By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Instead of apologizing, Tunnel Rats made this their calling card, using a turbulent sound on their definitive 2001 work, Tunnel Vision, which embraced everything that the conservatives hated. "T.R.'z" — slang for Tunnel Rats — opens with Reynosa's line, "I pull a pistol out my pocket and I cock it," and the track slags off rappers who believe that inferior skills can cut it in the Christian marketplace. The song features abrasive sound effects and full drums, and succeeded as something of a wake-up call to a still relatively staid genre.
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 emcees 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's 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 like 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 then: "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."