Who was that mystery man in the 2011 BET Cypher? Wait. Did he just mention Jesus?
If you’re a Hip-Hop head, get ready to know Lecrae, the Atlanta rapper who spit some golden bars during the Cypher this year. He’s the latest buzz from the South, but listen carefully, and you’ll hear that he’s not your average MC. Lecrae is a proud, professed Christian, but in all fairness, he just wants to be considered a great rapper with a positive message to go along with his skills.
Lecrae’s name is all over the place right now, thanks in part to a feature on an upcoming album that has just about every other good name in the business on it, too. The name he wants you to remember, however, is Jesus. There is absolutely no shame in Lecrae’s game when it comes to the “Big Man Upstairs” and his sacrificing son, so AllHipHop.com was eager to learn more about the relative newcomer and possibly get “blessed” at the same time:
AllHipHop.com: OK, you’ve been buzzing like crazy lately, sir! I wanted to make sure we got a chance to talk to you. For those who don’t know you, what has changed in your life recently that now has your name spilling all over the place?
Lecrae: I think, obviously, a lot of heavy, consistent performing. Social media probably plays a large role into that, and then being able to do the feature with Statik Selektah, being in the studio with him on his Population Control album. And then, obviously, the buzz around the BET Hip Hop Awards, so it’s kinda like everything hit at the same time.
AllHipHop.com: I was at the BET Hip Hop Awards a week and a half ago and I saw you in the Cypher, and quite frankly, I think you held your own above and beyond a lot of the guys and ladies in the Cypher this year. What’s a good Christian boy like you doing in the BET Cypher?
Lecrae: [laughter] Well, I’m authentically Hip-Hop, and I’m authentically Christian. I grew up in Hip-Hop, so it’s not a foreign culture to me; I’m not just visiting. I’m just somebody who’s within Hip-Hop and believes in Jesus. I’m a real person, so I’m gonna be a hundred in everything that I’m about. Some people are about their gang, and they’re 100 percent behind that. I’m about my faith. I’m 100 percent all-in.
AllHipHop.com: So, you’re “Team Jesus.” Are you purposely trying to merge the two parts of yourself – the rapper and the Christian man? Do they just happen to exist at the same time?
Lecrae: I think it’s just natural. It’s funny because Bun B from UGK, he called me, and he said the first thing he picked up on and said was, “You’re not trying to be a rapper; you’re not trying to be Christian. It sounds like you’re just kind of both of them. It’s just who you are.”
It’s like I don’t think Lupe is trying to be eclectic or intellectual. I think he’s just an intellectual rapper like that. It’s just who he is. For me, it’s like, just me.
AllHipHop.com: Well, I mentioned that I was in the audience at the BET Hip Hop Awards, and when you spit your bars in the Cypher, I did the Jay-Z stanky face! Like I turned to my partners like, “Ugggh, whoa!” I thought, if this guy ever really takes off, there might be some cats out here who get ‘saved’ and didn’t realize they were about to! How much of your content is spiritual versus everyday life stuff?
Lecrae: I try to do a good blend. I mean, everybody goes through similar things. I think we just look for different answers for our issues. I think everyone wrestles with all kinds of struggles and hardships, and for me, I truly believe that God is the one person who can really satisfy us and get us through those things.
So, that’s why I’m always telling the same stories; I just have a different solution every time. I’m real sensitive to people. I really love people, and I want to let people know that I’m not here to condemn them or tear them down. I want to help them, and pull them up, and point them in the right direction.
AllHipHop.com: Well, personally, I think you’re really good. I haven’t heard a ton of your material, but what I have heard and what I saw you do in the Cypher, I think you’re on to something. A lot of people, including myself, might say there hasn’t been a truly “Hip-Hop” Christian rapper until now, until you. Who influenced you? Are there other Christian rappers that you can name that kind of paved the way for you?
Lecrae: Obviously, just being brought up in Hip-Hop and being an 80s kid, and watching TV in the 90s was an influence on my life. You know, just being a kid, coming home from school and watching Yo! MTV Raps and Rap City on BET, you’re just influenced.
But, for me, it wasn’t until I was in Atlanta and I ran into this group of dudes called Cross Movement. They were from Philly, and they was just some rugged Philly dudes with Tims and baggy jeans on and stuff like that. They were rapping for Jesus, and it was like wow, this is crazy. I had never seen anything like that, and that’s what kind of put me on initially. I think they definitely paved some ways for me, too.
AllHipHop.com: OK, well, I’m definitely going to check for them. A few weeks ago, I was at Statik Selektah’s house interviewing him in the studio, and you were one of the names that he bragged about. He was so excited to have you on Population Control, which is a big pat on the back to you, considering the caliber of artists that he brought together on the album.
When you look for your music, do you primarily go for secular DJs and producers because they’ve got that authentic Hip-Hop sound? Or, are there people within the Christian world who help you with it?
Lecrae: I mean, for me, it’s definitely about good music. Obviously, you would love to connect with somebody from the beat to the final product on a spiritual level. That’s not always the case, but it’s about making good music for me and building relationships. So, you know, there’s guys who are making incredible music who are Christians, like S-1 who does stuff for Jay and Beyonce’ and Kanye. For me, I’m not really so much strung up on ‘are you a Christian DJ or producer?’ That really doesn’t have any bearings on my message or music.
AllHipHop.com: For Statik in particular, why do you think he made sure to mention your name when he talked to me about the album?
Lecrae: Honestly, I think there’s a mutual respect. I think he just respects – which I wish a lot of people in Hip-Hop would – he just respects talent. I told him it’s a God-given gift. He was like, “Yo, man, I respect the gift. You really are authentically Hip-Hop, and you take your craft seriously.”
I think a lot of Christians haven’t done that in the past. Your first taste of Christian rap is mostly like, ‘that’s wack,’ and I think that’s sad. I think we should be good artists. So that’s kind of where I’m at with it, and I think that’s what Statik felt. Aside from that, he’s just cool. We just connected on a lot of levels. He’s a good dude in terms of us connecting on the music, life experiences, and so on and so forth.
AllHipHop.com: I would guess that talking your kind of talk is tricky to maneuver, especially in Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop’s really, heavily Black male-dominated. When I think of the audience, maybe there aren’t a ton of churchgoers, maybe some. How do you keep the “swagger” in your music?
Lecrae: [laughter] Again, I think it’s not even something I have to fake. It’s just authentic, man, it’s just who I am. I grew up in the culture, and there’s a lot of us out here. We’re looking for places to congregate, you know? Places to meet up. So, you know, we developed little relationships and festivals, stuff where, you know, it’s cats who are engulfed in Hip-Hop culture but are Christian.
It’s little but there are things like that going on. For the most part, it’s my community who embraces who I am, and they’re not trying to make me into a choirboy with a robe on or wearing suits and ties. They respect where I’m coming from, and who I am. They don’t try to change nothing about me.
AllHipHop.com: So, I have maybe a tough question for you, but a lot of ladies will be happy if you answer this in a way that helps us out. My homegirls and I were just talking about Black men and how a lot of you won’t even venture into church and Christianity. Why is that? Does the Black man overall feel like Jesus has failed him? How can we get guys to see that loving the Lord is cool?
Lecrae: Two things – I think one is that the picture of Jesus that has been portrayed historically has been this frail, weak, lamb-kissing Jesus with an “Ultra Perm.” [laughter] So, dudes just can’t get with that, you know? It’s kind of like, ‘that’s not a model I want to look after.’
Me and my label, Reach Records, we just did a project called “Man Up,” and basically it tries to portray an accurate picture of who Jesus was, and what the man looked like. You know, He was a carpenter, and He’s coming back wearing all white to defeat his enemies…a man with a tattoo on His side…King of Kings, Lord of Lords. So, if you come to fight with all white on, you’re a bad boy! That’s a picture of the real king, the real Jesus.
The other thing is I think that American Christianity in the urban circles is real feminized. You don’t really see a lot of masculine roles or masculine dudes. It’s mostly ladies and dudes that are feminine. So, it’s like, ‘what am I supposed to do here?’ Should I sit here and sing these songs that are a little too girlie for me? It’s just not where we see ourselves, so until we get a different picture – that’s one of the things I would love to paint for people…a different view of Christianity – that’s gonna be an issue.
We’re now seeing churches get men together and do different kinds of things, like fight clubs, and going on foreign trips, and jumping out of planes and landing in different countries. You know, a little more adventurous stuff and articulating our faith through Hip-Hop. I’m masculine. But until more of that happens, it always gonna be kind of like, ‘church is for girls.’ And, it’s REALLY not.
AllHipHop.com: I like that, Lecrae. So, by the time most people read this story, they will have seen you in the BET Cypher, eating up a few cats. There were some unique examples this year of people who you wouldn’t think would eat up other rappers – like you who isn’t grimy or thuggy…and Chris Brown! He’s not even a rapper! What’s next for you? Where can people see you next?
Lecrae: I’ll be traveling, and I’ll be on tour. Follow me on Twitter at @lecrae and on Facebook to keep up with me. But I’ll be traveling…me and my label are actually about to tour Africa. That’s something I think a lot of Hip-Hop artists should do – go back to the Motherland. So I look forward to doing that. Keep your eyes peeled. You never know where I might show up.
AllHipHop.com: That Africa trip sounds dope. I was actually in Africa a few months ago watching Kanye West perform “Jesus Walks” in front of a crowd of 50,000 Muslims. Some of them knew the words, and they chanted ‘Jesus walks!!’
AllHipHop.com: Yeah, it was powerful, so hopefully you’ll make a similar impact over there, and change some of their thoughts about Americans and Christians and Black men and all kinds of things. So, before we wrap up…these are super tough times we’re living in. People are losing money; they’re losing jobs. As things get worse, people’s actions seem to be getting worse. What’s your message of hope, especially for urban young people?
Lecrae: I would say money is a tool. It’s not the answer. It’s not the end. It’s a tool to accomplish goals and accomplish things. Ultimately, God is the provider of the tool, so if you’re trusting in the provider, you don’t have to worry or trust in the tool. The hope I would give people is that, at the end of the day, there’s no guarantee on this side of life that everything is going to go the way we want it to go.
God guarantees that those who trust in Him will have a hope that lasts forever. You may not see it now, and He may not get you out of it, but He will get you through it.
AllHipHop.com: Good words from a good dude. Thanks, Lecrae. We need more people like you in the game!