieper laughed. “That’s a good one.”
She assumed the album would be made up of rhymes about staying in school and not doing drugs.
Three years later, a friend played 12-year-old Pieper the song “Unashamed” off of After the Music Stops. She enjoyed it so much that she memorized “Unashamed” and three more Lecrae songs, “Jesus Muzik,” “Fanatic” and “Don’t Waste Your Life.” Soon after, she won a lip sync contest at her church for lip-synching Flame’s song “Joyful Noise,” which featured Lecrae.
“People at my church started to call me this rap girl,” Pieper laughed. “I like that!”
For Christmas in 2010, she received her first full Lecrae album, Rehab, and his transparency on the project hooked Pieper.
“Growing up, I had this mindset that if you were a Christian artist who was played on the radio, you had figured it out and were perfect,” she said. “They were the first artists that I really heard who talked about their brokenness and their struggles, and it made me realize, ‘Oh. That’s normal as Christian to go through hard times and to not be perfect.’”
Pieper attended her first 116 Clique concert when the Man Up Tour brought the group to Orlando on Aug. 11, 2011. She created her Twitter account the following February. Below is the self-proclaimed No. 1 Lecrae fan’s first tweet.
@lecrae When you coming to Orlando? 🙂
— Melanie Pieper (@1LecraeFan) February 9, 2012
“I don’t think I was the biggest Lecrae fan at the time,” Pieper said. “I just needed a username.”
Pieper tweeted at Lecrae and the 116 Clique so often over the next three months that when The Good Life Tour landed in Orlando on May 25, 2012, Trip Lee recognized her in the front row.
“Yo, that’s Melanie Pieper,” he told Andy Mineo.
“Who’s that?” Mineo said.
“You know,” Trip Lee answered, “the girl who always hits us up on Instagram and Twitter.”
When Pieper approached them after the show to take a picture, Mineo decided to prank her.
“Oh my gosh!” he screamed. “Melanie Pieper!”
“How do you know my name?!” she asked in a daze.
“Sign my forehead!” Mineo said.
Pieper relished meeting and interacting with her favorite artists, which became more frequent on social media. However, she admitted her appreciation became unhealthy.
“It quickly became an idol for me because I was still very insecure,” Pieper said, “so it was easy for me to place them as that security in my life, my value.”
Pieper is the youngest of five siblings. Growing up, she compared herself to her older brothers and sisters.
“It always seemed like they could do things that I couldn’t do,” Pieper said. “They were smart and pretty and skinny. They were so talented, and I just didn’t know what God had gifted me in.”
She compared herself the most to her closet sibling in age, Karissa Pieper.
“Everybody would always be like, ‘You’re so beautiful. You’re so godly,’ to her,” Melanie said. “And they would just tell me that I was funny and I had [attention deficit disorder].”
While the 116 Clique had unintentionally given Pieper a false sense of worth, its music pointed her to her true value months later.
Pieper preordered KB’s debut album Weight & Glory and, in her room at church camp on the night before July 17, celebrated when it automatically downloaded to her iPod. Track No. 8, “Open Letter (Battlefield),” interrupted her celebration. The first verse of the song is written from the perspective of a girl who feels insecure.
Lying on her bed, when Pieper heard KB say, “I hate the mirror, I don’t feel pretty / I’ve even contemplated surgery to feel skinny,” she began to cry. The chorus triggered more tears.
“There’s a war inside my heart and mind, every day I fight it / So make me alive to the truth, I rely on your spirit inside me,” Jai sings.
“The lies that I had believed my whole life were that I was never enough and I was too much,” Pieper said. “I was never pretty enough and skinny enough. I wasn’t intelligent enough. I wasn’t smart enough. I was also too much — I was too loud. I was too crazy. I talked too much.”
“Open Letter” helped open Pieper’s eyes to where her identity lay, as well as the fact that she was not alone in her self-doubt.
“There are other girls like me,” Pieper said. “I’m not the only one who’s insecure and who doesn’t really know where they fit in. Through that, the Lord started to reveal to me who I was in him and gave me a passion of sharing with other girls who they were in Christ.”
For the past five summers, Pieper has served on mission trips to Mexico, Venezuela, Cambodia, Nicaragua and twice Peru. On the past two trips, Pieper has shared where she found the security that had eluded her for so long.
To those closest to Pieper, her new-found security is evident.
“She’s definitely become more confident,” Karissa said. “The message that Reach Records promotes, the truth of God’s word, has transformed her life.”
Pieper has cheered in the front row at 20 out of the 22 Reach concerts that she’s attended.
“I don’t think I’ve ever done a show in Florida she has not been at,” KB said. “I don’t care if she just saw me a week before. She’s there, and she’s there front row.”
A large fraction of Pieper’s wardrobe is Reach merchandise — 17 shirts, two hoodies, seven bracelets and a pair of basketball shorts and custom-made Toms shoes. She has even sent each Reach rapper a gift box for their birthdays that includes a printout of encouraging messages from their fans. Pieper supports the label so hard because, she says, God used it to help change her life.
And Reach has supported her back.
She entered the VIP room at the 2012 Unashamed Tour to the 116 Clique banging on the table and chanting, “Mel-an-ie! Mel-an-ie!”
“I don’t remember how I got from the door to the table,” Pieper said, “but suddenly, I was in front of Lecrae … ‘I’m going to pass out. I cannot believe this is happening.’”
This past spring, Pieper sent a graduation announcement to the Reach office in Atlanta, and this is how the label responded.
Mineo flew to Orlando — temporarily delaying working on his album — to surprise and hang out with Pieper, who continued to impress him as they chatted.
“I asked her, ‘When’s Derek Minor’s birthday?’ Bow — off the top. ‘When’s Lecrae’s birthday’ Bow. She has it memorized,” Mineo said. “It’s wild.”
Pieper grew up with four siblings. Now, if you count all of the Reach associates who she communicates daily with on social media, she’s into the double digits.
“[Melanie is] like our little sister,” Lecrae said. “She really loves us. She really cares about us. She’s sending care packages. She’s having friends who need to be impacted by our music sent to concerts around the country. She’s sharing our music with everybody … so we’re like, ‘Melanie, you’re part of the team. You became a family member.’”
David Daniels is a writer for Rapzilla.com. He’s been published at The Washington Times, Bleacher Report, Christianity Today and The Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter.