Alternative CCM rockers Skillet formed in Memphis, Tennessee, around the nucleus of lead singer and bassist John Cooper, guitarist Ken Steorts, and drummer Trey McClurkin. Debuting in 1996 with a self-titled LP, the trio returned two years later with Hey You, I Love Your Soul. Invincible followed in early 2000, and the group contributed three tracks to the Ardent Worship: Skillet Live compilation that same year. With a new lineup of Cooper on bass and lead vocals, his wife Korey Cooper on guitar and keyboards, Ben Kasica on guitar, and Lori Peters on drums, Skillet released Alien Youth on Ardent Records in 2001, followed by Collide, also on Ardent, in 2003. The latter album was then picked up by Lava/Atlantic and reissued the following year with a bonus track. Collide went on to be the band’s best-selling album to date (even earning a Grammy nomination), and Skillet supported the record on tours with bands like Saliva and Shinedown. Skillet’s next effort for the label, Comatose, appeared in fall 2006, followed by Awake in 2009 and Rise in 2013. A compilation album, Vital Signs, was released in 2014 to introduce the band to European audiences. Skillet’s ninth album, Unleashed, followed in 2016 and was bolstered by a deluxe version, Unleashed Beyond, which arrived in late 2017 and featured five new songs, including “Breaking Free” with Lacey Sturm. ~ Jason Ankeny & Steve Leggett, Rovi
For KING & COUNTRY is the amiable, anthemic CCM duo of brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone. Born in Sydney, Australia to a music promoter/entertainment manager father, and siblings of contemporary Christian singer/songwriter Rebecca St. James, the brothers grew up in a musical household and relocated to Nashville in 1991 as their father pursued a new career opportunity. Their first bow as recording artists was singing backup with their sister, which led to the formation of the grassroots duo Joel & Luke.
A name the pair chose to convey their message of believing in something bigger than oneself, as well as the devotional, emotionally honest nature of their lyricism, for KING & COUNTRY began in earnest in 2010. By that summer, their song “Light It Up” was featured in the Lifetime dramedy Drop Dead Diva. The following fall, the twosome released a self-titled EP for Word, featuring the songs “Love’s to Blame” and “People Change,” as heard on the supernatural CW series The Vampire Diaries, and “Busted Heart (Hold on to Me),” the fastest-rising debut single of 2011 on the Billboard Hot Christian Songs chart. First-time full-length Crave arrived in February 2012, having made Billboard’s list of the year’s most anticipated debut albums, while the Smallbone brothers hit the road alongside artists like Skillet and Sanctus Real for the Winter Jam tour. The album became a Top Five Christian album and made it onto the bottom half of the Billboard 200.
Hope Is What We Crave: Live followed in the summer of 2013, and that fall the duo released the Christmas record Into the Silent Night: The EP. It returned them to the Top Five of the Christian albums chart. In 2014, their second LP, Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong., hit number two on the Christian chart and climbed all the way to the 13th spot on the Billboard 200. A deluxe edition of the album appeared in 2015, offering a Christian number three hit in the bonus track “Priceless.” Released in time for the 2017 holidays, For King & COUNTRY issued the Christmas: Live in Phoenix album. ~ Chrysta Cherrie & Marcy Donelson
Bethel Music isn’t a group per se, but a Christian praise & worship collective centered around Bethel Church in Redding, California, and the ministry of Bill Johnson. Part church, part publishing house, part label, and home to singers, groups, musicians, and songwriters like Brian & Jenn Johnson, Jeremy Riddle, Steffany Gretzinger, William Matthews, and many others, Bethel Music releases collections of musical praise & worship gatherings. Highlights include 2012’s The Loft Sessions, which was recorded live in a refurbished loft over several nights of worship sessions, and 2014’s You Make Me Brave: Live at the Civic, which became their highest-charting album to that point by hitting number ten on the Billboard 200. Sony took note and began releasing their works with 2015’s Come Alive and 2016’s Have It All, which was recorded live during weekend services at Bethel Church. In 2017, Bethel Music released another live recording, Starlight, which was their first to be recorded on tour. ~ Steve Leggett & Marcy Donelson
While there’s no sure route to carving out a significant presence in the music industry, there’s always something to be said for remaining true to one’s self. Since arriving on the scene with his 2004 debut Real Talk, Lecrae has been occupying two different yet not entirely opposing worlds: the sacred and the profane. Which is to say that his art, not unlike his life, has been as much about inspiring the streets, and about justice, freedom, and interrogating real-world issues, as it is about his personal journey of faith. His music has long served as a call to arms for those willing to sacrifice for a cause beyond themselves. Still, he won’t be boxed in to any genre or made to serve as a poster-child for any particular agenda.
Following a host of celebrated mixtapes and LP’s, his most recent being 2017’s exemplary All Things Work Together, Lecrae returns with new music. Let the Trap Say Amen , a collaboration with acclaimed producer Zaytoven (Gucci Mane, Migos, Future), was born out of a mutual respect for each other’s work. Joined by common faith and a love for the trap, and after years of maneuvering through some of the same circles, the two Atlanta legends decided to come together. The result is a project brimming with thunderous beats, rapid-fire bars, and, as listeners have come to expect from Lecrae, vivid storytelling.
With over 300 million video views, comedian and viral sensation John Crist is the next big thing in standup comedy. Whether you know him from viral videos like “Millenial International,” “Road Rage in the Church Parking Lot,” or BuzzFeed’s “Signs You Grew Up Christian,” Crist has solidified his comedic prowess with over 200 live shows a year, highlighted by recent television appearances on Live at Gotham and Laughs on Fox.
Nine years in, Crist has shared the stage with some of the best in the business, including Dave Chappelle, Jeff Foxworthy, Tim Hawkins, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, Dana Carvey, Adam Carolla, Chris D’Elia, Anjelah Johnson and Louie Anderson. Anderson, named one of Comedy Central’s Top 100 Comedians of All Time, says of Crist, “It’s only a matter of time until John Crist is a household name. He is so likable and his stand-up is top notch.” Tim Hawkins, who Crist has performed with over 100 times says, “This guy ain’t no opener. John Crist is the real deal.”
Named by ChurchLeaders.com as one of the “Top Five Comics to Watch,” Crist is no stranger to accolades. He was a finalist in Comedy Central’s Up Next Comedy Competition, a finalist in the Comedy Works New Faces Contest, and named to the Burbank Comedy Festival’s Best of the Fest. “The most meaningful award I’ve ever won?” Crist says, “When I was first starting out, I’d just go anywhere I could find an open mic. One time I did a show at a bar and the winner won a free appetizer. Best cheese sticks I’ve ever had.”
Crist has created and starred in several videos for BuzzFeed and has made several appearances on the Bob and Tom Show. He has been featured in Men’s Humor, Relevant Magazine, The Adam Carolla Show, Cracked, The Catalyst Conference, The Nerdist Network, TBN, The Daily Wire, Huffington Post, US Weekly, and USA Today. He was even once a voice actor on the popular children’s radio show Adventures in Odyssey.
Crist’s tour schedule keeps him busy, typically performing in churches, comedy clubs and theaters. “It wasn’t always like that,” Crist says. “One time when I was first starting out, I did an open mic at a Chili’s. It was traumatizing.” To date, one of the most unique shows Crist has ever performed was a comedy tour for the troops in Middle East. “It was surreal. It was just me and a tent full of soldiers at this military base on the border of Kuwait and Iraq. No mic, no stage, no nothing. I was standing on a wooden crate. It was probably 120 degrees in there. It was comedy in its purest form.”
When asked where he finds the inspiration to write jokes, Crist says, “Shoot, I grew up in Georgia. My dad is a pastor, and I was the third of eight homeschooled children. Coming from a background like that, how do you NOT write jokes?!”
“Write what you know” is the best piece of advice Crist ever received on standup comedy and the reason why the majority of his jokes are on the topic of Christian subculture. “In high school, my parents made me get a job at Chick-fil-A. How much more stereotypically Christian can you get?”
John currently lives in Los Angeles with his zero cats and is a member of Churchome.
Dallas-based international worship leader and CCM songwriter Kari Jobe ministered around the world for over a decade with various worship groups before settling down as the worship pastor at Southlake, Texas’ Gateway Church in 2006. Jobe released her debut, a set of inspirational songs co-written with Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, Paul Baloche, Klaus Kuehn, and Mia Fieldes, on Columbia’s Integrity imprint in February 2009. The album was an immediate success, reaching number three on the Christian Albums chart and charting on Billboard’s Top 200 as well as netting her a pair of Dove Awards. Her similarly inspirational-inclined sophomore effort, Where I Find You, arrived in 2012 on Universal’s Sparrow Records imprint, this time topping the Christian chart and earning Jobe a Grammy nomination. A concert album called Majestic arrived in 2014 and featured new material recorded live at Dallas’ historic Majestic Theatre. A year later she issued Majestic Revisited, which featured alternate studio versions of many of the songs from Majestic. In 2017 Jobe issued her third studio album, Garden, which saw her working with producer Jeremy Edwardson (Jesus Culture, Hillsong United, Jon Foreman) and delivering a hopeful set conceived during a time of personal loss. ~ James Christopher Monger
Singer/guitarist David Crowder first stepped into the music industry when he realized that over half of the students at Baylor University, a Christian school that he attended in Waco, Texas, were not going to church. He began to actively recruit students for worship services and started writing songs to draw more young people in. He eventually started releasing the songs, leading to his debut album, 2002’s Can You Hear Us? The album was released under the name the David Crowder Band, as Crowder was joined by guitarists Jack Parker and Jason Solley, drummer Jeremy Bush, bassist Mike Dodson, and electric violinist Mike Hogan. Their sophomore effort, Illuminate, appeared in the fall of 2003 and was followed a year later by The Lime CD, which comprised two earlier live releases (The Green CD and The Yellow CD) that had been given out to fans who had either pre-ordered prior albums or attended various CD release parties.
Sunsets & Sushi appeared in early 2005 before the band’s next studio album, the bluegrass-tinged A Collision, was issued that fall. A spinoff of the latter album, entitled B Collision, came out a year later and focused even more on the group’s delvings into bluegrass. Remedy was released in 2007, followed by Church Music in 2009. A four-song EP, Summer Happiness, featuring acoustic versions of songs from Church Music, appeared in 2010. Arriving in 2012, Give Us Rest; Or, A Requiem Mass in C (The Happiest of All Keys) was the David Crowder Band’s sixth and final studio album. It was followed in 2014 by Crowder’s solo debut, Neon Steeple, which was released under the moniker Crowder. The album was a major success for Crowder, topping the Christian chart and reaching number nine on the Billboard Top 200 as well as earning a Grammy nomination for his song “Come as You Are.” He followed up in September 2016 with American Prodigal. ~ Bradley Torreano, Rovi
New York City-based rap and hip-hop artist Andy Mineo makes progressive, electronic-influenced hip-hop. Raised in Syracuse, Mineo began rapping and producing albums in his home studio while still in high school. Originally going by the stage name of C-Lite, Mineo was signed to Syracuse University’s Marshall Street Records and opened for such acts as the Roots and Common. While in college, he reconnected with his faith via a meeting with producer Alex Medina and the urban evangelism project T.R.U.C.E. He was soon touring with T.R.U.C.E., and in 2009 released his first mixtape, Sin Is Wack, Vol. 1. In 2011, Mineo signed with Reach Records and dropped the moniker C-Lite in favor of his actual name. That same year he released his second mixtape, Formerly Known. In 2013, Mineo returned with his proper full-length studio album, Heroes for Sale. In 2014 he released the EP Never Land, and 2015 saw the release of the hit single “Lay Up” along with the album Uncomfortable. Two years later, Mineo joined Wordsplayed for the collaborative mixtape Magic and Bird. Peaking inside the Top 50 of the Billboard 200, the effort featured the singles “Dunk Contest” and “Judo.” The next year, Mineo scored gold certification for the single “You Can’t Stop Me” with Messiah. The same month, he issued the EP I: The Arrow, which featured two songs with Weatherman, and included the single “I Ain’t Done.” ~ Matt Collar
Battle Creek, Michigan native Tauren Wells is a Christian rock and worship artist, and the former frontman for Dove and Grammy Award-nominated CCM outfit Royal Tailor. Wells co-founded the faith-based dance-pop band in 2011 alongside DJ Cox, Jeremy Guzman, and Blake Hubbard while attending Indiana Bible College (Jarrod Ingram rounded out the group soon after). Royal Tailor released two popular full-length albums and one EP between 2011 and 2013, but disbanded in 2015 when Wells announced that he was embarking on a solo career. In 2016 Wells inked a deal with Sony CCM imprint Provident Label Group and released his first single, “Love Is Action,” followed by the EP Undefeated. Early 2017 saw the release of the single “Hills and Valleys” — his biggest hit yet on Christian radio — and his debut full-length of the same name (following in June of that year). Boosted by heavy Christian radio airplay of “Hills and Valleys” and “When We Pray,” the album earned a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album. ~ James Christopher Monger
In late 2014, Sadie Robertson arrived at a crossroads. Fresh off a runner-up ate 2014, Sadie Robertson arrived at a crossroads. Fresh off a runner-up finish on Season 19 of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, the then-17-year-old saw her life swirling into a bubble of fame and glitz and paparazzi; it was fun, yes, but also she recalls, a decidedly non-normal and uncomfortable existence. “People looked at me differently,” the Louisiana native first introduced to the world as a star of A&E’s Duck Dynasty, says. “I wasn’t sure I liked the fame. I don’t see myself like that.” A devoted woman of strong Christian faith, Robertson wanted to use this opportunity to make an impact on the world.
“My passion is to speak, to write, to encourage,” Robertson says proudly. And with more than 5 million followers on her various social platforms, the young woman saw she had a direct line of communication to her peers. Specifically, she recognized she could be positive voice to those in dire need of an inspiring, non-judgmental presence in their lives. Now, in only a few years, she’s become one of the most prominent voices of her generation. Whether as an author or motivational speaker, the 21-year-old speaks with profound grace and clarity. Last year, the author of the New York Times best-seller Live Original: How the Duck Commander Teen Keeps It Real and Stays True to Her Values embarked on a 16-city “Live Original Tour,” where she met thousands of teens and their families and spread her message of self-confidence and positivity. This fall, she’ll be back on the road for another sure-to-be inspiring tour.
Atlanta-based Christian rapper William Lee Barefield III is best known to fans as Trip Lee. A founding member of the Southern Christian rap collective 116 Clique, Lee moved from his birthplace of Dallas, Texas to attend Philadelphia Biblical University. He made his full-length album debut in 2006 with If They Only Knew. His second album, 2008’s 20/20, featured guest and Reach Records labelmates Lecrae, Tedashii, and Sho Baraka. Not only did it break into the Billboard Top 200, but it also broke into the Top Ten of the Christian albums chart. His success continued with Between Two Worlds in 2010, his first to top the Billboard Christian charts. His second chart-topper, The Good Life, arrived two years later and also broke onto the rap charts. Lee published a book of the same name months later before announcing his intention to focus his message on ministry. He continued writing and became a pastor. In 2014, he released his fifth album, Rise, his highest-charting Billboard 200 entry (number 16) and his third Top Three Christian chart entry. A second book, Rise: Get Up and Live in God’s Great Story, was released in 2015. Lee’s sixth studio album, The Waiting Room, appeared near the end of 2016. ~ Jason Birchmeier & Neil Z. Yeung
Zach Williams wears many hats from husband and father to church staff and worship leader.
Most recently he can add recording artist to the list. Zach is no novice to the music industry. He had spent a majority of his life traveling with various bands. It was while on the road that the Lord grabbed a hold of him and he decided to leave the rock star life behind.
After that, Zach transitioned in to a position at the Refuge Campus of Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas in which he still serves. It came as a shock when the opportunity to sign with Provident Label Group as a new Christian artist arose. Never in his wildest dreams did Zach Williams think that he would be in this place of writing and recording music in the Christian music industry, especially from years of hard living on the road while in a rock & roll band.
His personal testimony of receiving freedom in the Lord is so beautifully reflected in his debut single “Chain Breaker”. The song came from a place of wanting to reach people who had been struggling and it undoubtedly has. Over the course of it’s release in the summer of 2016, an influx of stories have been shared on his various social media pages by people who have experienced the life changing power of broken chains.
Gawvi is the stage name of Gabriel Alberto Azucena, a Christian electro-pop artist and producer who has helped shape the sound of the highly successful Reach Records label. His music blends rap, pop, and dance music with positive, self-encouraging messages. Born in the Bronx in 1988, Azucena was raised in Miami and grew up listening to Latin and Caribbean music. He began producing under the name G-Styles in 2008, working with Trip Lee and Reach co-founder Lecrae. He officially became the label’s in-house producer in 2012, and produced artists such as KB, Andy Mineo, and Tedashii. Many of these albums charted high not only on Billboard’s Christian and Gospel album charts, but the general Billboard 200 as well. Lecrae’s 2014 album, Anomaly, which Azucena helped produce, was the first album to top both the Billboard 200 and the Gospel Albums charts. In 2016, Gawvi signed to Reach Records as a solo artist and began working on his debut album. The resulting We Belong dropped in March, 2017. ~ Paul Simpson
Born Kevin Elijah Burgess, Florida rapper KB exploded on the Christian hip-hop scene in 2012, topping the U.S. Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart with his debut effort, Weight & Glory. A troubled teen in high school, KB was saved by a Christian rap CD a friend gave him, and after one listen, he was on his way to a career in hip-hop for the Lord. Unfamiliar with the Christian rap scene, KB recorded demos with no network to hear them, but throwing his tracks on video-sharing sites and other social media gained the rapper a loyal following. Superstar Lecrae caught wind, took KB on tour as an opening act, and five shows in, KB was offered a contract with Lecrae’s label, Reach. The mixtape Who Is KB? followed in 2011 with KB’s official debut, Weight & Glory, landing a year later. The EP 100 followed in 2014, featuring a guest appearance from Andy Mineo. In 2015, KB delivered his second studio album, Tomorrow We Live, featuring contributions from Lecrae, Mattie, and professional golfer Bubba Watson. Two years later, as if in response, KB delivered Today We Rebel, his third LP, which again featured Lecrae and Andy Mineo, as well as guest spots from Aha Gazelle, Casey J., and others. ~ David Jeffries
Born Holly Marie Miller in Waverly, Ohio in 1997, Hollyn got her big break in 2013 as a contestant on season 12 of American Idol. A talented vocalist and singer/songwriter who cites pop, R&B, and Christian music as her main influences, Hollyn made it to the Hollywood rounds before exiting, and before long she was earning a name for herself in the CCM world. In early 2015, she appeared on the single “Backseat Driver” from TobyMac’s Grammy Award-winning LP This Is a Not a Test, and later that year issued her eponymous debut EP, which featured the hit single “Alone.” The EP went on to hit the Billboard Christian Top Ten. Behind the charting singles “Can’t Live Without You” and “Love with Your Life,” and with guests including TobyMac and Andy Mineo, her first full-length, One-Way Conversations, reached number six on the Christian albums chart in early 2017. ~ James Christopher Monger
U.S.-based English vocalist/drummer Jennifer Carole Ledger secured a life-changing role as the drummer of Christian hard rock outfit Skillet when she was still a teenager. After a decade with the band, she took her first steps as a solo artist with her debut EP, Ledger. Born in Coventry, England in 1989, Ledger moved to Wisconsin at 16. In addition to her high school studies, she also drummed with the band at her local church, which is where she was discovered by Skillet’s husband-and-wife duo John and Korey Cooper. With the then-recent departure of their drummer Lori Peters, the Coopers encouraged Ledger to audition for the spot, which she got in 2008. From the church stage to arenas, Ledger’s first outing with Skillet was on their Comatose Tour. Over the following decade, Ledger and the band released and toured behind Awake (2009), Rise (2013), and Unleashed (2016). In addition to her work behind the drum kit, Ledger also contributed vocals to each album with increased frequency. Under the guidance of the Coopers, she began to form ideas for a solo project as early as 2012. That music wouldn’t be fully realized until 2018 with the release of her first effort, Ledger (Atlantic/Hear It Loud). Produced with Korey Cooper, the defiant set of pop-influenced rock anthems was elevated by Ledger’s vocals, a stirring blend similar to Lacey Sturm, Cassadee Pope, and Hayley Williams. The set debuted just outside Billboard’s Top 50, rising as high as number two on the Christian chart and number seven on the overall Rock ranking. To promote the EP, Ledger pulled double duty on the road, opening for (and later playing with) Skillet on their joy.UNLEASHED 2018 tour. ~ Neil Z. Yeung, Rovi
A worship leader and a CCM singer with a decidedly mainstream rock bent — he often seems to be channeling elements of Coldplay and U2 into his inspirational rock — Cody Carnes first started making music as part of the Dallas-based Gateway Worship before he headed out as a duet act with his wife, Kari Jobe. He started his solo career in 2017.
Carnes first started playing music as a child, and headed his first worship service as a teenager. Throughout his teens and early adulthood he played with a number of bands, including Hit the Ground Running and Crimson Soul. He later became part of Gateway Church, which led him to a key role in the associated band Gateway Worship. There, he met his eventual wife, Kari Jobe. The pair frequently co-wrote songs together, including “Let the Heavens Open” on her acclaimed album Majestic. Carnes and Jobe released an EP called All He Says I Am in 2014. They married that year, relocated to Nashville, and had a son in 2016.
Carnes signed with Capitol CMG in February 2017, releasing “The Cross Has the Final Word” shortly afterward. By May, Newsboys reunited to record their own version of “The Cross Has the Final Word,” and by the end of the summer Carnes also released the singles “Hold It All,” “Til the End of Time,” and “What Freedom Feels Like.” His full-length solo debut, The Darker the Night/The Brighter the Morning, appeared in September 2017. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Singer/songwriter Riley Clemmons is a Nashville native who delivers upbeat, faith-based pop with R&B-influenced vocals similar to Tori Kelly’s and Rachel Platten’s. Clemmons grew up singing in church and performing around town, but was discovered at a high school talent show. She signed with Capitol CMG Label Group and released her debut single, “Broken Prayers,” at the end of 2017. ~ Neil Z. Yeung
A songwriter and performer of bluesy contemporary Christian rock, Chris McClarney had an itinerant childhood due to the work of his youth pastor father until they settled down in Nashville around his early teens. After taking piano lessons, leading small worship groups, and engaging in songwriting in the context of outreach, he briefly pursued a record deal in his late teens before putting music aside to live and work in a Nashville mission. In his early twenties, he became worship leader at a local church, and a few years later found an investor to help make his self-released debut. Love Never Fails was recorded in two days at the Sound Kitchen in Franklin, Tennessee and released in 2008. McClarney got a record deal with Kingsway Music for his 2010 EP Introducing Chris McClarney, which featured the worship anthem “Your Love Never Fails,” co-written with Anthony Skinner. The song was quickly adopted by the Jesus Culture, a youth ministry based in California, and used as its theme song, delivering McClarney to a national churchgoing audience. The EP was followed later that year by the full-length Defender, which also included the song. Featuring new songs recorded live at the 2015 Jesus Culture Conference Sacramento, Everything & Nothing Less arrived that June via Jesus Culture Music and Capitol Christian Music Group. ~ Marcy Donelson
Arkansas native and Tennessee resident David Leonard has been playing, singing, writing and
recording music since college when he and friends formed the band Jackson Waters. He later
performed with NEEDTOBREATHE before a season of recording as one-half of the critically-
acclaimed, GRAMMY Award-nominated worship duo All Sons & Daughters.
David is a Dove Award-winning producer (Confio/Jaci Velasquez) and creative partner in The
Creak Studio (Greg Sykes, JJ Heller, Brandon Heath, All Sons & Daughters) located in
downtown Franklin. He is also a Dove and Covenant Award-nominated songwriter signed to
Integrity Music. His songwriting credits include “Great Are You Lord,” “Christ Be All Around,”
“All The Poor and Powerless” and “God Who Moves The Mountains.” For more information,
visit The Creak Studio.
Born in Lubbock, Texas, singer and songwriter Josh Wilson was the son of a preacher, and not only was he exposed to hymns and classical music while growing up, but he also absorbed secular pop, rock, and folk, all of which he mixes into his contemporary-sounding and deeply spiritual brand of Christian pop. He released an independent album, Dragonfly, in 2004, following it with a second independent release, the Shake the Shadow EP, in 2006. That same year he signed with Sparrow Records, and in 2008 the much acclaimed Trying to Fit the Ocean in a Cup appeared from the label, with Sing: A Christmas EP following that same year in time for the holiday season. Another EP, Life Is Not a Snapshot, was released in 2009. On January 3, 2010, during an intense security delay at Newark Liberty International Airport, Wilson calmed and entertained fellow passengers by singing the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” and a video of his performance went viral soon after, greatly expanding Wilson’s audience. The self-titled Josh Wilson album appeared later that same year, followed in early 2011 by See You, which yielded two Top Ten Christian singles in “I Refuse” and “Fall Apart.” A second Christmas release, this time a full-length called Noel, arrived in 2012, and among the traditional holiday fare was an original track called “Jesus Is Alive,” which has since become one of Wilson’s most popular songs. Continuing to find success, Wilson’s next two albums, 2013’s Carry Me and 2015’s That Was Then, This Is Now reached number five and number four, respectively, on the Christian Albums chart, and both broke into Billboard’s Top 200 pop chart. ~ Steve Leggett
Christian hard rock outfit Disciple was formed in 1992 by friends Kevin Young, Brad Noah, Tim Barrett, and Adrian DiTommasi (who would leave the band shorty after inception) in an attempt to spread the Gospel while playing the loud, metallic music they loved. Over the years, their style evolved into one similar to many secular alternative metal groups, as they toured churches, high schools, colleges, and similar venues. Their self-released debut, What Was I Thinking, came out in 1995, followed by an EP, My Daddy Can Whip Your Daddy, on Warner Resound in 1997. Their sophomore full-length effort, This Might Sting a Little Bit, followed two years later on Rugged Records. By God followed in 2001 on the same label.
2003’s Back Again found the band on a new label, their own independent Slain Records. That year, the trio became a quartet with the addition of bassist Joey Fife to their lineup. The group signed with INO Records the following year and released a self-titled LP in June of 2005.
Scars Remain arrived on Integrity in late 2006. After years of nominations, the album won the band their first Dove Award for Rock Album of the Year.
In 2008, Noah and Fife stepped down from the band and their spots were filled by bassist Israel Beachy and guitarists Andrew Welch and Micah Sannan. Southern Hospitality arrived later that year. Before their next release, founding drummer Tim Barrett would also part ways with Disciple, replaced by Trent Reiff.
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Disciple’s eighth LP, in April 2010. It topped the Christian chart and entered the Billboard Top 50. As the band’s popularity grew, they embarked on a handful of tours with other top Christian acts like Thousand Foot Krutch and Skillet.
2012 saw the release of O God Save Us All, as well as a flurry of line-up changes. After four years with Disciple, Welch left the band to join Thousand Foot Krutch, while Sannan and Beachy were replaced by Josiah Prince (Philmont) and Jason Wilkes (High Flight Society). By early 2013, Reiff exited and was replaced by Joey West. Andrew Stanton also joined the band, leaving Young as the only original member.
The refreshed quintet forged ahead with the crowd-funded release of 2014’s Attack, which was their highest Billboard 200 entry to date, peaking at number 44. Produced by longtime Disciple producer Travis Wyrick, Attack also rose to the number two spots on the Hard Rock and Christian charts. It would be the first and last album with Wilkes on bass, who left the band the next year.
Vultures, a six-song EP recorded during the Attack sessions, was released at the end of 2015. Another EP, Live in Denmark, arrived the following year, accompanied by a series of concert videos from Denmark’s RiverFest.
The band — now a quartet — issued another crowd-funded effort in 2016. Their eleventh album, Long Live the Rebels debuted at number 125, making it the band’s sixth Billboard 200 entry to date. ~ Neil Z. Yeung & Steve Huey
Christian act the Gray Havens merge earthy indie folk with lush elements of pop/rock and strong faith-based narratives. Since debuting in 2013, the husband-and-wife duo Dave and Licia Radford have developed a reputation for soaring, emotional arrangements on albums like 2015’s Fire and Stone and 2016’s Ghost of a King.
The two singers met during a mission trip to British Columbia and married in 2012. Then based out of Crystal Lake, Illinois, they began recording together as the Gray Havens later that year, releasing their first EP, Where Eyes Don’t Go, in early 2013. Following a move to Nashville, they worked with producer Mitch Dane (JJ Heller, Brandon Heath) to record their ambitious full-length debut, Fire and Stone, in 2015. The dramatic arrangements and large-scale production also featured guest appearances from Jars of Clay member Stephen Mason and Tyler Somers of the duo Jenny & Tyler.
Their 2016 follow-up, Ghost of a King, followed a similar trajectory and yielded a live companion album, Ghost of a King (Live), a year later. In 2018, the Gray Havens began to release a series of new singles, including the bright synth rock ballad “Forever” and the more acoustic “Storehouse.”
Phil Keaggy is an excellent all-around guitarist who has been a part of the CCM scene for over two decades. Born and raised in Ohio in a Catholic family of ten, Keaggy always loved music and spent hours listening to such singers as Johnny Ray and Elvis Presley. He began imitating the latter as young as age four. Keaggy was also exposed to other kinds of music and became well versed in classical. His first guitar was a late-’50s Gretsch Anniversary model; at age ten his father bought him a Sears Silvertone, and by the end of fifth grade, he was playing in front of his entire school. Three years later, Keaggy was playing professionally with the Squires. He and his longtime friend, drummer John Sferra, founded Glass Harp in the late ’60s when he was in the eleventh grade. They soon became known as one of the most innovative power trios around, even though they were never together long enough to break through commercially. They had a contract with Decca, toured the country several times, and had a growing base of devoted fans, many of whom were knocked out by Keaggy’s lightning-fast guitar riffs and experimental sounds. At their pinnacle, Glass Harp was opening for such major acts as Iron Butterfly, Yes, Traffic and Chicago.
It was a lot of fame to be heaped upon such young musicians, and it being the late ’60s, Keaggy was exposed to and partook of his share of drugs. His life changed dramatically on February 14, 1970. While lying in a hotel room suffering from a bad LSD trip, his parents were involved in a head-on auto crash back in Ohio. His mother died soon afterward, and this spawned a crisis for Keaggy that led to his becoming a born-again Christian. In the early ’70s, Keaggy took to testifying before bewildered Glass Harp listeners after their concerts.
He left Glass Harp in 1972 and the following year recorded his first solo album, What a Day. He then spent many years working with a Christian fellowship and married. Since then, Keaggy has released well over thirty albums earning critical acclaim for both his virtuosity on guitar and his songwriting, which ranges from the Beatlesque pop of Sunday’s Child to more subtle intrumentals. He occasionally gets back together with the other members of Glass Harp for reunion concerts and continues to release solo projects including Roundabout in 2006. ~ Sandra Brennan
Discovered by manager Jamison Ernest while performing in a New Jersey coffeehouse, the duo soon assembled Burlap to Cashmere, recruiting guitarist Mike Ernest, bassist Roby Guarnera, keyboardist Josh Zandman, drummer Theodore Pagano, and percussionist Scott Barksdale; drawing on a vast range of folk and world music influences, they soon began appearing at New York venues including the Bottom Line, Irving Plaza, and Tramps, and also built a national cult following on the strength of their extensive tour schedule. After independently issuing a live record in 1997, the following year Burlap to Cashmere signed with A&M to release their major-label debut, Anybody Out There? The band’s sophomore self-titled album, featuring the single “Build a Wall,” appeared in 2011. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi
Christian rapper 1K Phew hails from Stone Mountain, Georgia, a city right outside of Atlanta. By his mid-teens he was already interested in rap, but was spending a lot of time getting in trouble in the streets. After an incident when he and his friends were shot at and narrowly escaped death, the teen shifted gears, turning to a life devoted to faith and reflecting that faith in his music. By the mid-2010s, 1K Phew was issuing mixtapes such as 2015’s Sunday Night and 2016’s Life, gaining attention both regionally and nationally for his confident style and technical abilities. In 2017, the rapper signed with Reach Records and toured constantly. That year he released his Never Too Late mixtape and guested on the Metro Boomin’-produced single “Hammer Time” by Lecrae. ~ Fred Thomas
A Christian rapper with a distinctive flow that’s laid-back but committed, Nobigdyl got his big break when his boss fired him for being better at his sideline gig than his main one. Nobigdyl was born Dylan Phillips on November 23, 1991 in Hayward, California (not far from Oakland in the San Francisco Bay Area). His family relocated to Bell Buckle, Tennessee when he was nine years old. At ten, Phillips showed he was a natural performer, becoming deeply involved in school theater and dabbling in professional stage work. He also discovered hip-hop, becoming a serious fan of the Notorious B.I.G. and Onyx, and writing his own raps, later recording as part of a hip-hop group known as Southside Epidemic. (Phillips also worked with a short-lived act called Broken Folk, where he rapped while playing the banjo.) As Phillips delved deeper into hip-hop in his teens, his interest expanded from performing to studio production, and he studied audio and production at Middle Tennessee State University before switching majors to focus on the business side of music. Phillips was managing a hip-hop artist who was a fellow MTSU student when Christian rap star Derek Minor spoke on campus; Phillips was hoping to pitch his artist to Minor, but instead Minor became a mentor to Phillips, urging him to take his music and faith more seriously. In his junior year, Phillips landed an internship with Reflection Music Group; he moved up to a job as merchandise manager with RMG, and later Phillips became road manager for Derek Minor. At the same time, Phillips was writing and recording music in his spare time, with an eye toward putting some of his material on the market. Minor, impressed with Phillips’ tracks as Nobigdyl, began talking up his work on social media, until Minor finally told Phillips he needed to focus on his music rather than road-managing him — and fired him to give him the push he believed he needed.
Phillips took Minor’s advice, and made Nobigdyl’s music his career priority. After dropping a handful of online singles, including “Indie,” “Beauty,” and “Pot of Gold,” Nobigdyl made his first full-length album, Smoke Signal, available as a free download via the online Christian hip-hop magazine Rapzilla in January 2015; around the same time, Nobigdyl was featured on Derek Minor’s 2015 album, Empire. Rapzilla named Nobigdyl an artist to watch in their “15 Freshman of 2015” listing, and he released several more tracks through the website that year. Nobigdyl also formed a musical collective with fellow Christian hip-hop artists Mogli the Iceburg and Jarry Manna called Indie Tribe, and in 2016 he made guest appearances on tracks by Nate Jordan, Lawren, Davis Absolute, and others. In 2017 Nobigdyl released Canopy, a ten-song effort that included the successful singles “Purple Dinosaur” and “Treetops.” The full-length Solar followed in 2018 and hit number 22 on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers chart. ~ Mark Deming
Nashville-based duo Apollo LTD make exuberant, ’80s- and ’90s-influenced pop that combines buoyant electronics, airy synths, and hooky guitars. Formed in 2015, the duo features singer/instrumentalist Jordan Phillips, and producer/instrumentalist Adam Stark. Previously, Phillips and Stark played in a band together and worked as songwriters before deciding to focus on their own creative output. They gained attention early on for the single “What Are You Waiting For.” Opening slots for bands like DNCE, Kesha, Panic! At the Disco, and others, also helped raise their profile. In 2018, they released their sophomore EP Out of Body, featuring the singles “One in a Million,” and “Tired of L.A.” ~ Matt Collar
A Seattle native now suffering in Southern California, Dustin Nickerson is an in demand comic on the rise. He’s been seen Laughs on Fox, the PBS Comedy Hour, Hulu and can regularly be heard on Sirius Radio XM, Rooftop Comedy, and the Darren Streblow Show.
Dustin describes himself as “the world’s most average person” but is far from it when on stage. He brings you into his life through his jokes about the struggles of parenting, marriage, and be generally annoyed by most people.
At just 32 years old, Dustin has been married for 13 years and has three kids! This helps makes Dustin truly one of the most unique voices in the comedy scene.
THE YOUNG ESCAPE are an emotive indie pop outfit known for their faith-based, electronic-tinged sound. They initially drew fans online in 2017 after releasing several singles.
Hailing from Riverside, California, THE YOUNG ESCAPE feature the talents of siblings singer/keyboardist McKenna Johns, guitarist Ryan Johns, bassist Kyrsten Johns, and drummer Luke Johns. Initially, they all started playing music together while still in grade school around 2010. Over the next seven years, they developed their sound. By the time they were teenagers, they were writing their own songs, drawing upon their Christian faith and combining their love of uplifting dance-rock and electronica. Signing with Capitol in 2017, they issued the singles “Good Life” and “Neverfade.” They also joined Crowder on tour that year.