Christian rap has existed in many different forms over the past few decades. While some years have been better than others, which was the best? I’m going to attempt to tell you.

Introduction and Disclosure

The sub-genre of Christian Rap is constantly changing, and over the past several years there have been many within CHH who have reached greater heights. We’ve seen an increase of recognition for our art, ministry, and hard work. It has been a solid few years, but which of these was the greatest for CHH? While it would be impossible to consider one year to be the best without good music, it takes so much more than great singles and albums to be considered “the best year of CHH.” Of course, music is important. However, we must also take into account the success and influence of different record labels. The growing outreach into the mainstream has to be considered. We must also recognize the different groups of artists and new ways that people within the community were achieving success and putting themselves out there.

2016 symbolized that not only had we reached great heights but that we were going even higher. This is why 2016 was the prime year of CHH.

Disclosure: I took several important parts of 2016 and organized them by record labels, and then gave other points as to why this was the best year for CHH. Due to the volume of evidence to support this opinion, not all the highlights of Christian Hip-hop as a genre and community are covered in this article. Rather, these are many (not necessarily all) of the supporting points that indicate why I think 2016 was the greatest year for CHH.

Time to “Capitolize”

NF and Social Club

For a long time, Reach Records was the largest record label within CHH. That was until NF first signed to the CMG division of Capitol records in 2014. NF released his landmark album Therapy Session in 2016, and it wasn’t just landmark because it won a Dove Award. Therapy Session showed all of us that Nate is way different. And it showed everyone else that too. Although it didn’t break the top ten on the Billboard 200 (in comparison, Andy Mineo’s Uncomfortable did the previous year with stiff competition), it continued to cycle back on the iTunes and Google Play charts months after its release. Touring multiple times off the album, he showed a little known artist could breakthrough in a major way.

In addition to Nate’s success, Capitol Records CMG signed yet another rapper, or rather, rappers. Social Club, who rebranded to Social Club Misfits at the time of their signing, was independent for years. The well-known name within the Christian rap community inked a major record deal and released their EP The Misfit Generation, after already doing well on their own. The lead single off the project, “Courage,” performed well, and not to mention these new label mates toured together. Marty also featured on NF’s “Grindin,” one of NF’s few collaborations with a fellow rapper. 2016 was a whole new beginning for Marty and Fern, and they weren’t the only ones.

A Year to Watch for Collision

Now, I’m not going to disregard the fact that 2016 was the year Swoope parted ways with Collision Records. Since then he has done quite well. I loved his single “Lambo” which was his first release since leaving Collision. Swoope was perhaps the “biggest name” signed to Collision and to lose one of your biggest artists can be detrimental to a label. Yet, Collision didn’t seem to show that it was weakening. 2016 was also a year where three of their four artists released either an EP or mixtape. Alex Faith, Dre Murray, and Ki’Shon Furlow (now known as YourWelcome Shon). In addition, the fourth member, Corey Paul, showed personal growth as well with his Frontline Friday singles.

But let’s focus on Shon, who signed to the label following Swoope’s separation from Collision. His single “Golden” was impressive. Furthermore, he announced that he would open for Young Thug following the release of his EP Voices. Signing a young, versatile artist is the best move to make after losing a major artist. The label at the time showed with all the accomplishments of their artists that they were not falling apart in 2016 (The label has since dissolved).

Reflecting Greatness

Right at the end of 2014, Canon suffered a terrible accident following a show in Tennessee. Because of it, he had to go through rehab and was unable to release music and perform for several months. Although he began releasing new singles in the second half of 2015, we all longed for more than that. Towards the end of 2016, Canon released the highly anticipated Loose Canon Volume 3. Not only did this show that he had made a full recovery, but that he didn’t lose any talent with that fall. LCV3 is one of the few full-length music projects where I can say every song is solid. I will listen from the beginning to the end without hitting skip once. In addition, Canon showed, as other CHH artists did in 2016, that rappers within the genre are getting better at making singles. They weren’t just the best songs on the album, EP, or mixtape, but songs that really popped. “Eagles” is just one of many examples that CHH was progressing in that aspect.

Perhaps some of us thought that Derek Minor would decline after his contract ended at Reach Records. Perhaps some of us thought he simply wouldn’t do as well if he wasn’t working closely with Lecrae. 2016 tells a different story. We were reminded by both his 1045 EP and Reflection that Minor is a high caliber rapper. While Reflection didn’t land as high on some of the Billboard charts as his previous two albums, it boosted RMG as a brand with the “Reflect God, Reflect Greatness” slogan. It gave us a sound which was much more unique, yet still entertaining for us. It gave us singles accompanied by some of the best music videos we have seen in CHH, (if you didn’t enjoy the “You Know It” music video, you have problems). And finally, we saw new collaborations with bigger cross-genre artists such as Hollyn and BJ the Chicago Kid, again showing us and everyone else just how far this sub-genre has come.

The impact newer artists had on CHH in 2016 is a recurring theme in this article. Under the RMG label, the two newest artists at the time, Deraj & B. Cooper, announced and released their collab EP For the People. What makes this such an important part of 2016 is the fact that it was a collaborative project. We had seen very little of this before, if at all. Two Christian rappers coming together for more than an individual song. Because of this, it attracted a lot of attention and the lead single for the project “Squad” signaled that it would be a high-quality project.

And although they belonged to a different label, FLAME and Mike REAL had a similar effect. When they released Whole 9 preceding their collaborative EP Revival, it gave the same notion. More and more artists demonstrated that CHH was not simply attempting to compete with mainstream rap but that it did compete. Attempts at collaborative projects and stronger singles are evidence of it.

This is just part one of a three-part breakdown of the awesomeness of 2016 throughout the Christian rap community. In part two we’re going to dive into the great years had by artists from Reach Records and God Over Money. We’ll also showcase some of the best indie rappers rising to the top. Stay tuned for part two next Saturday.