For those who don’t know in the early 1990s there was a powerful music label who specialize itself in gospel rap. The name of this company was GrapeTree Records. Many underground and innovative artists were produced by this label. Here’s a synopsis on how GrapeTree records was conceived : In 1989, Knolly Williams was anxious enough to avoid the temptations inside Los Angeles to spend a summer in Austin, Texas working for his uncle. Although he’d given up his dreams of rap stardom as part of his commitment to Christianity, he allowed himself to write verses he deemed « poetry » but suspiciously resembled lyrics. According to Williams, the path toward founding a Christian rap label followed God’s giving him the name « Grapetree. »
Biblically speaking, Williams says the name represents a combination of people that were about to be destroyed (grapes) and the fully restored state of man in Christ (trees). After getting his GED, starting college, and working a series of Austin-area graphic design and retail management jobs, Williams decided to launch Grapetree in 1993 with his first release as Rubadub, Reflections of an Ex-Criminal. His second release, Mind of a Gangsta, wound up setting the tone for the upstart company.
By then, Williams had signed a distribution deal with Diamante Music Group, a mid-size distributor that handled retail accounts for more than 40 Christian indies. Three years later, Grapetree stood as the coalition’s bestselling label, with each Grapetree release averaging 10,000-25,000 units. At that point, Grapetree was releasing as many as 30 albums a year. To Williams’ surprise, finding the label’s talent wasn’t difficult. Grapetree artists routinely found other MCs disenfranchised by street life on the road and turned them on to Williams. By 1995, Williams brought his wife onboard full-time and quickly began amassing a staff. In 1999, Grapetree signed a lucrative distribution deal with EMI, the parent company of Capital Records. Grapetree was featured on ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, Newsweek and in over 300 newspapers worldwide. Many successful artists and rappers released their first albums on Grapetree record : Antonious, C.R.O.W, God’s Original Gangstaz, Nuwine, St8 Young Gangstaz and True II Society.
Here’s a selection of some underground classics by some gospel rappers who made GrapeTree a renowned hip-hop label during the 1990’s :