“Lord God, I come to you a sinner, and I humbly repent for my sins. I believe that Jesus is Lord. I believe that you raised Him from the dead. I will ask that Jesus will come into my life and be my Lord and Savior. I receive Jesus to take control of my life that I may live for Him from this day forth. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for saving me with your precious blood. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” —Intro to Good Kid, m.A.A.d City by Kendrick Lamar
The first time the rapper Lecrae spoke to Kendrick Lamar, more than five years ago, he called him after hearing the song “Faith” from Lamar’s self-titled 2009 EP — the first project the Compton, California, rapper, previously known as K. Dot, released under his birth name. “Faith” has a classic, modular narrative structure — like Eminem’s “Guilty Conscience,” or TLC’s “Waterfalls” — with three interlocking verses about people whose belief in God falters under life’s cruel gravity. The first verse is rapped in the first person, and resolves with Lamar devastated by the real-life murder of a friend. “Life is too much, I’m just through,” BJ The Chicago Kid sighs on the hook. It’s heavy stuff.
“It touched me and I reached out to him like, ‘Hey, can I talk to you about it?’” Lecrae recalls.Lecrae, who topped the Billboard 200 last fall with his seventh album, Anomaly, and won a Grammy for Best Gospel Album in 2013 (he’s nominated for the first time in a non-gospel category this year, Best Rap Performance), is widely acknowledged as the most successful artist ever to emerge from the Christian hip-hop community. “We started talking and that’s really how our relationship began.”
The two artists — typically thought of as occupying two distinct, non-overlapping worlds in the hip-hop universe: secular and Christian — stayed friends after the “Faith” call, communing, and occasionally commiserating, about life as imperfect believers who happen to rap.
“In this industry, a lot of people shake hands and high-five each other, but there’s not a lot of genuine conversation about the deeper things in life,” Lecrae says. “When you’re struggling with your girl or your mom is sick, it’s rare that you find someone that actually wants to talk with you on a real level. So being able to connect with him on spiritual matters is definitely something that I value and appreciate.”
Save for the reliably blasphemous Kanye West, no rapper established in the upper echelons of popular music is more vocal about his personal religious beliefs than Lamar. Though he has never neatly fit the description of what would usually be termed “Christian hip-hop,” Lamar has often seasoned somber soliloquies of navigating the gang culture that birthed him with Christian themes of good and evil, as well as the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. Since the release of his platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated major-label debut Good Kid, m.A.A.d Cityin 2012, and a reported baptism while supporting West’s Yeezus tour in 2013, the centrality of Christianity to Lamar’s worldview has only grown more obvious.
In a recent Billboard interview, Lamar credited favoritism from God for his deliverance from the gravitational pull of crime in his neighborhood, and then casually declared his belief that the apocalypse is near. “We’re in the last days, man — I truly in my heart believe that,” he said. “It’s written.”
Speaking to Complex last year, he revealed his conviction that his career is divinely inspired. “I got a greater purpose,” Lamar said. “God put something in my heart to get across and that’s what I’m going to focus on, using my voice as an instrument and doing what needs to be done.”
In a later interview with Houston’s 93.7 The Beat, Lamar extended that sense of purpose to all of humankind: “We’re all put on this earth to walk in His image, the Master,” he argued.
And in The Fader in November, Lamar explained his decision to dress as Jesus Christ for Halloween this way: “If I want to idolize somebody, I’m not going to do a scary monster, I’m not gonna do another artist or a human being — I’m gonna idolize the Master, who I feel is the Master, and try to walk in His light. It’s hard, it’s something I probably could never do, but I’m gonna try. Not just with the outfit but with everyday life. The outfit is just the imagery, but what’s inside me will display longer.”