Lecrae’s Back: Church Clothes Volume 2

Lecrae’s done it again, and I’m glad I’ve seen less frustration and criticism this time out. Maybe it’s just that he’s managed to keep saying Jesus as he performs, well, everywhere. But just a quick reminder, for the naysayers. I reported this same bit before, but it bears repeating. Here’s an excerpt from a post Lecrae wrote when the first Church Clothes was released:

We limit spirituality to salvation and sanctification. As long as we are well versed in personal piety and individual salvation, we think we’re good. But most Christians have no clue how to engage culture in politics, science, economics, TV, music or art. We tend to leave people to their own devices there.

We subscribe to views like, “Politics and movies are evil or of the devil,” and we don’t touch them. Leaving them to be dominated by non-biblical worldviews. Or, since we don’t have a philosophy or filter, we do it the way culture says to…chasing vain ambition.

Most professing Christians have no idea how to direct their careers with biblical lenses, but instead of praying for and offering solutions we usually just shake our heads and dismiss these “sellouts & compromisers.”

We are missing out on the gospel’s power of redemption and glorification in all things.

Since then, he’s actually managed to avoid controversy. People loved Church Clothes, more-or-less loved Gravity, and have eagerly watched him interact with fame. Between 106 and Park appearances, interviews with secular media, and performing for BET, Lecrae’s really had a whirlwind year.

The closest he came to controversy was when he put out a song written to his younger self. In it, old (“Rebel”) Lecrae argues that new (“Rehab”) Lecrae has sold out, and is sacrificing the Gospel for the sake of fame. But Lecrae rebuts his own argument, claiming the maturity allows him freedoms he wasn’t able to embrace when he was a newer Christian.

It’s an admirable view, and mature Lecrae has definitely given us another good mixtape. You can download it for free, here. I haven’t been able to give it enough of a listen to provide a solid review.

We should definitely spend some time working through what it means to engage culture, whether that’s hip-hop, music more broadly, politics, film, alcohol, or anything else. I’ve found Brett McCracken’s book Gray Matters helpful in this regard (you can see my review here).

If you find yourself critical of this mixtape, so be it. If you don’t like the artistry, I’ll perhaps be surprised. But if you want to say that Lecrae’s made a mistake working with secular artists, promoting himself on secular media, and generally presenting a “walk with you” rather than “preach against you” attitude, I’ll leave you with this conclusion, that I wrote when the first Church Clothes came out:

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.

Lecrae Answers the Questions Many Have Asked: “Rebel” or “Gravity”?

A couple weeks back, Lecrae released a track exclusively through Rapzilla, one of Christian hip-hop’s top sites (if not the top site for the genre). In the track, Lecrae pits a version of his old self (“Mr. Rebel”, named after his third album) against his current views (“Mr. Gravity”, after his fifth album, released just last year).

If you’re not familiar with the debate Lecrae is having with himself, here’s the short version: “Rebel” spends time talking about the Gospel in extremely straightforward ways. Jesus is mentioned in nearly every track (if not every track). Lecrae has songs called “I’m a Saint” (where he mentions that scripture describes all believers as “saints”), “The Bride” (talking about the Church), and “Indwelling Sin.” The album doesn’t pull any punches, lyrically speaking, and you’d never listen to any song and wonder what Lecrae was talking about. In contrast, “Gravity” is an album that, in some people’s eyes, hides a bit behind the music. “Free From It All” doesn’t mention God at all, unless you make the jump from “Freedom from the frustrations of fame” to “Freedom in Christ.” While “Mayday” features explicit references to Christ (“Got a couple Scriptures from my Grandma/Sayings from a preacher/But can’t live out these standards that we heard it takes to reach ’em/But when I look at Jesus/He lived the life I couldn’t/Suffered for my crimes so I wouldn’t”), it also includes Lecrae professing respect for secular artist Big K.R.I.T. (who also appears on the track). He respects K.R.I.T. for confessing, but it is still a far cry from the Rebel days.

Fans have been quick to point these truths out. They’ll push back every time Lecrae releases a new track. We saw it when he came out with the title track from his mixtape Church Clothes, we saw it with the BET Cypher, we saw it with his involvement with Statik Selektah’s album, and I’m sure we’ll see it again on both Church Clothes 2 and his next full length album. The controversy finally got strong enough that Lecrae felt he should respond to his old views, in the form of the rap above.

Christian music has fought this fight in many other genres. And we’ve even fought it in Christian hip-hop. We’re just seeing more mainstream success than ever before, so people feel the need to jump into the discussion.

A good friend of mine, Calvin Moore, argues that the real failure of Lecrae’s argument isn’t actually his current position, but rather in the way he relates to those fans who agree with the “Mr. Rebel” verse.  If I follow his argument correctly, it’s relatively simple: Lecrae is in a mature place, but not everyone can be there. If Lecrae doesn’t work to bring people, he’ll only continue to face criticism, and possibly even tacitly harm those who don’t stand in the mature position with Lecrae.

If that’s the argument Calvin’s making, I think he’s right. But the whole discussion has a lot to do with a broader discussion of how Christians ought to interact with culture. I’m indebted to Brett McCracken for his thoughtful work on culture. His book has helped me articulate my position a bit more clearly. The broader discussion is this: how should Christians interact with art? Should every piece of art we make contain an expressive representation of the Gospel, of Jesus’ name, of God’s great love? The key word there is “expressive”, and you could easily substitute “explicit.” Can you make Christian art that doesn’t mention Jesus’ name?

If you answer the question with a “no”, you’ll be disappointed in the direction Lecrae is heading with his art. But if you believe that Christians can reflect their Creator without an explicit “Jesus” reference in every bit of it, there may be room on your iPod for Lecrae’s newest music.

‘The Game’ and Christianity: A Tree by its Fruit

Christianity and hip-hop seem to be converging lately. There has been a flurry of discussion surrounding a number of artists, both Christian and otherwise. We’ve seen major mainstream attention focus in on Lecrae and his releases in the last year or so, and the discussion there has centered around the Christian’s role in mass media as an evangelism tool: when producing rap for a mainstream audience (as he is clearly doing on Church Clothes, and arguably on Gravity), what should be the priority? Some argue that a clear Gospel message, preferably with Jesus’ name sprinkled into every song, should be the entirety of the album. Others suggest that rappers and other artists need to establish themselves within their genre, even if that means writing songs that are less explicitly ‘Christian.’

But what if the roles are reversed? What if we are facing an individual who has never professed faith before, was recently baptized, and is now releasing an album called Jesus Piece? Continue reading ‘The Game’ and Christianity: A Tree by its Fruit

Lecrae, Toby Mac, and the Christian Entertainment Industry

Last week, Christian music legend Toby Mac’s latest album debuted at number 1 on Billboard’s top 200 chart. This is the first time that a Christian album has debuted at such a high rank in 15 years, Time reports. Lecrae debuted his album Gravity at number 3, which a number of us were anticipating. While I haven’t listened to Toby Mac’s Eye On It just yet, I can recommend Gravity. But why the sudden chart-topping success? Continue reading Lecrae, Toby Mac, and the Christian Entertainment Industry

A Quick Hip-Hop Recommendation

Alright, alright. I know I’ve written a number of posts about hip-hop already. I spend a good amount of my time consuming the genre, considering it, and even writing on it. One thing that has always been tricky when discussing hip-hop with those who will listen is suggesting a starting place. This year has proven pretty handy for that, fortunately. Continue reading A Quick Hip-Hop Recommendation

Lecrae Clears Up Church Clothes

Last week, Reach Records artist Lecrae dropped what has been his most controversial release yet, Church Clothes (you can download it here). It has reached nearly 200,000 downloads in about a week, which I wouldn’t say is anything to be scoffed at, particularly considering the messages Lecrae is adamant about. I wrote my thoughts about the release before it came out, and then added some reflection after listening (and, of course, did a review here). Continue reading Lecrae Clears Up Church Clothes

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. Continue reading Lecrae, Church Clothes, and Mainstream Attention

Lecrae Performs in a BET Cypher

I know I wrote extensively on Christian Hip-Hop for a week or two, and perhaps some of you are tired of it already. But if you found any legitimacy in the genre, here’s some great news. Earlier this week, BET had their annual awards ceremony. In fact, ever since 2001 the show has been a coveted award, giving only to the best in hip-hop. While there is a Gospel category, most Christian rappers don’t get invited or nominated for anything involving the BET awards. In fact, none of the artists I’ve linked to in the previous posts have performed there or been nominated, to the best of my knowledge. Continue reading Lecrae Performs in a BET Cypher

A Primer: Why Christian Hip-Hop is Here to Stay

If you haven’t been following the Christian music scene for awhile, I can’t really say that I blame you. Much of the music we label as “Christian” is, frankly, boring. If a particular band or album is beautifully done, it is usually either considered a step away from the “Christian music” scene (i.e., they did not mention Jesus’ name explicitly in that last album, and so are no longer being Christian in their music) or it is a fluke. There are, of course, exceptions to this. Some artists and bands have created beautiful music that Christians can embrace, but with the sheer number of artists out there, the contemporary Christian music scene is stale. Continue reading A Primer: Why Christian Hip-Hop is Here to Stay