Lecrae, Church Clothes, and Mainstream AttentionCulture, Featured, Music, Religion, The Gospel — By J.F. Arnold on May 10, 2012 at 7:00 am
[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.