There has been a lot of dialogue in recent months and years about this industry around many things with a lot centered around the careers and success of leading industry figures like Lecrae, NF, Andy Mineo, KB, and others. This article is being written from a promoter’s perspective with a primary focus on the audience growth, that impacts concert attendance, or lack thereof from Lecrae and NF. This article talks about lessons learned for up & coming Christian rap artists, CHH artists, hip hop artists who are devout Christians, etc. and this article will use one of these terms periodically to cover all of these category of artists.
I am Dante Crockett and I am the principal owner of Fearless Entertainment which has promoted more than 40 CHH, spoken word, and gospel music events since 2010. These events have ranged from 3K+ attendees for a Reach Records tour to a couple of hundred at a filled-to-capacity mainstream venue for a Christon Gray show and everything in between. I also produce an online radio show with smartphone apps and on podcast with regular appearances in the top 50 to 100 for all music podcasts in iTunes. Fearless Entertainment has put in many hours and invested much funds into promoting events over the years and wants to see growth in this music scene. I enjoy different kinds of music and I believe that Christians artists are not required to make explicitly gospel music but are required to make music that doesn’t dishonor God. This editorial hopes to add some nuance to the conversations that have taken place with the ultimate goal of encouraging the artist community to maximize their audience for their message and keep the influence of this music as high as possible.
This is part 1 of a 3-part series. We recommend that you read each part in full to develop a full perspective. As with anything, not all lessons apply to all people but let’s please learn from one another as there is wisdom on things to do and things not to do from observing others.
Part 2 of this series will cover the impact that supporting mainstream artists has had on support from a Christian fanbase. Part 3 will highlight a perspective on the biggest and most impactful issues in the CHH scene; race and social justice.
Lessons Learned #1
1) Don’t run from the Christian artist label. You don’t have to claim it but you can unnecessarily alienate supporters by rejecting it in a way that can be perceived by your supporters as being ashamed being associated with Christians.
Lessons from Lecrae – It is More Than Race
In fall 2012, after the release of Gravity, Lecrae was the primary attraction on the Unashamed Tour 2012. The Detroit tour date drew 3300+ people to a church venue. The racial makeup crowd was about 50/50 black & white a few weeks before the Obama / Romney election. There were hundreds from large suburban predominantly White churches and hundreds from many predominantly Black churches who all had a great time where the music was the unifier. There were families who attended the event together from 13 year old grandchildren, parents, and grandparents and there were young & fashionable hip hop fans, both Black and White, who otherwise wouldn’t have been in a church. Fearless promoted Gravity West Michigan show where Flame, and Grand Rapids artist BeaconLight were openers and sold out a 2200+ seat church venue with at least 300+ people turned away. The show was in the Grand Rapids, MI area with good attendee diversity, given the demographics of west MI.
In later years, Lecrae went on to have Anomaly as the #1 album in the country in its release week, and he has appeared on Jimmy Fallon, Good Morning America, Sway in the Morning, countless mainstream radio interviews over the recent years, and have a collaborative relationship with Columbia Records(Beyonce’s label) for his All Things Work Together album release & promo. In recent months, Lecrae has given interviews sharing that the primary narrative is that racial issues with Lecrae and the “white evangelical” church is the cause for this and it is the largest portion of the cause for his audience shrinking. I believe that there are other issues at play in addition to race that the community needs to consider and takes lessons learned, particularly the artist community.
Lecrae’s Anomaly tour drew approximately 1800 at the Fillmore Detroit in fall 2014. The Anomaly tour drew about 1500 to the Deltaplex in Grand Rapids in fall 2014.
This album went gold but the audience wasn’t the same as it was for Unashamed Detroit and Gravity West Michigan when he sold popular albums. Lecrae’s All Things Work Together tour drew approximately 700 at St. Andrews Hall in fall 2017. The crowd at both of these Detroit area shows was approximately 30% Black
Not a Christian Rapper
Lecrae’s support in the Christian community, not just the “white evangelical” community started to erode as Lecrae spent noticeable time in his mainstream media interviews saying that he was NOT a Christian rapper. To reiterate, Unashamed 2012 was 50/50 Black/White with 3300+ in attendance. Support from the Black Christian community started to wane before the more recent racial issues with a portion of the issue being Lecrae running from the Christian rapper label.
To those in the community who had a concern with this, there is a difference between (1) responding that you don’t consider yourself a “Christian” artist but being considerate of the supporters who consider you a Christian artist[ex. “I don’t label myself that way but understand those who do and prefer to let my music do the talking”] (2) actively saying in many interviews when the mainstream national attention comes that you are NOT a Christian rapper including when receiving a gospel award and say unsolicited that you are not a gospel artist. #1 is much better than #2 as #2 can be perceived as you being ashamed of the Christians who support you.
Lessons learned – Your brand to your fans is not what you think it is, it is what others think you are. This is not specific to music and artists but does apply to music and artists. You can unnecessarily alienate a portion of your fanbase running from the Christian artist label. Your music will do the talking and even if you aren’t proselytizing, your fans will rock with you if they relate to what you are saying.
Lessons from NF
NF was an Xist Music artist in 2011. He is from Michigan and wanted to open for the Fearless Entertainment-promoted Misfit Tour in Detroit in fall 2011 where Mali Music, Da Truth, and The Ambassador were the headlining artists. Because he didn’t have any draw at the time and the event was full, he wasn’t added to the show.
NF was a late-addition to be an opener in fall 2013 on the Heroes for Sale West Michigan concert in Grand Rapids area featuring Andy Mineo, KB, and George Moss that drew about 750 people.
In spring 2017, NF headlined his Therapy Session tour at 20 Monroe Live in Grand Rapids which has a capacity of 1700. In fall 2016, the Therapy Session tour was held at St. Andrews(capacity 700). In February 2018, the Perception tour sold out the Fillmore Detroit, which has a capacity of 2200, a couple of months before the show. This is the same venue that Lecrae didn’t sell out on the Anomaly Tour in 2014. Looking at his website, it looks like nearly his entire tour sold out including many shows selling out over a month before the tour started.
NF had the #1 album in the country when Perception was released with virtually no mainstream support . When interviewed, he said he doesn’t consider himself a Christian artist similar to Lecrae but that hasn’t been a steady topic for him. His music arguably has less Christian content than Lecrae’s music with nary a mention of Jesus, Christ or God yet his audience is growing amongst Christians without any of the mainstream media support which Lecrae receives. Christians have shown they will support great music and buy concert tickets without explicit proselytizing and Scripture reference. It is unnecessary alienation to run from the label if Christians at festivals, churches, promoters, have supported you your whole career. We hope NF, as his public communication opportunities potentially increase, doesn’t run from
the label even as he doesn’t claim the label. We hope other Christian rappers, rappers who are Christians, … can handle this situation better in the future.
It is likely that NF being White plays a role in some of his continued growth but being White alone can’t be the entire issue though as Andy Mineo’s audience would have grown over time also. In the Detroit market, Andy Mineo’s Friends and Family tour date in fall 2017 at St. Andrews Hall didn’t grow from his Uncomfortable tour date in fall 2015 at the same venue. The concert was great as the chemistry between he and Wordsplayed along with having Social Club Misfits on the bill made for an incredible night. It is hard to know exactly how much Andy’s support shrunk due to the tide of Reach Records getting lower with Lecrae’s audience concerns or how much not having a full-length solo project since 2015 played into it. Being White alone isn’t the issue.
Another interesting piece of info is that NF was an opener for the Big Show in December 2017 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit where the Detroit Pistons and Detroit Red Wings play. This is the yearly mega-concert co-promoted by a major hip-hop/R&B station and a major top 40 station in Detroit. Other artists on the concert bill included Chris Brown, Young Jeezy, and Tee Grizzley.
NF recently announced that he is touring with the mainstream artist Logic. We will discuss how that may impact his following later in a later article in this searies.
Summary Considerations from NF’s Career – NF went from an unpromoted, last minute opener for Andy Mineo in 2013 to selling out a tour in large mainstream club venues in the US and having a 20+ date European tour in 2018. His new album Perception has very little explicit Christian content but sales are increasing from his primarily young Christian fanbase. He also doesn’t consider himself a Christian rapper. He doesn’t work with all the well-known industry hip hop producers like Lecrae but he is starting to get some mainstream top 40 and hip hop station airplay and mainstream recognizes him to put him on major mega-concerts like the Big Show. Looking at the lessons learned recommendations from this article, he hasn’t treated the Christan rapper title as something to be ashamed of even though he doesn’t claim it, in his music, on social media, and in interviews. Time will tell how these principles affect NF’s career in the future but kudos to his audience growth to this point.