Reviewed by Andrew Midgley
"Christians need to embrace that there need to be believers talking about love and social issues and all other aspects of life," said Lecrae to The Atlantic in 2014, following the release of his last album, 'Anomaly'. "I consider what I do soul music." The inclusion on that LP of "Good, Bad, Ugly", a confessional about driving a former girlfriend to abort their unborn child, serves to demonstrate that spiritual edification need not wear choir robes: Lecrae's church clothes are dirtier, and more truthful. It is baffling that other Christians in hip-hop think that the best use of their platform (or worse, the way to reach such a platform) is either to preach repent-or-die rap sermons, or to affect post-conversion reveries that sugar-coat their ongoing battles with the world, the flesh and the devil. Perhaps sadly, 'Church Clothes 3' mines the struggles of sanctification less than its precedents - some of its tales are mundane ("Cruising") or saccharine ("Forever") - but the sheer quality of Lecrae's rap-craft, and the top-notch production from former Kanye-crewer S1, render even the lowest points satisfying both musically and spiritually. And there are a number of highlights: "Sidelines" is a brooding commitment to stay put in the mainstream despite criticism from Christians; "Freedom" (ftg N'Dambi) and "Gangland" (ftg Propaganda) are energetic, chip-on-shoulder provocations, slamming into racial politics before Lecrae handbrake-turns into a coda urging the listener to reject categories of opposition and choose instead Christ's path of compassion. While this should come across as didactic, in the event it echoes Kendrick Lamar's (less Christocentric) resistance to a black inferiority complex as on 'To Pimp A Butterfly' - earnest, self-critical and authoritative. Lamar's 'King Kunta' is checked on "Freedom" - one of a series of cultural references - but zeitgeist-treading isn't the only feature of 'Church Clothes 3' to affirm Lecrae's credibility. His wordplay and flow compel, and when his hip-hop stable turns out rappers of the quality of John Givez, JGivens and Jackie Hill Perry, as on standout "Misconceptions 3" it is obvious that Lecrae is an astute reader of his game. His faith may not be as overt lyrically as some may like but, a couple of defensive brag-tracks aside ("It Is What It Is", "Can't Do You"), Lecrae sounds like a man submitted to Jesus. "If I see the world through a biblical lens," he explains in his autobiography, Unashamed, "the music will naturally paint a picture that serves people and honors God." It's hard to disagree.
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
Interested in reviewing music? Find out