By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
Yes, there were spiritual references—Macho rapped, "I'mma be found guilty of spreading the Word"—but the work felt raw. Critics were impressed, and a whole generation of Christian MCs took note. West Covina rapper Propaganda even joined the group, becoming a member before Tunnel Rats' 2004 self-titled album, and is now an in-demand touring artist signed to Portland-based Humble Beast Records.
"Jurny and them used to tell me that all the time, 'We got paid one bottle of juice so you won't have to,'" Propaganda says.
Tunnel Rats are on hiatus, but Christian rap surges forward. The genre's biggest star is Lecrae, a Dallas MC who gets love in both the religious and secular industries—he has had No. 1 gospel albums and was even on the 2013 Rock the Bells tour. Lecrae also followed in Rats' footsteps on a 2011 mixtape, which features secular artists such as Don Cannon and 9th Wonder.
Twenty years after Tunnel Rats faced criticism even at the churches where they played, Christian rap artists now regularly crack the Top 20 iTunes rankings.
Reynosa made a promise to his colleagues in the group back in the day: "We're not going to make anything, but someday, three generations from now, they will."
It's fair to say that, more or less, his words have come true.
"It was tough at the beginning, but the foundation's been laid, and it was laid properly," he says now. "On truth, integrity and not only a love for Christ but a love for the art."