Five years ago, when Yewande Dees became the first female artist with Reach Records, it was a milestone for the Christian hip-hop label and for all of Christian hip-hop. The 28-year-old Nigerian-born rapper, who currently performs as Wande, is one of only a handful of women on the scene.

Wande began as a reporter covering Christian hip-hop online, then took a job in artist development for Reach, the independent label cofounded by Lecrae and Ben Washer.

In 2019, she signed a deal with the label, and since then, her lyricism, charisma, and energy have helped her carve a new path that she hopes other women will be able to follow. Reach recently signed writer and artist Jackie Hill Perry, in another move toward gender parity in a decidedly male-dominated segment of the music industry.

Now based in Atlanta, Wande is bringing her lyrical creativity and flow to collaborations with artists such as Maverick City Music (“Firm Foundation (He’s Gonna Make a Way)”), Lecrae (“Blessed Up”), and TobyMac (“Found”). She has built a loyal following online, connecting with fans through comical send-ups of biblical characters and “get ready with me” videos.

She sees her job as a calling and her music as an opportunity to lead people to worship. Tracks like “Found” showcase her ability to shift between melodic lines and rapped lyrics. Her latest single, “Send That,” featuring Lecrae, is an anthemic declaration of confidence in prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s unapologetically victorious. “If God is for me, who can come against me? / Send them prayers up and watch him move,” she raps, leading into the first chorus.

Wande spoke with CT about her childhood as the youngest kid in a multifaith immigrant family, her call to pursue a career in the music industry, and the state of the Christian hip-hop scene.

You just released a new single featuring Lecrae, and you’re getting ready to drop a new album this summer. Does life feel busy?

Yes, and I also have a life update! I’m changing my name.

That’s a big change. What made you decide to do it?

I was born in Nigeria, and most of my family is either Muslim or in another faith. My name aligns with the Muslim faith and with reincarnation, and I love Jesus! I never really thought about my name in that way when I was younger, but God brought it to my mind earlier this year and put it on my heart, like, “Hey, I want you to change that up.”

Article continues below

So I’m releasing a new single next month called “Pray for Me,” and that will be under my new name, Anike. It means “someone you cherish and don’t take for granted.” It’s also the title of my new album coming out later this summer. Probably early August.

It seems like the multifaith story of your family has deeply shaped your music and identity. What was it like growing up in a household with both Islam and Christianity?

My family emigrated to Texas when I was a baby. I had the immigrant life at home, and then in that school I had a totally American experience. And that’s all I knew. I knew that at home I eat different food and then at school this other food. Or at home they speak Yoruba to me, which is a Nigerian language, and at school we speak English.

I grew up with that duality, and I see it as a blessing because I feel like it opened my eyes to other cultures and gave me a heart to see beauty in those things.

My mom became a Christian as a young adult. Growing up, I thought it was normal to just choose whatever faith you want. I encountered Jesus for myself when I was in middle school. I was actually allowed to go to church because my dad wanted to be a good person. He didn’t want me to “get saved,” but he thought it was good for me to go for the moral stuff. But I noticed the other kids always got to go to summer camp. I was never allowed to do that, because it was seen as too much beyond Sunday.

I ended up going to a camp in Columbus, Texas, and doing an internship program there, and I encountered Jesus. And that just radically changed my life. After that, all I wanted to do was tell people about Jesus.

Was there any opposition to your conversion from your family?

I came home from camp super excited, like, “Dad, didn’t you hear about Jesus?” and then he’s like, “No, this is too much.” So he decided, “I can solve this, you just won’t go to church anymore.”

There was about maybe a year of severe restriction where I couldn’t go to church, but it was also really cool because my mom became my advocate during that time. She was on her own personal journey as a wife and mother and figuring out, “How do I advocate for my children and for myself?” And eventually she was able to stand up for herself and for me as well.

It was a journey, but God’s been faithful.

Article continues below

So you experienced this powerful conversion in middle school. When did you start to see music as part of your identity?

I honestly never anticipated being a rapper at all. I started playing music because our school had extracurricular activities. It started with middle school band, where it’s just, “pick an instrument,” and I chose the flute. I enjoyed it, and I was good at it.

I started rapping in high school, but ironically it was for a ninth grade biology project. My teacher was like, “Hey, you can either do a PowerPoint presentation or you can do a rap,” and I was like, “Why would you not choose the rap option?”

My life kind of changed after that. I would do these freestyle circles at lunch, and I was trying to tell people about Jesus in 30 seconds of rapping. Then I learned how to record on YouTube and started making videos. It was all very small-scale. But things just evolved from there. I did some talent shows and a church convention in Dallas, and I started to sense God telling me he wanted me to do this as a career.

It was terrifying and totally out of my comfort zone. My whole life to that point, I was on track to become a doctor.

Were you plugged into the Christian hip-hop scene at that point?

Yeah, I listened to Lecrae and Trip Lee, which is crazy because we work together now. I remember getting on YouTube and looking for, like, Christian remixes to Young Money or Lil Wayne, and I actually found some. Then I started finding real Christian rappers like Lecrae, and I ended up seeing him perform at a summer camp.

My freshman year in college, I became a reporter for Rapzilla. I was really aware of the Christian hip-hop landscape, and I was passionate about sharing it with other people.

I wanted to find people who maybe were like, “I love God, but I just don’t have music that matches my vibes.” So I could say, “Here’s some Christian rap, there you go!”

Then, my junior year of college, I got an internship at Reach Records and they offered me a job in A&R [artists and repertoire] after my senior year. After working there for six months, I got an artist contract.

It seems like you were open to working in the industry even if it didn’t mean having a career as a performer. Did you think it was too far-fetched to expect to make it as a rapper?

At the time, I was thinking, “God, I thought you told me to become a rapper, why am I just working for rappers?” But now, I can see God was trying to help me. He introduced me to all the different people I was going to work with in the future. I got to see the back end of contracts and stuff like that, which was helpful when I was trying to negotiate my contract. And he was developing humility in me.

Article continues below

I think God needed to refine certain things in me, like, “Hey, even if you’re not a rapper, are you still content with the life I give you?” So I actually had to come to terms with that. What if my job was only to influence one person to get saved through rapping at a talent show? Would I be content if that’s how God wanted to use me?

But you ended up becoming the first female artist signed to Reach Records. What has it been like to be the first, and to try to help make it easier for other women in the future?

I feel like the oldest sibling. That’s how I describe it right now. It feels like a lot of trial and error. I have to go to the Lord and make sure I never grow bitter. I want to make sure I’m staying joyful. A big thing for me is holding people accountable but also giving grace.

I’ve had to go through a personal journey as well regarding my femininity. This world is so male dominated. I went through a phase where I thought I had to be hard or gangsta. But I think I’ve become more comfortable in just saying that I like feminine things, I like pink. It doesn’t make me a weaker person. It’s just who God created me to be, and I’m leaning into that.

There have been some hard moments, though. There was one producer who made a record with me, then took all my beats and wouldn’t give them back when it was time to finalize and turn it in. So I had to start all over. No one at Reach had ever had that happen before. They don’t usually try guys like that.

And there are other little things, like hair and makeup. Our team has had to learn that I need time to do all that. On tour, they’re like, “Wake up! Brush teeth, Bible study onstage!” And I’m like, “Yeah, I love Jesus, bro, but I need a certain amount of time! I don’t want to look crazy.”

But honestly, I think we’re in a pretty good spot. We’re seeing more features on tracks, and women are getting signed. Now we need people to support women by coming out to shows and supporting women doing their own tours. To get to the next level, we need people coming out to shows and supporting these women so they can sustain a career.

Article continues below

You’ve collaborated and performed with Maverick City Music on songs like “Firm Foundation.” How do you think about the relationship between your performance and worship?

I think a lot of artists actually have a heart for worship. I like having songs that reflect up and aren’t just giving glory to me. But it’s in the planning stages, you have to think about your choruses, what you can do to lead people into worship. That’s been something I’ve been really intentional about in my upcoming album.

And I think this has to come in the early stages of writing and creating. Sometimes when I write, I’m thinking about my life and something I’m feeling or going through, but then when I get to a show, I realize, “Man, I really wish I could have led people into worship right then.” Then you go back to the studio and you think about what you need to say to help lead people into worship or create a certain atmosphere.

Reach Records is 20 years old this year. The Christian hip-hop industry is growing. What makes you hopeful when you look at the scene and think about its future?

I think what makes me the most hopeful is that the artists really love Jesus.

You have artists who are going to influence people for Christ, but on top of that, you’re gonna get quality music. They’re pushing the quality forward while being adamant about being outspoken about their faith.

This music has been a great entry point for people who are open to exploring God but don’t feel “holy” enough to go looking for Christian music. In a way, the music is discipling people by giving them a soundscape that they enjoy, that sounds like what they would normally listen to, but the words speak about Jesus.

People can listen to this music and not know they’re listening to a Christian song. And I think it’s so cool, because this music can live in multiple spaces without feeling intrusive, but at the same time, truth is being spoken.