First Things First

By the time the Kimmey sisters met McKeehan in 1992, his own group, dc talk, had begun to break down barriers in Christian radio with urban/hip-hop-flavored pop grooves. But no female artist or group had achieved anything similar. “The ‘CCM’ [contemporary Christian music] market thought we were too gospel, and the gospel market thought we were too ‘CCM,’” says Lisa.

McKeehan and his then Gotee Bros. production partners – Todd Collins (producer of GRITS, KJ-52) and Joey Elwood (now president of Gotee Records) – thought differently. But the girls were just teenagers and weren’t even sure they were really interested in a musical career.

“I was just 15 years old and attending public high school,” Lisa remembers. “Joey would actually come and pick me up from school in the afternoons, and I’d go to Toby’s house and work with the three of them in the basement. They exposed me to so much music. When my mom became a Christian, she threw away her albums by artists such as the Isley Brothers and Sly & the Family Stone, so I didn’t grow up with any of that. Now, at 15, I was hearing Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder for the first time, and I just thought Toby, Joey and Todd were the coolest guys. They were giants to me, and we would all just hang out and sing. They were the ones who really began to believe in us.”

The Gotee Bros. partners started going door to door with Out of Eden’s music. When they discovered neither contemporary Christian nor gospel record labels knew how to respond to the trio, they were undeterred. They believed in Out of Eden so much, they formed Gotee Records simply as a launching pad for the girls’ first album. It was a risky investment but one they felt compelled to make. “They stepped out on faith to start this label in order to get our music out there,” Lisa recalls. “We weren’t even old enough to really appreciate what was happening with that gesture.”

It was 1994 when Out of Eden’s debut album, "Lovin’ the Day" (Gotee), introduced its urban pop to the Christian community with songs like “Come and Take My Hand” and the infectious cover of the classic Bill Withers hit “Lovely Day.” “We’ve since applied the lessons we’ve learned,” explains McKeehan. “And I think other labels and artists have (learned) — from the efforts of Out of Eden — how to be an African-American group making pop/R&B music for the gospel market, the Christian market and even the mainstream R&B market. I think they are a reference point for many conversations as people move forward in that genre.

“They’ve grown up, and I think they’re feeling more of a privilege to be who they are called to be,” he continues. “They’ve continued to push the limits and have felt the freedom to embrace their culture more and more with each record. And that’s what ‘bridge-builders’ do. That’s what people who make change in this industry do. They don’t put up a wall and say, ‘You’re never going to like this.’ They say, ‘Let me build a bridge and invite these people into our world.’”

Unsung Heroes

Despite groundbreaking Christian radio airplay and successful album sales – its third release, "No Turning Back," sold more than 240,000 copies – Out of Eden went nine years without winning a single Dove Award. The Christian music industry’s lack of attention was every bit as remarkable as the group’s unpredictable popularity with fans. Out of Eden’s next CD, 2002’s "This Is Your Life," changed all that. The album garnered 2003 Dove Awards in two categories – ”Urban Album of the Year” and “Urban Recorded Song of the Year” (“Meditate”).