Why 2016 was Perhaps the Greatest Year of Christian Rap (Pt. 2) [Opinion]
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
Last week we scratched the surface of why 2016 was such a great year in Christian Rap. We talked about the increasing involvement of Capitol Records in the CHH community. We discussed how Collision Records continued forward after losing Swoope. And finally, we reviewed the impressive moves Reflection Music Group made and how CHH was competing with mainstream rap. This time we’re going to dig deeper. We’ll look at what God Over Money, Reach Records, and a few independent artists accomplished in 2016.
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 Christian rap. 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.
God Over Money Grows
Like many of the labels mentioned in the previous article, God Over Money Records also made significant strides with multiple newer artists. Sevin first signed to GOM in early 2016 and both he and Datin released their debut albums before late spring. Datin also won Rapzilla’s “Best New Artist of 2016 Award.” His growth as an artist and influence which took place in 2016 was visible the following year after a personal (and peaceful) exchange with Lecrae.
Finally, label founder Bizzle released Crowns and Crosses, which charted at #8 on the “Top Rap Albums” chart on Billboard, and is his best album to date. God Over Money showed that they had both new talent and veterans that were creating something greater. 2016 wasn’t simply about the growth of artists, but of labels too.
A Greater Reach
Let’s start with Lecrae, who’s been considered the “lead” in Christian Hip-hop by many for years. While Lecrae astounded everyone with the release of Anomaly in 2014, he was a little quieter the following year. 2015 was his first year since 2009 without releasing a full-length project. Now we were all waiting for it, but none of us saw it coming. On Martin Luther King Day in 2016, Lecrae surprise dropped Church Clothes 3. As his first full-length release since Anomaly, CC3 showed us major collaborations with “Non-Christian” artists, namely E-40 and producer S1. Despite releasing the mixtape without any prior announcement, CC3 topped several charts the week that it came out. Lecrae also inked a record deal with Columbia Records (although he has since left), where artists such as The Chainsmokers, Adele, and John Legend reside and made a memorable appearance at the BET awards.
Everyone recognized a banger when they heard “Gawvi, get ‘em!” the first time listening to “I Wouldn’t Know” by Lecrae. But hearing Gawvi say “I guess it’s my turn” in the Reach Records “Signing Day 2016” video was a jaw-dropper. Gawvi would expand many of our minds into the world of EDM with the release of two EP’s. But more importantly, adding Gawvi to the label as an artist signaled that Reach would continue expanding. He was the first artist to sign with Reach in five years. But since Gawvi, Reach has signed yet another five artists. And to this day, we have continued seeing Reach Records expanding its outreach and involvement within CHH. Think about the Summer 2019 and 2020 playlists. “Signing Day 2016” was the seed.
Although I would consider these the most important events associated with Reach Records in 2016, the rest of the label wasn’t on the sidelines by any means. We saw accomplishments from all of Lecrae and Gawvi’s labelmates that year. Both Trip Lee and Tedashii released their first projects in years, and both projects were solid at that. Andy Mineo won a Dove award for his song “Uncomfortable.” Finally, KB had various notable features throughout the year like Lecrae’s “I Wouldn’t Know” and Bizzle’s “All I Know Pt. 2” just to name a couple.
Major Without the Label
Outside of these labels, I decided to take a few other individual artists that made significant strides. They may or may not have been completely independent, but these are some artists that deserve to be mentioned and do not fit into any later categories.
When I name three artists that have had both a great impact within Christian Rap and in the mainstream in recent years, I name NF, Lecrae, and Dee-1. As an artist frequently featured on HipHopDX and other mainstream rap websites, we can tell Dee-1 is just different. And in 2016 he showed that he doesn’t have the same limits many other artists do. Not only did he release Slingshot David the Mixtape, a prelude to the album, but he went viral in 2016. Twice. Both of his singles “Sallie Mae Back” and the “Against Us Remix,” made a huge buzz in the mainstream. The latter featured noteworthy mainstream rappers, Lupe Fiasco and Big K.R.I.T. Dee was trending on Facebook, featured on WorldstarHipHop, CBN News; he was everywhere. He was showing everyone that just because you’re a Christian, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a good rapper (but we already knew that).
Despite not dropping much more than a few singles on his part, Reconcile was still noticeable in 2016. Reconcile isn’t your typical Christian rapper. That was clear before 2016. Yet, because of that, he’s been able to have a greater impact on those outside of CHH than others.
The year prior he released his EP Catch A Body where producer Street Symphony pushed Reconcile’s artistic ability. The following year there was some evidence it was paying off. Early in 2016, he opened for a 300 Entertainment concert in Houston, which featured Rich the Kid among others. This was clear evidence of his growing outreach into both the mainstream and the streets. Later in the year, we saw him featured on Surf Gvng’s “Lawyer Fee,” and Capital Kings’ “I Can’t Quit,” perhaps his biggest collaboration to date. Although both are Christian artists, the genre crossover was almost as surprising as it was good. An EDM song featuring a trap artist? Yet, this was another sign that walls were constantly being broken down, and they did an amazing job with this song.
The Black Knight (not the one from the Monty Python movie) made 2016 a great year for him as he changed his stage name to BrvndonP. His self-titled album was very impressive. Not simply from a list of strong features, including mainstream rap veteran E-40, but it showed solid production. It’s one of my favorite albums of that year. Maybe there wasn’t too much to BrvndonP’s 2016 other than his album, but that’s all we need to talk about.
E-40’s collaborations with both BrvndonP and Lecrae show that those in the mainstream had begun to accept those within CHH more readily. In fact, E-40 would later recruit BrvndonP producing abilities for his own music. There were more collaborations on both songs and in tours/concerts. While those within other parts of Christian Music had accepted Christian Rap in years prior, this year more people “on the outside” started saying “they got talent in here, we need to get involved.”