TobyMac’s Influence on Christian Hip-Hop and How Gotee Records Signed John Reuben Over KJ-52

Longtime Christian emcee KJ-52 released a new podcast that dove into a little bit of CHH history with longtime super producer Todd Collins.

Titled, “Story time w/ Uncle Tweezy: How I Got Signed,” KJ and Todd spoke about early Gotee Records, working with dc Talk, signing John Reuben over KJ, and how Mr. 5-2 eventually got a deal.

Collins provided a little musical background for himself. His father was a musician who raised him on old soul records. Collins also played drums in church as well. He said he felt comfortable being the “melanin challenged” guy among his mostly Black schoolmates.

He played college basketball and was thinking about becoming a coach while going for his Masters Degree. A friend from the classic gospel group TRUTH invited him to Nashville in 1989 to feature some of his talents. From there “he caught the bug” and moved up there.

Collins met TobyMac within a few weeks of living there and started working immediately with dc Talk. He had the opportunity to executively produce and provide various vocals on their 1990 sophomore effort,Nu Thang.

KJ did not really like the record because he was coming from listening to Public Enemy and 3rd Bass, but he understood the route it took in getting to the church.

Collins said he and Toby were much the same way in what they listened to. Toby would have loved to go that route but he understood the importance of being a bridge builder to the church.

“I think unfortunately Toby doesn’t get the acknowledgement for what he did for the genre back then,” said KJ. “People look at it as being too soft or too pop or too Christian…you needed stuff like that in the church when people weren’t accepting hip-hop.”

Collins shared a very important discussion he had with Toby on the direction of music and hip-hop for dc Talk. “We have to earn the right to be able to do what we want to do down the road” said Toby. “Give them what they need for the church so we can do things like Jesus Freak and Supernatural down the road.”

In other words, Toby never looked to be a trend setter, he looked to instead follow the trends so well that he can do what he wants later. “Sacrifice on the front end to get to the back end,” said Collins.

After the release of dc Talk’s Free at Last, the group took off as pioneers of CCM influence. It was then that Toby, Collins, and Joey Elwood started Gotee records in 1994. Some of their early artists were Grits, Out of Eden, and Jennifer Knapp along with John Reuben, Relient K, and the now popular Jamie Grace and Family Force 5.

As Gotee was picking up steam, they began doing music nights. KJ-52 went to one for the soul purpose of trying to get signed and gave out his demo.

Two years later KJ was working on what would become his 7th Avenue album. He was able to send his demo into Gotee where it was found by an intern. Eventually, he received a phone by Collins while he was eating dinner.

Collins said interns were in the office listening to demo tapes. At the very moment he walked by, a song KJ had featuring Bonafide from Grits came on. He didn’t recognize it, so he came in to question it. He initially thought KJ was from NYC because of his voice and knew immediately he had to call him.

Gotee wanted to partner with a true artist who would push to make it no matter the circumstance. Collins came to Florida and met KJ and saw he was going to be “that artist” and also “minister at any cost.”

“But your timing could not be any worse…” TC said laughing.

Just two days before, Gotee received a demo from John Reuben and they all loved it. They already had Grits and Out of Eden along with the Katinas and Jennifer Knapp in the wings. Toby and Joey were on the Reuben band wagon and KJ was only experienced by Collins. So they voted, and Reuben won 2 to 1.

Time started dragging on and KJ was getting frustrated with waiting. Collins kept trying to help KJ along but could not sign him to Gotee. He helped get him signed to Essential Records and produced his first album, 7th Avenue.

Reuben’s music took off and only six months later KJ was dropped from Essential because he was too “hip-hop” and “underground.” The complaint was that his music was not marketable enough.

Three years later KJ reemerged with a deal on BEC Records and released the album Collaborations. His new music was less “gangsta” and more friendly. He simplified his flow a bit and began making funny tracks and skits. Essentially, he became the KJ-52 everyone knows today.

KJ promised a part two to breakdown his early career a little more. In the mean time, take about 40 minutes to hear a great listen on a struggling Christian artist on the come up.

Poll time: KJ-52 or John Reuben? Who’s music do you enjoy more?

Justin Sarachik

Written by Justin Sarachik

Justin is the Editor-in-Chief of He has been a journalist for over a decade and has written or edited for Relevant, Christian Post, BREATHEcast, CCM, Broken Records Magazine, & more. He also likes to work with indie artists to develop their brands & marketing strategies. Catch him interviewing artists on Survival of the Artist Podcast.

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