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Lecrae and Trip Lee on Reach Records’ Decision to Cut Ties With Gawvi

This week, Christian hip-hop label Reach Records cut ties with producer and artist Gawvi following allegations that he’d sent unsolicited explicit photos to multiple women while he was still married. In a statement, Reach said Gawvi had displayed “behavior that is inconsistent with our core values.” You can read the full statement here.

Earlier in the week, Gawvi had taken to Instagram to announce that his marriage to Brianna Azucena had “come to an end” in 2020. That post was later deleted, but screenshots captured by Rapzilla show that Gawvi had written that there was “no scandal to gossip about.”

Shortly after that Instagram post, visual artist and designer Cataphant, who designed the cover of Gawvi’s debut album, accused him of sending “unasked for d*** pics” to multiple women while he was still married. Another woman responded to Cataphant’s post, saying she “has proof” and “fell victim as well.” Other women shared stories anonymously, as documented by fans in a subreddit. Gawvi has not publicly responded to the allegations.

In a conversation with RELEVANT, Cataphant (Catalina Bellizzi-Itiola) said that Gawvi’s Instagram post convinced her to go public with her allegations. Cataphant has a long history with the Christian hip-hop scene, from recording some of her own music to her marriage to Christian hip-hop artist Wordsplayed. She’s been a vocal critic of misogyny she’s seen and experienced first-hand in the community, but says this was “completely different …a whole different world” of behavior.

She says she’s hoping what happens here can not only bring accountability to the situation at hand, but also teach the broader Christian community a lesson. Drawing comparisons to the scandal of the late Ravi Zacharias, she says she was disturbed by how many Christian men she heard express that they could easily fall into the same toxic, destructive behaviors as Christian leaders enmeshed in scandal.

“The bar for men in the Church is so low that these men assume everyone else is as bad as them,” she says. “I think for a lot of predatory people who don’t belong in in church leadership, the praise does it for them. If you’re addicted to praise go find something else to do. You’re not a leader.”

In that respect, she says she has “no qualms” with how Reach Records has handled the allegations, and their decision to cut professional ties with Gawvi.

Reach Records’ co-founder Lecrae and artist Trip Lee joined RELEVANT Senior Editor Tyler Huckabee for a conversation about Gawvi, reflection on the conversations leading up to their decision and what they hope fans understand about the road ahead. “When women come to our concerts or interact with us we want them to be encouraged and blessed, not taken advantage of,” Trip Lee said in a follow-up email after our conversation. “There’s absolutely no excuse for that, and it grieves me to think anyone has had a different experience.”

“We want to raise the bar on how women are treated and valued in hip hop, not lower it,” he continued. “I think that’s one of the things we’ve been called to. And there’s no room for anything else.”

This conversation has been very lightly edited for clarity. You can also listen to the full conversation on the RELEVANT Podcast.

RELEVANT: Start just by telling me a little bit about the past few days and how you’ve reacted as some of this news about Gawvi has started coming out on socials with people talking about their experiences with him.

LECRAE: It’s definitely been a challenging couple days, man. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s a lot to process. You’ve got to process everything, you’ve got to make decisions in the midst of it all. So it’s been rough.

TRIP LEE: Yeah, likewise. It’s been tough, in part because what is an interesting story to other people or something that’s sad from a distance, it is very close to us with people that we love, with relationships that we love a lot. So yeah. It really has been a heartbreaking situation.

RELEVANT: The statement you released said that folks at Reach have been processing and thinking about for about a year. What does that last year look like for you guys and what changed in the last few days?

LECRAE: Yeah. Obviously I’ve known Gawvi since he was a teenager, so when he brings us information about him getting a divorce, that’s something that we needed to process, that we needed to just figure out, “Well, wait, what’s going on and how can we walk with you through this?” And then just him struggling in his marriage and him just not in a healthy space. That’s what we knew about was his own personal, spiritual, emotional health and his own marriage being struggling. And that was all we knew.

So we were just trying to get him to just be transparent with us as far as what was going on. So that was us trying to walk through…Basically, it was a lot of character deficiencies that we had seen over the last year. So for us, it was, “Man, what’s going on, and how do we process this?” But of course, when everything else popped up, it, it was kind of like… I mean, we had already stopped putting out his music and stopped doing stuff because we were just trying to process the character deficiencies, but this was the hammer that drove the nail in.

RELEVANT: You’re in the middle of a tour right now that he’s been on. What does addressing that look like in the middle of being on the road and trying to minister to people that you’ll be seeing over the coming weeks?

TRIP LEE: Well, yeah. I mean, it’s definitely not the kind of spirit and mood we thought we were about to go into the tour with. Obviously, it’s a little deflating. We’ve been doing 116 for a long time, me, Crae and Tedashii. We had just been talking about it, it’s been a long time we’ve been doing this together.

I guess part of my heart is that we’re going out, it’s Unashamed Tour, we’re unashamed of the gospel. I would just hate for this to, for people to make it seem like this invalidates that whole message of being unashamed of the gospel, when really this doesn’t… This is what the gospel is for. This is why we need the gospel because we are a mess.

We are. We are sinners and we’re a mess and it’s not that this is situation invalidates that gospel. This is what the gospel speaks to. So all the more reason for us to get together and just soak in that gospel. We are sinners and in desperate need of Jesus. We need him at every moment, we’ll mess without him. It’s a good reminder to us of the importance of staying close to him and staying close to that gospel. There’s no reason for us to hide the fact that we’re sinners, to hide sin when Jesus has said, “Bring it to me, I’ll take care of it.” I hope it sends us into that celebration in an even more deep way.

LECRAE: Yeah, I concur. I think it’s all the more reason why we need to be together. You know what I’m saying? It just draws us closer together. It shows us why we need the Lord and why we need each other.

TRIP LEE: This gospel we’re talking about is the one that we… Because like the statement that the label put out said, it’s not like we are throwing Gawvi away or something. This gospel we’re talking about is a gospel that we want to celebrate, that we want to see work in his life, that we want to see work restoration in his life and the life of his family and the life of the people that he was interacting with. This is what we want to see at work.

RELEVANT: What does that look like for you? Obviously some of these details are very personal so I don’t want you to reveal anything that you don’t feel is safe to reveal here, but we’ve seen from the statement how you guys and Reach are dealing with your professional relationship with Gawvi. On a personal level, what does that restoration require from you? How do you plan to help your friend?

LECRAE: I mean, restoration is only as powerful as you’re transparent and humble to allow it to have its effect on you, to allow the Lord to work on you and transform you in repentance and in humility. And so, obviously my prayer is always for people to seek the Lord in humility and allow him to do the work in us. We’re all equally far from God. It’s not anything that we can do to make us right with God, it’s what he does.

So I think in a situation like this, man, all I can ask for is a humble heart and a desire to submit to what God would do in him. I’ve worked in prison systems where people have taken the lives of their own family members. You know what I mean? But God saw fit to work in their hearts and transform them and now they are doing amazing things in the lives of other people. To me, that’s a picture of restoration, where God can use… I mean, that’s all He does. He uses broken people to paint a picture of his goodness and his grace, so that’s all I can hope for.

RELEVANT: Something a lot of people have noted online is the reputation that you guys have, that Reach has, for being a safe place for women who come to your shows, who listen to your music. This throws a wrench in that. I think you can understand why some people might feel a little wary, maybe in some cases betrayed. What is your message to those fans and how do you plan on trying to restore that level of trust with the people who love your music?

TRIP LEE: I saw a comment to that same effect. Yeah, and that was a really heartbreaking one for me to read because, again, we want to be a light in the world. Not on some “we are the only ones who have any integrity anywhere.” Not like we are these perfect people. But we want to represent the Lord and we want to be striving for that, so we don’t want all the issues that are everywhere else to be present with us too.

My hope would be that more than even in some of the other spaces in music that we would be really clear to our fans. The 116 movement is not just a bunch of dudes. We have a lot of female fans who have been with us for a really long time, who’ve been amazing supporters of us. And we want them to know these are not issues that we take lightly. Caring for women, protecting women, these are not issues that we take lightly and it’s been the source of, for me personally, even more grief than anything else, is the effect that our actions can have on women involved in situations.

So we just want you to know protection of women, caring for women is of the utmost importance to us, it’s part of why we respond to this with such urgency. It’s part of why we respond to this with such seriousness, because it does matter very much to us. And we want our space to be safe space for women, where they feel valued, where they feel worthy. And that’s certainly how we feel. That’s certainly how we seek to operate, and our prayers that we can as we move forward representing and operating a way that makes that super clear for people.

RELEVANT: I’m not asking you to beat yourselves up over it, but are there things you wish you had done differently? Are there ways you would, thinking now and knowing what you know now, that you maybe wished you had pushed harder or done something else that didn’t happen?

LECRAE: It’s transparent with you. So, in as much as we knew, we operated in. He explained to us his marriage was struggling. We stepped in, and obviously we’re not all… Some of us are closer than others, but those who he’s closest to really did try to dig in.

From our insight, it was just, we operated with what he revealed and what was given to us. I think we were concerned about… I think the marriage was the biggest thing for us because that’s what we understood and what we knew about. So for us, it was like, “Man, let’s make sure…” Because his career affects more than just him. It affects his kids and the wife he was wanting to divorce, and so we were thinking about what that means for him but in terms of all of this, we had no idea.

TRIP LEE: Personally, just as a friend and brother, and as a pastor, there’s always in me the thoughts of: I could have done more, I wish I would’ve reached out more, I wish I… And one of the takeaways for me is to keep checking in on my brothers as much as I can, to keep asking hard questions of my brothers and sisters as much as I can because, really, we need each other. We need each other.

So again, we can only do as much as we can do, but I definitely want to do as much as I can because I need people checking in on me as much as possible and then I want to do the same.

LECRAE: That’s good.

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RELEVANT: Men are not very good at that: checking in on people if you’ve got a concern, if there’s a little red flag, no matter how small, pushing on that. 

TRIP LEE: And I think it’s important for men to not always assume the best of each other. Because when we just assume the best and we don’t ask each other hard questions, then stuff that’s inappropriate can happen in the dark where one of the ways that we can protect each other and we can protect our sisters is by not just always assuming the best, but to ask the hard questions and to hold each other accountable.

RELEVANT: I’m sure you’ve seen some of this too or thought about it yourselves, there are going to be people who accuse you of sort of throwing the guy away. He made a mistake, now he’s out of the picture. How do you address people who say, “Why? This guy made a mistake, why are you just throwing him out like this?”

LECRAE: I mean, if you read our statement, it says it’s our professional relationship has ended. You know what I’m saying? Not… God does not like …He does not… There’s no promise that you’re going to have a music career and be signed to a label anywhere in the scriptures, you know what I’m saying? That’s not His ultimate desire. His ultimate desire is that we walk in the context of community as believers in Christ as a body.

So the biggest thing is, man, there’s always access to God regardless of how far we go off the rails. And if anybody is willing to confess and forsake their transgressions, there should be access to the Church as well, to the body of believers.

It doesn’t necessarily mean… It’s like, man, look, if you were stealing money from me, it doesn’t mean I’m going to hire you as my accountant again, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t be friends again. It doesn’t mean we can’t be in relationship, and that’s really what’s most important. I value Trip as a brother, I love him as an artist and he’s dope at music, but I’d much rather have him as a brother and as a friend than as a label mate. You know what I mean?

TRIP LEE: When we started 116 and as we’ve been doing stuff together and all the artists who’ve come on, there’s a way that we’ve agreed that we’re going to try to move. There’s a way that we’ve agreed that we’re going to try to represent each other, represent our community, represent our God together. And so we are holding each other to that standard and that’s part of what our partnerships, professionally, are built on as brothers.

So, like Crae is saying, we are talking about the professional relationship. This is not the end of our friendship with him and it’s not the end of trying to walk with him. I just want my brother to be in a happy, healthy, whole, faithful place. I want his family to be in a happy, whole place. I want all the people that all of us interact with to be… I want to be a blessing to them, so I want to do whatever I can to help things moving in that direction.

RELEVANT: I’ve got two more question for you guys. We’re still learning, at least on my end, about just how many women we’re talking about here who receive these messages from Gawvi. What is your message to the people who were hurt by him directly?

LECRAE: I think Trip said it best. Our desire is to walk in step with the Lord, to walk and step with Christ, and Jesus cared about women. Jesus cared about people on the margins and people who were taking advantage of and people who were victims. You see him intercepting a woman about to be stoned and he just paints a model for us to follow. And so, of course, our burden and our desire is to make sure that women feel safe and feel protected, and that there’s restoration for them. You know what I mean? That there’s restoration for any woman who’s been put in a position where she’s been made to feel less than human or to feel objectified in any kind of way. So for us, man, of course that’s a priority for us.

Yeah, I mean, again forgive me. It all grieves me. It just all grieves me because there’s so many people involved other than… Whenever we fail, it affects more than just us. It’s just, everybody who’s affected by our failures, it’s always a painful thing.

RELEVANT: The last question is, as you guys are moving ahead with this tour and just with business in general at the label, a lot of people are going to be wanting to pray for you all. What sort of prayers are you hoping for from your ends and your fans right now?

TRIP LEE: Yeah. You can pray that the Lord would keep us faithful. We need him. We are a mess. And that God would give us grace to reflect on this in the ways that we need to …Are there things that we need to reflect on in our own lives? Are there things that we need to reflect on in the culture of 116? In what ways can we continue to try to represent the Lord well and hold each other accountable well and serve our fans and be lighting the world well?

And then, that this would allow us to lean in and celebrate this gospel even more. It’ll be amazing to get a chance to be all together on stage again. It’ll be a chance for us to all come together, reflect on this together, to celebrate the gospel that we all need together. Yeah, and that the Lord would give us grace to do that in healthy ways, to process in healthy ways, to reflect in healthy ways so that we can move forward in a healthy way.

LECRAE: And I’ll just say, and this is not even… I’m being honest and I say this in all sincerity, this ain’t no tour promo, but I just need to see faces, man. I need to see that collective sense of this is bigger than us, what we started when we initially started 116 and we would be in front of these crowds and it was like brothers and sisters, like Trip says, celebrating the gospel. I think I need that encouragement. I need that energy and that celebration of truth, I need that. I’m just being honest. I think we all do, so I think that’s one of the best ways in this season. I think that’ll be very encouraging for us all.

TRIP LEE: Just to add to one thing when you were just saying any thoughts we have for people. I just want to be super clear that we see you, we value you and we take very seriously any of these kinds of things. And we want nothing more than it to be super clear. We don’t rock with that. We do not support that. And we don’t want there to be any space for any of that in our space. We want this to be a space where women are loved and valued and supported and lifted up. And we want to do everything we can to live in that way. And that even when other people try to keep things a secret, that the Lord sees, the Lord will walk with you. And as far as we can see and help, we want to walk with you and love on you too.

You can listen to this full conversation on the RELEVANT Podcast.

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