Peter Timmis investigates hip-hop hitmaker LECRAE
Shooting straight to the top slot of the Cross Rhythms chart recently was "Used To Do It Too", an upbeat Southern style hip-hop track by Atlanta-based rapper Lecrae that speaks about leaving behind old ways for a new life in Christ. When the talented MC's fifth album 'Rehab: The Overdose' was released in the States earlier this year it debuted at number one on Billboard's Christian and Gospel charts; number five on the Rap charts and number 15 on the Top 200. The album remained on the Billboard Top 100 for over 18 consecutive weeks - a first for a Christian hip-hop project. Lecrae attended this year's Grammy awards where his 2010 album 'Rehab' had received a nomination for Best Gospel Rock/Rap album. He told of his experience at the prestigious ceremony to christianitytoday.com: "It was really great. I think God strategically placed us there. I think I met everyone except Justin Bieber. I got to build some strategic relationships and I'm excited to see the fruit of those."
Lecrae Moore was born in Houston, Texas to a single mother and spent his childhood travelling between San Diego, Denver and Dallas. As a young man he began to rap but became involved in gang culture and was "living a lifestyle of excessive sin". It was a church conference led by minister James White that turned the 19 year old Moore's life around. "The conference was geared toward students. I had no real intention of going but I went because I heard there would be girls there," laughed Lecrae. "But when I got there I had never seen young people on fire for Jesus like that before. I had never seen young people who were really, really in love with God and that rocked my world! The thing about it was the other guys looked like me and they were dressed like me. This was the time where guys were wearing baggy jeans and cornrows and they looked just like regular guys except they loved Jesus. I didn't know what to do with that and then hearing James White articulate the Gospel and how Christ paid a price for us. . . it really just shook me up and changed my entire perspective. That's when I said, 'You know what Lord, this is real and I'm not playing with fire. Here is my life, you can have it.'"
Lecrae began to use his gifts of speaking and rapping while volunteering at a juvenile detention centre but after five years he felt God calling him to make an album. The MC formed his own label, Reach Records, and released his debut 'Real Talk' in 2005. He stated his desire "to digest theology and spit it back out so the streets can digest it." 'After The Music Stops' (2006) saw Lecrae develop his sound further and one reviewer suggested that the album was "as good as Ludacris but without the swearing and negative message." 'Rebel' (2008) saw the rapper realising his own need for a biblical worldview, "I wanted to share with the listener the need to take a stand for Christ in culture yet still be a blessing and cultivator for the culture," he explained. Grammy-nominated 'Rehab' followed in 2010 and 'Rehab: The Overdose' gets a UK release in April.
Lecrae explained the theme of addiction in the titles of his most recent releases: "I had just moved to a new city and my church wasn't really established yet - I was helping with that. I was in a leadership seat and didn't have a lot of people who were pouring into me. It was a dry season and I needed rehabilitation. I just wanted to cry out in music, and I think it was perfect for anybody who was saying, 'man, help, I need more. I need something. I need rehabilitation'. You're addicted to self, and everything other than Jesus becomes the drug of choice."
In his music Lecrae gives a Christian perspective to traditional hip-hop themes such as drugs, sex, money and fame. "It's ultimately the principle. There's something inherently wrong with created beings being the centre of our desire," he explained. "Let's deconstruct that perspective and then reconstruct it with the right one. People appreciate that because they're like, 'Man, I know. I understand what he's articulating. I just wasn't able to put words around it. I know there's emptiness, but I don't know what else there is.' When you point out that they're pursuing something that is vain and empty, people relate to that."
The rapper explained the tension of staying true to the Gospel yet at the same time making cutting edge hip-hop: "The biggest thing is seeing what you do as an opportunity to tell a story, so it just depends on what story I'm going to tell. Am I going to tell the story of Christianity, or am I going to tell a story that people just want to hear that's palatable? Also, making sure the people around you are advocates of God's heart, mission and humility. Where a lot of people will have entourages of people who tell them how awesome they are, I have people who are constantly reminding me of why I'm there. And we're praying. I mean, we bathe every day in prayer."
Is it hard to make hip-hop accessible to those in the Church? "Genesis makes it clear that God made all things good. First Timothy 4 tells us that nothing is to be rejected if it's received with thanksgiving. What we tend to do is make the protagonist the Christian and the antagonist music or culture. The things aren't the problem; our hearts are the problem. And only God will change that."
The MC concluded by explaining his musical blueprint: "I really hope I can stir people toward going against the sinful stream of ideals, values and lifestyles. I want the Christian to be challenged in seeing that the fall of humanity has not thwarted God's intention for us. But since we are now corrupted by sin, we need to renew our minds. We still reflect God's image only now through a murkier lens, so it's important we learn to rebel by taking a stand for Jesus, and yet rebel by being a blessing to the unsaved and sinful culture. Non-believing listeners I pray will be attracted to the quality of the music and creativity, and prayerfully be challenged to look at God's holiness, repent and turn to Jesus."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.