Since the dawn of hip-hop, rappers have drawn in fans and listeners for different reasons. For many it’s the transgressive, expletive-heavy flying-off-the-handle spirit that speaks to them profoundly, providing an way to express their anger, trauma, exuberance or fears. For others it’s a progressive black empowerment message that catches their ear fostering a sense of belonging, self-worth and steely resolve. The impressive and sometimes obsessive skill of the freestyler has been responsible for breeding many a wanna-be wordsmith. But it’s the attractiveness of the unforced ‘this is my life’ lyrics of the natural, expressive rapper that create a bond with a listener that often lasts the longest.
Lecrae, hailing from Houston, Texas, has won many fans with his various heart-felt ‘this is the life of an ordinary black man’ testimonial songs since his debut album in 2004. What makes him different to many of his peers is that Lecrae ultimately is a Christian youth worker/pastor/preacher who’s also a ferocious rapper. He has the vulnerability to talk about his weaknesses and failures but also the audacity to challenge people with the claims of Jesus.
What happens when a pastor/rapper with an emphasis on mentoring youths on the responsibilities of fatherhood suddenly has the chance to talk to tens of thousands of young men and women?
What happens when a rapper who’s an outspoken Christian gains so much mainstream attention that other rappers are wary of releasing their album on the same day as his new release because the record chart stats will make them look bad?
Well, we’re only just finding out. Lecrae’s Grammy-winning album ‘Gravity’ and his free ‘Church Clothes Mixtape’ both released to much acclaim in 2012 were the tipping point in Lecrae’s career.
At times he treads on some of the same lyrical ground as his contemporaries:
He encourages black women to see their beauty, power and purpose:
He abhors America’s culture of violence:
but then he goes lyrically off-piste – his secular friends wouldn’t be caught dead on a track like this:
Lecrae’s lyrics represents a challenge to what it means to be a strong black man. Not only is rapping about submission and humility before a Christian God essentially uncool, it will be understood by some as submission to white ideals, and speaking the words of the oppressor. Yet his worldview flies in the face of the American Dream.
Lecrae is in an unenviable position right now. His music and his lyrics are scrutinized, his every decision questioned, his newfound celebrity status condemned by those who believe he’s lost his faith and is selling out. He’s going to have to live out his countercultural values in the glare of the spotlight.
Yet it looks like Lecrae is embracing the challenge with a weird mix of sharp-tongued wit, down-to-earthness and missionary zeal.
In a 2013 interview, Lecrae was asked whether his younger self would be disappointed in the new Lecrae.
His answer: For sure, he would. “Aw man, you’re selling out. You’ve fallen off, man.” I’m sure that would be the way my old self would think about it. I would just sit my young self down and have a calm conversation articulating the reasons why I’m doing what I’m doing, and try to point out some of the self-righteous areas in my young self’s life. Hopefully it would be a good conversation.