Lecrae on Church Clothes Mixtape, Why He’s Hip-Hop, No Malice, Kendrick Lamar & Jeremy Lin

With minimal mainstream press and radio backing, Lecrae has been building a small hip-hop empire over the last few years. His independent label, Reach Records, offers a roster of talented MCs with a message. The squad, spearheaded by Lecrae, has carved a lane and amassed a passionate following with their Christian-rooted raps—having sold hundred of thousands of records to date. Some more traditional hip-hop heads may be hesitant to give something with a religious tag a chance, but it’s a bit misleading. Wrapped in technically adept raps, ‘Crae and co. deliver music with a message without coming off preachy.

In recent months, the Atlanta-based MC has opened the ears of listeners and media outlets outside of religious circles. In hopes to widen his scope, he’s set to drop the DJ Don Cannon-hosted mixtape Church Clothes tomorrow (May 10), which features No Malice as well as production from 9th Wonder and Boi-1da. Here, he talks about those relationships, acceptance within hip-hop, and why he shouldn’t be boxed in. —Adam Fleischer (@AdamXXL)

XXLMag.com: This is your first mixtape. What made you want to do it now?
Lecrae: I know there’s a lot of people within hip-hop who are just starting to get familiar with what I’m doing and what I got going. I didn’t want them to have to one, pay for the music to experience it or test it out; and then, two, trying to communicate to a whole different group of people now. I think most of my fans were probably Christian fans, and wanted to hear particular things in music, and this goes around that. I wanted to address some different stuff in music that I thought a broader audience would appreciate.

Can you explain the Church Clothes title?
Everybody has this idea that, I gotta get dressed up; or, I gotta put on my church clothes. This putting on of airs. People believe that I gotta put on airs when it comes to dealing with God or dealing with Christians. Even like, when I first start meeting people, and they on the corner smokin’ or somethin’ like that, “Like, ah, there go ‘Crae, put it away.” But you ain’t gotta put on no airs for me. I don’t have a heaven or hell to put you in.

What was it like working with No Malice on this project?
It was dope. He reached out probably over a year ago, just asking questions. Somebody had kind of told him what I was doing, and he was like, “I’m in kind of a transition in my life.” He wanted to hear my story and my perspective, and from there we just started building. We talked about a little bit of everything—his life, and what he’s experienced, and my desire, too, to be involved in hip-hop culture and be able to just support people and help them. And then for him to explain to me some of the ins and outs and the woes of some of the life that he’s lived.

You worked with 9th Wonder and Boi-1da, too.
9th Wonder is my dude. We just connect on so many levels, it’s crazy. Both of us are equally passionate about substance in music. That’s really where I’m at. When you start talking about J. Cole and Big K.R.I.T. and Kendrick Lamar, I want to run right alongside those dudes. What’s important to them is their craft, and having something to say. That’s what me and 9th connected on. Boi-1da and I connected with years back. He’s a believer, he’s a Christian. He was like, “I appreciate you doing this. Someone told me about what you were doing, I thought it was dope. I wanna do some work with you.” He’s been busy, but he made time to slide me some work for this project, too.

Kendrick was in the “Church Clothes” video. What kind of relationship do you have with him?
Kendrick and I have been chopping it up for a few years now, just going back and forth. There’s a mutual respect. I appreciate his honesty and transparency. That’s one of the things you gotta say about him, is he’s gonna tell you what he believes and what he doesn’t believe, and if he’s confused, he’ll tell you that, too. K.R.I.T., too. I just recently got up with K.R.I.T. and that’s been real dope, because he’s the same way—just real transparent and what you see is what you get. I really appreciate people like that.

How did you link with Cannon?
We connected through my man Street Symphony, who’s a producer and also does A&R for me. Street has done stuff for Gucci Mane, Yo Gotti, the list goes on. So he was connected with Cannon and had that relationship. Cannon believed in the project 100%. He’s like, “Man, I rock with anybody who’s unashamed to stand for what they believe in and put it on wax.”

In the last year or so, your name has begun to cross over into more mainstream hip-hop circles. How has that changed what’s been going on with your movement?
I think more people are aware of what I’m doing. If anything, it’s made me be a little more intentional about addressing broader issues. Sometimes, as a Christian, you tend to talk about things that are only applicable within the Church or within the Christian community, instead of addressing a lot of elephants in the room that people who don’t go to church or have issues with the Church want addressed. Or just regular life stuff. I don’t always have to talk about me reading the bible or something along those lines. I do the same regular life things that most people do. More than anything, my message and mission has always been to give hope and inspiration and to see people transform.

Someone who isn’t a Christian or maybe is but isn’t religious, what would draw them to your music?
If somebody’s not rocking with what I believe, at the end of the day, I’m very passionate about the craft and the art. I’m gonna make sure I put out good art. I think anybody who loves hip-hop is gonna say, “I can’t deny: this is good hip-hop.” And that’s my whole reach records crew. We not gonna just put out something and say, “Well, because we believe in Jesus you should buy this;” we want it to be good art. On top of that, I can articulate some things that a lot people is like, “Okay, I can get that picture.” Plus, it’s just me right alongside what Brand Nubian has been doing, what Wu-Tang has done, what Lupe does—drop gems of faith in their music. You can rock with it or not.

Jeremy Lin shouted you out recently. Have you met him? What was that like?
Yeah, man. My Reach Records team and Trip Lee actually got out to New York and got some time to go to a game and hang out and get his perspective. He’s a fan. I love it. He’s family. I support J. Lin.

Do you ever resent the niche of this Christian hip-hop title that you’ve been given?
I remember when Eminem, I forgot the song ["My Dad's Gone Crazy"], but he was like, “I’d rather be a mutha****** gospel rapper.” I remember how that resonates through the culture. Like, “Man, that scene is wack.” The craft is frowned upon and it seems wack. So, for me, it’s more the presupposition of what that is and I don’t wanna be associated. Just call me hip-hop. Lecrae the person is a Christian, but my music is hip-hop, and I don’t want you boxing my music in because you have this presupposition of what it is. It’s frustrating at times, but little by little it’s starting to happen.

How do you break out of that box?
By making good music, building relationships, and then also—what’s funny is that in the Grammy’s, Christian music is the only music that is categorized off of content. Everything else is genre. Hip-hop is genre. When you start making content that everybody can relate to. That’s my aim now: to let people know that we care about a lot of the same things. We read the same books, we listen to the same songs, I have a different outlook about me sometimes, but we’re more alike than you can imagine.

  • http://www.djpdogg.com Dj Pdogg

    good interview.

  • LT

    He said, “I don’t always have to talk about me reading the bible or something along those lines. I do the same regular life things that most people do. ” Truth is those who have followed his music from the beginning know that his albums included songs that addressed broad topics than most theology heavy/preach Christian Rap.

    • cc

      Just wait for this mixtape that comes out tomorrow, and give it a chance.

  • wat

    He’s a good rapper but I just can’t like Christian rap. I’ve tried but I can’t. He should be a 2013 freshman, though, if it’s not too late by then.

    • mario

      just curious, why can’t you like that music?

      • real

        I would have to afree with wat. Im a christian and i listen to christian rap but i cant listen to it all day. its so repetitive that its ridiculous and it has nothing to do with God or the bible. Its just the creativity can be better and sometime you want to hear music thats not preaching to you all the time. Some music you can relate to thats just about human aspects and not based on theology. His song church clothes was a great attempt at what im saying. Hes still dope

        • ArnRdz

          Repetitive? Have you listened to mainstream (secular) rap? Which artists were you listening too?

    • jim

      @wat how should he be a 2013 freshmen when his gat 5 albums thats done numbers and this is jus his first mixtape..do a lil research before you judge him but then again thats ur opinion

  • Texas boi

    I remember when I use to listen to Lil Wayne, Drake and the other Wordly rappers. Then someone gave me a mixed cd with a couple of Lecrae songs on it. Then I realized how stupid I was for listening to Lil Wayne, Drake etc. Lecrae music had a purpose and I could relate. I got tired of hearing about money, cars, and women. I would listen to Lecrae and feel like ” yea I was in the same situation”. Dude has skills. I call him the 2pac of Christian Hip Hop. Can’t wait for Church Clothes. Let’s go 116

    • Ameliahh

      My exact same story!

  • Micah

    The entire Reach Records crew is insane. Lecrae, Trip Lee, Tedashii, Andy Mineo, KB, PRo…they’re finally starting to get recognized. I’m looking forward to the future of these artists. Should be awesome.

  • alonso chirwa

    i cant wait for the mixtape, it’s gonna be crazy.

  • rj

    He’s been a beast for years, but he hasn’t collabed with another rapper who is christian who is as equal or could be better than him as a rapper in Bizzle. Something he should think about

  • Drew

    Imma peep it and see what this dudes got.

  • ephecks

    A lot of “Christian rap” represents the worst of Christianity, particularly evangelicalism. Lecrae is no exception. The patriarchy in “Christian rap” is no better than the misogyny in “mainstream hip hop.”

    • Taylor

      How so? Not judging… as someone who’s listened to his last three albums, I’m honestly curious how you view Lecrae as “patriarchal”. Did he say stuff like that on his earlier work or did I miss something?

  • henry

    This dude’s good, raw, honest and good music, so happy he’s using some awesome producers.

  • jesusISking

    dude is a true believer, and he makes great music. good interview shows his character

  • truth720

    yo, this dude is a beast!
    he is the truth, hands down.
    got put on 2 him in 09, n haven’t met another mc that really impressed me as much ever since. i’m not talking christian wise, i’m talking hip hop in general.
    and no i’m not a christian.
    he is underrated!
    u can actually compare this dude to basically anyone!
    i vouch 4 him all day!

  • kh

    This mixtape is already sounding bananas. This is real hip hop, the game def needs this..

  • oasky

    This guy is dope, give it a chance…
    Cause at the end of the day people want the real, and not the fake. Christians ain’t perfect, we go through the same struggles like everyone else, there are no exclusions here on Earth..

  • http://www.yearofjubalee.com Juba Lee

    Love Lecrae. Been on him ever since After the Music Stops (that was his second). I am Christian but I understand what some folks saying about preaching in Christian hip hop. I love when music has substance though and isn’t about nothin’. I rap too and make a point not to be beating someone over the head with what I believe. He has a crazy sound though, you can’t deny that. I like the move he’s making. Get that music out there.

  • Kay Chilz

    I’m addicted to christian hip-hop and allergic to secular hip-hop.

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  • Brother Other

    I really enjoy what Lecrae and others like him are doing. Their music is not only substantive but also well done. I find it somewhat amusing that someone would say that gospel rap is repetitive, when secular rap generally only deals with money, sex, and violence.

    • Atheist & Proud

      Agree! I was listening to Meek Mill’s DreamChasers 2 the other day. Very repetitive. So for a change, i think we should this Lecrae dude a chance. Ironically I’m atheist and just discovered his music today. Nice!

  • CHICAGORilla

    Did you peep Lecrae’s very last answer! That summed up everything right there! I love the direction he’s moving in! I love what he’s doing with the music and everything! Pure dopeness!!! If this is your first time coming across dude don’t listen to him and think Christian Rapper think emcee w/ Christian content. If you rock with it cool and if not cool but don’t box him in off the rip. Give it a fair listen

  • http://www.lsmusicworld.tumblr.com LS

    This is gonna be MONUMENTAL!!!! The only other christain artist/group I’ve seen have broader influence is Mary Mary. Lecrae, in my opinion is the BEST christian rapper out. And being a christain and a rapper myself I totally relate to the frustrations of being boxed in cause your a christian. This mixtape is gonna be like Drakes “So Far Gone”…Game Changer!!!!

  • TRUE BELIEVER

    T.A.P YUNG LOVE AND TRUE REMEMBER THIS NAME FOLKS

  • nick

    i love where this dude is going! love his perspective and curious to see where he goes from here. DEFINITELY a solid candidate for Freshman 13!

  • Cee

    116!!! ALL DAY!!! EVERYDAY!!!

  • Atheist & Proud

    Listening to his mixtape “Church Clothes” now. I like it so far, and I think it’s a breath of fresh air. Although I’m an atheist I’m really enjoying listening to this. The production is as good as contemporary/”worldly” rappers, the lyrical isn’t coming too preachy to me.

    Keep up the good work, man!

  • Jdiddy

    Lecrea is hip hop at it’s best . I was a fan of hip hop till I was 22 years old. I left it when I got saved, not because I had become too “good,” but because it recognize that the majority of hip hop then and now represents self. It’s not truthful music. Reach Records has placed the focus back on truth – and then u get to hear about God at the same time.
    “it’s just music” – lol… I love it keep it up 116 “let’s get it”

  • http://xxlmag.com Gregory Goff

    My friends and I have exprienced many of the things he raps about. with him being a christian his response to lifes issues is christ based and for people who are not believers they may not be able to fully apprieciate his music….

  • dRE

    Lecrae is my of fav rappers because He’s a Christian, a follower of Christ based on what I’ve seen and heard. Now, Im just saying what’s in the Bible – in Eph. That God of the Christian is to make and sing songs to and for His glory. As long as Lecrae do that on the total product of future projects with those he colloborate (non-followers of Christ)….he’s cool! He’s keepin it REAL!

  • http://h2o-live.webs.com Samuel

    “They said, ‘Tone the music down, you might sell a lot of records, but there’s people out here dying and none of em heard the message!’ “

    • http://twitter.com/McGuck Jim McGuckin

      Funny because that’s exactly what Lecrae has been doing, toning the music down to reach more people which in turns sells more records. He is a hypocrite in need of a spiritual check and repentance.

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  • Rasmus J H

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  • BEASTM

    MAN YOU FELL DOWN!!!! BE TRUTHFUL TO GOD. WHY ARE YOU SAYING YOUR MUSIC IS HIP-HOP AND NOT CHRISTIAN MUSIC?

    - “Just call me hip-hop. Lecrae the person is a Christian, but my music is hip-hop, and I don’t want you boxing my music in because you have this presupposition of what it is”

    THE PURPOSE OF YOUR MUSIC IS TO PRAISE GOD, NOT BEING RELATABLE TO PEOPLE. DO IT BECAUSE YOU LOVE GOD. I STILL LIKE YOUR MUSIC, DONT GET ME WRONG, IT JUST THE REASON YOUR MAKING IT OR THE PURPOSE MIGHT NOT BE CLEAR NOW…

  • Angie

    im so confuzed did he curse?