Photography By: Ben Rollins
The odds of a rapper who speaks about faith, monogamy and positive human growth forging his legacy in mainstream hip-hop seems rather unlikely, but then again, Lecrae goes entirely against popular culture's opinion of hip-hop. And despite some publications and hip-hop heads painting him into a corner as a "Christian Rapper," the Atlanta-by-way-of-Houston MC isn’t here to teach fans The Bible or to make them believe in any particular truth. Like some of the best MCs of our time—Nas, Jay Z, Scarface or Ghost—'Crae simply wants to paint a picture and tell his story, even if the lens through which he views the world might differ from others.
With a number of noteworthy media appearances and chart-topping LPs, coupled with a critically acclaimed mixtape and a Grammy award under his belt, Lecrae finds himself at work trying to tear apart the box that the world helped place him in, while simultaneously paving inroads for the next atypical lyricist. Who said originality was dead? —Marjua Estevez (@_MsEstevez)
On Hip-Hop Being Too Violent And Christianity Too Sanctified:
Lecrae: There are so many layers to that. From the Christian side, there’s a misconception that Christians are out to prove how much better they are than everyone else, point fingers at them—I think that’s the wrong perception. Jesus himself was like, "I didn’t come to condemn, but to save." He was hanging out with the prostitutes and the sinners. Christians, in reality, we’re just as jacked up as everybody else is, we just have our hope in a different place. And I think that’s the problem, we have a lot of bad representation in hip-hop.
As far as hip-hop and it being “too violent,” I just think as soon as people were able to make money, like real money off hip-hop, the corporate infrastructure started to kick in and began to tell us what to write and say, "Look, you not going to get paid unless you making these songs." If you want to talk about education or respect women or better yourself—it’s almost that slave mentality about, "Stop talking about good things and having good things and let’s keep each other down, let’s continue to spread lies."
On The Most Common Misconception Of Lecrae:
Lecrae: That I’m here to make an album where I’m trying to teach you The Bible. That’s not my goal. My goal is to just express myself with the lens that I see things through. When you hear J. Cole’s Born Sinner, he’s expressing himself through his lens. Or Wale, he’s a Muslim and you hear some of his expressions on how he sees the world. So I see the world through a particular lens. I respect women. I’m not going to talk about "make it clap." But it’s not that I’m here to say that you’re a terrible person because you do. It’s just that I’m saying, "Man this is what I’m about. This is what I do and feel about the situation." That’s what I’m out to do in terms of music. There’s a different side of the coin that I feel is underrepresented.
On Being Labeled A Christian Rapper:
Lecrae: When you hear that term “Christian Rap,” two things comes to mind. One: It’s only for Christians, so [you hear], "Oh, that’s not me, I’m Muslim or agnostic." And then two: It’s corny or it’s wack. You probably heard some song in the past that turned you off, and that’s not fair. That’s like my friends who don’t listen to hip-hop at all. They’ll hear one song on the radio one day and say, "I hate rap," when there’s way more stuff out there that’s not being played on the radio. When you look at myself, my team—when you listen to me, Andy Mineo, Trip, you hear quality music. We’re not trying to rap The Bible to you.
On Winning Best Gospel Album And Not Best Hip-Hop Album At The Grammys:
Lecrae: I don’t make the music to win the awards, I make the music ‘cause I love it and for the people. My concern is when hip-hop ignores truth and beauty and goodness because of a stigma. We’re only hurting ourselves when we’re ignoring truth, beauty and goodness, and that’s all that I’m trying to give to people. When you hear anything dope, you just say it’s dope. I just don’t want hip-hop to say, "Nah, we’re not interested in listening," because of the category we assume my music belongs in. I’m not concerned about being accepted or any of that type of stuff. I’m more along the lines of, I want to help the culture thrive, I want to push things forward.
Lecrae: If I’m going to be honest, for one, it’s about humility. It’s being able to take the criticisms and get beat up again and again. For me, it’s enduring a lot of criticism, enduring a lot of hate, it’s people snubbing you and side-eying you and passing you up and not caring anything about you. It’s me not giving up, me saying, "Okay, maybe I did sell more records than this dude, I could go in the Christian market and make way more money than this dude and have more fans than this dude, but I don’t see myself as better than him and I’m going to get in the ring with him and I’m going to sit in these same circles with these guys and keep going." For me it’s about trailblazing, ‘cause I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’m just barely making headway. But it’s all good. There’s going to be somebody after me who’s gon’ come and kill it. And I have made those inroads for them.
On Bridging The Gap To The Mainstream:
Lecrae: I’m evidence that the gap can be bridged. There’s a lot of people like me. When we come to New York at the Best Buy Theater, you know, it’s packed out because there’re a lot of people like me. Even if we don’t believe in the same truths or the same things, we relate on a lot of different levels. Everybody’s not popping bottles and throwing money at strippers. That’s not the real world. Everybody’s not stepping out of jets or selling drugs, and I think that’s what dominates the landscape. The reason why Macklemore is so successful is because real regular people can relate. That’s really what it comes down to. Being humble enough to continue being yourself and not feeling like you deserve anything. I’m doing this for the next generation, for the people, for the love of the art and the craft.
On The Haters:
Lecrae: I mean...your loss. I see that time and time again, but everyone’s had to break those boundaries. I saw people snub Macklemore—"This dude is wack, what is this?" But now look who’s changing the musical landscape. That’s not to say I’m going to do that, but it is to say that I wouldn’t keep pushing if I didn’t think that what I’m doing is effective and worthwhile. So yeah—you’ll see, stay tuned. Come to a show, it’s real. Any artist on my label, I’ll put ‘em toe to toe with any great MC. These dudes really rap, they really spit.
On Being Independent:
Lecrae: I think it’s the way to go. That’s the future if you really want to make waves and not be conformed to whatever everybody else wants you to be. A lot of times the corporate infrastructure just doesn’t get you because they’re a machine, they’re used to just plugging in, running and getting the check. But I’m connected with people. I’m out performing in front of 20,000 people at a concert. I know what the people want because I’m there in front of them, versus the machine who’s just trying to capitalize on what I’ve already done. And two, if you really want to be a change agent, sometimes you gotta just take it in your course because most people just want to exploit you and are not interested in who you are. As an independent, you get to be about what you really about and be as authentic as you want to be without being diluted.
On Signing To A Major Label:
Lecrae: We’ve had tons of offers. But I still think the people are slow on the curve. Either they want to put me on a song with the biggest gospel singer or they just don’t quite get it enough, they only see the dollar signs. But we don’t want to ruin what we got going on. We are authentically hip-hop, we are authentically Christian, and that’s okay. There’s a place for us. And plus I grew up on Russell Simmons and loving Diddy and seeing Steve Stoute do what he did and it’s like, "Wow, these dudes are doing it."
On No Malice Refusing To Make Music That Doesn’t Glorify God:
Lecrae: I can respect his perspective and his desire to grow and standing by his conviction. That’s his conviction and I respect it. I don’t know—it all depends on what he means at the end of the day. He could say music with kick drums doesn’t glorify God, and I would say I disagree. But if that’s your conviction, I respect you. So I don’t know what he means exactly, when he said music that doesn’t glorify God. But if he’s talking about not wanting to talk about selling work anymore, I’m like, great. Not only does it not glorify God, it’s not a good look for us as a culture to glorify detrimental things. If you want to paint a picture, tell the story, but don’t glorify it.
On Going Against His Faith:
Lecrae: Another common misconception is that we’re perfect people. But we’re not, we’re people who embrace our imperfections. That’s what a Christian is, a person who embraces his imperfections and says, "Man, I am so not perfect and I need to put my trust in someone who is." That’s me, ‘cause I don’t carry myself like I got it all together, I carry myself like I know who does. So all the time, I mess up all the time. But I have a power, a strength and faith to keep me following in what I believe in and get back on track.
On Challenges And Roadblocks:
Lecrae: If people don’t respect you or respect your craft or respect what you do and treat you as such—respect. That’s the biggest thing. My power has been in being humble. Like when I say, "Yo man, I’d love to do a song with you or work on a record with you," and you’re like, "Who? Who is that?" You get what I’m saying? It’s like, okay, cool, I’ll humbly explain to you who I am and what I got going on and it’s not a big deal. That’s been a challenge.
I remember talking to this producer and he was like, "Yeah, there’s this guy named Nas," and I was like, "Really? That’s how you gon’ come at me—there’s a guy named Nas, like I don’t know who Nas is?" That’s the kind of stuff I deal with. Those are the challenges I got to deal with.
On Fans' Reactions:
Lecrae: "My life is different now, from listening to your music." Ya know. That’s huge, when someone comes up to you and says, "I’m not the same." I literally, before I got on the phone, was at a concert hall and the guy that set me up was like, "Yo, I just got out of prison and I was listening to your music heavy when I was locked up and it got me through some tough times." That’s what it’s all about. It’s that type of life transformation why I keep doing what I do.