The Rap Warrior: Lecrae
Written by: Iman Milner
Religion and music are two things that are often discussed, over analyzed, critiqued and may be two of the most divisive entities in the world—they have brought people together and torn them apart since the beginning of times. During the Jim Crow era, music desegregated concert halls around the world and broke down barriers of race, class and culture. While religion, to this day ignites wars, turns terrorists into martyrs and has stood as a beacon of togetherness in times of tragedy. So what happens when these two worlds combine? What happens when a person’s beliefs bleeds into their creativity? What happens when his message surpasses the title of “gospel”?
Power leaks from speakers and courage penetrates the heart of the listeners.
Regardless of what or who you believe in, music with a purpose moves you to do more than just be a spectator. Music with a purpose reminds you that at one time art was considered more dangerous than guns and and its effect remains the same today. So when an artist like Lecrae infiltrates a genre like hip hop; the impact is felt. When a man who stands firmly in his moral values collides head on with a type of music that often prides itself on having little to no moral code; things change—people are inspired. And when this same artist uses his life not to reprimand his “secular” peers but to encourage them to find new ways to communicate; the window of opportunity for hip hop becomes wider, artists return to their canvases with a new set of colors to paint with and the pictures they create become more vibrant.
Lecrae wouldn’t call himself hip hop’s savior. He’s not an apostle of rap. No, in fact, he doesn’t even consider himself a “Christian” rapper. He doesn’t think of himself as better or more conscious than his colleagues. His only focus is staying true to his calling. Putting on the whole armor, per say. The armor of a warrior.
A warrior of thought. A warrior of words.
A warrior of rap.
EDGE: Tell me a little about who Lecrae was prior to what we’ve gotten to know about you through your music.
Lecrae: I was just a thrill seeker looking for a good time. I grew up with a great mother who encouraged me to learn, to read and to value education. But I spent my time doing what I wanted to do and trying to figure out life on my own. That led me down just about every path imaginable. I was fumbling in the dark trying to figure things out. My father was a drug addict. My male role models were my uncles and they were in to everything—womanizing, gang banging, drug dealing—those were the guys I grabbed my perspective on life from in a lot of ways. I was reading all the time though because my mother was all about that. I identified with everyone from Malcolm X to Tupac. My ability to pick up a book and learn more about life outside of my environment probably saved me. I didn’t really understand my purpose. I wasn’t an athlete. So I looked to power for my purpose. I tried to acquire as much power as I possibly could, in order to feel significant. My life was the very embodiment of not knowing I had been bought with a price by God. I didn’t know that I was valuable. When I finally recognized that, that was the turning point for me. I decided to be serious about my music and use my gifts to glorify God.
EDGE: Tell me how you broke into the music business with your style.
Lecrae: I always admired the Russell Simmons’ and the Diddy’s of the world. I knew it was going to be necessary for me to have a hand in every aspect of my business specifically because I have a faith based message. I knew enough about the industry to know that you don’t really have a voice, if you’re just some random artist on a label. I started a record label called Reach Records and did it all independently and saw the ball getting to rolling. It started with me doing prisons and detention centers and it allowed me to go to places that I felt needed my artistry the most without me compromising my music. It came out of wanting to see people inspired, not from a label saying “this is hot, this is what you need to do”.
EDGE: So let’s talk to about this new age of Christian music. Many “saints” wouldn’t begin even think of listening to a Lecrae or Mary Mary because of their idea of what gospel music should sound like. What position do you think you all have in the genre and are you really gospel artists?
Lecrae: Yeah. For me there’s your Kirk Franklin’s and then there’s your Lauryn Hill’s. Kirk Franklin may be adamant about embracing some of the traditions surrounding gospel music. He doesn’t shy away from that whatsoever and I respect that. And then there’s Lauryn Hill who integrates God in every aspect of her music without her saying this is Christian music. She just says “here’s my life on wax” and you’re going to know that she believes in God as you listen to the music. I’m somewhere in between the two. I’m definitely not afraid to be associated with the Kirk Franklin’s of the world but I also know that I resonate with a lot of people who don’t listen to traditional gospel music. So for the grandmothers that say “hey, hey, what is this hippity hoppity stuff?!”, I’m still able to enlighten them and bring people to a place where they’re comfortable with what I’m doing but also for people who’ve never set foot in a church, aren’t God fearing at all but just enjoy good music and hearing people be completely transparent on a record—I resonate and relate to them as well. It’s an interesting thing.
EDGE: So where do you see gospel music going? We saw you standing in a cypher surrounded by “secular” artists and people thought that was a big move, you stuck to your morals and still held your own. Do you think we’ll see more of that, not just from you but from other gospel artists? Or do you think we’ll see gospel music go back to the traditional way and stay there?
Lecrae: Hopefully we will. You may need music that’s made by the church for the church…and that’s just that. I think there’s a lack of individuals just making good music and not allowing their views and morals to not be lost in the culture. Obviously, when you call something “gospel” or “Christian” music, people assume it’s just for Christians. They tend to leave it alone because they don’t want to be forced to believe something or feel like they’re being preached to. But when it’s just hip hop or it’s just alternative or soul…they pick it up. It gives the artists less of an obligation to feel the need to preach a certain message, they just get to be who they are. You have artists like Kem or Anthony Hamilton, where we know they are Christians but when you listen to their music, you don’t feel like someone’s trying to make you get a message—you just feel like it’s someone you can relate to who’s sharing their life with you.
EDGE: Do you have the same issues as a regular rapper? Groupies?
Lecrae: I have the everyday issues of being an artist and a performer like everyone wants to hand you a demo and having a crazy schedule, etc… But as far as groupies, I don’t. I don’t have an entourage of dudes who are always fighting, I don’t have women throwing their underclothes at me. My fans are real respectful. They respect what I do and where I stand as far as wanting to inspire hope. They’re fans of my purpose, they don’t care about getting close to the man. I’m really grateful for that.
EDGE: So are you married? Do you have children?
Lecrae: Yeah. I’ve been married for about 6 years now. I have 3 little kids. They’re all 4 and under. I’m a family man. I’m proud to be one.
EDGE: How do you balance being there as a husband and father with being a full time entertainer?
Lecrae: For me, not growing up with my biological father, I’m real sensitive to being a good husband and father. They are the priority. I build everything around them. First and foremost, I make sure I’m connected to God and then it’s my family. Taking care of them and making sure they’re considered takes precedent over everything. My vacations will always come before my tours. Baseball games, ballet recitals—those are all staples on my calendar. Everything else we work around. It’s all about prioritizing and your family always has to be the main priority, it’s that simple.
EDGE: Let’s talk a little bit about ‘Church Clothes’ and how the collaboration with Don Cannon came to be.
Lecrae: I didn’t think ‘Church Clothes’ was necessary. I didn’t grow up in church so I didn’t know all the rules or the code of ethics but when I really became a Christian I was shocked by all the rules and regulations in the church. I thought being saved was about coming to God and saying “I messed up, will you please forgive me? Clean me up. Embrace me. Love me.” and not about how can I please God by wearing the right clothes, saying the right things and singing the right songs. I didn’t know how church life was. I don’t think a lot of people outside of church life know that, they just know that there’s a lot of rules when it comes to church and that’s not how it should be. I wanted to put together a project that was 100% hip hop but was a bridge. I knew I wanted people involved who are big in hip hop so that people who love hip hop would actually take time to pay attention to it. Cannon is local here in Atlanta and we had a mutual friend in my man, Street Symphony, so it just made sense to get him to host it. He was rocking with what I was doing anyway. It worked out to be a group effort with people who want to change the standard in hip hop.
EDGE: What’s been your favorite body of work thus far?
Lecrae: I would say ‘Church Clothes’ because it was more of all of me. I was comfortable in my skin as an artist. But I’m going to say now my release coming in the fall is the most comprehensive project I’ve ever done. I pushed myself lyrically and artistically on this project.
EDGE: What artists are you listening to these days?
Lecrae: I listen to everything and everyone. I am a fan of transparency. If you’re transparent in your music, if you don’t mind baring your soul, whether I agree with it or not, I’m going to listen. From J Cole to Kendrick Lamar and Big KRIT—I listen to people’s perspective on life. I’m not into the cookie cutter idea of production; put the drug song here, put the girl song there and the club track right there, I’m not with that. I also take a venture and listen to a lot of random stuff. I’ve been listening to this group called Local Natives for a while.
EDGE: If you could go back and tell yourself something when you first started your journey in the music business, what would it be?
Lecrae: I would tell myself to not take myself so seriously. I’d say you don’t have all the answers. You’re not the solution, you’re a promoter of the solution. Some artists come in not taking themselves serious at all but I came in real intense and concerned about every little thing and I don’t think it was that crucial.
EDGE: If you could tell your sons one thing about growing up as men in this world, what would it be?
Lecrae: I would tell them to follow Jesus. He’s an awesome man. If you want to know what it is to be a man, look to him. He embraced authority, he was a courageous leader. If there’s no one else to follow, follow him.
EDGE: What would you tell an artist looking to break into this industry but wanting to maintain their morals as a Christian?
Lecrae: Be upfront. Be transparent with people because once you start compromising little by little it just gets bigger. Start at the beginning standing firm, people will notice and respect that and they won’t step on that. If you’re really talented, people will respect your talent and you won’t have to compromise. There are so many great artists who have a set of values that are important to them and they don’t compromise them.
EDGE: What do you want your legacy to be?
Lecrae: I want my legacy to be that I was someone who lived for something bigger than myself. When it’s all said and done, I want people to say he was a dope artist and that he poured himself out for me and for others. I want them to say that I lived for something bigger than my name in lights.
Photos by Zack Arias
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