Lecrae: Balancing Spirituality and Mainstream Acceptance One Rhyme at a Time (by Ural Garrett)

It was only a matter of time during the growth of Hip-Hop that a sect of rappers would spit rhymes with a Christian slant. Outside of Kirk Franklin’s domination of the late 90s/early 2000s, examples of great Christian Rap were extremely few and far in between. Part of the reason came from the hollowness of not understanding what made Hip-Hop so great as a genre of music besides simply being outclassed by their secular counterpart. For the past few years though, things have changed thanks to MCs like Reach Records’ own Lecrae. Lecrae represents the next generation of Christian-based MCs that understand the technical aspects of the music without compromising their beliefs.

Introduce yourself for those who don’t know you.

Lecrae: Lecrae is a Hip-Hop artist who is definitely an individual who wants to influence people. I want to change the landscape and playing field. The radio is full of [a] one kind of sound. I want to be able to change what that looks like. At the end of the day, that’s real; music that accurately portrays young people in the Urban community from all types of vantage points that gives a real look at life, at love, at faith. Real authentic.

Talk about your entrance into your career as a Hip-Hop artist.

I grew up in Texas but then I moved to California and then I moved to Colorado as well. Being influenced by a regional sound and then going to somewhere like Denver for a season, there’s no regional sound so you just kind of assimilate to whatever’s popular. Being on the West Coast, I love their sound. Being in the South; I loved their sound but then moving to a place that really had no sound, you listen to what’s popular. And at that point and time, it was East Coast music. I feel like I grew up to everything to Nas, to DJ Quik, Scarface. It influenced all I do and got me into Rap and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Being a Christian Hip-Hop artist, you along with members of the Reach Records family have been on the mouths of many for quite some time. In your opinion, where have you guys succeeded where others have failed when it comes to Christian-based Rap.

I can speak for myself and my crew…we don’t limit ourselves to just being labeled as Christian Rappers. So if I come out to a Hip-Hop conference or something along that line, I’m coming as a rapper who can hold his own. When they asked me to do the BET Hip-Hop Awards Cypher last year, they weren’t going to get a Christian rapper but a rapper by the name of Lecrae. You’re going to hear my perspective and views. I feel like I’m a MC like everyone else is. I want to be good like everyone else wants to be good and produce quality music. I care about the craft. I’m not scared of or do I look at music as secular or worldly but I look at it as good music or bad music. Everybody has a different perspective. We might not have the same but, I’m going to share mine and I want it to be good.

Talk about your recently released album Gravity. It’s your sixth release correct?

Yeah! Gravity, concept wise, is something about the weight and reality of life. It’s difficult and full of ups and downs. Specifically in Hip-Hop we make a lot of escape music.  We just say “I’mma get high, I’mma go to the club to escape life’s difficulties.” I’m saying let’s embrace them and tackle them head on because life’s hardships, the gravity that pulls us down, makes us stronger people. It helps us to preserver, to become disciplined and grow. That’s really the perspective I’m giving. Out of that man, I have a hope for people. I’m a really hopeful dude. I’m optimistic. I have a perspective of the glass being half-full and I think we can be better than who we are. That’s what Gravity is; not trying to escape the weight that’s trying to pull us down, but to embrace it and grow from it. Artistically, it’s a dope Hip-Hop album. It’s full of live instrumentation, incredible features. We have people who were American Idol finalist to finalist of The Voice, to Big K.R.I.T. Just phenomenal singers and it’s going to be great music.

Speaking of Big K.R.I.T., one of my favorite tracks on Gravity is “Mayday.” Talk about that track along with how you hooked up with K.R.I.T.

Man, we know a lot of the same people and in running in some of the same circles. I heard that he respected what I did and enjoyed the music. It was vice versa. I know K.R.I.T. as an artist who isn’t afraid to be transparent and to show multiple sides of himself. Even if that conflicts in people’s minds, he’s honest and I respect that. If you can be 100 percent you, I can rock with you and that’s what I want to be about. I want you to be transparent and be honest and talk about your perspective and your views on how you grew up; your faith and so on. I just piggybacked off of that and that’s how it came out.

How does it feel to be so accepted by mainstream Hip-Hop whether it’s the BET Hip-Hop Awards Cypher or your performances at Paid Dues Festival and how do you handle that acceptance without compromising your beliefs?

I mean I’m real confident in who I am. I’m not trying to gain anyone’s acceptance or approval. I’m confident. If God accepts me I’m cool. For me, I’m not trying to impress people or put on a front. I am who I am and I think that’s why people rock with me. I’m an authentic person who is going to be 100 percent them. It’s easy for me to go into those places and keep a leveled head and do what I have to do because that’s why people mess with me in the first place. They don’t rock with me because I talk about crazy stuff or I’m iced out, they rock with me because I’m a real person who talks about real life and isn’t afraid to be who I am.

What are your thoughts on critics who feel that your message isn’t viable in Hip-Hop.

It’s going to come. There were people who wanted to [place] groups like A Tribe Called Quest in their own little box but you have to make your music transcend what people say it has to be. If they label you as one kind of artist, you have to show your versatility. Hip-Hop didn’t want Kanye West wearing suits and tight jeans but he just came in and said that he was going to transcend what folks said of what he should or shouldn’t do. Sooner or later, people embraced who he was. I think it was the same for me, people said I couldn’t be talking about God and Faith along with Jesus and hope. Though that’s not every song on my album, I’m not ashamed of that. I think over time, people will see it for real music. In the long run they’ll rock with you.

Living your life as an artist and minister sounds like a difficult balance. What’s the work that goes into doing both like?

It’s my lifestyle. That’s like asking Tupac how he balances being a rapper and a gangsta. You know, he’d be like I am gangsta. It is what it is and it’s going to bleed out in everything.  Being a man of faith and an artist, it bleeds out into everything I do.  It’s who I am. It’s not a contrived thing or something I have to work hard at. I’m not perfect and I don’t have it all together but I’m grounded. I’m firm in my views and values. I have a great crew of people who remind me of that and keeps me doing what I’m supposed to do.

Do you feel that you’re music or Christian Rap will make it to having some form of a presence in popular music?

I don’t know man. People die every day, someone gets evicted every day, someone goes bankrupt every day, some people have bad days, everyday. As long as people are suffering, there will be a need to hear about hope and have the need to feel inspired. I don’t know. As long as people are looking for an escape and not a solution, then I don’t know how long it’ll take. I’m trying to give a solution and help make people better people at the end of the day. If radio ends up embracing that, then it’s all love. If they want me do some tracks talking about all you need is three bad chicks and you’ll be straight, I guess I ain’t going to get no airplay no time soon.

What’s been the best moment in your career so far?

I would say the BET Cypher. I’m a Hip-Hop head and I love Hip-Hop and all it’s aspects. That’s like crack for someone who loves Hip-Hop. To be on that stage with some of the individuals that you looked up to forever; those were legends there like Eminem and DJ Premier. It was just dope and it let a lot of people know that regardless of your faith and background, ability is ability. Skill is skill.

Outside of your own, what are you listening to yourself?

If it’s dope, I’m rocking it. I’m a critical listener, so you might have some who listen and let it wash over them but I don’t do that. I just can’t sit and let it wash over me. Every time I play something, I’m thinking about how they did it, what they said, who they’re talking about. It’s difficult for me to listen to music that leaves with something to think on. I’m rocking Lupe, Kendrick Lamar, it’s a dude out of Ohio named Swoop who’s really dope.

Any last words?

Go get that Gravity album. If you like good music. Go get it on iTunes.