I’ve never been in a box. It’s really the irony of it, but publicly I didn’t realize how much of a box I was in. Personally, I was able to navigate in a million different spaces, but I remember [author/theologian] Christena Cleveland challenged me by saying I was an evangelical mascot. I said, “Wow, is that really how I’m perceived?” When I saw that, it really made me do some internal soul searching and say, “Wow, I didn’t realize that was the perception.” I had to ask friends. I was in the dark. By placating people so often in certain circles, you’re viewed as an advocate. If you hang out at the biker club so many times, people will say, “He’s a biker.” I’m way more complex and nuanced than that. It’s not to say that I hate that world or anything like that; I have great friends over there and everywhere. Now I’m just content with saying I’m just a follower of Jesus. That’s it. I don’t belong in any camp. I guess to drive it home for me, it’s not being worried if I disappoint the box people thought I was in in the first place. Because it’s like, “Oh, you’re hanging out with this person? You must be liberal. No, wait. Why are you hanging out with this person? Are you conservative?” It’s like, “No, because I’m nuanced and complex and I like both of them.” I’m not going to worry about the way people perceive me because if you meet me you’ll say, “Oh, OK, I didn’t realize that there was this lane in the middle here that people could run in.” But that’s what you’re going to have to deal with.
There were many points during my blog series that I felt that a certain artist that I was undertaking for that particular week was the most gruelling, taxing, and ‘genre’-stretching- way back in March last year, I assumed that the listening of Josh Groban was as hard as you were going to get, because, well…Josh Groban, pop-opera, you get the picture, right? Then I couple of weeks later, I quickly changed my mind, and thought that Owl City and the shift in genre there, to a more electronic vibe, was indeed the hardest artist I’d ever listen to and undertake my writing upon. Little did I know that at various other points throughout the blog series, I’d think that whatever I was doing that that moment was the hardest- The McClymonts because they were Australian country, Michael Buble because his genre was similar to Frank Sinatra’s- swing/jazz/blues; Evanescence between they were metal/hard rock, The Corrs because they were Irish, Rascal Flatts because they were country but with a southern edge, Backstreet Boys, because they were boy-band material, and even as late as Mandy Moore, because she was teen-pop, alternative and folk/singer-songwriter, all in one. Looking back, none of them were as ‘hard’ as I initially thought they were, and if you will, compared to my upcoming artist I’m about to delve into, definitely not as hard. Out of all my 40-something artists I’ve decided to immerse myself into for a given amount of time for preparation to write about said artist in any given week; never have I anticipated what was going to be presented with me during the week I am in right now. During my tenure of 42 artists I’ve delved into, there’s been representatives from a wide array of genres…all except one- rap. That is, until now of course…
To write and discuss about rap music can be difficult to even fathom or even comprehend, because in essence, rap is not your traditional music and how anyone would be used to hearing music- its rhymes and spoken word, it’s spitting out a lot of bars and its speaking out lines that often don’t rhyme or even make sense, but all in all, out of all the things that we know that rap really is, we know that there’s one thing we know that rap isn’t- it’s not singing. For me, I’ve had a hard time with rap music from the past to now. Regardless of the artist, to listen to one song from start to finish as a rap can be a feat in and of itself. And so, to delve deep into a rapper’s discography, on the surface, to myself, can seem like folly and madness. Yet for me during this week, this is exactly what I did. I opened the discography of Lecrae, and I just listened. And boy was I in the ride of my life, but in a very, very good way.
You may wonder, through looking at my top 100 list on the ‘contents’ page of my blog series that I posted in February 2019, that within the artist names, there is definitely a lack of rappers represented within the 100, and you’d be right, yes there is a shortage. And I’m sure in any other arbitrary list, there’d be more artists represented from the rapper/hip-hop culture- from Eminem, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Snoop Dog, 50 Cent and Drake, to Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Post Malone, Logic and Chance the Rapper, to name a few. But lo and behold on my own list, none of these artists are present. And so people can often wonder if my top 100 list is even accurate, and I can say right off the bat, that no, my list isn’t even miles accurate, just purely on the fact that I am a committed Christian, and making a stand for Christ means for me to surround myself with music that edifies my soul and speaks to the stirring parts of myself, meaning that a lot of rappers that deem to be deserving on such a list as mine, aren’t there for the simple fact that a lot of their music in the mainstream has a lot of swearing, and not a lot of edifying goes on during the music of these rappers I’ve just aforementioned. Also the fact that on my top 100 list there’s a lot of Christian artists, because I firmly believe that a lot of people within the Christian music industry have impacted not only Christian music in general but music as a whole (again, my opinion)- artists like Switchfoot, Skillet, For KING AND COUNTRY, Delirious?, needtobreathe and Carman, all have been instrumental in shaping music for myself and I’m sure others, and all are present here on this list. On any other list on the internet, they’d be gone, and a lot of rappers would take their place. Nevertheless, these are the decisions I have made, and like I’ve said in blogs before- there’s the top 30 artists of all time (that you can view here) that I’m sure no one can argue with, and then there’s the 100, that I’m sure anyone who’s everyone can argue, and a lot of their points would be valid, regardless of the POV.
And so here with this post I’m about to discuss, it is indeed rap, but disclaimer, it would be classified by the common person on the street as Christian rap. Lecrae, though he’s pushing boundaries, singing (or rapping) from the heart, and impacting music, society and culture with his music, all through the technique and tactic of no swearing; will still be under the umbrella of Christian ___ and in his case, a Christian rapper. Which is ok. I’ve come to have a new-found appreciation for the rap genre because of Lecrae and his music. Will I listen to other mainstream rappers because of Lecrae? Probably not, because of the values in which I stand upon. Does that mean that God Himself doesn’t speak through these mainstream artists I’ve mentioned above? Of course not. If someone can look past the swearing and become inspired by a song from Eminem or Snoop Dogg, credit goes to the Lord for revealing more about themselves and Himself through such music, because I know that I’m not at that stage in my life, to listen to songs and raps with such profanity, and that is ok. I guess maybe there’s a reason why rap music is so popular amongst the masses- even I can definitely appreciate rap in all its relevance to today’s society as I listen to Lecrae and his music. Mainly because I firmly believe that rap as a musical genre is perhaps the most honest and vulnerable type of music there is- maybe because there’s a lot of profanity, it’s because the songs are honest and are speaking from the heart of the listener- and that profanity may be the only way, in their own vocabulary, to express what they’re feeling and thinking.
Nevertheless, I’ve listened to Lecrae this past week or so, and I’ve concluded, that Lecrae, just as an artist, not even as a Christian artist, is relevant, influential and important to society as a whole. That even in any other arbitrary list without all my CCM artists that I find influential, and with a lot of other rap artists added in, I’d still put Lecrae within the list- that’s how influential I believe he is. Since starting his rap/hip-hop/music career in 2006, we stand here in 2020 to see an artist that has evolved in his musical craft, one that has used his music as a platform to speak of deeper issues of the heart and to create a space where honesty and vulnerability can blossom and be brought to the fore, no matter how ugly or even uncomfortable this honesty may feel to the people hearing it. Lecrae considers himself a songwriter and a hip-hop artist who writes and records from life experiences first and foremost- as he writes from his experiences and worldview, people will know through what he raps about and his values that his world ethos and his messages are lensed through the Christian umbrella. He does not try to boast in the form of Christian music whatsoever, with a lot of his albums, more so recently than in the past, having songs featuring collaborations with many prominent rappers within the mainstream music industry. As Lecrae unveils himself in an interview a number of years back, ‘…there’s a respect [with mainstream rappers], and there’s also a respect for me taking a strong stance in what I believe in. A lot of times, some of them will come to you. So I just want to be here to help. It’s similar to anybody who rushes to a disaster. You have to be in the midst of it to help…’
Growing up in Houston Texas, and having the birth name of Lecrae Devaughn Moore, Lecrae’s music, I’m sure by anyone who hears it, seems to be a breath of fresh air and a sense of purpose and passion that is exuberated in each song, as opposed to a lot of the negative connotations that rap itself as a genre within mainstream music seems to get the flak for. Much of the assumptions of rap as a genre are in fact that, assumptions, but for Lecrae, his journey into music has become one of restoration and redemption in his own life, and out of that about-face, he’s been given a platform to share his own failures and shortcomings, while also pointing towards his own faith as a motivator for him on this journey of life. Much of his songs allude to his Christian faith- either overtly or subtly, but it’s there. People may shy away from someone’s music because of their beliefs, but then again, for someone to firmly state their values in songs, especially Christian values, in a world where religion as a whole, no matter the type, seems to be frowned upon; is nothing short of being bold and courageous. Especially when more recently, a lot of Lecrae’s music has been reaching the wider community- those who may not be as ‘religious’ or even ‘spiritual’ as Lecrae himself. Nevertheless, for Lecrae to still stand firm in his beliefs, but still create music that pushes the stereotypes of what a Christian rapper should sound like and be, is something that I myself am very proud of, especially during a season of time where there seems to be more of a divide between Christian music and secular music, when in reality, music is music, and any music that speaks to your soul and presses on the questions that need to be unravelled and uncovered for discussion, healing and unification to take place, is God-breathed. Whether the artist who sings/raps it, knows it or not!
‘Praying for You’ was Lecrae’s breakout single in 2006, from the album After the Music Stops. In it, Lecrae himself prays to the Lord ‘for a friend’, who has been struggling with his own faith for quite some time. He lists out all the reasons why he believes his friend is in desperate need of help as the 3:30 long is a reminder for us all to check up on our friends and loved ones, those who could be drowning in their own pits of despair and hurt, but never know that they need healing from whatever is weighing them down. This rap is raw and unfiltered, depicting a guy at the end of his rope, left with no option than to pray to the Lord for this friend of his, knowing that it is only when God comes to intervene that situations will change. Yet towards the end of the rap, we see something in the delivery of it and the twist at the end that changes every line of the rap before- Lecrae’s friend that he is praying for, the one that he wants God to help…is himself. Yep, you got it, Lecrae’s friend, is Lecrae. The one that is in desperate need of assistance and direction. And so it begins with Lecrae’s songs/raps- delivering hard-hitting truths and often uncomfortableness that comes alongside the telling and showing of the deepest parts of us that God is wanting for us to address. As Lecrae puts in himself, about ‘Prayin’ for You’, and about a lot of his songs in general, ‘…I was going through kind of a tough time – all the things that were articulated in the song [prayin’ for you]. So when I wrote it, I was on plane writing, and I was really writing out a prayer, like a realistic prayer, bringing out my plans for God, and then I was like, man, this is a song, and I just turned it into a song. I thought people would relate to it and people would resonate with it. I wrote it like I was talking about somebody, and then at the end, did a little reveal…’ ‘Prayin’ for You’ is the first of many singles and chart-topping songs for the hip-hop artist, and as the years progress, we see the songs that speak to us more and more, as Lecrae’s albums continue along the line of Christian poetic poignancy, and mainstream success and critical acclaim.
‘Jesus Muzik’, on the same album as ‘Prayin’ for You’, enlists the help of fellow Christian hip-hop (CHH) artist Trip Lee, and speaks of the issues and problems that come when we hear the content of hip-hop that isn’t inspired by Jesus and His love, hip-hop that is more concerned with things of a nature that isn’t pleasing to Him- that is when we get songs about cars, sex, women, having a good night, cheating, things like that. Both Lecrae and Trip Lee put forward the need for rappers who have Christian beliefs and values, to be heard without assumption or judgement from their fellow industry peers or even the critics and fans themselves. As Lecrae puts it, with an interview with the website SongFacts.com not too long ago, we see their motivation of what they wanted to do with the song, and how it ‘…was really just articulate that there are a lot of songs that say what they want to say and express their views and their beliefs. But there’s kind of a closed window when it comes to people who have a Christian perspective, so we want to have a voice in the marketplace, as well. We want to talk about the things that are near and dear to us, and so that’s how that song got burst. And one of the things that we believe in and hold to is that we love Jesus. So how can we not talk about him?…’ Both ‘Jesus Musik’ and ‘Prayin’ for You’ are just the start for Lecrae, and that the journey he has undertaken since then has been one of more boldness in his work and his rapping skills, alongside the content of his songs- delivering tracks full of heart and challenging lyrics as Lecrae, for me personally, has been one of the most impactful music artists who have a Christian faith, within the who music industry at the moment. His ability to admit his flaws in a lot of his songs, all the while acknowledging that he is still a work in progress, is one that requires a lot of humility and empathy, to present songs that touch the soul is something that can only occur through God’s way of softening the heart of people hearing the raps, all the while also giving the rapper the words to say in them as well. ‘God is Enough’, a collaboration with rapper Flame and rapper Jai (on the album Rehab), is such a joy to listen to- it is when we as listeners understand that once we grasp fully the reality of God’s love and the lengths that He went for us to be reconciled back to Him, we don’t want to be about anything else, we don’t want do spend time on anything else because we know through and through, that God is enough for us. ‘Background’, featuring fellow rapper Andy Mineo, is also on Rehab and is the first Lecrae song I ever heard, hence, one that is very sentimental to me. it, by my own knowledge, is quite possibly one of the only songs where rapper Andy Mineo sings, and together with Lecrae, use the song for us to understand that we as humans with the limited knowledge that we have about life and about our lives, need to try our hardest not to control things and want to be in the spotlight. Being in the background and trusting that God knows the way for us, is where we ought to be- because often if we are in control of circumstances and situations, we make decision upon our ego and what we believe to be right and wrong, even when we know that when we’re in the spotlight and decisions are made on our watch, we often can do more harm than good. The hook (or chorus) that Andy Mineo sings, that ‘…I could play the background, cause I know sometimes I get in the way…’– is so true. We often get in the way of what God is actually doing and accomplishing, that through our fumbling through words, through our quickness to judge, through our ego and misunderstanding of character, through our jealousy and envy, our lust and our pride, our assumptions about this person and that, through our justifications and our grudges, we will often shy people away from Christ than toward Him. And songs like ‘Praying for You’, ‘God is Enough’ and ‘Background’ all remind us that this problem we have as humans, is a heart problem, one that can only be fixed if we change our view of who we believe God to be, to us, to our friends, and our view of God to mankind!
‘Don’t Waste Your Life’, quite possibly one of the earliest songs, aside from ‘Background’, that I heard of Lecrae, delivers some of the most poignant lyrics I’ve ever seen from Lecrae, period. The song itself is simple- not wasting our lives after we have been transformed by the power of God’s love working through us and in us, but for me, it’s the lyrics of how the message is conveyed in the song that has really impacted me over the years. Below is the excerpt of the 3rd stanza rapped by Lecrae in the song:
Suffer, yeah, do it for Christ, you’re trying to figure what to do with your life
If you make a lot of money hope you’re doing it right because the money is God’s you better steward it right
And stay focused, you ain’t got no ride, your life ain’t wrapped up in what you drive
The clothes you wear, the job you work, the colour your skin, naw you’re a Christian first
People get to living for a job, make a little money start living for a car
Get ’em a wife a house kids and a dog, then they retire they’re living high on the hog
But guess what they didn’t ever really live at all, to live is Christ and that’s Paul I recall
To die is gain so for Christ we give it all, He’s the treasure you’ll never find in a mall
Your money your singleness marriage talent your time, they were loaned to you to show the world that Christ is Divine
That’s why it’s Christ in my rhymes, that’s why it’s Christ all the time
See my whole world is built around Him He’s the life in my lines
I refused to waste my life, He’s too true to chase that ice
Here’s my gifts and time ’cause I’m constantly trying to be used to praise the Christ
If he’s truly raised to life then this news should change your life
And by his grace you can put your faith in place that rules your days and nights
It is in this quote that I’ve come to grow fond of Lecrae’s raps and rhymes, his beats, and what he actually says in the verses that make people be impacted so much by his songs and melodies. There’s only a finite amount of words to be said within a 3 minute, and the amount of content that Lecrae himself packs into each track is something no short of being remarkable.
Just because Lecrae’s main focus is to bring people into a space where the faith conversation can be had and laid out on a table with no judgement and be discussed at length with people that may have a different viewpoint than yourself; there has been many songs by Lecrae that have ruffled some feathers, so to speak- songs that are deemed to be ‘politically charged’ by nature, and thus, possibly given a bad rapt, even within the Christian music community as well. ‘Just Like You’ speaks of the issue of following male role model figures that we wouldn’t necessarily follow for the most part, on the basis that we want to be like them because we don’t have that role-model figures in our home life. This is then therefore juxta-positioned with the concept of being like Christ and following Him in every aspect that He is about- loving our neighbours and enemies, and loving others as Christ has loved us. ‘Messengers’, featuring FOR KING AND COUNTRY in a worthy collaboration that is one of my favourite collaborations between pop and rap of all time; speaks of this notion of evangelism and sharing the gospel. A message for believers young and old alike, in situations of plenty and situations of not-much, where the call on us to share with others the love, hope and grace that has been bestowed upon us freely, is freely given to others too; Lecrae continues to deliver the hard conversations in the form of freestyle, rhyme and bars that flow that challenge our inner core.
‘All I Need is You’, cleverly covered by pop/hip-hop CCM artist Hollyn on her 2015 self-titled debut EP, is a track by Lecrae on 2014’s Anomaly, and speaks of the commitment of relationships, and how in all circumstances, all we need is the people that are with us the most- friends, family, spouses, and even God Himself- the trick is with this song, it only says ‘you’, and so the extrapolation of the message can be applied to whomever you want to sing it to- to God, family or our spouse, and that’s ok. I used to think that ambiguous messages shouldn’t even be considered to be sung and made, because, well, you gotta sing about Jesus, right? But now I realise that often an ambiguous message can be just what the person may need on the other end who is listening- not a preachy sermon but something that they can relate to. ‘Tell the World’ speaks of the unconditional love that we receive from our Father in Heaven; and presents it in a carefully crafted rhyme of lines- with each forthcoming line more poetic and powerful as the one preceding it. Lecrae and Mali Music remind us all that often, what is told to us is that we need to share the gospel because we don’t want people to go to hell when they die, and that and that alone is our primary reason for sharing the hope that we have. Yes, we don’t want people to go to hell when they die, and yes, we don’t want sin to separate people from God, but if that and that alone becomes our primary motivator, then we may share with a sense of fear and trepidation in mind, rather than a sense of wonder and joy, as we should share our faith. Sharing God’s love out of a sense of it changing our lives, and changing our concept of what we believe God’s love to be, and the radical understanding of what Christ came to do to ransom us back to Him, all out of the love freely given to us…that should be our motivation to share Christ’s love to people. And that is what ‘Tell the World’ is about!
‘Church Clothes’ is a song that sparked three mixtapes by the same name (Church Clothes Vol. 1, 2 & 3) and also sparked a lot of controversy and back-and-forth chatter online about its subject matter- the hypocrisy that can often be seen by the common folk when the look at the church and what they perceive to be going on within the four walls. There seems to be a somewhat disconnect between what is preached and what is lived out, especially by the people in megachurches, and cathedrals, in high-ranking positions in the church that say one thing and often do another. Take a look at the example the church is setting for the common folk in the unfolding story of ex-Cardinal George Pell (I won’t say anything about the issue; but let a google search speak for itself). What I am saying is that ‘Church Clothes’ hits very close to the bone for people outside of the four walls, frankly because in some cases, churches are like that- hypocrisy, and living a life of sin, and justifying that in a way by saying ‘God’s grace covers me, I’m good to keep living as I am’. Having church clothes, or going to church, or saying the right things, or having the ‘right’ car, house, having the right ‘Christian lingo’…they’re all good, but they don’t save you. Having a relationship with God does, and often, the people that are deemed to be ‘followers’ of Christ really don’t know Him at all- they’re just using His name to get ahead with their selfish desires. Lecrae basically calls them out on it, and it takes boldness and even a little faith for such a song as ‘Church Clothes’ to be even considered and spoken out- it has been out of this song that Lecrae has been conforming less to ‘Christian culture’ and rapping and recording songs that have more of a universal appeal, that relate to struggles in life as Lecrae tries to call out situations and circumstances where something needs to be done, and more often we see the world, the church isn’t helping the issue. Lecrae’s music, from ‘Church Clothes’ onward, can be seen by a lot of ‘right-winged’ conservative Christian folk as being racially-charged (or whatever-charged that you want to put in there), but the way I see it is that Lecrae himself is taking a stand and standing by people who are hurting and feeling let down by the church (the institution), and this is where the church (the body of Christ) needs to undertake the same as Lecrae. Will that happen in the future? Only time will tell. Till such a time, Lecrae is filling a deep sense of voidness, showing people that they are loved unconditionally, by a God who never wanted the church to be what it has become for a lot of people.
‘Confe$$ions’, from Lecrae’s 2012 Gravity, opens up a can of worms in the theme and message of what can possibly go on inside the head of a millionaire, and whether they are truly happy with the wealth, prestige, fame and money that they have acquired over the years, all the while making us thing about whether having all the worldly possessions is really worth it at the expense of your humanity and soul; while ‘Lord Have Mercy’, a collaboration with fellow CHH rapper Tedashii, speaks of the longing for us to cry out to the Lord, asking for His mercy as we are open and honest before Him, showing Him all our faults and shortcomings as we open up to our humanity and understanding that when we are humble and ask for help, that is when transformation can really occur in our lives. Lecrae has also collaborated with different artists on other people’s albums in the past, bringing to the fore the positivity of what rap may bring, and also showcasing the marrying of both pop and rap, that doesn’t have to be a total disaster as what people could think the marrying of the two musical genres and cultures could bring. Britt Nicole’s ‘Ready or Not’ features Lecrae rapping in the bridge, as he imparts to us to never let our light be buried deep inside, or as he speaks verbatim in the track, ‘…I refuse to keep this buried deep inside of me, yeah, this lil’ light of mine, it’s time to let it shine a bit, ’cause there’s no point in hidin’ it, it’s everything i am, the source of all my hope and it’s the reason why i stand, and-and-and-and i pledge allegiance to being somebody real, there’s no more holding it back, I’m showin’ ’em how i feel, ‘cuz love is more than a word, it’s a noun and a verb, and hidin’ it is absurd, ya heard, ready or not…’; while ‘Forgiveness’ on TobyMac’s 2012 album Eye on It, features both Toby and Lecrae, on a song that is as much needed in society as it is poignant and emotive to a person’s soul. Forgiveness, understanding the concept and acting upon it, is very hard to do, and Lecrae in his part shows us a certain wisdom:
My mama told me what I would be in for if I get to the sun, get inside of me pimped up
My heart’s been broken and my wounds been open and I don’t know if I can hear I’m sorry been spoken
But those forgiving much should be quicker to give it and God forgave me for it all, Jesus beg forgiveness
So when the stones fly and they aimed at you, just say forgive them Father, they know not what they do
Lecrae also showcases the world of rap in Jimmy Needham’s ‘I Will Find You’, a collision of soul/funk and hip-hop/rap, a great infusion of music and cultures that remind us that the marrying of musical genres, no matter the genre, can create beautiful music we may not know as actually possible- the song itself speaks of the great lengths that God will go for Him to find us, and Lecrae’s rap parts are some of the most poignant out of the whole song. Lecrae also features in Chris Tomlin’s ‘Awake My Soul’, where Lecrae himself recounts the part in Ezekiel where he witnesses God breathing dry bones to life, and reminds us all that it is only when Christ is within us that our deadness spiritually comes to life by the power of Christ in us; while artists like Tori Kelly, Phil Wickham, Koryn Hawthorne and mikeschair all feature Lecrae on their songs (‘Masterpiece’, ‘This is Amazing Grace’, ‘Unstoppable’ and ‘Keep Changing the World’ respectively), and all of them remind us of how on another level the rap can take the song in question- that to bring another musical genre that people may not have heard, into a genre that people know, is a reminder that there’s other music outside of what we listen to on a regular basis, and if done right, the insert of rap into anything can elevate the quality of what was originally there in the first place.
From 2014 onward, there seemed to be more of a shift in Lecrae and the music he created- no longer did the music explore the ‘Christian-ese’ that music of the past did, but rather, there was a lot more emphasis on life experience and what people could say as ‘political-music’- songs that asked for the listeners opinion on a certain topic, all the while challenging them on what needed to be done in society today. In an interview collaboration with website relevant, Lecrae himself touched upon the shift in content in his music, and the reaction people gave to it- ‘…so much has to go on to get you to where you’re very comfortable in your own skin. It’s kind of like you have your uncles or grandfathers and they have no problem just being themselves, because they’re like, “Listen I’ve lived enough life. I’m fine. I’m taking my teeth out and putting them on the table and I don’t care what you think.” I think that’s where I’m at. I’m OK with my dentures now. Long story short, I was bred with such insecurity from not having my dad around. You don’t realize you’re vying for the approval of everyone so much until being yourself is not approved of. You’re like, “Oh wow, you guys don’t like me unless I’m what you want me to be.” OK, awesome, I can’t do that. It’s just me saying I’m going to make music that’s as authentic as it can possibly be. I’m going to talk about issues that everybody may or may not want to hear. I think now it’s really saying, “Look, this is me.” When I’m in the studio this time around [creating Anomaly], it’s me saying, “Let’s say some hard things. Let’s say some stuff that is difficult and needed, and then let’s go back and say it again and again until we find a song where it’s done in the way we wanted it to be done.” I think more than anything, there are songs on the album that are explicitly about love and relationships. There are some songs like “Can’t Stop Me Now” where I said, ‘I’m glad that Jesus ain’t American, that’s the reason I care again’. I don’t know what kind of reaction that’s gonna get, but that’s where I’m at…’ It is in this quote where I see Lecrae’s courage to speak up on things that people even within the Christian circle can consider as taboo, because we have been taught that within the Christian music industry, we’d have to look a certain way. Sure Lecrae is a Christian and he’s vocal about his own faith, but he also has struggles about his own life, and sees things in the world he wants to work through in a song. From Anomaly onward, I felt like he did that- kudos to him, but along the way, I’m sure there was backlash, quite possibly from the people and communities where unity and camaraderie was expected. Nevertheless, this shift from Lecrae is exceptionally welcome, and songs from Anomaly post, are songs that really speak to my core of what it means to stand up for the oppressed and marginalised when often the people ascribing to your own belief system don’t even do or undertake what you believe is the right thing to do.
‘Say I Won’t’, from Anomaly, features Andy Mineo back on guest-vocals again as this song speaks of the notion that to be different means that people ought to be scared of you, or that you yourself are scared of what people could perceive. Lecrae reminds us all that to be different means to stand out for what Christ has put on our hearts to pursue, rather than to just jump in the same frame that everyone is jumping into. In a recent interview Lecrae had with the ARTISTDIRECT website, we see the struggle that often artists feel that they need to keep the projected image that other people see, as being one of perfection, or close to it. ‘Say I Won’t’ argues the fact that we need to stop being people-pleasers, and to understand that, say I won’t do or stand by the things other people are championing but rather focus on the Lord- if that means people stop following me, then so be it. ‘Fear’, also on Anomaly, speaks volumes to myself as Lecrae unloads all his fears in a 5 minute song, where his list of fears, from being insecure, walking a little slower, being scared of letting go of what the future may hold or bring, having nightmares about eternity, and chasing the wind and climbing the status ladder, to being scared of what other people may think of him and being unsure of whether the methods of his declaring of Jesus is relevant to people outside of the church. ‘Fear’ speaks of a person struggling with a lot of things, as we’re reminded that no-one has it all together- not even Lecrae. Lecrae himself has said, through an excerpt quote on genius.com, that ‘…a man who is too afraid to admit his fears is a man who will never overcome them. Fear isn’t all bad. It actually points to our imperfect fragility. We are needy people in need of a greater power than ourselves. My fear drives my faith. It reminds me I’m not a superhero. I’m not a Christian because I’m strong and have it all together; I’m a Christian because I’m weak and admit I need a Saviour. Until I can face my fears and allow them to be conquered, I’m a slave to them…’ ‘Broken’, a collaboration with worship singer-songwriter Kari Jobe, acknowledges the fact that at some point in our lives, we need to understand that we are broken because of sin, that it is in our weakness that we realise that we can’t handle things on our own, and thus, we ask for help. Being broken doesn’t mean that we are at fault for the things we’ve done- it’s just sin in the world and the broken world we live in. Alas, God provides the healing through Jesus, and this song collaboration is by far one of the most seamlessly unified musical partnerships I’ve heard in quite some time. ‘Blessings’, ‘Broke’ and ‘8:28’ continue along with the hard-hitting ‘sermons-in-song’ as Lecrae offers to us a myriad of themes for us to think about and consider. ‘Blessings’ featuring mainstream rapper Ty Dolla $ign, speaks of how we need to be thankful for the life that we have as we count our blessings, ‘Broke’ gives us an understanding that often to be broke and to not have the material things of this world, means to be rich- in character and integrity as we rely not on ourselves but on Christ for the things we need. ‘8:28’ is based upon the bible verse of Romans 8:28, where we understand and know that all things will work together for our good and God’s glory, even the things that may look the most ugly and uncertain.
‘I’ll Find You’ was the third time I heard a full Lecrae song from start to finish, after ‘Background’ and ‘Messengers’- and back then, I wasn’t that well-versed and exposed to rap music (or shall I say, Lecrae’s music) than right now, and upon reflect, shall I say that my assessment in my review of ‘I’ll Find You’ is as pertinent and relevant as it is right now? Because ‘I’ll Find You’ speaks of a person who’s at the end of their rope, maybe even physically, as they share that they are in a battle between light and dark, for the soul. It is often in these moments of despair when you realise who or what you cling to (or who you don’t cling to), and ‘I’ll Find You’ gives us that reassurance that it is God who finds us every time- we don’t have to do the work that we often think we do. While the song itself can either be read as being sung from the point of view of God or being sung from one friend to another (the lyrics make it ambiguous…which I reckon is unique, as audiences who love both Christian and mainstream music will connect to a song like this!), what the message is at the end of the day is this- that we are not alone in our plight. That when we hold on in our darkest moments to the people around us who are willing to help us out of the chaos and calamity, often not expecting anything in return; we can find wholeness and peace, in the knowledge that we are safe and secure in the presence of those who love us. Pop sensation Tori Kelly challenges us the most with the hauntingly refreshing and confronting words of ‘…just fight a little longer my friend, it’s all worth it in the end, but when you got nobody to turn to, just hold on, and I’ll find you…’; an allusion to the parable of the lost sheep, and how the Lord will always search high and low for us, those who are frail, weary, alone, straggling, old, different, overlooked and underappreciated. It is often the misfits and the outcasts that the Lord uses to further His kingdom, and so ‘I’ll Find You’ is a shout-out, honouring those who aren’t necessarily the most gregarious or even outgoing people, yet people nonetheless that God can use to build others up and encourage us all to live a life of service, sacrifice, respect and honour, as both Lecrae and Tori show us what it looks like to be a parent and love children as much as God loves His creation.
Maybe I’m not as familiar with ‘trap’ the genre as the next person, but all that aside, Lecrae decided to undertake a trap album with the collaboration of producer ZAYTOVEN for Let the Trap Say Amen in 2018. While I myself wasn’t really that hooked by a lot of that particular album (never mind, I’m sure other people can connect with Lecrae’s 2018 album, I may be not as familiar to trap as I could be, thus not enjoying the ‘genre’ as much as, let’s say, rap!), I will say this, about one particular song on the album, ‘Get Back Right’- a song that even now has been taking the mainstream music industry by storm. With the song being picked at the beginning of 2020 as the theme song for the NFL, ‘Get Back Right’ is a song fit for the beginning of each year- as we look at our own selves to see if there are things in our lives we need to ‘get back right’- acknowledging there are aspects of our life we need to work upon so we can see the change from A to B. Lecrae and ZAYTOVEN have created a song that can have as much universal appeal as it does, and still not lose its meaning, as the hip-hop craftsman brings to us a song suitable for people of faith, and people not of faith too. ‘Set Me Free’, another song of late by Lecrae– this time released as a single this year in 2020, and not from any album as of yet (it may be on Lecrae’s new album Restoration coming later on during the year), is another poignant song that hits home I’m sure for a lot of people. Collaborating with hip-hop new artist YK Osiris, and sampling the gospel hit ‘Shackles (Praise You)’ by Mary Mary, to bookend ‘Set Me Free’; the song itself is a desperate cry to be saved during a moment of spiritual, emotional and mental captivity. It is when times of despair are the greatest that we need the Lord the most, and what better time for such a song as ‘Set Me Free’ to be powerful and relevant than in a time of the COVID-19 crisis.
There are two (well, maybe three) songs within Lecrae’s discography that really hit the nail on the hammer in terms of heartfelt themes and messages, and really drives things home for me with songs that cut to the heart of what it means to live in a world full of dichotomy and division, all the while wrestling with the Lord on issues like these- ‘Welcome to America’ (and to an extent, Switchfoot’s song ‘Looking For America’, of which Lecrae is a part of), and the KJ-52 collaboration, ‘They Like Me’. Not actually on any of his albums, but rather on KJ-52’s hip-hop album Dangerous in 2012 (of which ‘They Like Me’ is listed as a track, guesting by Lecrae), ‘They Like Me’ speaks of this issue of trying to fit into different social and cultural groups, all the while staying true to who you are as an artist and person and delivering messages that are dear to your heart. Lecrae has especially felt a lot of discrimination over the years when it comes to his music- black people from the urban communities may have felt that his music was too ‘religious’, while the white folk who connect with Lecrae’s music also, may have felt that his music was becoming too politicised and fuelled by the racial commentary of the world today. Nevertheless, such things are an issue when you’re an artist and you want to do music that connects with both types of listeners, yet not wanting to offend either ‘group’, you often make music that isn’t what you want, but what you perceive to be what other people like. ‘They Like Me’ speaks of the fact that there are going to be people in your life that just don’t like you, no matter the reason. On the flip side, there may be people that do like what you do, and there’s no agenda behind that- they just like your music and craft, and connect with the songs, regardless of your background. Nevertheless, such a song as this, challenges the way we think about assumptions placed on people before listening to music and letting it speak for itself.
Then there’s ‘Welcome to America’. Yes, this was a song that I just heard from Lecrae through watching the poignant music video, only a few days ago, and boy did it really challenge my own assumptions of what America would be like. Then again, the song challenges my own assumptions of what living in the west may be like, as well. Though the song itself never explicitly speaks of Jesus, or of the power of the saving blood of Christ, the song nevertheless challenges people through 3 different perspectives of America, as told by three different personas and what they themselves may feel through their interactions with America and what they got out of the ‘land of the free, home of the brave’. Split up into 3 stanzas, if you will, Lecrae marches to depict 3 different personas- an African-American living in the U.S., a war veteran, and a foreigner living in another country, so desperately wanting to come to America that they’re willing to come illegally. With these three ‘voices’, if you will, we get a glimpse into what the American dream can look like and actually be, to the people that often don’t get enough voices in society at the moment. The African American is struggling often to make ends meet, often turning to drugs and alcohol to fuel the hurt and pain that is hidden deep within. The veteran coming home from war may have a different outlook on America than most- after a long time serving his country, all he may want is a little respect and help, which may not be what really happens when he does come back. He may be forgotten, and PTSD and depression can ensue. The foreigner finally takes centre stage in the 3rd stanza of the rap, this time offering their own depiction of their longing to visit America, land of all the opportunities and the wonder that comes from hearing all the great things about a country from afar. Foreigners have the most idealised version of what America could be, and usually, it is in this fantasy of looking from the outside in, that they’re willing to break the rules and come however they can because…well anything can be better than working in sweatshops, right? ‘Welcome To America’ is a track that has opened my eyes to what America really is for these people- not a pretty place when we boil everything down. Lecrae’s words through rhyming, and powerful motifs bring in the listener, and we hopefully can be challenged by what I hope is a song that really speaks to how we need to help those who may be afflicted by their own disconnect between what they want America (or maybe in my case, Australia) to be for themselves, and what it really is. A song that can hopefully get people into action to help those people who are the subject of this rap, Lecrae has actually created something of a lyrical genius, and is my favourite song of his from the era of Anomaly onward.
By extension ‘Looking For America’, a collaboration with San Diego rockers Switchfoot on their album Where the Light Shines Through, is sort-of a sequel to ‘Welcome to America’, where Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman declares in the song that he’s looking for America, a ‘…place to breathe in, a place I can call my home…I’m looking for the land of freedom, a place I can call my own…headlines that I can’t believe in, but I’m still holding onto hope, I’m looking for a miracle…’, implying that with all the hate, division and animosity on the surface, it’s hard to find America and it’s true values. Nevertheless, what Lecrae adds to the song is pure genius as together with the partnership of ‘Welcome to America’, alongside ‘Looking For America’, we are given a picture of a country in desperate need of a revival and helping hand, that should come by the way of people lending their time, efforts, talents and money, all without anything in return, and certainly without judgement and condemnation. Who knows, maybe a person that’s willing to fight and stand up for the ‘right’ and ‘true’ America is probably listening to one of these two songs, right now!
Lecrae’s music has been transformational in the lives of many, has shaped people’s ideas of what a nation in this world can be if given the proper tools to wake up from the division that is hurting people, and has given us all a way to understand what it’s like to make real authentic music in a world where judgement, condemnation and hate is flying, from all sides of the religious and political spectrum. Nevertheless, what Lecrae has achieved throughout his career is nothing short of a miracle, as we see a man clearly knowing his identity in Christ, going to the places that I’m sure a lot of Christian people would never go, and sharing his faith in a world where faith of any kind, can be seen as a weakness or a crutch. Still, Lecrae continues to travel into that place and space, to start a conversation that needs to be started. Lecrae’s music is healing, challenging, confronting, equipping, edifying and spirit-filled, all at once. Being the co-founder of CHH label Reach Records (of which is he a signee himself), Lecrae has fostered a culture of rap that is about speaking truth, but in a way where people outside of the church can relate and understand. Sure, as of right now, his music may be ‘seeker-sensitive’, but let us be reminded of his boldness for Christ in the songs like ‘I’ll Find You’, ‘Set Me Free’, ‘8:28’, ‘Messengers’, ‘Just Like You’ and ‘Don’t Waste Your Life’, to name a few. Lecrae has been a public advocate for social justice and change, especially within the realms of race, and has written many publications for the Huffington Post, and articles for Billboard.com, detailing his own stance on issues like the 2014 Ferguson unrest and the 2015 Charleston church shootings, calling for empathy across races and being able and willing to hear different sides of the issue, to hear the oppressed and listen to their plight. Lecrae has basically been an advocate for all the things I’m sure Jesus would’ve stood up for if He were here now, and for that, Lecrae’s involvement in things that may be considered controversial to be involved in, is why I consider, alongside his music, Lecrae to as influential as he is in music and society as a whole. Sure other rap artists are influential in shaping culture and society, maybe in a negative way, but Lecrae’s music, and challenging the status quo, is something that can impact people and bring about a movement of introspection and loving without reservation, long after the artist is said and done with their music.
Does Lecrae make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song (aside from ‘Prayin’ for You’, ‘I’ll Find You’ and ‘Welcome to America’) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Below I will insert an excerpt from a recent Billboard article where Lecrae himself is writing a piece of opinion, delivering his own thoughts about how to make sense of life during this season of COVID-19- something that can be an interesting read to get a perspective about life during these times, that may be different from our own. Read below; and let us know what you think. Till next time!
fear causes us to act inhumane; it causes us to overlook those in need. Thousands of people are living on the streets with pre-existing health conditions and no access to small things like hand sanitizer. They are at an even higher risk to COVID-19. Fear makes us think about ourselves, hoard toilet paper and fight in grocery stores. But God is consistent. The same God who parted seas, healed diseases, and gives ingenuity to doctors is still present. That same God who fed the multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish is still here. I have no idea when or where my next check from a concert will come from, but I know I have enough for now. I imagine there will be great songs, books, and films created in this time of social distancing. Economies may get weaker, but family bonds will grow stronger. This pandemic is an opportunity to see how we can overcome unforeseen trials. We can embrace the humility and humanity it takes to be of service to one another. I hope we can put a pause on self-seeking, self-interest, and vain pursuits to care deeply for one another and refocus on global solidarity. I believe God will restore the years the locusts have eaten. I believe collective pain makes people love their neighbour as themselves. In the words of L.R. Knost, “Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So, go love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.” Humanity always recovers, and I am confident we will be restored again. I want to be a part of that solution