Rap + Theology = Mainstream Success for Lecrae

Lecrae performs at Music Matters during the BET Experience on June 29 in Angeles. (BEN HORTON/GETTY IMAGES FOR BET)
Lecrae performs at Music Matters during the BET Experience on June 29 in Angeles. (BEN HORTON/GETTY IMAGES FOR BET)

He’s been crowned the “new hip-hop king” and his newest album, “Anomaly,” topped iTunes and Amazon charts the day of its Sept. 9 release. He’s been invited to birthday parties for both Billy Graham and Michael Jordan and riffed on NBC’s “Tonight Show” with host Jimmy Fallon.

It’s the kind of mainstream success that has eluded most Christian rappers. Then again, some people are still trying to decide if hip-hop star Lecrae is a Christian rapper, or a rapper who happens to be Christian.

It depends who you ask, including Lecrae himself.

“God has also raised up lowly, kind of insignificant individuals to do miraculous and incredible things,” Lecrae, 34, said in an interview. “We’re the Gideons, we’re the Davids. Even Jesus himself made himself of no reputation. It’s when you can link it back to God doing it, I think that’s what he loves. He’s not a megalomaniac, he’s deserving of glory and honor, and to use individuals that demonstrate that it was him, and him alone, it accomplishes his mission and that’s success.”

While most Christian artists have struggled to break out of the Christian music subculture, Lecrae has found early crossover success — and a significant following among white evangelical elites. He navigates the tricky waters between rapping explicitly about Christianity while reaching a mainstream audience.

According to Billboard, he’s sold 1.4 million albums and 2.9 million track downloads. “Anomaly” hit Billboard’s No. 1 last week — a first for a gospel album and only the fifth for a Christian album. His acting debut in “Believe Me,” a film about a group of four men who try to con money out of churchgoers, received a short, positive nod from The New York Times.

Some of Lecrae’s fans are worried the success could ruin him or at least soften his lyrics. But when Christian artists like U2’s Bono or Switchfoot find mainstream success, many Christian fans often latch on for good.

In fact, while once shunning mainstream and creating its own music and entertainment subculture, American evangelicalism now values recognition and engagement in mainstream culture.

“Lecrae is probably the hottest Christian artist alive right now,” said Atlanta megachurch pastor Louie Giglio in his sermon on Sunday (Sept. 21) at his Passion City Church.

Giglio recently ran into Lecrae in their hometown airport in Atlanta, praising the artist for his recent success. “It’s only hors d’oeuvres for heaven,” Lecrae responded.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post
Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

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