GCU-Sponsored Lecrae Tour Challenges Perceptions About Hip-Hop, Introduces New Breed of Street Soldiers
By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau
If the words “Christian rap” aren’t an oxymoron, like “controlled chaos” or “jumbo shrimp,” then they’re at least an oddity when paired together.
Even casual observers are familiar with the extreme glorification of the material world by much of hip-hop culture, where oversize crosses are worn as fashion and the sexual trumps the spiritual. Traditionally, there hasn’t been much room for heaven in that ’hood, and rapper KB thinks he understands why.
“Christian rap has been seen as subpar,” KB says, adding that a common perspective of music fans and artists has been “Christian plus rap equals crap.”
However, those perceptions appear to be changing as rap ages — it’s nearly 40 years old as a genre — and significant evidence has turned up in the form of this year’s Unashamed Tour, sponsored by GCU.
The tour, featuring Lecrae and a half-dozen other rappers, including KB, has been playing to large crowds across the country. All of the performers are devoutly Christian, and their message can be uncomfortable for believers (too raw?) and nonbelievers (too religious?) alike. They’re not afraid to challenge the preconceptions of either side in the war for souls.
Squarely in the tour’s spotlight sits Lecrae, 33, whose career has hit new heights with the release of his most recent album, “Gravity,” in September. The recording went straight to No. 1 on the Christian and rap charts. The tour came to GCU on Nov. 2 and drew a packed house at the Arena.
Like many in the rap world, Lecrae’s resumé includes a rap sheet. Born as Lecrae Moore to a single mother in Houston, he made stops in San Diego, Denver and Dallas while growing up, never meeting his drug-addicted father. As a teenager, he was in trouble for drugs, fighting and stealing — and going nowhere until he was invited to a Bible study and went along, figuring that he had nothing to lose.
He accepted Christ at the age of 19 and — influenced by the seminal Christian hip-hop group The Cross Movement out of Philadelphia — self-released his first album, “Real Talk,” in 2004. A prolific lyricist, he has put out five albums since then, and his mixtape last spring, “Church Clothes,” represented a mainstream breakthrough.
Music equal to message
Lecrae, whose followers now include a number of high-profile athletes and entertainers, prefers that you think of him as a hip-hop artist who’s Christian rather than as a Christian hip-hop artist. He has become somewhat frustrated by the media’s focus on his faith at the expense of his music.
Married and the father of three children, he is anything but boring. He is well-spoken (he attended the University of North Texas) and he writes compelling songs. His show is a full-on firecracker of a production.
“Everyone needs an angle,” Lecrae says, “and (the media) don’t quite know how they can spin this. There’s no controversy. There are no drugs or guns on the bus, and the shows are sold out. It’s music people love, it sounds good, but dang, everything is too positive. They need an angle.
“It’s almost like, ‘Would you guys kill somebody, please?’”
Lecrae, KB and Andy Mineo, all part of the Reach Records hip-hop label founded by Lecrae, freely acknowledge that their music is influenced by today’s popular rappers even if their message isn’t.
“Hip-hop is a universal language,” says Mineo, 24, of New York City. “Every hip-hop artist in the Top 40 has influenced us artistically.”
You know the phrase Christians frequently cite about “being in the world but not of it,” based on 1 John 2:15-17? Lecrae and his crew believe it and try to live it. That’s the only difference, they say, although they admit it’s a huge one.
“Artistically, we have their respect,” Lecrae says of the rest of the hip-hop world. “The stigma is our faith. The art, they love it, and I’ve heard that come from their mouths.”
Knowing the territory
Lecrae doesn’t have a problem calling them out for the lives they lead; after all, he used to be like them, worshipping the same worldly fame.
There’s this refrain from “Fakin’,” a song on his new album:
I heard him say he bought the block
In his song he say he gangsta but he not
Say he makin’ money, cashin’ big checks
While his chain leavin’ green on his neck
I’m not impressed
And this self-indictment from “Chase That (Ambition),” a song from his “Rehab: The Overdose” album (2011):
All I wanted was doom
The same kind Alexander the Great felt, when the Earth ran out of room
He conquered all he could, but yet he’s feeling consumed
By this never ending quest for glory he couldn’t fuel
Like a typical fool, I would go hard
Shooting for the moon
With redemption as the context, an interview with Lecrae and Co. can go places you’d never expect.
For example, KB, 24, of St. Petersburg, Fla., is a fan of the writings of 19th-century British preacher Charles Spurgeon (“I want to model my life after his”) and says he feels called to be a beacon of hope to those who are lost, sick and hurting. That includes the hip-hop community, and he says he’s ready if a fellow rapper seeks him out for counsel.
“I wish other rappers could see us as a voice of reason,” he says. “I’ll be there if one of them is drunk one night and texts me to say, ‘Hey, KB, you got time to talk?’
“We are Christians, and we’re responsible to live lives that reflect Jesus.… Our music is exposed the most, but that doesn’t make up the whole of who we are.”
Clean language, clean living and high artistic standards. Are these guys for real? Among their fans, there is no doubt.
“What makes Lecrae, KB, Andy and the other Reach Records artists so different is that their audience was built on the raw authenticity of their message,” says Scott Fehrenbacher, GCU’s senior vice president for faith-based marketing. “Their fans seem to feel an individual relationship with them, built on social media and word of mouth — and outside of the traditional formula of success in Christian music.
“Lecrae has broken all the rules of traditional success in this industry.”