The audacious Christian hip-hop movement, which to this point has been spearheaded mostly by independent artists and record labels, has made its way to Music Row with Word Music’s launch of a hip-hop imprint called 4 Against 5.
The new imprint is headed by Joseph Prielozny, the producer and artist development executive who helped guide the career of Christian hip-hop’s flag bearer, Lecrae.
Prielozny likens the rising popularity, word-of-mouth marketing and do-it-yourself ethos of the Christian hip-hop movement to rap music’s emergence into the mainstream in the 1990s. Obviously, the message of Christian rappers like Lecrae is different than Easy E, but the ethos is the same. Something fresh, something resonating is happening with Christian hip-hop and now Word, the genre’s oldest label, is buying in.
“Did you see ‘Straight Outta Compton’? ” Prielozny asked, referring to the 2015 movie about the rise of N.W.A to the top of the music industry. “Radio wouldn’t mess with them back in the day. Radio won’t mess with us now. The Christian world can’t understand that the youth listen to hip-hop.”
Word Vice President for A&R Josh Bailey said the past 20 years of music history have shown rap’s “dominance.” He said the crossover to Christian music was natural. Before the launch of 4 Against 5, Capitol’s Christian music division found success with another rapper, NF.
“I grew up listening to a lot of hip-hop music,” Bailey said. “I felt like we needed to be reaching more people with the music we are privileged to work with. To me with us not being in this space, we’re missing out on a bunch of folks we could reach, impact and share the Christian message.
“It was kind of a no-brainer we need to be in that space since it’s something a lot of us grew up in musically, so let’s use our resources on behalf of artist partnerships and go after artists reaching the hip-hop community.”
Prielozny was with Reach Records, the independent label launched in Memphis and centered around Lecrae in its infancy. Prielozny is one-half of the duo COBRA — along with Dirty Rice (real name Chris Mackey) — which co-produced Lecrae during his rise to the top of the Billboard sales chart. That would be the overall sales chart, not just the Christian chart.
Prielozny was actually a member of the first band, an acoustic duo called A New Leaf, signed to Reach Records. After the band broke up before its first album was released, Prielozny got a job doing production in a Nashville studio.
He was busy in that gig when Ben Washer, Reach’s founder and CEO, sent him some early Lecrae tracks. Prielozny remixed one, adding in electric guitars to give a rock vibe, and sent it back to Lecrae, who loved it. That track turned into Prielozny working on an EP, which turned into him producing Lecrae’s debut album, “Amped,” which turned into a job doing a bit of everything at Reach.
Lecrae ascended to the top of the Christian music industry, including headlining the popular Winter Jam tour, hosting the annual Dove Awards and regularly residing atop the charts.
In the early days at Reach, Prielozny, who graduated from Belmont University with a degree in music business, did a bit of everything. Artist development, contracts, royalty administration, of course production.
Prielozny described those early days as invigorating — a bare-bones team working in humble office space in a poor neighborhood in Memphis.
“We didn’t set out to be something big, or change the Christian music industry, but the Christian music bought in,” he said, adding that the marketing strategy was largely word of mouth.
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