I had never cried off of hip hop before--then Lecrae. The 33-year-old rap star had just gotten hype at the McDonald’s Inspiration Celebration concert in Maryland, performing his Christian-message hits, jumping higher than any Que Dawg, and getting the crowd dancing like it was Friday night (instead of a Thursday evening). But for his final song, “Just Like You,” Lecrae cut the music. We stopped dancing. We just listened. He started rapping about a drug-addled father who was never there and the Father who always was, who changed him, and whom he now lives to be “just like.” And we started worshipping.
Teens, young adults, even older attendees who had only come to see Tamela Mann and veteran gospel artists John P. Kee, Vickie Winans and Smokie Norful, were on their feet, hands in the air, thanking God. As the spirit in this song filled me up, gratitude spilled out of me, too, for the obvious gift God had given to this artist to speak words that touched us all in different ways and for different reasons, but ended with the same result: total praise. Lecrae is a man on fire, unashamed and on a mission.
Just before he blew us all away, I caught up with the married, father of three—with six albums to his name--backstage to talk about the message behind the music, those persistent Jay-Z rumors, and the pressure of fame and faith.
EBONY.com: First, loved your latest album, especially the title track, “Gravity.” You’re rapping about “a place where there’s no gravity” – I take that to mean a place free from sin. But what does that mean to you?
Lecrae: “Gravity” really represents the falleness of this world and the weight and heaviness of it all. And no matter how much power, pleasure, or possession you can acquire, there’s still that weight. You can be the richest person in the world, it’s not going to stop your mother from passing away. Pleasure is just this endless chase. [I'm] just saying that we all want to be free from the gravity, everyone is looking for that and [with this album] I just tried to give some dialogue about what it looks like, to be free from the weight of this world.
EBONY.com: On your song “Co-sign,” it sounds like you’re saying you don’t necessarily want to be considered a Christian rapper anymore but just a rapper who’s a Christian. When did that change come about? Do you see it as a change?
Lecrae on the McDonald's Inspiration Celebration Tour
Lecrae: Yeah, you know, as I’ve gotten a little more acknowledgement in mainstream music, one of the things I’ve noticed is that there are so many stigmas attached to names. And I think my music comes with a message that I want everybody to hear and I don’t want a stigma to keep a person from hearing the message. I will obviously never deny being a Christian, that’s my faith, my identity. But I don’t want my music to be categorized with a presupposition. So sometimes people hear a term and they say, “Aw. I don’t like it.” Before they even give the music a chance. My big thing is just getting rid of all of the presuppositions so people can just sit with the music and allow it to speak to them.
EBONY.com: It can seem for Christians who are not new to the faith that everyone’s goal, whether it’s musicians, artists, preachers, it’s to reach out to those outside the faith and find ways to do that that won’t turn people outside the faith off and those who are a little farther along can sometimes be left out of that. Do you consider your main goal to reach new people and bring them to the faith?
Lecrae: No, no, no. If you’re swimming in the deep end of the spiritual pool, so to speak, you’re farther along in your faith, I think the music is still very rich. There are a lot of parables in there, a lot of depth that you would have to come through to really grasp the message. [You may hear] cliché terms like, “Don’t live for this world.” They’re cliché terms but when you start unpacking that and what that looks like in song and story, I think that really helps a more mature believer say, “Man, that’s deep. That’s enriching and fulfilling.”
EBONY.com: There was a little bit of controversy surrounding your “Confessions of a Millionaire” video. People were saying they saw Illuminati signs in the video. Were you aware of that? What’s your response when people say things like that?
Lecrae: It gets to a point where, anything that is not just blatant, if there’s any kind of symbolism, it just gets equated as negative or it’s demonized. The Bible uses plenty of symbols so I think symbolism is not