CTZN Creative, the agency that produced Swoope’s “#SameTeam (Remix)” music video and Rapzilla’s DJ Promote documentary, launched a record label on Monday.

Chicago-based rapper Kareem Manuel, the CEO of CTZN Creative, will also serve as CEO of CTZN Music (pronounced “citizen”). The label’s roster features Manuel and TJ “Decipha” Morrissette, who had previously formed the group CTZN Collective, as well as new signee Dwayne Reed, who CTZN Collective featured on its 2014 singles “Funeral” and “Hand of God.”


Reed has attended the same network of house churches as Manuel and Decipha, Legacy Fellowship, for a couple years. Not only his artistry, but his faith made this signing attractive to Manuel.

“I know [Reed] cares about the gospel going forward above anything else,” Manuel said. “On top of that, he’s an incredible musician. He can sing, rap, he’s a great writer and he’s just hungry.”

Rapzilla interviewed Manuel and Reed on separate phone calls, but they gave similar answers about the fit. Before Reed signed with CTZN Music, Manuel and Decipha impressed him with the way they communicated the gospel as artists on stage.

“I think [preaching the gospel] is the biggest thing,” Reed said. “Anybody can get up there on a mic and rap. But for them to get up there, rap and then intertwine so much of a gospel message in their performance, I think that’s what’s most important.”

Reed, a junior at Eastern Illinois University majoring in elementary education, aims to drop a folk EP with a group of artists at college this spring. CTZN Music plans to release CTZN Collective’s debut album in the first quarter of 2015 and Manuel’s third solo album in the third quarter.

Other record labels have assisted CTZN Music with its launch. Adam Thomason, CEO of Collision Records — which years ago had tried to sign Manuel as its second artist to Swoope — created the CTZN Music logo. Doc Watson, CEO of Reflection Music Group, will serve as an adviser for the label.

“My belief system is that we got to help each other in this industry with what we can,” Watson said. “We’re all on the same mission here, so it’s good for us to give each other some help to solidify each other’s situation.”

The COO of CTZN Music will be Mike Yorke, a senior at Moody Bible Institute who Manuel called “one of the smart people” he knows. Inexperience won’t stop Manuel from signing talent, he said.

“Part of my vision is to hire, train and develop young talent to give the underdog a shot,” he said. “Even in my career, nobody could ever look at me and say, ‘That guy’s going to be a rap star!’ But people had to take risks on me that some people wouldn’t and, because they did, I’m in the position that I’m in now. I want to be able to offer that to other people.”