#10Year Challenge – Unashamed Then, Now, Forever
When Lecrae alluded to the return of the most highly regarded tour in Christian hip-hop, the Unashamed tour, fans within the genre went ballistic. Reach’s co-founder had finally given 116 fans the news they had clamored for.
Before 2013, the Unashamed tour was an annual tradition bringing together each artist signed to Reach Records. Since 2013’s Unashamed V, Reach Records, Christian hip-hop, and the world at large have been altered. A number of artists have broken ties with Reach while others have just debuted. Christian hip-hop has grown to include a number of collectives, female emcees, and young artists, each making their mark in the genre.
As for the larger society, perhaps more than ever, opinions have become polarized, resulting in disenfranchisement, alienation, and fear. With all these changes, its easy to forget that the mission of Reach Records and the 116 movement has always been rooted in the message of Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (NIV). This verse is the bedrock of everything that 116 stands for. While the artists of Reach Records have matured into lyrical heavyweights with authentic, life-changing content, their mission is still the same.
In the summer of 2009, the artists of Reach Records went on a twenty-four city tour with a roster that included Lecrae, Tedashii, Trip Lee, Sho Baraka, DJ Official, and Flame. Reach’s third label wide tour, “Don’t Waste Your Life” (DWYL, for short) was just one of Reach’s major events of the period. 2009 included important moments such as the release of the “Don’t Waste Your Life” video, Tedashii’s Identity Crisis, DJ Official’s Entermission, and the beginning stages of the “Man Up” movement which would produce what is perhaps the most iconic 116 project of all time.
While 2009 certainly had its place in the history of Reach Records, the developments following this year have advanced the label to heights unseen. With production that could rival that of mainstream hip-hop and Christ-driven content to match, 116 was evolving to become not just a rap group, but a revolution.
Three years after the DWYL tour, the landscape of Reach Records was entirely different. Perhaps Reach’s two biggest signings of all time, those of Andy Mineo and KB, altered the Christian hip-hop landscape for years to come. Mineo released his debut album under the Reach label with Formerly Known, while KB released his mixtape Who is KB? As well as Weight and Glory. These projects served as introductions to two individuals who would go on to represent some of the most popular Christian hip-hop artists of our time.
Derek Minor, who had maintained a longstanding relationship with Reach Records under his stage name of Pro, also signed with the label in a partnership deal with his own Reflection Music Group and Reach itself. Releasing the ever-popular “116” alongside KB in 2011, Minor and KB created a new anthem for the expanding 116 movement. Amidst the fresh talent that Mineo, Minor, and KB brought to Reach, the label’s pioneers continued to create content that built momentum for the Christian hip-hop genre. Trip Lee’s The Good Life as well as Lecrae’s Church Clothes, and Grammy-award winning Gravity album each represented a shift in the culture of Reach Records.
The spiritual elements of the music were certainly intact but became less and less explicit. This transformation caused many to leave the 116 fan base, citing their love for the “old Reach” as reasoning. Despite these adaptations, the 116 movement did not slow down but evolved. To this day, there remains no group, label, or individual who has done more for the landscape of Christian hip-hop than Reach Records. By 2012, Reach was prepared to enter a new stage on their collective faith walk, and thus, Man Up was born.
The Man Up initiative was a campaign from Reach Records and Reachlife Ministries which included a short film, a seven-track EP, curriculum, panel discussion, and a conference which united each of these elements. Each of Reach’s artists at the time were included in the Man Up campaign. The result was one of the most prolific years in Reach history, considered by many the peak of the label. On the Man Up project, the artists encouraged their audience to pursue a God-focused definition of masculinity, one that was quick to accept responsibility, repent, and respect authority.
The message of Man Up flew in the face of every concept that one would consider typical hip-hop. These artists rejected self-serving behavior, instead pursuing the glory of the God they served. Rather than lifting themselves as idols, the members of 116 deconstructed what many would consider “toxic” masculinity, in favor of what God demands of men. From the roster to the music, to the ministry, Reach was firing on all cylinders.
The follow up to the rise of Man Up was Reach’s 2012 “Unashamed: Come Alive tour,” and 2013’s “Unashamed V.” Each tour featured Lecrae, Andy Mineo, KB, Derek Minor, and Tedashii. “The Come Alive” tour was significantly longer, visiting thirty cities across the United States while “Unashamed V” was incredibly limited in its scope, visiting only five select cities. Unfortunately, these tours and their lead singles, “Come Alive” and “Now They Know” represented the final collaborative efforts from 116 for several years, that is, until 2018’s “Light Work.”
Within the six years in between, there were a number of tour pairings from the label including Lecrae and Andy Mineo’s and Anomaly tour, KB and Trip Lee’s Hometeam tour, and a number of conferences where a larger portion of the 116 collective was represented. While these events served as previews to the prospect of a new Unashamed tour, fans would be left yearning for a modern tour for years to come.
In the period between 2017 and 2018, Reach Records made three new signings which signified a move to build the label’s future. Aha Gazelle, who departed after a year with the label, 1K Phew, who signed while on tour with Lecrae and Gazelle, and WHATUPRG, a member of the indie tribe. collective alongside nobigdyl., Jarry Manna, and Mogli The Iceberg.
On January 16th of 2018, 116 finally reunited on the “Light Work” track. The song featured Reach longstanding 116 members including Lecrae, Andy Mineo, Tedashii, and Trip Lee while bringing in the recently signed 1K Phew. The song also included CASS and WHATUPRG, the latter of whom would be signed to the label in April of the same year. “Light Work” was the first 116 collaboration since 2013’s “Now They Know,” and reignited the flame for a new Unashamed Tour with the freshman stars of the label along for the ride.
With “Light Work” the prospect of a new Unashamed tour became all the more enticing. Never before had the Reach Records roster seemed so diverse in sound and culture, so unique in content, and so ambitious. Giving the world of Christian hip-hop an idea of what a new Unashamed tour could resemble was this past Autumn’s “Better Late Than Never tour.”
2018’s “Better Late Than Never tour” featuring Lecrae, Andy Mineo, Wordsplayed, and indie tribe. members nobigdyl. and WHATUPRG was one of the most star-studded lineups of modern Christian hip-hop. Assembling representatives from 116, Miner League, and indie tribe, there were few tours capable of garnering the same attention as BLTN. Still, it was not the Unashamed tour that fans had clamored for since “Unashamed V.” Finally, at one of the BLTN shows, Lecrae begged a simple question, “What if I told you that in 2019 the Unashamed Tour is coming back,” and just like that, the hopes of thousands of 116 fans were answered. No longer was an Unashamed tour a dream, but a foregone conclusion. Awaiting an official announcement from Reach, 116 fans were forced to remain patient.
January 16th of 2019 will go down as one of the most momentous “116 Day” events in Reach Records history. Just over a week ago, the label officially announced the return of the Unashamed tour in the form of Unashamed Forever. The eighteen city tour will last from March 14th to April 13th and will feature every artist currently signed to Reach Records. This roster includes three of the top five Christian hip-hop artists in Lecrae, Andy Mineo, and KB, 116 veterans such as Trip Lee, and Tedashii, the eclectic artist-producer GAWVI, and the youngest members of 116, 1K Phew and WHATUPRG.
Not since 2013 has a tour of this nature occurred, and it is uncertain if it will happen once again any time soon. The 116 movement has expanded beyond what many would have thought possible, and its leaders will reunite to remind the world what it looks like to live unashamed.
Times have changed significantly since 2009’s DWYL tour. Artists have come and gone from Reach Records. Lecrae has been nominated for six GRAMMY awards, winning half of them. Andy Mineo has attained his first gold record with the smash single “You Can’t Stop Me.” KB launched the Native brand which includes arms such as Native Supply, Native North, and Native Speaks. Trip Lee has taken a backseat in music due to illness but has continued to be a key member of the 116 movement.
Tedashii has continued to create music for the culture, often pairing with figures of the Christian contemporary genre such as David Crowder and Jordan Feliz. GAWVI has produced a number of Reach tracks, but recently released his first solo album, Panorama. 1K Phew, along with his membership on the Unashamed Forever tour, will join nobigdyl. and Byron Juane on the SOLAR Powered tour and will drop his own album, What’s Understood in February.
WHATUPRG, Reach’s newest signee, released his first EP under the Reach banner, Pleasant Hill while joining Lecrae, Andy Mineo, Wordsplayed, and fellow indie tribe member nobigdyl. on the Better Late Than Never tour. 116 artists continue to be the flagbearers in the world of Christian hip-hop, pushing the culture forward in a way that few would have thought possible.
For many, Reach Records and 116 have become their entryway into the realm of Christian hip-hop, providing an alternative to the mainstream that is not afraid to tackle issues of mental health, faith, and social justice. 116’s invasion of the hip-hop world has been active since the label was founded in 2004, but it is only in recent years that each of these emcees has proven capable of making the leap into mainstream circles. For example, Lecrae’s collaborations with figures outside of Christian hip-hop such as Ty Dolla $ign, Metro Boomin and Zaytoven, often raised questions as to the artist’s faith status, but these collaborations are being used to build a bridge between the “secular and sacred.”
There was once a time where Christian hip-hop was dismissed as being “corny” but the actions of Reach Records and 116 members have served to challenge this viewpoint. As we move onward through 2019, the future of the label appears bright, each artist letting their light shine in a manner specific to their style of music. If there is one message that this new tour is signifying to listeners, its that the mission of Reach Records and 116 is the same. They were unashamed of the gospel then, they remain unashamed now, and they will be unashamed forever.