The GospelFlava.com staff got together for a year end 'roundtable discussion' of sorts, as we reflected on some of the more noteworthy, unexpected, and interesting events that transpired in the industry in 1999. Here's a list of what we came up with, presented in no particular order:
Who would have that after a blockbuster Everlasting Love and a multiply-acclaimed His Gift Christmas album, Pioneer Music Group would suddenly disappear from the scene in early 1999? That set the stage for CeCe's dramatic summer announcement of the debut of her own entertainment empire, Wellspring Entertainment, with its recording divison (Wellspring Gospel subsequently releasing Alabaster Box this fall. The project has remained on top of the Gospel charts ever since.
More Mainstream Labels Go After Gospel
After observing the boom in Gospel music over the years, previously all-secular labels made 1999 their time to jump in the pool. Elektra signed Yolanda Adams and released Mountain High...Valley Low. Tommy Boy kept booming with multiple releases (Spiritual Pieces, Sara Von Davenport) from their new Gospel division. MCA dropped a veritable TON of Gospel classics under the revived Peacock Gospel imprint, paving the way for their planned full-fledged entry into contemporary Gospel. Columbia announced the signing of their first Gospel artist, Mary, Mary.
Where Did Your CD Go?
We're talking about you, J. Moss and Cliff Jones. And you too, Puffy. Not yet released, but promised for years it seems, but with no release date in sight, peeps are getting a little bit nervous. Former Becton singer Cliff Jones went so far as to snag an unusual advance review in Vibe (back in mid-1999). At year end these projects still appear to have no confirmed release dates.
More Than Just An Awards Shout-Out to God?
The list is growing: Woody, Lauryn Hill, Dave Hollister, Darkchild, Mase, Puffy....Anyone listening to any awards show will testify to the common-place occurrence of prominent shout-outs to Jesus Christ. But the names above went a step further in 1999, as each in various ways announced career-impacting decisions to either make Gospel albums or songs, or in the case of Mase, to turn away from their current musical activities for God-centered reasons.
Give the man credit for managing to accumulate massive press coverage, second only to the millenium bug, on the strength of no commercial product! The entire year went by with nothing on the shelves from the singer/songwriter/rapper/producer/dancer/you-name-it artist. Few in the industry have the complete knowledge of the complicated dealings that Tonéx has between himself, his own independent MSS Records and the following players: Tommy Boy Gospel, Verity, Rescue, Jive and Avalon Distribution. Suffice it to say that it's beyond the usual setup. Based on precious few copies of his out-of-print previous albums, his production and guest artist work on various 1999 releases (Unity Klan, Nancey Jackson etc.), we're vibing for solo stuff real soon. We hear it's coming....
No Contract for Vanessa?
Who would have thought that Vanessa Bell Armstrong would remain without a contract as the year closed? She joins Albertina Walker, Twinkie Clark and Maurette Brown-Clark in this 'huh??' category! And who would have thought that Donnie McClurkin would even have to look for a new label? Sighs of relief were audible when he finally found one (Verity) as the summer of 1999 came to a close.
The Rise of Gospel Hip-Hop
Long underground (very long!) and vastly underappreciated, holy hip-hop hit it big with the commercial success of The Gospel Gangstaz. Powered by the fuel of B-Rite Music and Interscope, the project went a long way to busting some barriers. With diverse crews such as The Cross Movement, Raiderz of the Lost, 1Way, Mark J. and multiple others deserving of at least equal attention, the future looks brighter than ever before for this sub-genre.
Gospel Goes Internet
(No, we're not referring to ourselves!). We're referring to the increasing awareness of the larger Gospel labels to the importance and the power of the internet in getting the consumer aware of their product. Labels such as Myrrh, Gospo Centric, AIR, Crystal Rose, Verity, Born Again, CGI and EMI Gospel made significant strides at establishing respective web presences. And in a first, 1999 saw EMI Gospel announcing an exclusively internet availability of the upcoming single from Tri-City Singers' next project, due out in late February 2000.
Upstart Labels Strike It Big
Small offices, big product. That sums up the stuff coming out of some of the upstart labels such as Trinity, Amen, First Lite, Holy Roller and Aleho as these have all seen significant chart success with groups such as Soul, Godsquad, The Flint Cavaliers, Brent Jones and the TP Mobb and Kathy Taylor-Brown & Favor (respectively).
How Do We Define Gospel?
It's a question on many minds this year. It started back in 1997 when the Gospel-filled but mainstream hit-driven The Preacher's Wife Soundtrack rocketed high on the Gospel charts. The question resurfaced in 1999 as Iyanla Vanzant's album spent some weeks as Gospel's number one album. The Oprah-fueled and new age based spoken advice guru combined Gospel and mainstream artists together. Is it really Gospel music? And what about the recent Gladys Knight inspirational album. The kicker here is that Knight is a self-professed Mormon. Is this Gospel? And do these projects belong on the Gospel charts?
Who would have guessed? Hezekiah Walker inks one of the best, if not the best writing and publishing deals in Gospel music history (with Lily Mack Publishing).
How Darrett They!!
Award nominees often generate more discussion for who is NOT included than for who is. That's the case with The Stellar Awards, to be announced in January 2000. For some inexplicable reason, Montrel Darrett was left off the nominations for 'New Artist of the Year'. With a ground-breaking soulfulness, his debut Chronicles of the Soul project on EMI Gospel seemed a certainty for a nomination, if not a win. We still can't figure this one out...
Gospel Music Finally Finds 'Song of Solomon'
He set the standard for Gospel music designed for Christian married couples, with his chart-topping Sacred Love Songs on Island Inspirational. You knew it had to be TD Jakes. That long-empty void has continued to be filled with contributions from Amani (Issues of Life from Diamond Cut / Grapetree), and upcoming marital projects from Chris Byrd.
The Dreaded Gospel
So, hip-hop wasn't the only sub-genre gaining notoriety in 1999. Gospel reggae joined those ranks too, with a high profile release of Papa San's Victory project on B-Rite Music. Others joining him were deLANO, (CMN Music), Blood Brotherz' sophomore project (CMN Records) Christafari (Lion of Zion Entertainment), Temple Yard (Gotee) and Christ Fa Real (Grapetree). And there's more in the wings for 2000.
Here It Comes...There It Goes Why? It was refreshing, enjoyable, and about time. The one hour Saturday morning Gospel video show on BET, Lift Every Voice was pulled off the air before we could even get our groove on. Here in September, gone in November.
Gospel Artists Are Executives Too!
It's all the rage, and it seems to be working! With the well-known keyboardist and producer Kevin Bond behind the A&R door at Gospo Centric / B-Rite Music, and with producer Steven Ford now signed to CGI/Platinum, it seems like labels are realizing the pros of bringing that sort of experience under their wing. Former Witness member Marvie Wright began the year behind the marketing desk at Myrrh Black Music, and at year's end sat as VP at Tommy Boy Gospel. Former Blackberry Records artist and producer Pharis Evans Jr. now claims a VP A&R position at the rising star of Meek Records, and Carvin Winans held a spot with A&R responsibilities for a segment in 1999 at Myrrh Black Music.
So, that's just some of the meaty stuff from 1999. And it seems that not only will some of these issues spill over into 2000, but that some brand new situations are emerging too. Hold on!!