Reach Records is Peaking in Creativity, Diversity, and Quality (Op-Ed)
With Reach Records’ most recent acquisition of Hulvey, the label is continuing to build a strong team that can lead them into the future. Since the signing of GAWVI in 2016, Reach has signed at least one new artist every year. As a result, the label has built the most robust iteration of their roster yet, with limitless potential for growth. No artist at Reach Records sounds too similar, each bringing a unique voice to both solo outings and collaborations. Additionally, Reach has diversified in both sound and culture, with multiple categories of music represented. Whether it be boom-bap, gospel, Latin, southern, R&B, or so many other subgenres, each has an auditory presence. 116 is back, and arguably better than ever.
Each artist on Reach Records continues to leave a mark on the Christian rap scene year after year. While Trip Lee has taken a backseat due to other concerns, the Dallas artist continues to provide verses in collaborations that keep fans screaming, “Yessuh.” Meanwhile, Tedashii and Lecrae continue to release full-length projects, including the former’s 2019 effort Never Fold, and Lecrae’s upcoming Restoration. Younger artists may be able to create more quickly, but the old guard of Reach has not lost their touch.
The second generation of Reach, represented by Andy Mineo and KB, is in a creative zenith. The two heavyweights have gone beyond music into the realms of podcasting with Southside Rabbi, and 2019’s Work in Progress podcast. Even with these ventures, the artists’ music has not suffered, each maintaining streaming numbers paralleling Lecrae’s. Additionally, each artist maintains a brand-independent of Reach Records, Miner League for Mineo, and Native North for KB. With these brands, the two superstars aid collaborators, sell merchandise and expand their creative expression.
Perhaps most important to Reach’s lifeblood is the label’s focus on the future. The A&R’s at Reach must be working tirelessly, as each signee of the late 2010s into 2020 has brought a unique personality to the 116 movements. 1K Phew, GAWVI, Hulvey, Wande, and WHATUPRG each have styles all their own, and if they so choose, plenty of time to experiment. In the meantime, each artist has released albums, EP’s, and singles, introducing listeners to their brand of content.
To some extent, it feels as if the size of Reach’s roster ensures a relentless flow of music, with projects dropping constantly. While one may assume these rapid releases would cause fatigue, Reach Records has circumvented this issue by signing artists with individual testimonies and auditory patterns. Andy Mineo’s struggles with doubt and shame exemplified in the NeverLand 2 series are entirely different from WHATUPRG’s battles with loneliness and pride detailed in Pleasant Hill and RAUL. KB’s anthemic style and Wande’s “holy bops” bring a great deal of energy, but are separated by the artists’ personal touch.
Through their roster of ten, Reach has found the means to cross into all kinds of genres of music without feeling forced. One of the most common complaints levied against mainstream hip-hop is “it all sounds the same.” Still, the individual presence of each Reach signee makes the label stand apart. Hulvey, the label’s most recent signee, has a distinct rock sound. 1K Phew’s Atlanta home makes itself known in his cadences, pacing, and flow. Tedashii’s team-ups with contemporary Christian artists provide a sense of serenity, which is often contrasted by more intense records like 2019’s “God Flex.” Reach Records has created a potential supergroup with 116’s most recent iteration, and their ability to represent people of many backgrounds has grown exponentially.
Another strength of Reach Records’ latest developments is their openness to collaboration, creating what some would call “Reach-adjacent” artists. With the Summer’19 playlist and Christmas compilation, the label brought together several of the biggest names in Christian hip-hop, developing relationships in the process. Such collaborations brought several less popular artists notoriety they had not seen previously, aiding them in their creative efforts. In a discussion between Parris Chariz and Ruslan, the two discussed Reach’s hope, “…to be able to support guys like [Chariz]…leveraging [Reach’s] platform to help…” as Ruslan paraphrased from Head of A&R at Reach Records, Ace Harris. This concept of building, or in some cases, rebuilding relationships, has been key to Reach’s new season, particularly in the life of co-founder Lecrae. As he shared via Instagram, “I spent this year rebuilding what was broken, healing what was hurt, and restoring what was destroyed. Grateful for what I learned and excited to see the seeds that were planted grow.”
The production, flow patterns, and themes each artist brings to their music grants Reach Records diverse content, yet their representation in other categories is just as important. While half of the label’s roster is made up of black men, Wande’s inclusion as the first female signee, GAWVI, and WHATUPRG’s Hispanic-Latino roots, and Andy Mineo and Hulvey’s fair-skinned complexion evidences the cross-cultural impact of both hip-hop and Christianity. Hip-hop’s origins may lie with black and brown communities, but the genre has evolved to become the most listened in all of music. At a broader level, the rise of Christianity is similar, the faith emerging as a minority sect of Judaism, and going on to become the largest belief system in the world. The rise of the musical genre and the faith took paths that often deviated from the mission of each, but the work of the Reach Records roster and the entire Christian rap space proves these movements still have the power to be a force for good.
Reach Records and their roster came under fire often in the 2010s, many thinking the label had abandoned their Christian roots to cross into the mainstream. These concerns were caused by the previously integral faith-based messaging of early albums being toned down to a more subtle approach, terrifying longtime fans. Nonetheless, Reach never abandoned Christ. More importantly, Christ never abandoned Reach. Now, with years of growth, newfound wisdom, and creative rejuvenation, Reach Records is poised to make 2020 one of their best years yet. As the largest label in the space, Reach will continue to influence Christian hip-hop for years to come. So, may we continue to pray for the mental, physical, and spiritual well-being of creatives on and off the label.