Lecrae, Church Clothes, and Mainstream Attention

[Update: My Audio Review for The Christian Manifesto]

Over at XXL Mag, a hip-hop oriented magazine, Lecrae was interviewed about his mixtape Church Clothes, which is set to release today, May 10th. I’ve watched a couple of debates on the topic already. People tend to land in one of two places: either Lecrae is doing God’s work by making music that will reach more people, or he has lost touch with the Gospel and forsaken the name of Christ.

On one side of the argument, folks say that Lecrae’s recent decisions–performing in the BET Cypher, releasing a mixtape with DJ Don Cannon, and appearing on an album by secular producer Statik Selektah–give Lecrae a unique position to spread the Gospel. His music will reach a broader audience, and while his lyrics may not explicitly present the Gospel itself, his songs will end up pushing people to learn about him, about his ministry, and about his Christian life. This is an approach often talked about it terms of ‘gateway music': Lecrae’s music will bring people into the sphere of Christian hip-hop, and then they can hear the explicit Gospel.

The other side suggests quite the opposite: by stepping away from producing tracks that explicitly proclaim the Gospel, many say that Lecrae has forsaken Christ and lost his sight. The moment Lecrae talks about seeking to be authentic hip-hop, grouping himself with the likes of Brand Nubian, Wu-Tang, and Lupe Fiasco, he seems to be placing hip-hop above Christianity, at least in certain respects. The assumption here is that music produced in such a way that it does not convey explicit Christian doctrine is not God-honoring.

I’ll admit, I tend towards the former position. Personally, I think Lecrae is in a great position to impact a lot of people. I see that he is involved in a lot of ministry, even while putting out music made for a mainstream market. Just this last weekend he was involved in the ReachLife Institute with Francis Chan. Earlier this year, he and Reach Records put on a final Man Up Conference, focusing on Biblical principles for manhood. Even when he performed in the BET Cypher, he very clearly proclaimed the name of Christ, and told people to look to the Word to learn more. His track with Statik Selektah was not quite so explicitly “Christian,” but it worked through some of Lecrae’s struggles, and still pointed towards God and a broadly theistic viewpoint.

Where people really take issue is Lecrae’s title track from his upcoming mixtape, Church Clothes. In the track, which you can listen to here, Lecrae writes from the perspective of an outsider, someone who does not believe. This leads to some particularly strong words (though no vulgarity, as such), and some Christians are offended by the track. I’ll admit that it took me a couple of listens to figure out the direction he was coming from (“Did he really just say he could justify smoking weed and getting drunk? Oh, wait, no. No, he didn’t.”), but the message is clear: Lecrae is reaching out and pointing out that many don’t even want the salvation that the Church offers. Salvation is hard (“work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” after all), and the change is much more complex than a simple prayer.

I think the effectiveness of the track will come down to the context that it sits in. As I am writing this, the mixtape hasn’t dropped. We’ve only got one isolated track to work with, and the lyrics could show up on any number of sorts of collective releases.

A couple of closing remarks. First, it is entirely possible that Lecrae has gone off the deep end. Maybe he is caught up in the fame of working with big names in hip-hop, and because of this has stepped away from the best path he could be taking. If he has, we have two responsibilities, at least as far as I can tell: pray for him and his continued popularity, and seek to dialogue with those who listen to his music about the Gospel. Even if Lecrae himself ends up producing music that isn’t the sort we believe is best, surely God can use it for His good. Proclaiming the Gospel in the context of Lecrae’s music may be a step towards that.

Secondly, we should remember that not every action we make needs to have an explicit Gospel presentation. Much like I believe it is good to write posts here at Evangelical Outpost that do not explicitly proclaim the Gospel (have I done so even in this post?), and yet I write with a desire to produce excellent and God-honoring material, so is it possible for Lecrae and others to produce God-honoring music that touches people’s lives without explicitly proclaiming the Gospel. This doesn’t mean he will always produce such music–we should be discerning–but it doesn’t mean that his music will automatically be comparable to the likes of Kanye West, Jay-Z, or Eminem, so far as content goes. Let’s offer grace, even as we weigh his content.

And, finally, let’s remember that Lecrae shouldn’t be the end-all of our involvement with those listening to his music, believers or otherwise. If he is offering us words of encouragement, or perhaps a gateway into the lives of non-believers, let’s remember that we have our part to do as well. A corollary to this is that Lecrae isn’t the end-all influence in his genre. Just because one member of the body expresses things a certain way does not mean all members should. I’m grateful for Lecrae’s music, and I’m grateful for music from guys like Shai Linne, Swoope, and KJ-52. They all have different sounds, different focuses, and different purposes. But they help weave a tapestry within the genre that more accurately represents a holistic Christian lifestyle.


Image via Rapzilla.

Published by

J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).

  • Jason V.

    awesome post. i agree, lecrae isn’t a standard. We shouldn’t be following men, but the Man they are following. I support Lecrae’s expansions, but we should pray that he doesn’t get in over his head, as any human being is prone to. GodBless and i can’t wait to listen to the mix tape!

  • Hughes1736

    Now that I’ve listened to the whole thing…twice. I gotta say, I love u Crae! In the same way we pray Tebow stays strong due to his popularity and position, now we must pray this for Lecrae. High quality songs, sick beats, great lyrics. And don’t H8, God will use it. Good job Crae, can’t wait for gravity. Jesus sees past any narrow perspective I know some of u will have, I’m glad Lecrae does too.

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  • Josiah

    I understand his message, just needs to clean up his personal walk a little.

  • Christ_raider31

    Really? How

  • Josiah

    He just says things that are faulty sometimes, I believe he is a Christian, and Holy Spirit filled, he just sometimes speaks through the flesh. For example: he defends tattos, his lines “Taylored to snatch the mike quickly like Ye did” & “Body marked up like graffiti”

  • Killroy

    I, for one, wasn’t aware that tattoos are unchristian.

  • Matt

    I’m not saying John Piper is Jesus, but considering that John Piper and many evangelicals do no think the Leviticus verse on tattoos is binding today, I would not call Lecrae fleshly over this.  http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/what-do-you-think-of-tattoos-and-body-piercing.  But surely Lecrae is fleshly, he’s human.  But we all hope he would not write sinful lyrics that take deliberation.

  • Hughes1736

    Wow…..just………wow. I think we all could clean up our walk. How nice of u to hold him accountable on a comment thread.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1312942946 Michael Pyatt

    I have been listening to Church Clothes pretty much non-stop since Thursday and I can say that is the best mixtape I heard without any doubt.
    I think I understand what Lecrae is trying to do with this mixtape:1.Let his rap skills shine. By doing this he is somewhat telling the world that our rap is not only as good as secular rap, but it is better. 

    2.Also by doing this, he is opening up doors for the rest of the Christian Hip Hop scene. What we need to do is really pray for them now because they are kind of putting themselves out there and those evil spirits will try to get them. So please start praying for them.

    3. Preach the Gospel. I am not going to lie, I didn’t know what to expect from this mixtape, but what I received was same of ‘Crae. Proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ, telling us his stories, and trying to get people unsaved people to realize that it is more to life than Money, Sex, Drugs, etc…..

    Again, please pray for him and the rest of us on the Christian Hip-Hop scene. The further we get the head, the more the enemy is going to try and push us back….

  • Dcoop180

    You sound like a Pharisee.

  • Coop

    The fact of the matter is if you want to catch a certain fish you have to use the right bait. We are fishers of men are we not. But with that being said we are to always pray for the one in the public eye. Pray that god uses them and pray they don’t fall into temptation.

  • Fail2comprehend

    WOW…I listened to the whole mixtape and I gotta say, it was kinda disturbing at first, but then i hope he doesn’t get caught up with the snares of both worlds(mainstreamed & christian hip hop). There are a lot of artists out there that is reppin Christ and living sinfully at the same time…I’ll be waiting for “GRAVITY” to come out, and I will monitor the continued shift of his lyrics. Not that i’m hating on him or anything like that, but we all need to pray for these artists.

  • Ben

    Please explain, “Taylored to snatch the mike quickly like Ye did.” What is wrong with that?

  • Savior965

    Hey I know this comment is a little late but before you start saying he’s falling into the secular world of whatever think of it this way….
    Jesus did this to he reached out to everybody.He hung out with the sinners.Lecrae’s BOLD action caught him a lot of attention and I think that it’s going to make people realize that wow He’s a christian and who knows maybe even save them on a wide scale. So before you start judging think of the positives rather than thinking of all of the negatives…

  • Foreverblessed07

    The greatest ambassadors of Christ (outside of Jesus himself) are Peter and Paul. One walked with Jesus and one didn’t. But the same spirit dwelled in them causing them preach the same thing. JESUS! Peter preached to the Jews (Christians today) and Paul to the Gentiles. But one unique factor is that Jesus was the focus. Not their gifts or talents. In preaching Jesus the people came. If I (Jesus) be lifted up, then I will draw all men unto you. Reaching the lost is easy if we all lift up Christ. I respect Lecrea is trying to do but I hope he remembers that man don’t and can’t validate him but only The Father. Keep reaping Christ with no compromise even if you don’t want to be classified as a Christian rapper. Be unashamed!

  • Hopingforbetter

    Not judging Lecrae, just stating facts. Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Stryper, and several others used this same lame excuse that they could “reach more people” if they crossed over into mainstream music. They found out the hard way that Jesus is the One who gave them fame, not the secular world. And dissing the church is blasphemy. Scripture tells us to continue to meet together. Christ formed the church. Also, Jesus, who knows everything, went into the synagog every Saturday, knowing that He was surrounded by thieves, rapists, child molesters, etc. He went anyway. It is an example for us to follow, despite those mentioned in “Church Clothes.” Again, not passing judgement. I love Lecrae’s music. Just stating facts.

  • Anonymous

    Obviously, I don’t know Lecrae’s heart. I wrote this piece to try and think through his work, and whether or not I felt it was possible that he was doing this work faithfully.

    It’s possible that “Church Clothes” the track was a mistake. People do make those, and maybe no one saw it for what it was, if it was a mistake.

    That said, the song, in context of the album, seems to function almost as a rhetorical question. Much like when Paul asks “Should we sin that grace may abound? May it never be!” this track seems to speak to those desires and gut-level instincts (for example: “I see problems in the church and therefore I won’t go”), but the end of the track makes it clear that these are problematic (“There’d better not be no real Jesus, with real hope, for real sinners, or else I’m going to be in trouble”).

    At least, that makes the most sense to me in context of the album. After all, he immediately follows it up with Cold World, a track about how fallen our world is.

    There are plenty of Gospel and Christ-focused tracks on the album, as a whole.

    Anyways, just my two cents. I don’t know his heart, and advocate that we pray for him.


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  • Conshnz

    I agree with these other guys. Really Josiah? He needs to clean up his walk a little? Do u know him personally? How is ur walk? I agree with Hughes1736, we could all do that. We are sinners saved by the grace of the Jesus. I don’t agree with every little thing that every other brother in Christ does, but i apply the same grace to them that has been applied to me. Point blank, no one is perfect. Look at his ministry and how he has helped to change the Christian Rap scene. I am also involved in Christian rap ministry, we don’t do it for the money, we don’t do it for the fame, we do it so that others who are not normally reached can be reached for Jesus. I dont have the success Lecrae has had yet, on that scale. I am affecting lives in my town and my circle of influence. So u don’t agree with everything u see necessarily? Pray for him and extend the same grace God gives to u in ur walk…

  • bamafan116

     Have people never listened to christian hardcore? I practically grew up on it, and I always thought how cool it was that some christian guys could get together and make music. Not every single song was gospel filled, but then none of them were filthy. Thats how i’d describe this mixtape. Honestly I was surprised when i first got into the christian rap scene that a majority of the songs had a gospel message to it. It was a good surprise, mind you, but a surprise nonetheless. I think the poster has a good point, we just gotta pray that the attention doesn’t go to his head. I’ve been a huge fan of Lecrae and the rest of the guys at Reach, and i really respect what they do.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve spent a bit of time listening to the hardcore scene (more in high school than today, and mostly in my first year or two of college, at which point I transitioned to mostly listening to hip-hop/rap).

    I’m a fan of music being made that is honest, good, true, and beautiful. Anything that is good, true, and beautiful will remind us of Christ, but it may not explicitly provide a Gospel message in three points that a pastor could play in lieu of a sermon.

    Though the Christian hardcore scene is certainly less popular than other Christian sub-genres, it has its talented artists.

    What bands did you listen to growing up, out of curiosity?

  • Dodgers88

    It doesn’t matter if he goes more mainstream. The whole point of preaching the Good News is for all to hear. Believers and non believers and music is one the great sources to preach the Good News. We do need to pray for him to be strong and if falls we all need to be supportive of him and bring him back. God use all kind of. Broken people to help spread his word. If he stayed underground than he not truly reaching the masses that he truly. Need to reach. Jesus never stayed in a crowd that was comfortable, but always steped out in an uncomfortable situation to boldly preach. Lecrae needs to keep on doing what he is doing and site of Jesus.

  • http://twitter.com/onemictwogods NHawk

    I don’t believe that LeCrae can work with the world in this way and we ignore it. Jesus didn’t work with secular people, he converted them. He hung with them to save and deliver them, nothing more. So should LeCrae. Why is he making a SECULAR mixtape? Listen if he wants to make secular music, just say that he’s an artist that happens to like Jesus but not following Him and giving his art and life to him. And I’ll be okay with that. He’s becoming lukewarm and selling out.

    Did Paul go back to being a Pharisee to appeal to the worldly religious leaders? No. Neither must we.

    If LeCrae has to speak on a topic or debate and share a stage with secular artists that’s different, because through his words people will see the difference. But if he is singing with secular, people won’t see the difference. We as artists must be above reproach.

    We can’t allow any Christian artists to do this. Either the producer wants to get saved, change his ways, and get delivered and walk in the fear of the Lord and get a word to work with that artist, or us an artist must take the title of and say that we aren’t Christian anymore. It’s that simple.

    If this is seen as judgmental, then sobeit; at least standards can be established especially when someone wants to use Christ’s name on their life. To do that it’s a sacrifice, and it will cost your whole life. Those of us who give our whole life can’t listen to someone who traded it in for given over their listeners to sinners. No thanks.

  • aaronk214

    I think we shouldn’t be so fast to judge Lecrae, has he committed a sin yet? Not that I see, and you know a tree by it’s fruits, he has preached the Gospel of Jesus for a long time now, and he has a point. By producing music in such a way, it can reach a broader audience who in turn can gain a interest in his stuff and follow his work into the christian rap culture. Remember, a lot of people don’t like to have Jesus “pushed on them” in other words, they feel scared and insecure and consequently don’t deal with it because normal is easier than abnormal. How did Jesus minister to sinners? He went in and ate with them, got to know them, and ultimately, offered them His salvation. How did the religious leaders react? They look at His actions as of bad taste but, “On hearing this, Jesus said unto them, “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”(Mark 2:17) And so, I think we all could take a lesson or two from Lecrae,

    “I’m probably gonna catch some flack man
    But I’m gonna swallow this pill like pac man”

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Austin-Floyd/1285525737 Austin Floyd

    listen to church clothes and then tell me it’s not a christian mixtape.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anthony.inacay Anthony Inacay

    I believe what a person says and does is directly impacted by the relationship ( or lack of) he or she has with God and how he or she perceives God’s love for them. It seems to me Lecrae knows a passionate love so deep that it gives him courage to risk what people may think to spread the gospels through the gifts God has given him. Jesus once had a conversation with an adulterous woman and the conversation started off with asking for water which led to the gospel. As someone who tries to walk with Jesus i can say there is no bigger turn off than an in your face christian who can no longer relate to people in fear of being seen as “dirty.” Let’s press hard to see what is of value an what isnt.

    No one here is wrong for having an opinion here, but we shouldnt be so quick to judge others, follower of Christ or not. Lecrae is secure in his salvation, be secure in yours.

    Instead of being so concerned with what Lecrae is doing and how he is ministering to people, focus on the ones God has put in your life. Lastly but most importantly rejoice! Remember what the Word says in Ephesians 2:7-8 “6 For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. 7 So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.” You are God’s trophy of grace! We are truly loved!

  • DelP

    While you’re all nestled in your christian social incubators hissing at Lecrae just because he says things in a way that make you feel uncomfortable, he’s actually putting himself out there in a way that’ll reach more people. Jesus met people where they were at, he didn’t sit on his figurative high horse hoping people would be inspired by his awesomeness, too scared to go anywhere because he might lose the annointing. Doing that is no different than the wasteful servant in the Parable of the Talents.

    If you’re seeking God’s will, He’ll give you the grace. You all sound like Christ’s power barely keeps us out of the grasp of temptation, but if you believed like you say you believe you know it’s way beyond that. Stop being so scared to fall that you forget about people.

  • child of God

    What’s the point of ministry if ur gonna jst spread the Gospel to people who already believe and no one else. Nonbelievers won’t “waste their time” listening to Christian rap. So in no way is lecrae forsaken God! Church clothes is jst very deep and hard to understand. I understand it. So lecraes perspective is to get with secular producers to reach out to the nonbelievers tht won’t listen to him originally. And listen to his song in church clothes, “Sacrifice”! Definitely Christian artist.

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  • Dwayne

    If you have listened to Lecrae from the beginning you will definitely see the downward slide his music has taken. I’m concerned. On his album “After the Music Stops,” in the song with the same title, he says, “I don’t do this for the money, I don’t do this for fame, I don’t do this
    so the industry can know my name, I do this and host to glorify Yeshua
    the King.”

    Lately though he seems to be doing things so the “Industry” does know his name. I agree with NHawk, he’s even started saying he is a rapper or a hip hop artist that happens to be Christian, as if being a Christian first is no longer who he is. I’m not saying he’s completely fallen away from the faith, but I’m saying we should keep him in our prayers. The world is very tempting, especially when the world starts embracing you and giving you a larger stage. Christians who fall away usually don’t fall away overnight, its typically a sliding away slowly until they find themselves in error and sin. His music definitely doesn’t have that “Its all about Jesus” vibe or lyrics to it anymore. It seems as if he is trying to transfer over to mainstream secular.
    People are saying that he’s doing it to reach a larger audience so that they will look at his life and yada yada yada, in hopes they see Christ and receive salvation. Friends, that’s just pragmatism, and that’s very dangerous. We don’t do things and judge its success by the results, we do things that the Word commands us. The word commands us to “Preach the Gospel,” not blab about the world and mention Christ in passing with the hope that they will look into Him sometime later. Preach the Gospel, “In season, out of Season.” Preach the Gospel at all times, no matter if you’re at the Grammy’s or on the street. Keep Lecrae and his ministry in your prayers. Danger is always around the corner.

  • Dwayne

    Be careful though, we are not to change the Gospel so it becomes more acceptable to a sinful world. The Gospel will convict sinners, and that conviction will lead them to seek repentance or rejection of Christ. Changing the Gospel or in this case watering down your lyrics to reach a wider audience never works and in the pastoral epistles Paul warns Timothy and Titus to never to that. Remember the good news is only good to those who a broken by conviction of sin. If there is no conviction the good news is just foolishness.

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