Thoughts on rap and God from the 34-year-old musician, who was the first to ever simultaneously land an album at the top of the gospel music charts and the Billboard 200
They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus
That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes
But if I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh?
This is how Kanye West, troubadour of gold diggers and douchebags and Lamborghinis, raps about faith. The irony of his 2004 hit “Jesus Walks” is that it’s a direct challenge to radio stations and record studios—”well let this take away from my spins,” West declares—but it won a Grammy and made it to the top 20 on the Billboard 100. The other irony of “Jesus Walks” is that West also has penned deeply profane lyrics like “put my fist in her like a civil rights sign.” He may have rapped about Christianity, but few would call Kanye a Christian rapper.
Not so for Lecrae. At the end of September, the 34-year-old rapper became the first-ever artist to land an album at the top of both the Billboard 200 and the gospel charts simultaneously. Anomaly includes shout-outs to Jesus, gratitude for “the redeemer,” and not a single curse word.
It also includes lyrics about slavery, a discussion of adultery, and a song about driving someone he had sex with to get an abortion.
Since Anomaly started its meteoric rise, there has been much discussion of whether Lecrae is a Christian rapper or just someone who “never becomes a bad Christian, lyrically,” as Grantland‘s Rembert Browne put it. The terms of this debate stem from the old, enduring conundrum Christian recording artists often face: They’re either hemmed in by the genre label of “Christian music,” or they reach the mainstream by keeping religion in their private life beyond the occasional, “Jesus Walks”-type statement.
Lecrae wants to transcend that dynamic. “My music is not Christian—Lecrae is,” he said. “And you hear evidence of my faith in my music.”
He also said he sees himself as counter-cultural, but perhaps the better term is “cross-cultural.” His music troubles the stereotypes of both Christian music and mainstream rap—it doesn’t really feel wholesome or sanctified, but it’s also filled with self-deprecation and explicit warnings about immoral behavior. He also has a role in the recently released movie Believe Me, about four students who try to exploit church-goers to raise money. Again, it’s Christian—but not in a way that’s predictable.
Reach Records, the label he co-founded and co-owns with his childhood friend Ben Washer is explicitly evangelical; as the company’s website says, “the heartbeat of Reach is Romans 1:16, ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.'” None of the songs on Anomaly is preachy, though, except maybe “Runners,” which is about cheating in relationships. He demurred on whether he tries to proselytize in his art, but did say that spreading the gospel is a “battle.”
“We’ve limited Christianity to salvation and sanctification,” he said. “Christianity is the truth about everything. If you say you have a Christian worldview, that means you see the world through that lens—not just how people get saved and what to stay away from.”
This means writing about things other than heaven and the glory of God. While that kind of music is necessary, he said, “Christians need to embrace that there need to be believers talking about love and social issues and all other aspects of life.”
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