Lecrae has got a certain type of swagger. It’s understandable; his seven studio albums, millions of records sold, two Grammy Awards, and three nominations have thrust the Houston-born 36-year-old rapper from the category of Christian/Gospel and into the mainstream.
“Sidelines,” the fourth track from his 2016 release Church Clothes 3, captures it (the swagger, that is). Cognizant of context (both cultural and theological), steadfast, and straightforward, Lecrae walks the border between two divergent cultures — hip-hop and the Evangelical church — with a diligent confidence that’s managed to irk both sides.
As a rapper, Lecrae’s cadence is sharp and his verses succinct, both in meaning and feeling. Most of the music sounds good: percussive and resonant, never coming unhinged (though rarely loosening up). For every dose of confrontation, there’s a spoonful of playful anthems and sweet bangers — a full-enough spectrum for an artist so obviously tasked with temperance.
In 2004, Lecrae cofounded the label Reach Records, which grants him the opportunity to build a team that champions his style. He’s reigning NBA MVP Stephen “Steph” Curry’s favorite rapper and a self-proclaimed “anomaly,” changing the game by pressing boundaries and limits, putting up undeniable numbers all the while. Whether he’s now beholden to those same numbers remains to be seen. For Lecrae, the best path to stay on seems to be the one he continues to blaze for himself.
I recently spoke with Lecrae over the phone about his experience fluctuating between cultures, and what might lie ahead musically for the rapper who happens to be Christian.
As an artist who is outspoken about your religious and ideological views, was it a surprise when you started drawing criticism for being “too secular”?
I was absolutely surprised when it first started to happen. But then I realized that I was in good company. From the Martin Luther Kings of this world to even Jesus himself, none of them were ever enough of everything for people, but they were so impactful. So, for me, I just realized that I had to grow. If you’re gonna call shots, then you’re gonna take shots. That’s just the way it goes. For every 10 people you influence, there’s one critic. That’s just the nature of things. You have to adapt to it.
Do you think that working with more established hip-hop acts has helped stoke some of that criticism?
Yeah, I think that by now, if you’re a Lecrae fan, you know that’s just my DNA. You realize and you appreciate that. I think my fans appreciate that. They’re not really prude or obnoxious or über-religious in a way that’s distant from the world we live in. They can walk in different worlds, and that’s what they appreciate about my art. It doesn’t just sit nice and neat. Like, last night, someone asked me about what artists I’m excited about or inspired by, and I can answer an artist on my label, Andy Mineo, and Kendrick Lamar at the same time for totally different reasons. The crowd gets just as excited for both guys.
Here’s a hypothetical: Someone approaches you on your way out of church on Sunday. They tell you they love your music and ask you to recommend five hip-hop albums as an intro to the genre. What do you say?
Off the top of my head … If we’re talking about appreciating hip-hop as a culture … Like, you may not jive with everything content-wise, or be able to relate … I’d say Midnight Marauders by A Tribe Called Quest, Aquemini by Outkast, The Black Album by Jay Z … I’ll give you All Eyez on Me by Tupac, and … Illmatic by Nas.
And if Kanye calls you up saying he needs that Lecrae verse for the album, what do you say?
I say, “Get your bars up,
Lecrae performs Friday, April 1, at 7 p.m. at Westmont College (955 La Paz Rd.). For tickets, see lecrae.com.