The name of Lecrae’s sixth commercial album implies right from the start that it will be heavy. If you had said the same thing about any of his prior albums it would certainly be true. Lecrae has at times taken his Christian message beyond “preachy” and straight into “proselytizing.” One verse from his album “After the Music Stops” took it into downright dangerous territory, as the faith-minded rapper vowed he’d walk through the heart of the Middle East to convert non-believers: “If the violence doesn’t cease then at least the deceased/might know Jesus as their savior as their body hit the streets.” Even if you don’t pray to Allah, that’s borderline offensive, and in many Islamic countries would get you jailed (or worse) for crimes against the state. I’ll take your belief seriously, whatever it might be, if you aren’t (1.) forcing it on me or anyone else and (2.) not proclaiming all other beliefs are inferior. In one fell swoop he seemed to do both.
I had largely been ignoring Lecrae in the interim between then and now – aware of his existance but not really interested in his seeming intolerance toward other faiths. Over the last month though the good word spread about “Gravity,” and many who thought Lecrae was narrowcasting to the Bible Belt were surprised to see his album on the top of secular Billboard charts. To be truly fair and open-minded, I had to give Lecrae a second chance and find out if he had earned this newfound fame. A little background research revealed he had done a free album called “Church Clothes” with popular mixtape king Don Cannon, and that lead me to believe that Lecrae was really trying to revamp his image. The thing that haunts most Christian rappers isn’t the Holy Ghost – it’s the idea that all they do is spit chapter and verse like a pastor on Sunday except in rhyme form. To go mainstream Lecrae would have to go hard on the beats and the bars and show the world he can hang with any emcee.
“I’m riding round and I’m gettin it; they ridin around pretendin
I been had it, I been done it, I promise that it’s all empty
They say they ridin Bugattis, man put some babies through college
Quit tryin to act like the trap is cool, cause we tired of hearin that garbage
Hey bags of white, pints of lean, I been knowin dope boys since a teen
But this ain’t what we meant to be, and y’all don’t make no sense to me
You pump fakin, ain’t shootin; ain’t killin, ain’t doin
Half them thangs you say you doin, but 116 we stay true and
ain’t dope dealin, ain’t po’ pimpin
Talkin ’bout my own folk killin”
The Heat Academy production of “Fakin'” is impressive, sounding like any cranked up down South song you’d hear from Bun B or Juicy J, but Lecrae’s verbiage impresses the most. “Quit tryin to act like the trap is cool” is not only the kind of sentiment I can get behind, it’s delivered with an authority and conviction that has nothing to do with religion. That’s not to say Jesus doesn’t get dropped in these bars, but it is to say you could listen to the whole song and not notice, because it’s not the topic. You can be any religion or NO religion and address people being fake, because like any other genre of music or entertainment, a lot of artists will sell you an image that has nothing to do with the truth. That’s not necessarily insulting though until they try to pretend they’re living how they’re acting instead of acting for a living, and Lecrae calling them out for “Fakin'” is no different than Guru calling for hip-hop to have a “Moment of Truth” (may he rest in peace).
“Gravity” was full of surprises for me, not the least of which was seeing Big K.R.I.T. cameo on the song “Mayday,” which also features some super clean production from DJ Khalil. “Don’t get it twisted, I ain’t no saint, I ain’t no pastor/but prayin ain’t just for cloudy days and natural disasters.” It’s not really about the cameos on this one though, and with no diss meant, to some degree it’s not even about ‘Crae. If you’re the kind of hip-hop listener who won’t listen to Christian rap on principle because the production is cheesy (and let’s all be honest, a lot of it is) then “Gravity” will hit you like a ton of bricks. Who watches The Watchmen? I do after hearing the soulful Kanye-style sound of “Walk With Me.” They reoccur throughout the album, from the electronic and synth heavy “I Know” to the hard marching posse song “Falling Down” featuring Swoope and Trip Lee. The aforementioned Heat Academy also have multiple hits: “Tell the World,” “Buttons” and the the single “Lord Have Mercy” featuring Tedashii:
“Dark past, full of evil endeavors (ungh)
Heart clean never black and ugly as ever
However – I seen my family die from them rocks
Them beams on blocks, includin my own pops
Homey I seen too much, to drink them two cups
Can’t lean on the lean already way too screwed up
Was way too gone, I was way too cold
Fifty yard Hail Mary I was way too throwed
I was Tarzan raised by gorillas and the beasts
High on them trees when I gorilla’d the beast
Then that truth came hit me, got me outta my grave
All my partners say I’m changed – how am I gon’ stay the same?
It’s fair to say after listening to “Gravity” I’ve done a 180 on Lecrae. In the past I thought he was too stuck in his own ways and too concerned with converting heathens to ever have a broad appeal. Perhaps over time he’s realized you catch more flies with honey, or whatever other cliche you’d like, is a more effective approach. God is still a part of his rap, and there’s still a message, but it’s a much more subtle and nuanced approach which is backed up by rhyming that’s more than just effective – it’s pretty damn good. Giving him a second chance and the benefit of the doubt proved to me he deserves the accolades he’s currently receiving, and I’m going to give him one more – if you’ve never heard a Christian rapper you could get down with before, Lecrae will change you. I’m not saying he’ll change a heathen to a God-fearing man too, but then again, with this approach he’ll definitely win more converts than walking down the streets of Tehran with a Bible in one hand and a cross in the other. I applaud his new approach and pray for religious tolerance from ALL faiths.