Category Archives: 116 clique

She overcame lack of love of father: CASS

Cass synthesizer musicHaving a distant dad only heightened her teenage insecurities.

Cassandra Kanda, a Zimbabwe-born Christian musician making waves in Christian Hip Hop now, grew up in New Zealand where she NEVER fit in high school.

“I struggled with rejection. I was bullied pretty badly when I was 8 years old in school,” she says an exclusive interview with God Reports. “So by the time I was a teenager, rejection was something I didn’t want to ever experience. And when I did experience it, it would hurt more than anything because of all the baggage I was carrying from it since I was young.”

In her soon-to-be-released album, Cass (usually her stage name is stylized CASS) explores the perceived lack of fatherly love and its subsequent repercussions in low self-esteem. It wasn’t until she profoundly understood the Heavenly Father’s love that she righted.

Cass in christian hip hop“When I discovered God’s fatherly love, it revolutionized my life,” she says in email interview. “It’s something till this day that still makes me emotional because I’ve only ever experienced a Father’s love from God. That’s why I’m so passionate about it.”

Cass is the synthesizer wunderkind of Christian music. She was featured recently on Reach Record’s collective song “Light Bearer,” which was a mantra for the label starting 2018.

Who would have thought the immigrant would amount to — or surmount such hardships — to attain renown in Christian music? Her beginnings were humble.

She immigrated, with her family, when she was 7. She attended church unrelentingly with her family and accepted Jesus as a youngster and then rededicated her life to Christ when she saw the play “Heaven’s Gates & Hell’s Flames” at age 16.

cass in concert christian“That’s when I really started to walk with God fully,” she says.

The adjustment to a new culture was worsened by a hostile reception at grade school where she, as a small African girl, was bullied by the New Zealand kids so badly that her parents had to change her educational center.

Her father, perhaps because of the African culture, was emotionally detached, Cass says, and this further damaged her self-concept.

“I grew up with a distant parent. This teamed up with the fact that I was bullied pretty badly,” she says. “So I tried everything I could do to fit in (which never worked cause I NEVER did fit in in high school), and it would bother me so much.”

Fortunately, she was growing in the Word and prayer, and eventually she realized fully God’s love.

“It’s not until I realized who I was in Christ, that’s when that fear of rejection broke of me,” Cass says. “What I was looking for — that acceptance or approval from people I was never going to find from the crowd. I would only find it in God.” Read the rest of CASS Christian musician.

Wande Isola got her start in rap with a biology project in college

wande isolaFrom time to time, her Muslim family members kept Wande Isola from going to church.

“When I initially gave my life to Christ and became vocal about my faith, it was met with a lot of tension,” the Nigerian immigrant says. “I had to make the decision to pursue Christ even when my family didn’t understand. I think many people don’t know how much opposition I had to face to follow Christ.”

At a time when there are calls to expand opportunities for women in Christian Hip Hop, the 23-year-old is exploding across the spectrum. The battles she has faced have prepared her for ones to come. She is currently working for Reach Records’ A&R Department, has dropped a number of songs and become the go-to female rapper for features.

wande isola rapWande says she knew about Christianity in Round Rock, Texas, where she was raised, but didn’t understand her need for a Savior until she was a pre-teen attending a “Discovery Camp” in 2009 in Columbus, Texas. Only her mom was Christian and supported her decision.

“My mom was my ally throughout my journey,” she says. However there were seasons when I was asked to no longer go to church. There were also many times I was told that Jesus can’t perform miracles and can’t save and I was being brainwashed. I think my family environment forced me to be rooted in my faith and be unwavering in what I believe.”

As a teen, she struggled with typical American issues.

“One of my struggles was insecurity,” Wande says. “I struggled with the need to live for the approval of others. This desire dictated my decision making process and ultimately led to frustration and let down. I wasn’t always seen as someone who is cool or talented.

wande isola hip hop“I overcame all of my struggles of insecurity by filling my mind with the Word of God. I took my thoughts captive and my thoughts manifested into actions. When I reminded myself of who God says I am, I began to view myself differently.”

She double majored in journalism and public relations at the University of Texas at Austin. Ironically, it was her biology professor who nudged her towards her now-emerging career. As a freshman, she earned an A+ in his class and decided she wanted to be a surgeon. Her start in rap was a biology project: Wande Isola (continued reading here)

Start to live

We all die, not all of us live

The Declaration of Independence enshrined “the pursuit of happiness,” but lately Americans have deified it to the point of banality. In the quest for fun (money, pleasure, entertainment, etc.), almost everybody comes up short.

In the end, Jesus gives greater satisfaction than all the world’s schemes. Don’t arrive at the end of your life, never having started it. Today, receive Jesus and discover true love, true meaning, true purpose.

Christian rapper Canon fell 30 feet and almost died

canon homeOn a pitch-black night, Canon couldn’t see he was on a bridge when he stopped to help a driver involved in a crash. As gasoline poured out from the vehicle, the driver turned his ignition without thinking. Panicking that the action might trigger an explosion, Canon leaped over what he thought was just a median divider.

The Lecrae protégé plunged 30 feet to the ground and nearly killed himself. Canon, whose real name is Aaron McCain, shattered his ankle, broke his jaw and suffered a concussion following a Dec. 20, 2014 concert.

His recovery took two years.

Canon, famous for his speed rap, returned from his death-defying fall with the third and final installation of his popular mixtap series Loose Canon (a pun). He’s followed that up with the album Home in December. The brush with death brought a new dimension to his ministry: it’s less about hip hop and fame and more about Jesus.

canon's fall

The bridge from which Canon fell.

Canon has come a long way since he was a rebellious church teen.

Growing up in Chicago, little Aaron began to see that churchgoers were often hypocrites. His mom worked at the Moody Bible Institute, and his parents forced him to go to an “old school” black Baptist church. Except for the pretty girls that attracted him at church, he didn’t like it.

“I hated church, that’s the truth, that’s the reality of it,” he declared in a 2103 YouTube video filmed at a small concert. “Church was all fake to me. Christians was (sic) all fake to me. Christians made me feel awkward.

“Every time I walked up to someone, I felt like I had to be perfect. Every time I went to church, they made me take my do rag off. They were like: ‘You look like a thug,’ And I was like, ‘Well you look like a pimp.’ I never liked the church culture. They made me feel weird.”

canon's wife

Just three weeks before his fall, Canon married

Momma forced him to participate in ministry. He didn’t want to be an usher because they had to wear fancy white gloves. Being a deacon had no appeal to him because he didn’t know what the Greek-derived word meant, so he opted for the less painful ministry: being in the choir.

He went to all the youth camps and activities, but he never contended for a miracle or a real encounter with God in his life. His life remained unchanged.

“I knew how people acted in church and how people acted out of church,’ he says. “When I was around Christian people, I knew what face to put on, I knew what words to say. But when I was around ‘my boys,’ I knew how to put on that face. I knew how to play the game but after a while I got tired of playing the game.

“It got old after a while,” he recounted. “I got tired of wearing that mask.”

He explored the party scene and sought only fun for a time.

canon's accidentThen he met some authentic Christians.

“I met some real believers who actually live out the faith,” he recalled. “They did a lot more than my old group of Christians did. They actually prayed. They weren’t fake. I was able to look at their lifestyle and say, ‘If your lifestyle looks like that and you’re a believer, then I may not be a believer.’”

He was unnerved because their testimonies upended his understanding of Christianity. Ultimately, he decided he’d better get right with God, and he made the decision of his own accord to accept Jesus into his heart and was born again.

Because of his penchant for hip hop, he began attending The House, a rap-culture church in Lawndale, a suburb of Chicago.

“I felt like I’d found something I’d been looking for my whole life—a hip hop church with kids around my age, doing things I wanted to do,” he told Christianity Today. At the time, he called himself MC Spook “ because I want my lyrics to be deep enough to spook people into really thinking about faith and everyday life.”

canon grateful

His comeback song after recovering from the accident two years later was “Grateful.” The video was filmed in a graveyard, where he could have wound up.

Eventually, he met Lecrae, who made him his hype man and took him on tour. His relationship with the Christian hip hop legend grew, as did a friendship with Derek Minor, another big name in CHH. Ultimately, Canon would sign for Minor’s Reflection Music Group.

“Canon is like a mad scientist,” Minor says on an RMG video about Canon’s accident. “He’s like, (changing to Dr. Jekyll voice) ‘Let me go to the studio, and I’ll bring you back a hit.’ You don’t hear from him for three months, and then he comes back with a Dr. Frankenstein monster of an album.”

Lecrae featured Canon on his album Rehab. Applying lessons learned through the mentoring Canon released “The Great Investment” in 2009 to widespread positive reception.

He was climbing the hierarchy.

canon-eagles-video-e1470357918356Then he plummeted — literally, not figuratively.

His death-defying dive resulted from him trying to help a truck driver.

He had only gotten married three weeks earlier.

The December concert was unusual because Canon was somber. He cut off the music, asked the fans to sit down and talked to them about being serious for Christ. “At any point, you could be gone,” he told the crowd, according to his road manager Brandon Mason.

Afterwards, he delayed hobnobbing with fans at the merchandise table, so Derek Minor got impatient and went ahead to the agreed-upon restaurant.

When Canon, his road manager and the deejay left in three separate cars at 10:30 p.m., they saw the flipped truck on a stretch of road with no lighting.

“I didn’t realize I was standing on a bridge,” Mason says. “That’s how dark it was.”

Both Canon and Mason parked and jumped out to aid the fateful truck driver. Canon kicked out the window and offered to help the driver get out. Canon warned about the fuel pouring over the pavement, but the driver was in some kind of shock and instead started the ignition, Mason says.

Canon jumped the median. He fell to the bottom of the ravine. Mason ran down to him.

“Man, I’m scared,” Canon told him. Read more about Canon’s fall.

Spanish-speaking black rapper was spit on as a child

propaganda christian hip hopPropaganda always felt like he didn’t belong.

Born in south Los Angeles, the Christian hip hop sensation was raised in the West Covina area where Latinos were predominant and violence prevailed. He couldn’t join the gang because of his color.

“I was the one black kid, being teased because of my color, getting chased home, getting banged on when we’re walking home: ‘Where you from man?’” he says on an I am Second video. “I’d recognize (the) homie. And I’d say, ‘Paco, what are you talking about? I live two streets from you.’”

propagandaThen Propaganda, whose real name is Jason Petty, moved to the suburbs, where he felt like the poor kid among so many Caucasians.

“We were these weird black people that spoke Spanish,” he says. “They didn’t get us.”

His dad had been a Black Panther in the 60s, energized by fighting police brutality. Mom and Dad eventually got divorced.

Propaganda began attending church. Of all the kids, he felt God the most intensely.

propaganda family christian hip hop artist“I was getting convicted,” he says. “I felt like God had split the roof open and was talking to me directly.

Moved by the power of the Word and the Spirit, he was born again.

He was disappointed when his friends didn’t get it. “The guys at my age, I remember them not being affected at all. It tripped me out because I felt like nobody else felt like that. But in my mind, it went back to just the same way I grew up: I’ve been ‘the only’ my whole life. So if I’ve been ‘the only’ there, I’ll be ‘the only’ here.”

He never missed church, and mom forced him to take notes on the sermons. She wanted to make sure he was listening. People saw his sensitivity to God and predicted he’d be a pastor.

propaganda jason pettyBut he wondered about where he would fit in best — with the church boys, the college-bound students, or the tagging street thugs. What he really liked was not the typical man things; he liked art.

From the sixth grade until his junior year in high school, Propaganda examined his life and tried to figure it out.

“I always felt like I don’t belong,” he says. “Whether I was born the wrong color, in the wrong neighborhood, in the wrong decade, to the wrong parents. I was not an alpha male. I was an artist. I would draw all the time. I wrote poetry.”

Finally, his father tipped him off to Jeremiah 1:9 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” and to Psalm 139:14 “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” These verses helped Propaganda to accept himself as exceptional and different from everybody else, a unique gift from God to the world.

“It was there that I finally realized my value is not determined by some innate, particular quality that I have,” he says. “No, your value is because God was willing to pay the cost of his Son for you.” Read the rest of the story Propaganda hip hop

Rapper 1K Phew says shooting attempt brought change, appreciation for Christmas

andy mineo christmasFor Christmas this year, hip hop artist 1K Phew can thank God not only for the gift of eternal life, but just plain life.

That’s because he narrowly survived being shot to death. It was the turning point in his life that caused him to reexamine what matters most.

1K Phew, whose real name is Isaac Gordon, was raised a Christian but started getting into trouble in his teen years.

“What really got me in a real-deal relationship with Christ was when I got in a real bad situation where I got shot at,” he says on video for Jam the Hype.

“I was fortunate enough not to get shot. Once that situation happened, I knew right then and there that if I kept doing the things I was doing, I was going to end either dead or in jail. So I had to make a decision right then and there as to what I wanted to do.”

1K PhewHe surrendered his life to Jesus and was born again.

He says Christmas has always been special time of year for him and his family.

“When I was in school, I was getting in all kinds of trouble. I got through all the whuppings. When Christmas came, there was a certain spirit that came in the house,” he says. “Christmas was the time of year we all did things together. We all came together as a family. No matter what happened throughout the year, getting ready for Christmas was so powerful to let us know that we could still have joy, no matter what we went through

the gift a christmas compilationRecently, 1K Phew released a Christmas carol album on Reach Records.

Yes, you read that right. Christmas carols a la hip hop. In a world where fusion food marries irreconcilably different styles to tantalize the palette, why would this seem strange?

Even Reach Record’s Senior Director of A&R couldn’t envision such a union. “Honestly, I wasn’t sold on Christmas and hip hop,” says Lasanna “Ace” Harris on a Youtube video. “I thought Christmas and hip hop don’t go together.

“The only way this could work if you take classic Christmas songs and re-imagine them. We wanted to dial back on trendy sonics and put more nostalgic, lo-fi sound with warm textures. We pulled back to the classic vibe of hip hop because I felt this album was going to be something timeless.”

There’s plenty of “re-imagining” of such inmortal classics as “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night” on “The Gift A Christmas Compilation.” The 116 Clique does much more than just repeat lyrics to new music, as so many artists have done before (making country carols or Hawaiian ukulele).

Reach-Records-1000x750They actually enter new terrain with new lyrical concepts, and the vintage carols are reduced to a motif in their rendition. The result is refreshing and original, a mixture of pop music, rhythm and blues, gospel and rap. But unlike most “new” Christmas music, Jesus shines through like the old. Read the rest about hip hop Christmas carols.

Is Christian Hip Hop dying?

Lecrae-Ty-Dolla-SignChristian Hip Hop is imploding. Its stars, lured by secular money, are leaving. New singers are ditching hard-fought standards (like no cuss words) and marginalizing salvation. It’s become disunited and sexist.

From what you read or watch online, you get the feeling Christian rap has a bad rap and its fans are now singing the blues. But is it true that Christian Hip Hop is descending to a deplorable demise?

A survey of CHH conducted by God Reports suggests that, contrary to controversy, Christian Hip Hop has never been more robust or vibrant. It’s reaching growing audiences and diversifying its message. It’s getting played all over the place, from the gym to WWE.

“Andy Mineo and Lecrae and some of these guys coming in rap are as good as the top rappers in the game,” says Sway Calloway, the host of the secular shows “Sway in the Morning” on SiriusXM Shade45 and MTV’s TRLAM. “It gives me chills when I can hear someone rap as good as them and put God in it.”

Part of the “problems” of CHH can be chalked up to growing pains. And another part is simply click bait; platforms fabricate or inflate controversy to swell their views and, by extension, their bottom line.

better late than never tour los angelesAny discussion of the current state of Christian rap starts with its de facto father, Lecrae. A fusillade has been unleashed on him for being too political, for signing with a secular label, and for working with artists who punctuate their work with profanity.

“Partnering with secular artists is very, very dangerous. You don’t see that worked out in scripture,” Wil Addison said in 2015 on Trackstarz. “Lecrae’s grown on the back of the church, and it seems like at one point he jumped off… You’re abandoning what you built your platform on.”

Wil Addison is not alone in his concern for Lecrae’s direction. Dismay is expressed over his collaboration with Ty Dolla Sign; is Lecrae muddying his message by working with a secular artist who raps X-rated filth?

Lecrae Devaughn Moore is no stranger to muck. He was sexually, emotionally and physically abused as a youngster. He learned to seal up the pain and pretend it wasn’t there, he said recently at Yale University.

Without a father in the house, Lecrae looked to male role models in the community and took up drug trafficking as a teenager. His grandmother was a churchgoer, but Lecrae wasn’t interested — at first.

In college he responded to the gospel and was piqued by evangelistic rappers. At a time when nobody thought Christian rap would sell, he co-founded Reach Records in 2004 and started releasing albums. He won Grammies and topped Billboard charts.

When he was at his peak, he signed with Capitol Records, which has been making incursions into the increasingly profitable Christian hip hop market, snapping up the surest bets (also NF, Social Club Misfits). How could he own a Christian label and become an artist on a secular one (albeit their Christian department)?

bizzle warriors anthemIt seems Lecrae was turning into a missionary. He saw the chance to work with secular artists and rap at more venues as simple evangelistic math.

If the Capitol signing wasn’t controversy enough, Lecrae — who’s always been vocal for African American rights — joined the Black Lives Matter movement. There were a string of innocent blacks gunned down by police, and the long-suppressed feelings of rage and powerlessness from the childhood abuse reared its ugly head.

Lecrae found himself marching on the streets in protests — and in the cross hairs of a political reaction against ambushing cops and a tide that swept Trump into the presidency. Broad swaths of fans and Christian leaders threatened to bolt. Lecrae couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t support the cause of the oppressed and judge the sins of the oppressors.

At an October concert in Los Angeles, Lecrae admitted that the last two years have brought disillusionment and depression. He even contemplated turning his back on Christianity altogether, he said. But a wise old Christian asked him to consider if God — not his fans — had ever abandoned him. Days of meditating that question brought the man of God back to God.

At the October concert, Lecrae’s language and performance undermined the accusation that he’s ditching his faith. Lecrae spoke of struggle and confusion. But his words were a testimony in front of the church.

Lecrae’s failings are emblematic of the growing pains of the wider spectrum of CHH artists. There are hundreds of rappers who associate to some degree with Christianity. No survey could cover all of them, but among those examined in in this census, the conclusions award CHH a clean bill of health: souls are being won, disciples are being made and the cause of the Gospel is advancing. The good things outweigh the bad:

Influence on secular artists

One of the biggest proofs of the strength of CHH is its impact on secular rap. This is ironic because people keep worrying that CHH stars are going to be influenced by worldly stars if they cross over into the secular market. But they don’t see that CHH is exerting its own gravity that pulls on mainstream mike-kickers.

Today, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West and Chance the Rapper — all top rappers — have mentioned God in a positive way in their music. Snoop Dogg, saying he’s returning to his Christian upbringing, just produced a double gospel album.

In “Jesus Walks,” Kanye says:

They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus
That means guns, sex, lies, videotape
But if I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh?

Meanwhile, new artists like John Gives are returning to their parents’ faith and becoming a testimony through their music. Malice renamed himself No Malice and began spitting the Christian message. He saw the light: his previous music was leading listeners down the wrong path and he wanted to rectify it.

This is what is missed with the Lecrae-Ty Dolla Sign collaboration. While Christians bemoan the “loss” of their star, they’re missing the positive — the potential of gaining for Heaven a worldly singer.

Once upon a time, secular rap artists and fans rolled their eyes at CHH, which they loathed like an embarrassing kid brother. But now such collaborations prove that secular artists have moved light years beyond the eye roll. They are more than giving the nod to CHH; it is now “game respects game.”

Saving souls in the streets

Getting celebrities saved is cause for enthusiasm. But we need to remember that God is no respecter of persons. The unheralded are just as important to Him as the BET idol. And here too CHH has a positive balance sheet.

Aaron Cole reported on Twitter that his music touched the son of a drug dealer. Shai Linne started a church in Philadelphia to create an ethos in which street sinners could relate.

One way for CHH to reach sinners is when its music gets featured in non-Christian venues. When CHH gets used in movies or played at the gym, the exposure has the potential to draw in unsaved, new fans much like a church picnic can draw sinners to church where they can hear the message of salvation.

On this front, it’s worthwhile to mention that Derek Minor was featured on Black Ink Crew, and Social Club Misfits got their music used on WWE. When the NBA Warriors wanted a new anthem for their basketball team, they tapped outspoken Christian rapper Bizzle for the job.

Even a Louisville strip club played Lecrae. When asked about it, he responded with the sarcasm that is becoming his go-to response to the controversy that hounds him as CCH’s #1 man: “I’m a real rapper now. Everything I’ve done earlier pales in comparison. I’ve made it,” he told Rapzilla in 2015. On a serious note he added that he supports ministry to the women trapped in the sex industry, and the power of the Gospel in his message needs to get where sinners are. Read the rest of Christian Hip Hop in controversy.

Hottest new Christian rapper is Latino WhatUpRG

WHATUPRG-Christian hip hop artist.pngWhen he was only 7 and already showed signs of liking hip hop, a woman at church talked to Raúl García’s mother to warn her that rap was of the devil.

It’s a good thing Mom and Son ignored her. Today Raúl — known now as WHATUPRG — has literally exploded on the Christian Hip Hop scene, signing with Reach Records at age 21 without ever having made an album previously. RG (his stage name reads “What up, RG?”) is the face of the next generation of Christian rappers who are ministering to a new generation of fans.

wesside whatuprg“My parents have always supported me in my music,” RG says to NewH2O. “I know in my heart where I’m heading and where I’ve positioned myself allows me to speak to people and let them know it’s not about a bunch of rules but about His grace and His mercy and His love. So when I rap I want people to know that they’re not alone and there is grace for them too.”

RG is born of Mexican parents who immigrated (illegally) to the United States. He grew up in Gwinnett County, Georgia, where he went to church, listened to Christian Spanish rap and loved to perform at church functions.

Despite doubters in the same congregation, RG’s parents supported his musical inclinations and even paid for his first album to be produced when he was 14, a recording he now calls “trash.”

WHATUPRG_REACH-RECORDSWhen he was 16, his dad was nabbed by immigration officers and deported to Mexico. This tore RG and led him to be outspoken on the divisive issue. “I’m still dealing with the emotional trauma to this day,” he tweeted.

It appears his dad is back home in Georgia, since RG tweeted about going vegetarian in 2017, only to be contradicted by his dad, who said they were eating carne asada. “I can’t be Mexican and healthy,” he quipped.

RG got noticed by CHH heavies when he filmed a video of himself and his friends at Walmart in 2017 with his song “Don’t Forget to Live.” The filmography was amateurish, but pros were impressed by the vocals and music. He started getting calls.

latino christian hip hop artistsSoon he was nobigdyl’s Indie Tribe and was featured on Mogli the Iceberg’s song “Ride My Own” and others. Just months later, Lecrae signed him. He was making waves but was still an unproven quantity since he hadn’t dropped a professional album.

“On my 18th birthday, I was getting a 116 tattoo on my knee,” RG tells Trackstarz. “When I was turning 21, I was talking to my lawyer about the contract.”

RG’s blitz to fame has surprised even him, and he says he’s focusing on staying rooted in God. “God honors humility,” he says.

he fact he wants to stay low is refreshing to hear, especially when one contrasts that attitude with the braggadocio rife in secular rap, with artists boasting about their knife wounds and talk in hyperbolic terms about being “gods.”

In May 2018, RG dropped his debut album Pleasant Hill, which created a sensation. He hit #7 on iTunes hip hop sales. A Trackstarz interviewer said there’s not a song he doesn’t like on it. David Livick lists him among the Top 10 artists of 2018.

There are detractors, many of the historic fans of the 116 clique who don’t like the new direction of the label and want the Old School material. RG’s not Christian enough, some say. “STOP Imitating and Start innovating… what’s the point of copying the World, sounding, Looking and acting like them?” comments Leveled Head on the “Wesside” video. Read the rest about WhatUpRG Christian.