Andy Mineo: Taking the message of Christ crucified into the charts

Wednesday 1st May 2013

Tony Cummings gives the low down on New York-based rapper, producer and minister ANDY MINEO

Andy Mineo
Andy Mineo

Andy Mineo can hardly have expected the huge chart success for his 'Heroes For Sale' album. It debuted at number one on Billboard's Christian and Gospel charts, number 11 on the mainstream Top 200, number two on the Indie Album chart, number four on the Rap Album chart and for good measure, entered the UK's Official Christian & Gospel Albums chart at number two. In view of the subject matter running through 'Heroes For Sale' the rapper, singer, producer, minister, actor and music video director from New York City is unlikely to get puffed up with pride with his recent chart achievements. Andy commented, "We make heroes out of a lot of things. We make heroes out of people. We believe ourselves to be greater than we really are. We make ourselves look like heroes to other people. What I really wanted to do is show the brokenness of the heroes that we create and the heroes that we try to be in order to show that there is ultimately only one great hero."

Mineo was born on 17th April 1988 and raised in a single parent home in Syracuse, New York. His was a troubled upbringing. He was kicked out of school because of his anger issues. The only things that interested him were sports and music. He remembered, "I was more involved in basketball and football until one of my friends and I just started rapping as a joke. We used to buy singles because we couldn't afford anything else. When you're 10 years old and you've got two or three dollars, you buy the CD single instead of the whole album. The CD single would have instrumentals, so we would just write our own raps to the instrumental on the CD. That's kind of where my love for it began. My buddy got a programme for the computer and we were recording in my living room. I put together my first rap and I fell in love with it the moment I heard myself on the beat. I said, 'Man, I want to do this forever!'"

Mineo became a hard-working young entrepreneur and not only recorded his own raps, but started a studio in his house where he recorded other young hopefuls. He became a local hero and at 17 had money, success and everything most young guys are looking to achieve. "When I got to about 15 or 16, I got all the equipment I needed to not only record myself, but have my friends come over and I'd record them. Other people got wind of that and said, 'Hey I'll come over and I'll pay to let me record,' so I started doing that. The business kept on evolving. I started making more money and bought more stuff, moved it into my basement and built a full studio with one of my friends, who was a carpenter. We created a little ghetto basement studio. That's how I made my money all throughout high school."

Yet despite the outside trappings of success there was still an emptiness in Andy's life. He found what he had been looking for when his sister Mary went to work at a church camp one summer and took Andy with her. "I was surrounded by loving people," he recalled. "There were a couple of guys that invested in me that summer, shared the Gospel with me, showed me what it is to follow Jesus, and that's when I had my first real encounter with Jesus." When he returned home, it was hard to grow in his faith. "All throughout high school it was really difficult to follow Jesus without having any community. I didn't have any home church. I didn't have any men to disciple me. Nothing. When I went to college is when I started to get that. In college, I got away from the situation I was in. God put me there and he put me around a bunch of people that loved God, people that looked like me and talked like me. They were into hip-hop like I was and it was really a blessing to meet some of these guys."

Andy Mineo: Taking the message of Christ crucified into the charts

Mineo met producer Alex Medina, who was to find major success with rappers like Lecrae and Trip Lee. Medina encouraged Andy to check out T.R.U.C.E., the urban gospel collective put together by Nicky Cruz - the evangelist and one-time gang member whose lurid early life and dramatic conversion was chronicled in the best selling book Run Baby Run. T.R.U.C.E. (which stands for To Reach Urban Communities Everywhere) were a revelation to Andy. "It was a group of young people that would gather on Saturdays to work on performing arts for the purpose of evangelism. I got invited to come check them out at a rehearsal and there was a whole bunch of men there, people my age, and they all loved God. They were an encouragement for me to start walking with God again. They showed me that I could use my gifts for him. I didn't have to live the way I was living. I didn't have to make the music the way I was making it. I could actually use everything that I have for Jesus. I got connected with people that showed me that I could do more with my life and my music."

Mineo began travelling with T.R.U.C.E. Then in 2009, under the name C-Lite, he released his first mixtape, 'Sin Is Wack Vol 1', a powerful project which even sampled author and Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias on the opening track "Night Of The Living Dead". Following that release Mineo sang on the Lecrae track "Background" featured on the hit rapper's 'Rehab' album (2010). Said Mineo, "That was the first song we collaborated on and since then we started to build a relationship. He came to New York and we shot a music video for it. We started to realize that we both had a similar vision, a similar mission in what we wanted to do with our music. They were looking to sign a new artist and I just seemed to be the right fit so I signed with Reach and it's been a heck of a journey ever since."

Mineo also contributed a vocal hook to "Reverse" on Tedashii's 'Blacklight' album (2011). When asked about his ability to sing a hook on somebody else's rap Mineo commented, "I enjoy making melodies," and said he wasn't too concerned about rapping when he supplied hooks for songs and was content with the opportunity to serve in any capacity. Mineo contributed to "Put On" from Captured By Flame and "Stop The Funeral" by The Ambassador.

In 2011 Andy released the single "In My City" featuring Efrain from Doubledge which gained some radio play. Also in 2011 he signed with Christendom's premier hip-hop label Reach Records. Abandoning the C-Lite moniker in favour of his legal name, the mixtape 'Formerly Known' was released.

Andy Mineo: Taking the message of Christ crucified into the charts

The 'Heroes For Sale' album has the most unusual start for a hip-hop project, the strains of the classic hymn "I Will Rise And Go To Jesus". Explained Andy, "I loved it so much that I decided to sample it and use it to open up the album. So my album opens with a traditional hymn, which is very rare for a hip-hop album, but I think that opening hymn embodies everything that I wanted to say on this project: 'I will rise and come to Jesus/I'm broken, sick, wounded/All I need is grace.' Those are the kinds of lyrics you'll hear on that opening hymn and I think it's a perfect set-up for the rest of the album."

After the haunting hymn the album breaks into "Superhuman". Commented Mineo, "Anytime someone gets a microphone we exalt the person speaking and often times we look at them as some kind of super human. We look at pastors that way. We look at basketball players that way, anyone who has a platform. So on the first song of the album I reveal a whole bunch of my struggles. I say, 'Hey, listen, though I have a microphone and though I might be exalted in some platforms, I'm not a super human. I'm just a fallen, broken person who needs grace.' We put on these masks and I really wanted to tear some of those down and create some vulnerability on this project. That's a lot of what that song is about, just saying I'm not that great, but my God is."

'Heroes For Sale' has been greeted rapturously by the critics. Wrote ChristianMusicZine, "'Heroes For Sale' is the best album in Reach Records' history" while newreleasetuesday enthused, "This is an incredible album that has to be listened to from beginning to end." Mineo spoke about the sound of the album. "We took a lot of chances on this album production-wise. I'm pulling from different influences and merging them all together. I love classical music. I love hymns. I love heavy metal stuff and I love hip-hop, so you'll hear a little bit of those influences all merged and different things happening that you wouldn't hear typically on a hip-hop album. There's a heavy metal song called 'Where The Wild Things Are.' I'm screaming on the song and there's heavy metal guitars and the song is saying 'I want to go where the wild things are.' It's an anthem to say, 'Hey let's step out of our four walls of the church and go where the wild things are, where the people are who need you the most.' I say a lot of things on this record that will probably shock some people and stir some controversy, but I think it's good to begin dialogue about where we should be and who we are trying to reach, even if it comes at the cost of me maybe offending some people and losing some fans."

As well as all his musical activities, he and a friend have planted a church in New York and now Christ Crucified Fellowship is a vibrant part of the community. "We're steadily growing and seeing more and more young people our age come and get baptized. It's exciting," he says. "I think that's why God made us this way. He hard wired us to love hip-hop, to love people, to love culture, to love the inner city, so why not take all the knowledge and things that he's given us and go teach it to people that need it, in places that aren't being reached. That's what made me want to plant the church. I have a passion for that and now that the church is up and running I'm able to fall back and focus more on my music because now other people are stepping into leadership."

Andy Mineo: Taking the message of Christ crucified into the charts

Mineo was adamant that Christian hip-hop will be with us for a long time to come. "It is absolutely undeniable that hip-hop is becoming the universal language. It's so influential because you are able to say so much in a short period of time. The essence of hip-hop is the boldness of it so you're able to be exactly who you are. You are able to say exactly what you want. You represent exactly what is deepest and dearest to you and people respond to that. They respond to that realness." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


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