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Elev8 Trailblazers

Source: Christopher Cavanaugh / Brandon Coton / iOne Digital

Christian hip-hop and R&B. Does it even go together? The answer is, “YES.” 

Urban Christian music, or gospel as we know it, has always evolved with culture. Thomas Dorsey gave us blues. Aretha Franklin gave us soul. The Clark Sisters soared with a contemporary vibe. Kirk Franklin, well, he fused all of those elements with traditional gospel music to give us a whole new rhythmic sound, much more akin to the delivery of hip-hop. And when trap music started bubbling up, that’s when we saw rappers like Lecrae and Trip Lee arrive with holy bangers like “Jesus Muzik” during the iPod playlisting era that helped transcend traditional ways of consuming Christian music in our culture. Now, there’s a new lane for Christian hip-hop and R&B, and the hunger for it is being met with a wave of creatives who are rewriting the rules and eager to share their stories. 

We greeted seven of them recently in a massive studio tucked away in the Northwest side of Atlanta. Ironically enough, next to a multigenerational church and not too far from the hip-hop landmark that is Bankhead. Just a few minutes from world’s first hip-hop museum—the Trap Museum—and a few minutes north of the historic Martin Luther King Jr. Drive that honors Dr. King’s legacy and heart for an equal community. 

Childlike CiCi


Jor’Dan Armstrong

Lee Vasi

Mike Teezy

Stevie Rizo


Before they were artists serving their community with lyrical content, they were believers of God’s promise and lovers of music’s impact. Collectively, they’re carving out a distinct space where they are redefining the sound of testimony with their creative approach and collaborative nature.

Elev8 Trailblazers

Source: Christopher Cavanaugh / iOne Digital

The energy was high as they gathered in a green room awaiting a group photoshoot that would introduce them as “trailblazers” of this revolutionized movement. “It’s like a reunion in here,” Stevie Rizo points out. In some sort or another, they’ve shared stages, have been featured on each other’s songs, or have shown love on social media. Their support within their community was even more evident during breaks on set when they started creating content with each other.


Christians creatives have something to say. 

Music has always been a part of our cultural identity. People get caught up in the title, but Christian hip-hop and R&B is just an around-the-way expression of a testimony. Poetic. Almost like a diary. It’s raw. It’s more than just music — it’s a lifestyle that encourages accountability and it’s filled with the complexity of all the things that make up who we are: Believers, confident, self-conscious, misunderstood, trendsetters, emotional, relational, expressive, resilient, fill in the blank. 

“The gift that God has given me and along with my other friends who are here [on set] is special. I remember 10-15 years ago, we didn’t have these types of opportunities,” Jor’Dan Armstrong expresses. “We didn’t have these types of platforms. We were frowned upon because we were different or because we had a different approach to what gospel sounded like. I’m grateful to be a part of what God is doing in the industry and the genre that we’re in. Lives are being changed.” 

These artists don’t quite fit your traditional gospel music or hip-hop/R&B charts, but they do continue to bust down doors, making room for an alternative sound, familiar to those unchurched and those of us who still rock out to mainstream music. 

Take Jor’Dan Armstrong, for example, who tapped into his R&B bag with albums like Church Girls Love R&B, defying the odds to reach no. 1 on iTunes R&B chart. He followed that success with consecutive Billboard no. 1 hits “My God” and “Call” featuring Erica Campbell.


“If you listen without the label ‘Christian’ you will be surprised at how good some of the artists are in this space. However, sometimes the stigma of Christian or Gospel makes people think they know what it is before they even hear it,” Armstrong’s manager and founder of the faith-based SeaQ Management company, Tareo Johnson, says. “I see [the genre] continuing to gain traction both within Christian communities and potentially reaching a broader audience. Because now more than ever people need hope and positivity.”

While these trailblazers share similar success stories of discoverability, each artists’ viral streaming success is a unique tale. In a clever way, Childlike CiCi trolls herself with social media videos that in a sense asks viewers, ‘can you believe what this girl said in a song?!’ When in fact, she is the girl who said it. For Stevie Rizo, it was his musical interpretation of Bible stories like “Esther” that took off, providing affirmations to women in their waiting season of singleness. 



Their impact, however, extends beyond their musical reach. Wande, who co-hosts The Winners Circle podcast, grew up with a Muslim father who at one point forbid her from going to church when he found out she got saved. She held on to her faith. The same way Mike Teezy, who also expresses his beliefs through his HRVST Land clothing line, held on to his faith after two traumatic accidents that doctors said would leave him paralyzed for life. He was run over by a drunk driver at age seven and later in his life got into a car accident that snapped his lower back. By God’s grace, his story didn’t end where doctors predicted, but it is a story he’ll continue to tell because “people need to know of the miraculous power of God,” he says. “It exists.” 

There is heart and humility behind the music. 

Not everyone connects with traditional gospel music, but it’s artists like Mike Teezy who continue to pull inspiration from it to create music that appeals to a younger generation, just as trailblazers like Kirk Franklin, Lecrae and others alike did. “I think it’s dope that we can continue what they’ve already done,” Mike Teezy says. Gospel influences have even inspired Jor’Dan Armstrong, a “church boy from the hood” who found his voice at Sunday service.

“I can remember moments in church where we talked about finding our wives [and ladies finding your husbands]. But we never talk about what happens when it goes left. Church girls and church guys go through heartbreak too. And I wanted to give people that are going through those types of situations an outlet. A lot of times we run to R&B when we’re going through things like that because R&B is speaking about what we’re going through. Heartbreak or trials and tribulations. A lot of times that music can be a little toxic,” Jor’Dan Armstrong says. He uses his own relational experience as a blueprint to his message. 

Elev8 Trailblazers

Source: Christopher Cavanaugh / iOne Digital

On the other side of the studio, when asked about what role her personal testimony plays in the music she creates, Lee Vasi says it’s a big part. “Whenever I write, it’s always coming from a place of vulnerability. I’ve always been a wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve kind of girl and that’s been kind of amplified in this Christian genre because it’s really soul work that this music is stemming from,” she shares. “I know I’m not perfect. I’m trying my best every day to live up to who God has called me to be and my music is a reflection of that honesty that I have with myself and a place I’ve had to get to as well to have grace for myself with that fact. I just hope to encourage people not only through my music but just sharing the things that God has brought me through because I used to think there wasn’t another side of a valley that I had been in for some years and God has showed me over and over again that there’s always another side worth leaning on Him to get to.”

Everybody’s valley looks different, but having a community who can relate in some way is a game-changer. 

In her song “Memories,” Franchesca creates dialog with transparency: I thought that you should know that God delivered me. I thought that you should know that I have history.


“I thought that you should know these things whether you’re an unbeliever or you’re a believer because in the church we have a tendency to kind of mask what it is that we’ve been through and it’s like, ‘oh I’m blessed now.’ But the lost need some type of bridge to see that it’s attainable. What happened in the middle? What did you get delivered from? I’m not saying spill all your business … the word of God says that we overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony and I feel like a bit of that overcoming has a lot to do with winning souls from the kingdom of darkness. In my music I’m able to [relate]. You’re able to see this girl has a past but you would never know that. You would never know until I told you and that’s nothing but the blood of Jesus that has covered me and transformed my life.”

This music is personal, but it’s also healing masses. 

“I understand where God has brought me from and what he’s brought me through,” Childlike CiCi explains. “This is not in theory. I’m not saying this because I went to my mama’s church [or because] someone told me this. It’s because God really took me from a dark place.”

Christian hip-hop and R&B may not come in your traditionally packed gospel delivery but the messengers come with three resounding offerings — community, transparency and redemption — using their own lives as a testament to the way God can take every part of our individual stories and use them for His glory. 

“I think the landscape of Christian hip-hop and R&B is at an amazing place right now. I think we have so many diverse artists to where you’re not just getting one thing every single time. I feel like people are unapologetically not afraid to be themselves and give you quality while still challenging you in your faith with every song. I feel like it’s in a great place and I’m excited to see people discover the music. But discover it in a way that is at a peak with creativity, excellence and subject content,” rapper Wande reiterates. “How I navigate having mainstream palatable music while at the same time honoring my beliefs is really just walking in authenticity. I feel like if you’re really called to music, to do hip-hop, it’s something that just kind of flows out of you because of hip-hop culture. From that it’s really just speaking on what you love so whatever’s inside of you kind of flows out. I love God so that’s going to flow out in everything I do.” 



Talent: Childlike Cici, Franchesca, Jor’Dan Armstrong, Lee Vasi, Mike Teezy, Stevie Rizo, Wande

Cover Story: Aliya Faust

Photographer: Christopher Cavanaugh

Design: Brandon Coton

Creative Director: Aliya Faust

Hair & Makeup: Elijah Cohen

Director of Production: Naima Simmons

Cinematographer: Christopher Cavanaugh

Production: Chrisfoto Studios

Production Assistants: Tristan Powell & Tyler Thompson

Senior Social Media Strategist: Gabriel Williams

Christian Hip-Hop and R&B Artists You Should Be Following
Elev8 Trailblazers
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