Since its beginnings in the 1980s, Christian rap, also known as Christian hip hop, has slowly gained in popularity. Now artists such as John Legend are partnering with Christian rappers like Lecrae to bring this music to the masses. The song “Drown,” a collaboration between the two artists, has been streamed 25.5 million times on platforms like Spotify since dropping July 2020.
James Rosseau was one of the first evangelists of Christian hip hop. After 13 years of growing his Holy Culture Radio (HCR) entertainment channel, it now streams out of Wilmington, Delaware, showcasing the unique sounds of Christian hip hop artists like Lecrae, KB, Trip Lee, and A.I. the Anomaly. Through a recent deal with SiriusXM radio in April of this year, HCR now has an audience of 5 million subscribed listeners 24/7. It’s the only national station among a handful of local radio stations in the U.S. devoted to this sub-genre of music that blends gospel and hip hop.
“It’s an art form that is gaining more recognition,” says Rosseau. “We play over 300 artists that most people don’t even know.” As he explains, these artists come from diverse backgrounds – from the inner cities to rural America — who aim to promote the gospel.
Rosseau sees great potential in the future of Christian hip hop, as record labels, associations and event organizers of Christian music festivals are partnering with Christian hip hop artists. For example, next year Christian rappers such as Andy Mineo will be part of the Winter Jam Tour, one of the nation’s largest Christian music tours in the U.S.
The Gospel Music Association estimates that 50 million people listen to at least one gospel song a month. Christian rap is a subset of that market and the music resonates with this unique audience.
A former senior executive at JPMorgan Chase and Allstate, Rosseau has the leadership acumen to grow HCR–showcasing the work of artists like DJ Lost and Found and Brinson–carving out a very specific niche in the music industry.
Rosseau, 51-years-old, initially pursued his heartfelt passion for music as a side gig in 2000. Rosseau and his wife Aishah created The Corelink Solution in Philadelphia with $200,000 of their own savings. The foundation serves Black communities in the U.S., offering free career development services to youth and young adults at churches and schools. Later that year, the local Corelink Radio Show was born. It was a platform where Rosseau streamed Christian hip hop music on Friday nights and aired podcasts on career, entrepreneurial and education subjects.
His work led him to meet other radio broadcasters that shared his interests including DJ/producer Vic Padilla, the founder of Holy Christian Radio, also based in Philadelphia, which Padilla had launched in 2003. Rosseau partnered with Padilla in 2008, and a year later bought the station from him for $10,000 when Padilla decided to retire.
When Rosseau bought HCR, it was on life support. “There was no staff in place to record, produce and stream content and no advertisers to generate revenue,” Rousseau reveals. He brought in volunteers and interns to help build audio and publishing content on the radio station and on its website and used his own money to keep it alive.
“Juggling a full-time career, running a foundation and growing a radio entertainment business was really tough,” he recalls. “There came a time I had to decide to take a giant leap of faith.” So, in 2018, after shoring up more personal savings needed to keep his ventures self-sustaining for two years, the exec exited corporate America, moved to Wilmington, and began running his foundation and radio channel full-time.
He faced many challenges over the years until he snared the deal with SiriusXM. “The biggest was shoring up the capital needed to expand Holy Culture Radio and having the time and manpower to grow the business,” he points out.
Rosseau’s golden ticket was the 70-page business plan he put together for the executive team at SiriusXM. It included market research, a full description of HCR’s radio programs, and his strategy to reach an underserved market. “They were compelled by the value proposition,” he notes.
Today Rosseau runs HCR’s office and studio from Wilmington, Delaware and contracts with 14 other local radio station hosts throughout America. Currently he has an intern, consultant and one full-time employee who is the operations manager for Holy Culture Radio.
While growing Holy Culture Radio has not been easy, it has finally evolved into a revenue-producing operation that generates income from radio spot ads. Today HCR has four main advertisers and other advertisers in an array of sectors, from education and financial services to business services, in the pipeline.
By the end of next year, Rosseau expects revenues to reach $400,000 through radio ads on SiriusXM and digital ads running on the HCR website. “There is no market research on the size of Christian hip hop but if our listener base is any guide, it’s in the millions and it’s growing. Now everyone is taking notice.”
Favorite quote: “To whom much is given much is required.”
Mentor: Matt Winter, former president of Allstate Insurance. He taught me that there is nothing earned by playing it safe along the way as you build your business. Once you know what you want to accomplish you need to focus on your goal and go for it.
No.1 lesson learned: You need prayer and patience if you’re pursuing your purpose. I am pursuing my purpose in my second career.
Advice I’d give aspiring entrepreneurs: Do something you are passionate about as a starting point and back it with a business model. You’ll need that energy to drive you to continuously achieve.
This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.