Lecrae: Rap Beyond 'Rehab'
By Andy Argyrakis, senior editor, gmclife.com
Throughout the history of Christian music, a handful of rap and hip-hop artists have become household names, from the early days of dcTalk to its protégés Grits, alongside The Cross Movement and KJ-52. The latest to land in that lauded category is Houston’s Lecrae, who’s been in the game since 2004, releasing four full-length albums and giving the genre another influx of popularity.
“I think Christian hip-hop’s always been on the underground to a certain extent," Lecrae muses. "Some artists pop up and make some noise on a mainstream level, but never with consistency. I personally think that’s a good thing because it calls our music into question and asks ‘is it really as good as it can be? Is the message potent and is it really relating to people?’ I’m not sure if every artist is ready to take on that responsibility.”
Though he remains humble, it’s clear Lecrae is just what the doctor ordered when it comes to influencing street-savvy believers and non-believers alike. Just look at the emcee’s visibility on the charts, which found 2008’s Rebel spending no less than 75 weeks on Billboard’s Gospel Music charts, while the brand-new Rehab debuted at the top of the same publication’s Christian and Gospel charts. Both projects come courtesy of Reach Records (where Lecrae serves as president), a label that suggests a new groundswell is brewing that could elevate its artists well beyond obscurity.
“We have a group of artists ready to kick down the door – from Trip Lee to Tedashii and Sho Baraka – and we’re always keeping our ears open,” he confirms. “One reason why they’ve all been signed is they've already demonstrated the things we’re looking for. They’ve already been influential and have their own movement happening. We want to come in, help develop it and expand it beyond the local and regional contexts.”
Spreading the Word
“There’s definitely an intentionality to my album titles because I don’t want to sound foreign to just your average hip-hop listeners,” he verifies. “In the hip-hop and rock worlds, you have to be very bold and make statements, but sometimes in Christian music, we limit our ability to begin conversation with people by speaking in ‘Christian-ese.’”
Upon closer examination of the Rehab record, it’s clear Lecrae’s taken a conceptual approach to the lyrics. Addiction is surely the central thread, but with resolution in Christ rather than succumbing to additional sin.
“There’s not a soul on this planet who doesn’t deal with some sort of addiction,” he continues. “It’s not always in the form of drugs or pornography. Sometimes it’s a pure addiction to yourself and wanting to satisfy that in any way we deem necessary, but we’re still fractured at the end of the chase. I believe the real solution to the quest for satisfaction is Jesus...I want to understand that I have issues too, but I’m not painting a picture of hopelessness or despair. I’m painting a picture of hope and a reminder that we’re all under the same grace.”
Growing Up and Giving Back
“Bill Cosby wasn’t at the top of my list growing up and I was doing all those things and chasing all those things looking for pleasure, whether that be drugs, alcohol or women,” he admits. “But the ultimate pleasure you can give yourself is Christianity and having a joy in your faith, which came when I was in college and was led to Jesus [by friends who lived the life].”
With all of those kinks ironed out and a successful career in place, Lecrae is also using his platform to help the less fortunate in faraway places, such as a recent a mission trip in the Yei region of Sudan.
“I worked at a couple of orphanages and a compound to serve some leaders, who would in turn take the resources and tools we brought to grow their community,” he explains of the outing. “I’ve always likened [giving back] to the parable of talents where you can either bury it or take it and invest it. I don’t want to use my gifts for selfish purposes, but want to multiply them to benefit others with the opportunities I’ve been given.”
About the Writer
Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, IllinoisEntertainer, Daily Journal, Concert Livewire, Hear/Say Magazine and Image Chicago (to name few). His record label writing credits include Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Curb, EMI and Universal, with additional photo credits for Fuse TV, Live Nation, Nikon, Pollstar, Celebrity Access, Paste Magazine, MTV.com and Vibe.com. He’s also the author/narrator of "Access Matthews" (an audio CD tracing the career of Dave Matthews Band) and spends considerable time on tour, including outings with Arlo Guthrie, The Guess Who, Madina Lake (on Linkin Park’s Projekt Revolution) and Gospel Music Channel’s very own "Gospel Dream" (where he served as season one judge).
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