Four words ignited the rise of Collision Records.
“Who is this guy?”
That’s what Adam “A.T.” Thomason, the label’s CEO, asked when he first listened to “The Zoo,” Swoope’s debut album. That was 2009.
This is now. Collision—which now features a roster of Swoope, Christon Gray, Alex Faith and Dre Murray—will release its first group project, “WLAK,” or, “We Live As Kings,” on Tuesday, March 5.
The label without an LP to its name a year ago is now one of the most popular in Christian hip hop, its artists amassing approximately 30,000 Twitter followers. In reality, though, it wasn’t an overnight success. The puzzle that is Collision has been carefully pieced together over the past five years.
However, Thomason didn’t follow a precise five-year plan to get the label where it is today—he credited not his vision, but God’s.
“If I were to show you footage of [Collision’s] story, you would say, ‘God literally put that together. Y’all just happened to be the bodies used,’” said A.T.
His first action in the Christian hip hop scene was as a graphic designer for rappers Lecrae, Trip Lee, Tedashii and Sho Baraka, CEO Ben Washer and producer Joseph Prielozny with Reach Records in 2004. But as much as he admired their mission, A.T. and Prielozny eventually parted ways with Reach to create their own label.
“As the Lord grew [Reach’s] platform, [we] saw that they didn’t have enough time and resources to start discipling other artists who had the same heart and quality to push back darkness through music,” said Thomason of his inspiration to leave Reach and kick-start Collision. “They needed more hands in the war.”
The first solider A.T. drafted was Swoope.
Swoope began rapping in 2008. Performing locally in Akron, his career had humble beginnings, but after releasing “The Zoo,” established artists in the Christian hip-hop scene played hot potato with his record until it landed in Thomason’s hands.
The first notable artist to love the album was Yaves, who’s now on Xist Music’s label and knew Swoope from also residing in Ohio.
Yaves played it for an impressed Kareem Manuel, formerly known as Katalyst, who passed it along to DJ Official and Sho Baraka. They became fans and Sho passed the potato to Prielozny, who’s currently back with Reach, and A.T., who said in shock, “This dude can actually rap.”
Prielozny reacted by listening to “The Zoo” on repeat for the next 2-3 days.
Collision signed Swoope and originally planned for his label debut to be a joint project with Sho Baraka. Instead, Sho brought in J.R. and Suzy Rock to create the High Society Collective with Swoope.
Sho has an interesting relationship with Collision.
Not only did he help connect Swoope with the label, he set up the Alex Faith signing as well. Sho met Faith at the Atlanta Impact Conference in 2008.
“There was this random tall white guy that was just standing there staring at me as I was having a conversation with my brother,” said Sho. “And I kind of looked at him and I was like, ‘Uh, what’s up man, how you doing?’”
Faith introduced himself. The conversation led to Sho’s brother asking if Sho knew any graphic designers, but he answered no. Faith interjected, though.
“And this random tall white guy was like, ‘Hey, I do some graphic design, I can help you guys out.’ And we were just like, ‘OK, random white guy,’” said Sho.
Faith quickly became more than just some random white guy in Sho’s eyes. The two discovered they lived about 10 minutes from each other. Faith also had his own studio where Sho recorded his mixtape “Barakology,” which Faith mixed and mastered.
Faith not only possessed behind-the-scenes abilities, though—he rapped as well. As a teenager, he and three friends formed a rap group called the Plumbline Collective, which dissolved when everyone got married.
When Sho asked Faith if he’d be interested in returning to rap and pursuing a spot on Collision’s roster, Faith declined due to a promotion he had received at his engineering job. But after becoming Lecrae’s road manager, running into Thomason and developing a relationship with A.T. and Collision COO Mike Luna, Faith changed his tune.
After he dropped the single “Runways,” as many as four different labels began pursuing him. Faith called Thomason and said, “If we want to do this, I want us to do it now.”
A.T. sent him a contract the next day.
While half of Collision’s roster has been influenced by Sho Baraka, he still has no official connection to the label. He was featured on Swoope’s “WLAK” and was supposed to be on the We Live As Kings album, but the finalization of his “Talented Xth” project prevented him from doing so.
To this day, Sho is still close to members of Collision. But both sides explained why, at the moment, they remain separate for business purposes.
“Sho likes systems, to a certain extent,” said A.T. “He’s such a visionary that a label sometimes hinders him.”
A.T. then added that Sho often writes controversial lines which make the CEO say, “Eh, I think you might re-word that … He just needs that freedom.”
Sho’s reasoning on his independence touched on another matter.
“They would have to have a lot more money,” he joked.
Perhaps he was only half-joking, though, as he continued, “They’re a small label and, at this point right now—just to be truthful—the one thing they can’t help me out with is manpower.”
Sho then said, “When you sign a label deal, labels take money from you. And at this point in my career, the only way I feel like it’s going to be to my advantage if a label takes money from me is if in the same vein, they’re going to put me in places and do things for me that I can’t do by myself,” which he believed Collision couldn’t do.