A devout Christian and elder-statesman in music, Houston-born rapper Lecrae isn’t much interested in the frills of fame. Only upon visiting his Instagram would one receive a true sense of his stardom. A following of 1.4 million doesn’t lie. Beyond his social stats, though, it’s the rapper’s unique position at the cross section of his faith and hip-hop that’s afforded him such staying power throughout his career. One of Lecrae’s recent Instagram stories was captioned “Psalms and Dilla,” panning from highlighted sections of Psalms: God Is Our Fortress to a stack of vinyl with sounds of late producer J. Dilla scoring the background.
In the past, Lecrae has clarified he’s not a “Christian rapper” and listeners simply hear his faith in his music. This makes sense. While being heavily influenced by his Texas roots (and even releasing an entire project with Atlanta producer Zaytoven), Lecrae’s sound is a bit left of what you’d typically hear from projects delivered by some of his southern contemporaries. Seldom do you hear the rapper boast about candy paint on his car or diamonds dancing in his Patek. On “Nothin’,” the first single from his 2014 album Anomaly, he rapped:
“Let me guess you counting money to the ceiling
Difference 'tween us like at least a couple million
It's foreign cars, pretty girls everywhere you go
Yeah I heard it 30 times on the radio
...You still a slave and money can't buy you freedom, partna'”
Contrary to what its title would suggest, the song succinctly represents everything Lecrae is about. Anomaly went on to solidify the rapper as the first recording artist to have a No. 1 record on the Billboard 200 while simultaneously holding down a spot on the Gospel charts. Two Grammy trophies later, the accomplished musician reflects on where he’s been in order to explain how far his music has taken him.
“I always wrote my thoughts, and I always communicated what I was learning,” he tells Complex. “So even as a little kid, even as a nine- or 10 year old, if I learned something, I wrote it [down].”
“At first, all I learned was how to imitate other artists, so I just wrote down things that I thought they would say or would want to hear me say, but then as I started having my own life experiences and spiritual transformations,” he continues, “I started to incorporate some of that in my lyrics. That's why I always loved 2Pac, because I felt like he was constantly teaching us something. Constantly trying to express his heart, his mind, and reinvest in the community all the time. That's one of the people that I gravitated toward early on.”
Throughout his childhood, hip-hop influenced and informed Lecrae’s values as strongly as the tenets of Christianity. In terms of his education in leadership, compassion and purpose, the rapper is as much a disciple of Pac as he is a child of God. Unlike others who grew up in the church, shepherded by elders and shielded from secular music, Lecrae wouldn’t have discovered his love of rap had it not been for summers spent around extended family.
“My grandmother's house was like foster care,” the 39-year-old explains. “All my cousins got dropped off there for the whole summer, and my older cousins were really big into hip-hop. I was like five or six years old and they just started playing records and watching music videos, and I remember staying up late and sneaking and looking over the couch just to see what they were enjoying. That's where my love for music, specifically hip-hop, came from.
Understanding the influence music has over children who are as enamored with hip-hop as he was in his grandmother’s home, Lecrae not only accepts his position as a role model, he embraces it. He feels a karmic obligation to pay the teachings of golden era rap forward, imparting wisdom to the next generation.
Speaking to that obligation, Lecrae explains, “When I got to Atlanta, I wanted to continue that process and do that in the lives of other people. Peace Preparatory Academy (a school and resource center in Atlanta the rapper has partnered with) was a gift from God.”
“It's not just about educating the mind,” he continues. “It's about wrapping your arms around [students] emotionally, socially, spiritually, intellectually... Getting involved in the family life, and just making sure that these kids have an environment where they can thrive. That's really what Peace aims to do, and has been doing for the last few years.”
With his recognition of how family, community, and mentorship has aided his progression, Lecrae is continuing on his path to offer that and more to those who need it today. Contemplative, the rapper notes, “I don't think you can understand your purpose or what you're here for without guidance, without community, without people around you to tell you what your potential is and to help you maximize that.” As committed to his mission as he is to his religion, Lecrae remains focused on leading the way, existing as an example in spaces where there aren’t many others to be found.
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