For ten years, the name The Cross Movement has been synonymous with gritty East Coast rap and piercing Bible-based lyrics. In an age when large hip-hop collectives, such as the Wu-Tang Clan and Junior Mafia, were en vogue, seven young Christians were bound by different ties than most and, in turn, outlasted most of their early contemporaries. Since then, they have toured globally and have been covered by media outlets as diverse as Time Magazine, CCM Magazine, The Source and The Washington Post. With so many articles written and stories told about them, the members of The Cross Movement remain most focused on one story, HIStory: Our Place in His Story.
And as with all good stories, chapters end. HIStory marks the final official studio album by The Cross Movement as a collective. Although the group always planned to only release seven projects, a final project can still be a daunting task logistically, emotionally and musically.
Where there were once seven ragtag kids performing for pennies and sleeping on church basement floors, today there are four committed and busy family men. The Tonic (John Wells) details how The Cross Movement has evolved. “I’m currently president of both Cross Movement Records and Issachar Recordings and developing a new Christian media entity. Phanatik (Brady Goodwin) is a Bible college student and is running the website Christianhiphopper.com. T.R.U.-L.I.F.E. (Virgil Byrd) runs both the studio and A&R for Issachar Recordings, while The Ambassador (William Branch) has taken on the task of teaching pastor at a new church in Philly.”
Although the logistical task of getting the group together over five months was huge, the larger task was writing and recording a project worthy of a final collective effort. To honor their part of God’s bigger story, The Cross Movement pulled out all the stops. Goodwin pulls no punches reflecting the collective sentiment of the group, “We worked on this harder than anything we’ve ever done.”
Recorded in the same building as such Philly greats as DJ Jazzy Jeff, The Cross Movement committed to a completely different way of recording. Wells explains, “Each of us has a different approach to writing lyrics and songs. In the past, we all had our own tracks we’d worked on individually and just brought those to the table, but this time, we worked hard together in one place and stuck to the theme.” The result is The Cross Movement’s finest work to date.
Sonically, the members of The Cross Movement feel that HIStory is their most cohesive achievement because their sound aesthetically comes full circle. Byrd insists that this project has the vibe of the earliest Cross Movement projects. “We felt right at home. It was a return to sample-laden beats and heavy drums.”
Ironically, HIStory also represents The Cross Movement at their most evolved. “9-10” blasts with The Tonic’s sharpest social commentary to date over hypnotic keys and jagged snare breaks. Phanatik boldly revisits an early Cross Movement hit (from 1998’s Heaven’s Mentality) on the Christ-focused, “Now Who’s the Man?” The usually straightforward T.R.U.-L.I.F.E. now marches to a funky drummer with the untapped confidence of a lyrical soldier on “Louder.” And The Ambassador, the hip-hop seminarian, unhinges his praise-driven verbal gymnastics on the uptempo reggae funk jam “Trust in Him.” Longtime fans will still find tracks featuring the layered orchestral beats that have marked recent Cross Movement projects, but HIStory is truly a piece of modern hip-hop. With production from Official, J.R., T.R.U.-L.I.F.E. and Todd Bangz, new fans will bounce to gritty Southern crunk and slide-step to ultra smooth snap beats. The Cross Movement may be looking back with HIStory, but they are also breaking new ground.
Despite the many sacrifices required to complete this project, the group managed to never lose the plot. Branch remembers, “When we started [The Cross Movement as a group], we wanted to be the teachers; we wanted to be the indigenous missionaries to a world that was increasingly becoming loyal to hip-hop.”
Wells notes that HIStory signifies The Cross Movement passing on a baton that has been passed down through the centuries by that “great cloud of witnesses” cited in Hebrews 11 and 12. Goodwin puts it this way, “The subtitle is what ties it together: Our Place in His Story. If we have a place in history, it only makes sense because God is telling the story.”
Byrd reflects the sentiment, “We get to end it telling our place in His story and encouraging others in finding their place in God’s story.”