A hectic day marred by of gray skies and rainy weather in the Big Apple handling press runs would not stop rapper Lecrae from saying he felt blessed. When I ask about his black t-shirt with an orange slash printed across it, he says it symbolizes the idea of not being a "robot" and going against the grain of societal ideals. As an artist currently at the forefront of bridging a gap between the hip-hop and Christian world, Lecrae knows all about being different, and it's working for him.
Not only was he featured in a BET Hip Hop Awards Cipher last October, but his latest mixtape Church Clothes has been downloaded over 200,000 times (over 100,000 times in 48 hours). The project is hosted by DJ Don Cannon, who has produced for a wide-range of notable hip-hop acts including 50 Cent, Ludacris, and Busta Rhymes. With poise and high-paced energy, Church Clothes isn't preachy or holier-than-thou. However, he isn't shy about rapping how he believes God has transformed him from a sinner to a saint.
A Houston native, Lecrae wasn't raised in the church. Early in his life he struggled with identify, being raised by a single mother, and seeking male role models in the streets.
After attending a Bible study with a friend in college, he eventually became saved at 19-years-old. This inspired him to use hip-hop to spread his faith and co-found Reach Records, which has a full roster of artists rooted in Christian values, and he released his first album Real Talk in 2004. Currently, Lecrae is rising in a musical genre defined by materialism and egotistical boasting. He's faced some skepticism from both the hip-hop and Christian worlds, who claim the two could never mix; yet he believes otherwise. He sat down with EBONY.com to explain why pulling these worlds together is a worthwhile challenge.
EBONY: So what has been the overall feedback of Church Clothes thus far?
Lecrae: Over 200,000 downloads, which has been phenomenal. I think it has really resonated with people. The biggest thing of all, people have appreciated the quality of the music and the hope in the music as well. The inspiration, the message, the truth, and I think that's what's been really encouraging. And I think people who are not typical Lecrae fans are hearing it now and that's really good.
EBONY: What's behind the name?
Lecrae: I named it "Church Clothes" because I wanted to address the very issue that people think they have to put on in order to come to God. If you want to put on a suit and come to church, fine. But it's a problem when you make people feel like, if you don't do this, you're not going to be accepted and God doesn't look at that. God says, "there's nothing you can do to be accepted, trust me and and let me change you." And at the end of the day, acceptance isn't about what I do, or what I don't do. Acceptance is about me trusting God to take me exactly as I am and take me to something different. And I think that's what we should have for people. It's about saying, hip hop, this is church. Church, this is hip-hop. Y'all need to meet. I know you have some misconceptions about them, I know you have some misconceptions about them. Let's work through this because there's a lot of false perspective.
I just want to be able to say "Hey, there's way more going on in life than the club."
EBONY: In the title track you stated, "Al and Jesse don't speak for me." Were you speaking from your perspective or a younger person's perspective?
Lecrae: I was speaking for a lot of young urbanites. Young people within hip-hop who are just like you know 'Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, they are not my representatives who speak on my behalf. And I know you want me to resonate (with) and believe in their message and what they have to offer, but I don't even trust those dudes if you really want to be honest and if you survey the territory, it's like I don't even trust them, they're pastors? C'mon now.' That's the perception.
EBONY: On your track "Sacrifice" you stated, "Folks wanna call this gospel rap/Nah, homeboy, this sacrifice." Explain this.
Lecrae: You know any listener would say, this doesn't sound like gospel music. You know, I think a hip-hop listener probably isn't a regular gospel music listener. So for you to say something is gospel to a hip-hop audience, says 'that's something I'm probably not going to be interested in.' Also what I was trying to articulate was, this is me sacrificing everything people think I should be chasing to bring hope and to bring inspiration. And some people would say o he's just trying to make those gospel moves. But for me, it's really not. I'm really just trying to bring hope to people and I'll sacrifice all the multiple things that come with