Lecrae Tells All: Why the Face of Christian Hip Hop Switched His Style Up
Lecrae traded 2Pac-like name recognition in Christian hip hop for regularly hearing, “Who are you?” in the mainstream.
“I think there’s some misconception that the mainstream is glamorous or that I want the approval of people, but the reality is quite the opposite,” Lecrae told Wade-O Radio. “The green rooms are dark, dirty and dingy. They smell like weed, alcohol and everyone treats you like trash because you’re not the big dog.”
The Grammy Award-winning artist has accumulated more success than anyone else in the Christian hip-hop history. Lecrae has sacrificed notoriety to reach a broader audience, but skeptics believe a lust for money, fame and acceptance from high-profile artists have motivated his transition.
Lecrae laughs at such accusations.
“There’s more money in Christian music than there is in mainstream for me,” said Lecrae. “If I really wanted money, I’d be on tour with Chris Tomlin and TobyMac—that’s where the money is. There’s probably no chance for me to be accepted in mainstream culture because I proudly wear the badge of Christian.”
Instead of booking Christian festivals where kind, loving servants cater to his every need, Lecrae has chosen to play the role of alien in the foreign world that is the mainstream.
“I’ve always been burdened to be a missionary,” said the Reach Records rapper of his motivation. “That’s who Lecrae is—he’s missional. He wants to reach people.”
Lecrae has always been missional, but how he’s been missional has mutated. Unashamed anthems, theology and the gospel were featured less frequently on “Church Clothes” and “Gravity” than “After the Music Stops” and “Rebel.”
To fans who still play “Jesus Muzik” loud and proud with their windows down, the new version of Lecrae sounds out of his element. He’d lead one to believe the opposite.
“Christian hip hop, when I came into it, was dominated by heavy teaching and a lot of theological astuteness and I felt myself trying to be that, but unnaturally,” said Lecrae.
“Sometimes it worked for me, but it wasn’t the code that fit me most naturally. I could write a song about substitutionary penal atonement, but I had to do a lot of studying.”
Lecrae assumed lyrical theology was the standard until two mentors’ lives were turned upside down.
When The Ambassador and Da’ T.R.U.T.H.’s indiscretions—who both used to be label mates with Lecrae on Cross Movement Records—were exposed in 2009, Lecrae launched his change in direction.
All eyes were on Lecrae after the collapse of his heroes’ careers. Figuratively, Lecrae looked in the mirror, but he didn’t see the next Ambassador or Da’ T.R.U.T.H.
“I knew I didn’t have the capability or the capacity to be the theological leader that those guys were and I didn’t want that pressure,” admitted Lecrae, who all of a sudden became the genre’s biggest name.
His experience in seminary around that time also fueled the rerouting of his vision. The classes Lecrae attended opened his eyes to the fact that he wasn’t meant to be a pastor.
After he stuck his nose into books written by numerous theologians who were passionate about arts and culture, Lecrae began to put his newfound missional, artistic approach into practice on and off the mic. He liked what he saw—“people coming to Jesus.”
“This is really another way,” thought Lecrae. “[It’s the] same gospel, but another way to approach music as a Christian.”
Lecrae raved about The Ambassador, Da’ T.R.U.T.H., Shai Linne and Flame, saying they’re the leaders who artists should follow if they’re called to predominantly write special revelation, or divinely inspired, songs. The Atlanta artist felt called to general revelation, music for the masses, while creating “Rehab,” and that’s the route he’s run ever since.
Rather than preach to his listeners, Lecrae aims to form a common ground. He will not share the gospel in every song, but he’ll address issues which relate to everyone. This allows him to reach a broader audience with the gospel when he feels God give him the green light.
Even when Lecrae is writing about non-religious cultural issues, he’s still doing so with a Christian worldview.
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The Clear Sight Music rapper believes Christian artists must share the gospel in their music.
“Artistically, I’m burdened to share the gospel, but I’m not going to slap a message on art,” said Lecrae. “It’s got to flow out of who I am.”
Lecrae claimed that Christians are free to engage culture however they feel called, whether that involves going door to door or starting a motorcycle club. He stressed that when reaching the unchurched lost with the gospel, there’s one message, but many methods.
Despite he and Flame’s opposing opinions, Lecrae didn’t initially think “#1 Spot” had anything to do with him specifically. Then Flame blamed him for starting a disruptive trend in an interview with DJ Wade-O.
“My honest, immediate reaction was, ‘That’s great, he must be talking to all these Christians who are trying to do what I’m doing with the wrong motives,’” said Lecrae. “That’s really what I thought because Flame is one of my brothers. I would’ve never thought or imagined I inspired it negatively, or the lack of me doing something inspired that.”
He and Flame have since smoothed over their differences and apologized for assuming each others’ motives.
Lecrae called for his remaining critics to follow suit. He asked for less judgment and more prayer for clarity, boldness, courage and people around him to challenge him if he waters down his message. Up to this point, no one close to him has waved a red flag, signaling that his ego has become an issue.