Lecrae's "Anomaly" album cover photo.

How Lecrae mixed rap and theology to find huge, mainstream success

NEW YORK (RNS) He's been crowned the "new hip-hop king" and his newest album, "Anomaly," topped iTunes and Amazon charts the day of its Sept. 9 release. He's been invited to birthday parties for both Billy Graham and Michael Jordan and riffed on NBC's "Tonight Show" with host Jimmy Fallon.

It's the kind of mainstream success that has eluded most Christian rappers. Then again, some people are still trying to decide if hip-hop star Lecrae is a Christian rapper, or a rapper who happens to be Christian.

It depends who you ask, including Lecrae himself.

"God has also raised up lowly, kind of insignificant individuals to do miraculous and incredible things," Lecrae, 34, said in an interview. "We’re the Gideons, we’re the Davids. Even Jesus himself made himself of no reputation. It’s when you can link it back to God doing it, I think that’s what he loves. He’s not a megalomaniac, he’s deserving of glory and honor, and to use individuals that demonstrate that it was him, and him alone, it accomplishes his mission and that’s success."

Lecrae's "Anomaly" album cover photo.

Lecrae's "Anomaly" album cover photo.

While most Christian artists have struggled to break out of the Christian music subculture, Lecrae has found early crossover success -- and a significant following among white evangelical elites. He navigates the tricky waters between rapping explicitly about Christianity while reaching a mainstream audience.

According to Billboard, he's sold 1.4 million albums and 2.9 million track downloads. "Anomaly" hit Billboard’s No. 1 last week -- a first for a gospel album and only the fifth for a Christian album. His acting debut in "Believe Me," a film about a group of four men who try to con money out of churchgoers, received a short, positive nod from The New York Times.

Some of Lecrae's fans are worried the success could ruin him or at least soften his lyrics. But when Christian artists like U2's Bono or Switchfoot find mainstream success, many Christian fans often latch on for good.

In fact, while once shunning mainstream and creating its own music and entertainment subculture, American evangelicalism now values recognition and engagement in mainstream culture.

“Lecrae is probably the hottest Christian artist alive right now,” said Atlanta megachurch pastor Louie Giglio in his sermon on Sunday (Sept. 21) at his Passion City Church.

Giglio recently ran into Lecrae in their hometown airport in Atlanta, praising the artist for his recent success. “It’s only hors d'oeuvres for heaven,” Lecrae responded.

No 'Christian spy'

In a recent piece for ESPN’s Grantland, Rembert Browne compares Lecrae to filmmaker Tyler Perry, who successfully reached black and Christian audiences.

 

Lecrae's album "Church Clothes" cover photo.

Lecrae's album "Church Clothes" cover photo.

“Because, in 'Anomaly,' like some of Perry’s films, the Christianity sneaks up on you,” Browne wrote, linking "Believe Me" to a string of other recent successful Christian-themed films. “It’s clear there is a market for Christian-themed pop culture.”

Lecrae, who attends the start-up Renovation Church in Atlanta, isn't sure what to make of the "sneak up" language.

“Obviously, to the conservative evangelical, or the Christian, they hear ‘sneak’ and they think, ‘Why do we have to sneak?’" he said. "But when we hear that from somebody outside of the Christian culture, in many ways they mean that as a compliment."

“What they’re trying to say is that they didn’t feel like they were berated, or beat over the head, or made to feel like they were being patronized, or condescending. By no means am I trying to hide my faith, or disguise myself as a Christian spy.”

http://youtu.be/Ssx0il-Lg7Q

Video courtesy of Lecrae via YouTube

If Lecrae is “sneaking up” with Christian themes, then his lyrics will slap listeners in the face as he regularly raps with explicit themes on faith. Anomaly’s song “Fear,” for example, includes lyrics from Psalm 23 and repetitive mentions of Jesus.

I’mma tell that truth till it kill me

And I’m chillin’ with my Creator

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

To all of my haters

For the ones that think I forgot Him

And the ones who won’t let me say

I ain’t scared no mo’

“Without saying it -- because it wouldn’t be very Christian of him -- the ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus’ is a cleverly devout middle finger to all of his haters,” Browne wrote in Grantland. “He’s directing it toward everyone who’s criticized him -- for being too spiritual and for not being spiritual enough. This is what happens when you’re caught between genres. It’s this middle ground that makes Lecrae different. And that feeling different -- not Christianity -- is what this album is truly about.”

Rapper Lecrae performs in the new film "Believe Me." Photo courtesy of Lecrae

Rapper Lecrae performs in the new film "Believe Me." Photo courtesy of Lecrae


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

'Dear Hip Hop'

Lecrae has received favorable attention in recent years from white evangelicals, particularly the neo-Calvinist Reformed crowd that is influenced by John Calvin, the 16th-century French theologian. Lecrae’s 2008 song, “Don’t Waste Your Life,” is the same title as a book from retired megachurch pastor John Piper, a highly influential Reformed evangelical.

“I think a lot of us became Christians in a hodgepodge, because doctrine was not a thing; we weren’t considering theology,” Lecrae said. “We were just like, ‘Hey, we love Jesus, let’s go.' I’ll read this Piper book, and go to this T.D. Jakes conference, we just absorbed everything. I think the Reformed doctrine just presented a lot more organized, drawn-out theology. I could wrap my mind around it, and it wasn’t as mystical."

Just as Lecrae is building bridges between secular and Christian audiences, leading evangelicals say hip-hop can bridge the divide between largely white churches and the changing world around them.

"Maybe it's about building a bridge in the other direction: a bridge of empathy for a largely white, middle-class church to a fatherless, economically forgotten, and sometimes angry youth culture,”  wrote Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptists' Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in a cover story for Christianity Today last year.

“If so, maybe it can help pull American Christianity out of its white middle-class ghetto and into the vastness of the kingdom of God -- a kingdom that has room for both Jonathan Edwards and Jay-Z.”

Lecrae can name-drop influential theologians with the best of them, including Piper, Randy Alcorn, Francis Schaeffer, Abraham Kuyper and Charles Spurgeon. It wasn’t until the end of his thought that he mentioned Martin Luther King, Jr., whom he references in his music.

“I love looking back and being able to understand that nothing we are dealing with is necessarily new, just understanding how people wrestle with things historically and how I can apply that to the present,” Lecrae said.

He's also probably the only rap artist to drop the name of New York megachurch pastor Tim Keller, or Christianity Today executive editor Andy Crouch, into his lyrics. Both men, he said, "influenced me to think about how I get involved in culture, and how do I become a culture creator and not just copy it or condemn it or critique it all the time."

He has been praised for calling out the rap industry for being self-contradictory when speaking on racial issues like the recent uprisings in Ferguson, Mo. “Dear Hip Hop, we can’t scream ‘murder, misogyny, lawlessness’ in our music & then turn around and ask for equality & justice, ” he told Billboard.

Racial reconciliation, he said, is grounded in theology.

“I think racial reconciliation is really rooted in the reconciliation that we see in Scripture,” Lecrae said. “I think you begin to find yourself being reconciled to people all over the place, and just wanting to empathize with people from all walks of life, specifically as a Christian, to demonstrate the love of Jesus.”

'A courageous message in a safe package'

Like many rappers, Lecrae, now a married father of three, had a rocky start. Abused and later abandoned by his father, his song “Good, Bad, Ugly,” raps about hooking up with a woman and helping her get an abortion.

He said a police officer pulled him over, saw drugs in his car but let him go when he also spotted a Bible in his car, telling him to read it. Lecrae decided to mend his ways after he survived a crash where his car had flipped over, he said.

In his recent album, Lecrae indicts the spoils of Western excess, American exceptionalism and Christian hypocrisy. One of his friendly critics, Bradford William Davis, called his latest album "a courageous message in a safe package."

“They’re good, necessary subjects for the hip hop community to wrestle with, but nothing that the cut-rate ‘conscious’ rappers haven’t tackled before," Davis wrote in his review for the Christ and Pop Culture website. "His presentation is clean, mostly safe, occasionally dated, and a little too predictable.”

Lecrae isn’t bothered by his critics.

“Talking about social issues, talking about love, talking about marriage, child rearing, those are all things that are explicit to who I am as a believer,” Lecrae said. “It’s not just the topics, necessarily, of salvation or sanctification.”

KRE/AMB END BAILEY

Comments

  1. Lecrae does preach Repentance but the part about being spiritual is why
    so many people today don’t follow the Truth! It doesn’t matter how “spiritual”
    people are if they aren’t Biblical they are still lost/headed for hell. Preachers
    need to preach the whole Truth not just part. I meet person after person that
    claims to be Christian then when I dig just a little deeper I find out that their
    lifestyle is no different from a non-Christian. 1 Corinthians 5 and 6 the whole
    chapters and also Luke 13 the whole chapter are what the body of Christ
    needs right now. Luke 13 says that we must have good fruit and that fruit is
    fruit of Repentance not good works because many non-believers do good
    works so we must Repent/have good fruit! Premarital sex,getting drunk,pride,
    gossip,sharp tongues/being mean,gambling,coveting/jealousy,greed are all
    in need of being confronted yet hardly ever get talked about. The wine that
    Jesus made was new wine/diluted/from the fruit of the vine plus the Bible
    also says don’t get drunk on strong wine so people who still get drunk with
    wine are also wrong! All is bad/needs confronted and we all must Repent!

  2. Jesus is the son of God (Matthew 3:17) and the King of God’s Kingdom (Isaiah 11:1-5).

    The Creator and Almighty God is Jehovah, the Heavenly Father of Jesus as well as of mankind (Matthew 6:9-13; Matthew 23:9; 1 Timothy 2:5; Psalm 83:18).

    It appears that his lyrics cited above erroneously identify Jesus as God and the Creator.

  3. Fran-In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the
    Word was God! Jesus was not created/is part of the Trinity! You need to
    do some more research plus hell is real and the Bible says it’s real where
    there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. The rich man died and he was in
    agony in hell so hell is very real! When you deny the Trinity and the reality
    of hell you seperate yourself from Biblical Christianity/create a false god/idol
    to suit yourself which is idolatry and no idolater will inherit the kingdom of
    heaven! You can’t take out parts of the Bible just because you don’t agree.

  4. Karla,

    I have provided you with a plethora of scriptures that disprove the trinity doctrine, including Luke 22:43,44 (Jesus praying to God for strength, not to himself); Matthew 6:8-23 (the Lord’s Prayer to our Heavenly Father, not Jesus); 1 Timothy 2:5 (there is only one true God and one mediator between men and God, Jesus); Mark 13:32 (concerning the end of this era, no one knows, not the angels or the son of God, Jesus, but only the Father); 1Corinthians 11:3 (the head of the Christ is God); Psalms 83:18 (the Most High over all the earth is Jehovah God, not Jesus, who is God’s son)

    Additionally, Colossians 1:13-16 says:

    “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear SON; (verse 13)

    “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins; (verse 14)

    “Who is the a IMAGE of the invisible God, the FIRSTBORN of EVERY CREATURE.”

    The dictionary gives us a marvelous definition of “image” as follows:

    “An imitation or representation of a person or thing, drawn, painted, photographed, etc; a type, typical example or symbol.” Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition.

    Evidently, Jesus as the son of God, reflects or mirrors the personality of the only true God, his Father, Jehovah. That was why Jesus could say: “…he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, show us the Father?” (John 14:9)

    To confirm that statement, John 1:18 says: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten SON, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

    Are you then denying the scriptures cited at Colossians 1:13-16, including stating that Jesus is the “first-born of EVERY creature”?

    Many persons saw the son of God while he was on earth, healing all types of sickness and disease, even resurrecting the dead like Lazarus (John 11:1-45).

    Jesus himself died as a ransom sacrifice for all sinful mankind, but who resurrected him from the dead?

    Acts 2:32 says: “This Jesus hath GOD raised up, whereof we are all witnesses.”

    It is impossible for Almighty God to die or lie (tell an untruth). However, the son of God did die to fulfill his Father’s will and never his own.

    As Jesus said at John 4:34: “Jesus saith to them, ‘My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish HIS work.”

    My next post to you, Karla, will be about the parable of the rich man and Lazarus found at Luke 16:19-31, discussing 2 different classes of people, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, as well as the common people in his day.

  5. Fran-1 Colossians 19 talks about for by Him all things were created
    and also the fullness of God dwelled in Him so you and your whole
    faith need to look up the meaning of preeminence! The Trinity is
    real and you can deny it all you want but the word first born doesn’t
    always pertain to the first born. Other passages in the Bible mention
    first born talking about people that were not the first born of/in their
    family so once again you need to do some more research. Jesus is
    not a created being and hell is real. The Bible is vey clear that hell
    is real. The Trinity can get confusing but I don’t know how you can
    confuse what the Bible says about hell. It says that it would have
    been better if Judas was never born! Why does it say that? It says
    that because hell is real so when the wicked are raised from the
    dead for the Great White Throne judgment they are not sleeping
    but they were in hell which is the holding place for the lake of fire.
    1 Colossians also says He is the image of God and He is before
    all things and in Him all things hold together putting Him equal!
    You have to understand there are different parts of the Trinity
    but they are one in the same just like the Bible says that in the
    beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the
    Word was God! Who is the Word? Jesus is! Bible then says
    the Word became flesh then dwealt among us so once again
    that proves that Jesus was not created but there from the start!

  6. Karla,

    How can they be one and the same if Jesus died and Jesus does not know when the end of this era will come ???

  7. Fran-We can just agree to disagree but as I said God the Father
    and Jesus,the Holy Spirit are all part of the Godhead/the Trinity
    with all different functions. The Trinity can get confusing but I still
    don’t know how you can confuse what the Bible says about hell
    so at this point now we can just agree to disagree. Do some more
    research and thanks for the feedback. God bless.

  8. Fran-Colossians 2:9-For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in
    bodily form so that shows Christ is equal to God/part of the Trinity and
    as I said the Godhead has the three different parts which is the Trinity.

  9. Fran-Jesus also said before Abraham I Am and what did God say
    to Moses? He said I Am! The Bible also says in Revelation that He
    is coming/Jesus is the first and the last/the beginning and the end
    so once again Jesus says He was there at/from the beginning so
    He was/is not a created being! He is part of the Trinity/Godhead!

  10. Karla,

    Yes, we will continue to disagree. Thankfully, after the great tribulation and the war of Armageddon, when Jehovah God puts an end to all his enemies, then the truth will be evident to all mankind:

    1. That Jehovah is Almighty God and Universal Sovereign.

    2. That Christ Jesus is the son of God, the first direct creation of Jehovah, through whom everything else was created; and is the King of God’s Kingdom or heavenly government.

    3. That the holy spirit is the active force of Jehovah, which He uses to accomplish his purposes.

  11. Fran-You need to do some more research because first born refers to rank
    not that Christ was born/created.

  12. Fran,

    the bble says i doesnt disprove its self so if the bible says there is a trinity how can it say there is no trinity

  13. If you enjoy rap artists such as Lecrae, Andy Mineo, Bizzle, Flame, and Trip Lee then you’ll love listening to the new artist Able, who has three free albums out right now. Follow Able on facebookcom/iamableofficial or visit iamableofficialcom for free music and more.

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