In 2012, hip hop artist Lecrae made a distinct shift in his music. On his mixtape, Church Clothes, he went from rapping about overtly Christian topics and themes to penning lyrics about the everyday concerns of people in the streets. Two years later he has a Grammy and his latest release, Anomaly hit #1 on the Billboard 200.
Lecrae still raps from a biblical Christian perspective, but now his music is getting a hearing beyond the Christian clique. In the process he has gained both a hearing in the mainstream hip hop community and a vocal corner of critics. Why did Lecrae make this transition? Why would he risk alienating his original fan base? What accounted for the shift in his music?
Many have speculated, and there are undoubtedly several factors in his artistic movement, but a single line from a recently released song may help reveal his motivation.
Making a Change
Lecrae released the song “Non-Fiction” as a single to reward his fans for making, Anomaly such a success. The song describes Lecrae’s real-life journey from new convert to chart-topping rapper. According to one of the lines, “Andy Crouch wrote a book about culture-makin’, and after that I had to make a slight change.”
Andy Crouch is the Executive Editor of Christianity Today and the author of Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. The premise of the book is simple: “The only way to change culture is to create more of it.”
Crouch says in his book, “If culture is to change, it will be because of some new tangible (or audible or visible or olfactory) thing is presented to a wide enough public that it begins to reshape their world.” He proposes that instead of condemning, critiquing, copying, or uncritically consuming culture, something new has to displace the old. It appears Lecrae has been making new music in an attempt to do just that.
Lecrae has long made it known that he wishes to impact the hip hop world, a world that he loves but that is far from embracing a biblical worldview. He says as much in the last verse of “Non-Fiction”:
I got a mission that I’m fightin’ for, I’m writin’ songs tryin’ to give ya substance
Yea, I’m writin’ songs fightin’ for ya soul.
But Lecrae couldn’t fulfill his mission if his beats only banged in Christian ears, though not because Christians aren’t important to him. It was Christian fans who propelled him to popularity and still continue to support him. Nevertheless, having testified in Jerusalem, so to speak, Lecrae felt compelled to testify also in Rome (Acts 23:11).
In the next lines of “Non-Fiction,” Lecrae sings, “Ask the homies I ain’t do it for the money man / Nah, I made Church Clothes out of love.” The mixtape Church Clothes represented Lecrae’s first major attempt to create culture that mainstream audiences might accept. To do this he partnered with “secular” artists like DJ Don Cannon, Boi 1da, and No Malice (of the rap duo, Clipse).
Some Christians thought that Lecrae’s new methodology compromised his gospel impact. But both Lecrae and Andy Crouch display a savvy that other Christians who wish to impact broader culture may need to consider adopting.
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