Winter Jam 2020: A Conversation With Hip-Hop Artist Andy Mineo

Christian music’s premiere annual outing, the Winter Jam Tour Spectacular, steps into a new decade with Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Crowder leading a star-studded 2020 lineup that includes the likes of Hillsong Young & Free, Building 429, Louie Giglio, Red, Austin French, NewSong and hip-hop artist extraordinaire Andy Mineo, who is looking forward to delivering an explosive set.

“It’s going to be a bit like a power bomb,” Mineo said in a recent interview with ListenIowa. “I’ll roll in, hit you with high energy, and give you a couple of moments of myself as well to tell you who I am and what I do. I’m the only rap artist, so I’m ready to make the subwoofers work a little bit.”

This year’s incarnation of the annual tour-de-force will hit a total of 42 cities around the country in 2020, including a stop at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Thursday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. Tickets are not required, but a $15 freewill donation at the door is suggested.

ListenIowa spoke with Mineo recently about the tour, the growth of hip-hop within the Christian community, and his advice for Kanye West.

How long have you been involved with Winter Jam?
This is my second time. This first time, it was a really long tour. When I got done with that tour, I was just excited to get off at the road and go home. (laughs) But it’s great for the people. It’s really accessible and probably the most inexpensive ticket you can get.

Are there any other artists in this year’s lineup that you’re looking forward to seeing?
I’m excited to go out with Louie Giglio. He’s just a good dude, man. I like what he does. I didn’t know he wrote kids’ books. He’s a good speaker, and there’s the “End It Movement,” too. In the evangelical sphere there’s a lot of pro-proclamation and very little action sometimes. I love it when people actually proclaim and do something. It’s going to be cool to be around that guy.

Are you the type of guy who hangs around offstage to watch others perform after your set, or do you head back to the bus?
It usually depends on the night. I usually try to get a workout in actually. (laughs) Since I’m already sweaty, and just did 20 minutes of cardio, I get a group of guys or women to join, and we work out. You just do things to keep you sane on a tour that long.

It’s the Christmas season, and you were recently part of a Christmas album called “The Gift: A Christmas Compilation,” put out by your label, Reach Records.
Yeah, I think what they’re (the record label) is doing is cool, just putting out their own take on Christmas music. We live in a generation where hip-hop is a leading voice, but there’s very few hip-hop records that are hip-hop foundational for this generation. It’s nice that there’s a new spin.

Your working relationship with fellow Reach Records artist Lecrae seems to be a good one. You’ve worked with him on a number of occasions.
He’s been like a big brother to me in a lot of ways. He’s been a voice when I needed somebody to help me understand what’s going on in the industry, navigating stuff, and just what to look out for. I’m grateful for that.

As a genre, hip-hip has experienced steady growth within the Christian community over the years. Early in your career, however, did you feel any pushback from those who didn’t “get it” yet?
Not really. I feel like that was the generation before me. A lot of other guys got beat up before I started doing my thing, so it made it a little easier for me. Just because of the fact that I rode the line between the Christian music industry and the mainstream industry has created more of an understanding of who I am and what I do. It just doesn’t seem as big of a deal like it was in the past. There are forums and boards where people waste a bunch of time and energy bickering and creating stories they don’t know, but it’s not even worth my attention. They don’t know me or my life. But even if there is that stuff going on, I don’t go out looking for it. I have an incredible fanbase that comes to me and understands what I do. I get the chance to make the music I love and do it for a living, and with a purpose. I’ve really got no complaints.

Crossing over into mainstream isn’t a bad thing.
It’s great; it’s always been my goal. I’m being who I am, and because I’m a Christian, Christians flock to me because of that and my associations and my relationships. But I’ve always gone over and collaborated with non-Christian artists, too. I’ve been on MTV, award shows, and all these different things that are neutral venues. It’s always been a pleasure to be over there. It gets me excited to be around a broader audience. I think it can get to be “singing to the choir” a little bit if you just stay within the Christian realm. It’s cool to be able to do both. We’ll do Winter Jam, then I’ll go out on my own and do bars and clubs.

That has to be interesting for some of the patrons of those establishments, seeing a Christian hip-hop artist at their bar.
For the most part, people are pleasantly surprised because the music is good. They’ll be like, “Oh sh**! I can’t believe you’re a Christian. Your stuff’s tight!” (laughs) And I’ll be like, “Yeah.” (laughs) It is a funny conversation to have with people because I think there’s a preconceived idea of what it means to be a Christian and make music. If someone told me there’s Muslim rap, I’d be like, “No way.” I can’t imagine it being good, but that’s just because I don’t know anyone who does it. But at the same time, if I did hear it and liked it, that’s cool. It’s the same thing with me playing some of these places.

You have your hands in a lot of things other than just being a performer. You’re a director, a writer, a pastor. Do you just like being this busy, or is it something that’s born out of necessity?
Definitely born out of necessity. If you have dreams and goals and ambitions and ideas but have no immediate help to do those things, you kind of just figure it out yourself so you can take another step forward. But now I’m lucky enough to have acquired friendships over the years with people who can come in and assist on some things, which is nice. But I’m also that way creatively. I like to be involved. Some days I wish I wasn’t. (laughs) But I have good people leading me in those areas.

Rhetorical situation. A record company mogul meets with you and tells you he is going to make you the headliner of an arena tour and make you a star. You’ll make millions. His only caveat is that you have to tone down the religious aspect of your performances. What do you say to that person?
I don’t think anyone should ever create music out of a need for validation. Music is a place for honesty and self-expression. For me, if anyone were to tell me to not be true to who I am so that I could be more popular, I don’t think it would be wise. Nobody will end up happy. You have to live with your albums and songs. They’re a representation of who you are. In the same sense, my personal opinion is that my mix of faith and art isn’t overbearing anyway. Some songs aren’t even explicitly about God; it’s just kind of weaved in. I don’t even know if anyone would feel that way to ask me that at this point anyway. Some of the biggest artists in music are being openly Christian now, like Justin Bieber and Kanye West. I don’t think it’s carrying the stigma that it used to.

Kanye is interesting. What are your thoughts on his re-affirmation of his faith of late?
I’ve got a lot of thoughts on it, but in general, I’m just glad there’s one less rap album in the world that isn’t glorifying terrible things, and there’s one more person in the world on their journey with Jesus. Good for him. My only kind of concern is that people will try to exploit or benefit from this. Or even exalt him too quickly. Give the guy some room to grow and learn and get set up for a life of servitude to Jesus instead of it being just a creative moment for him. It will depends on who is around him, too.

Given the chance to speak with him, what advice would you offer to help him stay on track?
It’s a complex thing, fame and celebrity. Intrinsically you lose some of your freedoms by being a public figure. It gets difficult. I can’t be like, “Hey man. Come to Bible study on Wednesday and study with me.” (laughs) It’s just not going to go well. Paparazzi are going to be there, other people would be shocked by his fame. But I would probably point him toward some guys who aren’t necessarily impressed by fame and who have been around it enough and know what it is and would give him a safe space so he’s not trying to go to church and having to sign autographs and take pictures, which is kind of weird. I would just try to be his friend if I could, and just try to keep it offline and out of sight so that the relationship would have an opportunity to flourish. That’s what’s really important.

Winter Jam Tour Spectacular 2020
When: Wednesday, Jan. 23, 7 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines
Tickets: No tickets required, but a $15 freewill donation at the door is suggested