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
Thus far we have covered the accomplishments of several individuals and record labels in 2016. Last week we dove deeper into impressive steps of artists from Reach Records. We discussed the growth of God Over Money and their successes had by multiple label members. Finally, we analyzed the impressive outreach and trends shown by Dee-1, BrvndonP, and Reconcile. This week we’ll take a step away from record labels for the most part and instead talk about different “classes” of artists. Namely new school and old school rappers, and a different type of rapper.
Disclosure: I have taken several important parts of 2016 and organized them by record labels (in alphabetical order), and then given other points as to why this was the best year for CHH. Due to the volume of possible information to support this opinion, not all of 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.
A Fresh New School
2016 wouldn’t have been great had there not been a number of young artists that showed potential. We’ve already mentioned a number of younger artists who made quite a ruckus in 2016 like Datin and YourWelcome Shon, a Rapzilla 2016 Freshman. At that point, the new school part of CHH was essentially overflowing with talent. Both the 2016 and 2017 Rapzilla freshman lists show that. Aaron Cole and Ty Brasel (among others) also made a storm in 2016 as predicted by Rapzilla. And many of the 2017 Freshmen, like Shiwan, Surf Gvng, and KYng, (now known as Byron Juane), also made waves in 2016.
They showed there was no debate whether or not they belonged on the list. And just to be clear, these are just some of the very talented artists from the freshmen lists. There’s nowhere near enough time or space to write about everyone. But I do want to highlight a few other newer artists that made a bang.
Now, nobigdyl. made the Rapzilla 2015 freshman list (a year too early). He also released his album Canopy in 2017 (a year too late). Even still, the indie tribe. collective took big steps forward together. The tribe took their first tour as a group. The “Purple Dinosaur” music video shined in the spotlight for a time. Mogli the Iceburg earned a spot on the Rapzilla 2017 freshman list before releasing his album Tumultu. But 2016 was the year for Jarry Manna. Rapzilla placed Manna alongside Brasel, Cole, and Shon as a Rapzilla 2016 freshman. This was the year he released two volumes of the Holy Weapon series, (and HW2 is always worth a re-listen).
Sadly, Manna and the tribe recently parted ways. Even still, he called so much attention to the group in 2016. With songs like “Find It” and “Jounin Exams,” Holy Weapon 2 was evidence that we needed to understand that the tribe was on the move.
Finally, Steven Malcolm. Forget the fact his self-titled album came out in 2017. Yeah, he had a solid feature on J’Son’s song “Ohh Yea,” but I consider that secondary. Before the end of 2016, Steven Malcolm became the first artist to sign to 4 Against 5, the newly formed hip-hop imprint of Word Entertainment. For those who don’t know, Word Entertainment is home to some of the biggest names in Christian music such as for King & Country and (formerly) Skillet. This movement by Word supports the same point that Social Club Misfits signing to Capitol CMG does.
In 2016, reaching the stars as a CHH artist became less and less of a dream and more of a reality. Although Marty and Fern by 2016 were considered veterans in rap (especially Fern), 4 Against 5 signed Malcolm. This showed to younger artists that maybe it doesn’t have to be ten years in the making to get there.
Also the year of the Veterans
Now this section may be more generalized than the previous, but it’s a point that needs to be made. Otherwise, I wouldn’t mention it. 2016 was a year of many strong releases from a ridiculous number of newer artists. But the veterans of CHH made just as big of a bang. Many older rappers within the sub-genre released their first album in years. Many also released what many said was their best album and some both.
J’Son, Da T.R.U.T.H., The Ambassador, the list just goes on. Not only was it a year that demonstrated there are plenty of young artists full of talent, but also that there are plenty of veterans that are still around and still got talent. Having this combination offers a vision that the future is unimaginably bright.
Among the albums released by Christian Rap veterans in 2016, Sho Baraka’s The Narrative was without a doubt one of the most raved albums of the year. It is a great representation of a comeback year for CHH veterans as it was his first album in three years. Though I personally believe that is the best example of a veteran strong year, Thi’sl made the same showcase with his album. Against All Odds was a monumental album in his career highlighting important parts of his life story, including being falsely accused and arrested. Moreover, the St. Louis rapper accompanied the album with an autobiography under the same title.
When talking about Christian Rap heavyweights, Ruslan is going to be a name brought up frequently. Like the aforementioned Sho and Thi’sl, his album Americana took the CHH community by storm. They say you have to make a good first impression, and holy cow did the album cover do that for the album. In addition, Dream Junkies, whom Ruslan was a part of, released their final album together as a group. Again, another amazing album from veteran(s). Although we do have a definite downside with Beleaf announcing his retirement in 2016, this was a good closer for him. One last strong album in this high-caliber group. If you’re going to go out, go out with a bang.
It’s Not Just Music
Finally, something not so dependent on the musical releases, their chart performances, etc. Up until this point we’ve talked about crossovers, different labels, a rising new school and resilient old school, and just overall good music. Now we’re going to talk about the beginning of a shift in CHH culture. Literally. Although Th3 Saga was already on SMACK/URL before 2016, this was the year we saw it wasn’t just him. This was the year the other members of the yet to be formed IV Horseman told everyone in battle rap, “yeah we’re Christians, but we’re nice with it too.”
Street Hymns (aka Love Nindo) really started making a blaze on BullPen as he battled both Fonzie and Danja Zone. We fell in love with nerd bars and began listening closely to fully understand his next entendre. Loso debuted on Bullpen with an absolute body, and then battled against XCel. JohnJohn said himself that this was the Battle of the Year in BullPen. Although he had joined the league only a few months prior, many considered him as the best in the league. He and Street Hymns were major players in the exponential growth of the Atlanta based battle league. Both artists also released solo projects and found themselves on the Rapzilla 2017 Freshman list.
Finally, A Ward made his debut on King of the Dot, the largest battle league other than URL. And despite only battling twice on the King of the Dot stage in 2016, his battle against Real Deal landed a placement on the top ten battles of KOTD for that year. This would help book a classic battle against DNA the following year. The impact that these artists made in battle rap dramatically increased the attention CHH gave towards battle rap. They opened another door, one many had not likely predicted to be opened.