Posted October 23, 2016 by Jeff in Tunes

Lecrae: Music that endures

Lecrae, credit Mary Caroline Mann
Lecrae, credit Mary Caroline Mann

Rapper Lecrae’s last album, 2014’s Anomaly debuted at the top of the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart and was recently certified gold. In the wake of that album’s success, the spiritual rapper signed a record deal with Columbia, which will release a forthcoming album. In the meantime, Lecrae has announced a fall tour he’s dubbed “The Destination Tour, You’re Accepted.” He phoned us from the office of his Atlanta-based record label where he said he was wearing his “executive hat.”

What kind of music were you initially drawn to growing up?
I grew up with music being constantly played around the clock. There was never a moment when my mother wasn’t cleaning and listening to music or we weren’t driving listening to the radio. Even as a kid I had to wrestle between watching cartoons on Saturday morning and watching MTV on Saturday morning.  I would eat, sleep and breathe music.

At what point did you start writing your own tunes?
Probably around 11. I had some next door neighbors who were in an aspiring R&B group. Every R&B group needs a rap bridge. I was their go-to guy for rap bridges.

Did you listen to more old school or new school hip-hop?
On a personal level, I listened to new school. My cousins were big hip-hop heads and aspiring break dancers and DJs. They were older than me and they always made sure that I was inspired by old school hip-hop as well. They would always critique the latest and juxtapose that with classic hip-hop.

You formed a label to put out your first record.
It was kind by default. I was creating hip-hop but at the same time I also embraced my newly found faith. I wanted to know who wanted this music. The doors were closed on both sides. The faith-based world thought it was rap. It wasn’t the traditional style of articulating what you believe in. The mainstream side thought it was good rap but there were lots of spiritual references and didn’t know what it is. I just wanted to bring it direct to the consumer. That was the route we took. We wanted to take it directly tot the people who could appreciate it.

What was it like to make that first album?
It was absolutely fun. I was working at a cable company and I was installing and doing customer service. Every night, I was going home to produce this album on a beat machine that I had gotten from Sam Ash or something like that. It was rejuvenating to work on it every night. To see the 9 to 5 disappear was great.

Do you think it’s still the case that spiritual rap doesn’t have a home?
It’s definitely changed. Kanye kicked some doors open with “Jesus Walks” and Chance the Rapper has all kinds of spiritual references. Kendrick Lamar is the same way. Hip-hop used to have this tough edge and bravado to it. Now, Drake can come out and be himself. He’s not a gangster or a tough guy. I think that also opened the door for me to be myself.

In 2013, you partnered with NBA player Dwyane Wade, filmmaker Art Hooker, and Joshua DuBois, the former head of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships under the Obama administration, to create “This Is Fatherhood” campaign. “How’d that come about?
A good friend of mine, Josh DuBois, who headed up Obama’s My Brothers’ Keeper initiative and things along those lines, connected me with D. Wade to tackle this fatherhood initiative. For us, we want to provide a tangible example of fatherhood. It lives on in us in examples. D. Wade is a great visible father for his children and I’m trying to see tangible expressions of fatherhood too.

Obama has been an inspiration for the past eight years, but how have race relations deteriorated?
I think the issues never went away. They were pacified and subdued. It’s similar to keeping the peace and making the peace. If it’s a married couple and nobody is fighting, you’re keeping the peace. Maybe there are some underlying issues that you need to resolve. To deal with them, you have to bring them up. I hope we bring up these things and make peace and will actually deal with them and resolve them collectively as a nation.

Talk about the making of the recent Church Clothes 3 mixtape.
It was really fun to make it, just being able to get in the studio with S1, who is one my great friends and an amazing producer. He does stuff for Beyonce and Kanye and Jay-Z. We just have a similar vision and passion artistically. I wanted him to executive produce it. It was fun being in a studio with E-40 to concoct some great music.

To put something out that was timeless was a passion project.

I like the song “Gangland,” which combines dance music, spoken word and rapping. Talk about how it came together.
“Gangland” is really an articulation of how African-American gangs, the Bloods and the Crips, had their origins. People don’t understand their origins. They were the bastards of the Black Panther parties. They wanted to emulate those guys but they didn’t have the Stanford education that some of those Panthers had. They were doing the best they could to protect their environments. It turned on them and imploded and became a volatile problem within the urban community.

What inspired you to write about that topic?
I grew up for a large period of my life in a gang neighborhood. I was heavily influenced by gang culture. A lot of my family members have suffered the consequences of that lifestyle. I’ve lost friends and family. That was something near and dear to my heart. There’s a lot of condemnation that comes down on the current state and the current gang members without people understanding the origins and how it came to be. You’re a little more compassionate and empathetic when you see the origins of it.

Have books been written about the topic?
There’s one great book from a Los Angeles historian called Bastards of the Party. The author writes about the origins of these gangs as he walks through L.A.’s history.

What else are you working on?
Of course, the tour. I love live production and bringing a show. The music is only a portion of it. I’m a performer. I love for people to feel and taste and experience the show. Kanye, Beyonce, Kings of Leon and U2 put on these incredible shows I want to emulate that. It’s all preceding an album which I feel will be a timeless piece of work that articulates what we need to hear in this day and age.

Talk about the deal with Columbia.
We get to tap into their range of influence and all the people there. With my last album, we did a gold album independently. That was based on the word of mouth and the support of our fans.  Columbia is a tastemaker. They bring different people to the table. We want that kind of exposure. It’s a timeless label. They won’t just push something out there. They’ll give it care and nurture the project. It’s a good partnership.

Is the album done?
It’s about 90 percent done.


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Columbia, SC – Music Farm

Raleigh, NC – The Ritz

Norfolk, VA – Norva

Silver Springs, MD – The Fillmore

New York, NY – Irving Plaza

Philadelphia, PA – The Living Arts

Toronto, ON – Danforth Music Hall

Niagara Falls, NY – Rapids Theatre

Cleveland, OH – House of Blues

Detroit, MI – Majestic Theatre

Grand Rapids, MI – The Intersection

Milwaukee, WI – The Rave II

Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue

Chicago, IL – Concord Music Hall

Columbus, OH – Newport Music Hall

Cincinnati, OH – Bogarts

Chattanooga, TN – Track 29

Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel

Photo: Mary Caroline Mann


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].