Lecrae Goes Long on Message, Short on Music in GCU Return
Review by Doug Carroll
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
How do you like your Lecrae?
Are you drawn to his music or to his message? Would you rather hear the performer or the preacher?
Almost exactly a year after he set Grand Canyon University Arena on fire with a show that might be the best the building has seen to date, the Christian hip-hop star took a decidedly different approach last Friday night in the Phoenix stop on the fifth edition of his Unashamed Tour.
Last November, visiting shortly after the release of his critically acclaimed album “Gravity” — which went on to score a Grammy Award as Best Gospel Album — Lecrae barreled through an hour’s worth of material in a high-energy performance that left everyone out of breath. Even those in the audience who weren’t hip-hop fans had to give the man his props. He was on top of his game, and no one could miss it.
This time, on the GCU campus barely a week after his 17-song mixtape, “Church Clothes 2,” was released, preacher clearly won out over performer.
Although Lecrae was in the headline slot, following four of his Reach Records label mates in a 2½-hour concert, his solo set went less than 35 minutes, delivering hits (“Don’t Waste Your Life,” “Go Hard,” “Fakin’,” “Tell the World”) and a few new songs (“I’m Turnt,” “My Whole Life Changed”) plus a mini-sermon and a concluding prayer.
He went hard, though not long, and it was somewhat disappointing from a prolific artist with six solo albums and two mixtapes to his name.
As the jumping-off point for a talk that came after “Tell the World,” Lecrae used the Romans 1:16 passage that he has adopted as the theme of his career (“I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes”).
He told of how he often scribbles “Romans 1:16” when giving autographs but mistakenly signed “1:18” once (“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness”). He commented that “God is angry at unrighteousness” and vowed that “the truth will reveal itself” in the final judgment.
He then settled, as Martin Luther did centuries ago, on the verse situated between the two, which says that God’s righteousness is revealed by faith.
“Satan ain’t in hell,” said Lecrae, a Christian for less than half of his 34 years. “He’s roaming around the earth…. There is righteousness waiting for you in Jesus Christ. Trust Him.”
It’s hard to fault that message — or any other one — from Lecrae, who is refreshingly honest and open about his faith and how he came to belief. Let other Christians write lightweight songs with euphemisms for God, designed for maximum crossover appeal. Lecrae refuses to engage in such ambiguity, pointing consistently to the cross, and he’s not afraid to use worldly imagery in doing so.
Take the word “turnt,” which is street vernacular for being drunk or high. That’s certainly the context of its use in Miley Cyrus’ hit song “We Can’t Stop,” but Lecrae turns it on its head in “I’m Turnt” to signify being under the influence of the Holy Spirit (and bashes twerking while he’s at it). And when you think you can guess what “My Whole Life Changed” is about, Lecrae talks in the first verse about an attempt to overdose on pills and a cousin’s shooting at a party. Real enough for you?
Nearing the 10-year mark in his music career, Lecrae occupies a difficult spot, caught between two groups that have little in common except for him.
He disdains being described — and thus dismissed — as a “Christian rapper,” insisting he has the artistic respect of the genre’s secular side. (His enlistment of Paul Wall, B.o.B and others to assist on his albums would seem to confirm this.) And yet, he can’t afford to be too much like those guys. The charge of guilt by association is out there, and his most devout Christian fans expect him to keep a safe distance from hip-hop’s culture of sex, drugs and guns. (Case in point: Only “Church Clothes 2” isn’t tagged with an “explicit” warning among the current top 10 hip-hop/rap albums on iTunes.) Those same fans would be wise to consider that, through such incongruous collaborations, Lecrae has a golden opportunity to shine a light into a very dark world.
So, who is Lecrae? Performer or preacher? The fact that there could even be a debate tells us plenty.
As either one, he’s outstanding, and his message of salvation gets through.
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.