Release Date: August 21st 2020
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Restore Me
- Set Me Free (feat. YK Osiris)
- Wheels Up (feat. Marc E. Bassy)
- Over the Top
- Self Discovery
- Deep End
- Drown (feat. John Legend)
- Saturday Night (feat. Jozzy)
- Sunday Morning (feat. Kirk Franklin)
- Keep Going
- Still (feat. DaniLeigh)
- Only Human (feat. BJ the Chicago Kid)
- Nothing Left to Hide (feat. Gwen Bunn)
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’, ‘8:28’, ‘Messengers’, ‘Just Like You’ and ‘Don’t Waste Your Life’, to name a few. I myself have had the privilege of listening to Lecrae’s music for a while now, and have even written a blog about him, which you can all view, here. And so here I am in 2020, upon the heels of Lecrae’s new album release. Titled Restoration and feeling like a more complete followup to his 2017 album All Things Work Together; Lecrae’s music has always been very polarising as of late, and this album is but no means, an exception. Standing at a formidable track-listing of 14 tracks, this hip-hop legend in both the CHH and mainstream industries, has released arguably one of the most relevant albums of this current 2020 period. An album that can actually get you hooked on rap music in all the good ways possible, Lecrae’s passion to deliver songs from real life, is what makes Restoration, and a lot of his music career, so appealing. Unveiled with plenty of songs written out of experiences in lockdown, quarantine, and the general unrest in America right now (primarily because of racial tension from the fallout of the George Floyd death way back in May 2020); Restoration is a must-have for anyone who loves deep-thinking rap, hip-hop with a message, or just Lecrae’s stuff from before.
ABOUT ‘RESTORE ME’: We had some sessions where I just brought up keywords that I was experiencing from being in this industry and how everything comes with a price—not just the industry, but my life in general. You don’t realize that everything that you’ve amassed is all coming from a place of trauma. So every award you get, every significant thing that you’ve accomplished, in some ways it’s you trying to affirm yourself because you didn’t get the affirmation you needed in your childhood, in life. So when you have that moment of clarity, you’re, ‘None of these things can take away the pain of losing somebody or of a near divorce or a clinical depression.’ So I just let people know it was bad bad, but there’s hope on the other side.
ABOUT ‘SET ME FREE’: We’re shackled to these status quos and these ideas of who we’re supposed to be and how everything’s supposed to work. You may be on a label and they have demands of you as far as your art is concerned. You’re in a society that systemically oppresses you. It’s just, ‘I am so tired of the walls around me and I’m on the verge of revolt.’ Even internally it’s, ‘Yo, I do not have to be the most popular person on social media. I do not have to be the happy puppet all the time. I don’t have to be the chart-topper all the time.’ YK Osiris, the reason why I chose [to feature] him was because he was very open in a video he put on social media where he talked about the perils of the industry and how people force you to be something other than yourself. It was just him wanting that freedom and me wanting the freedom for him as well.
ABOUT ‘WHEELS UP’: Coming off a radio tour and being all over the country, you’re just constantly on. You meet people everywhere you go, and you don’t even have time to think about what matters to you or how you’re feeling. When I’m on a plane flying overseas and there’s no Wi-Fi, then it’s just me. I don’t have to talk to nobody. I don’t have to be on right now. I don’t have any lights, camera, action. It’s just me and I can just sit and reflect and think, and I feel like there’s no pressure.
ABOUT ‘OVER THE TOP’: It’s me saying, ‘I’m done trying to prove something to y’all. My health is more important to me. The legacy I leave is more important to me.’ If I win 38 Grammys and have 52 platinum plaques, there’s still going to be hungry people in the street. It’s almost like Hunger Games—somebody has got to be the Katniss Everdeen and say, ‘I’m not going to get caught up in this. There’re still people out there who are struggling, and let me stand up for them.
ABOUT ‘SELF DISCOVERY’: When you’ve been playing a character so long, you lose sight of yourself. You don’t even know who you are because you’ve been playing the character for so long. So ‘Self Discovery’ is almost like going back to my roots and realizing, ‘Yo, I’m traumatized and I’m hurt. And this is what my family thinks. And this is where I come from.’ My cousins and my aunts, these are outtakes from the documentary, conversations that were being had.
ABOUT ‘DEEP END’: It was actually a song that was not initially going to be on the album. I wrote it right after the passing of George Floyd. I just needed to get it off my chest. The words just started coming out. I posted the song on my Instagram and people were like, ‘Man, we need this right now.’ That made me say, ‘This is something I need to actually go on the album.’ I just thank goodness for the independent label that I’m a part of that we were able to make that happen so quickly and can put that on the album.
ABOUT ‘DROWN’: As soon as John Legend heard it, he wanted it for himself. But we were like, ‘Nah, John, come on, man. Be a part of this one.’ He got on the song and it accomplishes the work of helping people, the pain and suffering that you could be experiencing in being authentic. But at the same time, it’s a familiar sound that people can resonate with.
ABOUT ‘SATURDAY NIGHT’: It’s the out-of-body experience I’ve had a million times, I mean, Grammy weekend, BET weekend, where you’re at these parties. Are you trying to further your career by networking with people? Are you just trying to be as hedonistic as possible and have a good time and forget about your worries? Are you trying to look like you’re connected to people you’re not connected to, and hang out with the big names? Then you find yourself as one of these people that folks are trying to be close to, and people are mobbing you. And you’re just kind of like, ‘Yo, what is this fishbowl that I’m inside of?’ It’s like we’re repeating the same steps over and over again. What I realized personally is that when you don’t feel spiritually alive, when you don’t feel emotionally alive, all you have is your senses. So you’re constantly trying to feed your senses
ABOUT ‘SUNDAY MORNING’: My homegirl Blu is singing on the hook. We share similar sentiments about faith, and she jumped at the opportunity to just express herself on this particular song. And Kirk Franklin is like a big brother to me. We walk in similar worlds. We had been planning on working together for years, and I just always felt like, ‘Man, it has to be the right song and in the right moment.’
ABOUT ‘ZOMBIE’: It’s comical in sound. It’s fun. But it’s such a serious topic. It’s like, ‘I was like a zombie. I was just chasing after the money, the cars, the women, gold, girls, and glory,’ like we always say. Then you have your spiritual awakening and you’re like, ‘There’s so much more to life than these things.’ So we wanted to make it upbeat. You reflecting on the past. It sounds like a breakthrough in therapy. Restoration is happening and you can celebrate that.
ABOUT ‘KEEP GOING’: It’s tapping back into the core of hip-hop. It’s tapping back into that aggression and that fierce fire that I probably had back in 2011, when you’re idealistic. Idealism meets cynicism. I’m leaving cynicism, but I’m also not idealistic. Now I’m realistic. And realism says, ‘Look, this is what the reality is, but all is not lost. You got to keep pushing.’ Restoration is not about reaching a destination. It’s about owning the fact that this is a journey.
ABOUT ‘STILL’: What a lot of people don’t realize is that we tend to think of our journeys and our healing processes as things that happened to us, but there’s collateral damage done to other people. Specifically, my wife is that collateral damage. So you are acknowledging that your process and your journey has left shrapnel in other people. You being emotionally distant has created problems. You being gone all the time has created problems. And now your eyes are open for the first time and you’re like, ‘Yo, you’re still here.’ And then she’s like, ‘Yes, I’m still rocking with you.’ And it’s like, ‘You’re even greater than I imagined. You’re still by my side through all of this hell and chaos.
ABOUT ‘ONLY HUMAN’: That’s a special song, because BJ [the Chicago Kid] and I spent some time on the road together. And he understands that plight of just trying to be who you know you’re supposed to be, but still falling short. For every healthy two steps you take, you’re bound to take one that’s going to make you fall again. But you’ve got to give yourself some grace and not beat yourself up for being human and being imperfect.
ABOUT ‘NOTHING LEFT TO HIDE’: I’ve had the music, the production for years. I just knew it was special and I didn’t want to waste it. There were eight different choruses for this song. Nobody could get it and capture the sentiment. And then Gwen [Bunn] came in and, one take, knocked it out. It’s me baring my soul. It’s me saying, ‘I’m not going to be famous enough for these people. I’m not going to be Christian enough for these people, and I don’t have anything else to hide.’
Some people can read this ‘review’ and approach this unveiling of my ‘musings’ on the album, as some kind of cop-out- and upon first glance, maybe this ‘review’ is. But as where it stands now, I’ve realised that more often than not, a lot of people review albums and say things far better than you yourself do. I can’t pretend to know about all things CHH (Christian Hip-hop), nor do I pretend to know how to review rap music. I mean…I did write a blog about Lecrae himself; but reviewing rap music itself hasn’t really been a forte of mine. I did review albums from NF (NF EP in 2014, Mansion in 2015) back in the day, but as of 2020, it’s been a little difficult trying to explore the realms of rap nowadays. And so here I stand in October 2020. I heard Lecrae’s Restoration. And it’s good. I mean, really good. Looking at the above quotations by Lecrae himself, speaking about the stories behind these songs, as unveiled to us by Apple Music, creates a whole lot of clarity as we hear these songs again. Lecrae of late has always been an artist that has managed to create content for both the Christian audiences as well as the mainstream; and do it well I might add. In fact, he’s one of a few artists that have managed to receive crossover appeal for his music- other artists like Switchfoot, needtobreathe, Skillet, Lauren Daigle, Kirk Franklin, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Relient K, Lifehouse, Owl City, even more recently for KING AND COUNTRY; have all managed to had varying degrees of success with their music crossing over to reach audiences that their music wasn’t initially geared towards, and now we add Lecrae into that mix as well.
‘Set Me Free’, the first single from Restoration, is a 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. ‘Deep End’ is a very personal track by Lecrae written in a raw and honest way, as we see his musings after the horror of the George Floyd attack in May 2020 and how he is wanting someone to pull him from the deep end, because he’s worried that’s where he’ll go because of all the things he has seen in society and in his life up until this moment; while ‘Zombie’ portrays a picture that people from all colours and creeds can relate to- feeling numb and broken, like a zombie until a moment of clarity and unconditional love comes washing over us all, as we stumble on what we often perceive it to be a ‘spiritual presence’ (when in reality it’s the Holy Spirit prompting us to wake up from our zombie states). ‘Keep Going’ features distorted string instruments as Lecrae understands and realises that this restoration thing isn’t necessarily a destination that you immediately arrive at, but a journey and a long and often gruelling way of living that allows us to open up to become our true and vulnerable selves, all the while understanding that in front of our Lord God, there is no judgement and condemnation, that all things will ultimately lead us to a restoration of the heart and the slow erosion of cynicism and unbelief; while ‘Sunday Morning’, featuring a spoken word by gospel legend Kirk Franklin, reminds us all that life is precious, and that every day we wake up, in this short time we have here on this earth, is a miracle in and of itself. As we thank God for this time on Earth that we all ought not to take for granted, ‘Sunday Morning’ the rap fuses into ‘Sunday Morning’ the spoken word, where we see Kirk powerfully declare some of the most emotive and hauntingly poignant words I’ve heard in all of 2020 thus far: ‘…seasons change the colors so quickly, it’s hard to keep up with the leaves cause everybody leaves, on my birthday, Kobe, Gigi and seven souls remind me that the tree of life is so uncertain and tomorrow has unpredictabilities as colorful as the smiles that took off that day, may that Sunday morning resonate past trophies and trinkets and the ongoing pursuit of more to sober us but the humbling truth, my life and your life, is just a vapor and if what you see is all you see then you do not see all there is to be seen, quickly we leave…’ ‘Drown’ is also a great standout on Restoration, and is perhaps the song that can hopefully gain crossover success for people who love Lecrae, people who love John Legend or even people who love both. The song itself speaks about being drowned under the weights of life and the pressures that can often take hold of your mind, more than you even care to admit. ‘Drown’ is an honest piece of work, a track about crying out to the Lord, longing for restoration and a sense of help that can only come from the divine. While the song can often suffer at times the looping electronic percussion; the song nevertheless is a track that is voicing a lot of things that people in general may be feeling, especially during 2020 and the time of COVID-19 that exposes a lot of what people may have been feeling already, albeit not to the same immense extent brought to the fore by the coronavirus.
Lecrae’s music will always allow us to be challenged into looking deep within ourselves to ask the questions that maybe may not have been asked if it wasn’t for the music. And Lecrae’s Restoration is no different. Lecrae’s songs, especially songs like ‘Drown’, ‘Set Me Free’ and ‘Deep End’, have all spoken to me over the last week or so, and reminded me of how real, relevant and necessary rap music is, especially Christian Hip Hop/Rap, to the current culture and society right now. People are longing for something more than the vapid superlative stuff we are seeing at the moment in the rap culture, and Lecrae gives us a great alternative for this. Speaking about difficult issues in songs throughout his whole entire career thus far (see songs like ‘Welcome to America’, ‘Messengers’, ‘Don’t Waste Your Life’, ‘Background’ and ‘Just Like You’, to name a few); 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 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. Well done Lecrae for the ministry and music that has been given to us all, going to thoroughly enjoy Restoration on repeat for the upcoming weeks and months ahead!
4 songs to listen to: Set Me Free, Deep End, Drown, Sunday Morning
RIYL: KB, Andy Mineo, Steven Malcolm, Trip Lee, Tedashii