Editor’s Note: Rapper Lecrae’s new album, All Things Work Together, drops today (Plugged In will review it soon). With featured mainstream performers such as Ty Dolla $ign, the album appears to be a departure for the Christian rapper, and a bid to increase his reach into the secular music world. But while Lecrae might not relish being labeled a “Christian rapper” (and certainly, with plenty of praise and a No. 1 album, Anomaly, to his credit, he can hold his own with anyone), he’s not distancing himself from his faith. “I mean that’s just who you are,” he recently told Forbes.
To mark the release of Lecrae’s new album, Plugged In is re-running a portion of an interview with the rapper conducted in 2014 by Bob Waliszewski after Anomaly was released.
Rapper Lecrae is one of the world’s most acclaimed hip-hop artists. Not just the Christian world, mind you. The whole world. Last week he shot to the top of the Billboard 200 album chart with Anomaly—his seventh studio album that in its first week sold more than 88,000 copies. Secular reviewers have praised Lecrae for his wordplay and musical virtuosity, and Plugged In’s own Adam Holz said that, on Anomaly, Lecrae had a “laser-like focus on how surrendering to Christ transforms our identity—both our sense of who we are and where we look for in significance in life.” And he’s not just involved in music, either. He’ll be appearing in the Christian film Believe Me, coming out Friday.
But Lecrae’s life wasn’t always so picture perfect. Before he started walking with God, he was running the other way—and fast. And even when he became a Christian, life wasn’t so easy. “The Lord chastens whom He loves,” Lecrae told me.
I had a chance to talk with Lecrae earlier this month about his music, his movie and his walk with God. You can read the first part of our talk today, where we discuss his music, the changing industry and how faith turned his life around:
Bob Waliszewski: Lecrae, you’ve had a chance to share your testimony via music, via your talks, via your website, an I Am Second video. You’ve probably talked about Christ with untold millions. I want to know about one or two kids who’ve come to Jesus because of something that you said or a song you’ve rapped.
Lecrae: One that comes to mind is a young girl who was having a lot of difficulty at home. She was consistently running away and was a non-believer. [She] felt lost and had run away for what in her mind was the last time and she was going to stay away. And it just so happened that a friend had downloaded my free project on a website that is generally mainstream hip-hop. Not knowing any different, she saw that my project was pretty highly ranked and [although she] didn’t know who I was, downloaded and began to listen to it. And one of the particular songs really struck a chord in her and she found herself broken down. She returned home […and] begged her mother for forgiveness. That began the restoration and she eventually became a Christian and is still consistently at home. That was very powerful moment that I’ll never forget.
Also, recently, I found myself at a conference and I called an audible …in my presentation of the Gospel, I kind of bumbled and fumbled through it a little bit ’cause I was a little rusty. But afterward I got a knock on my tour bus which was kind of strange. It was a father and his son. The father explained that his son had just come to Christ through [my] presentation. Then, the son walked me through what exactly I had said that resonated with him. That was a pretty powerful moment as well.
Waliszewski: I know you came to Christ at age 17. I heard you say that you were quite a partier and quite the gangsta, trying to live that lifestyle. For our audience, give us the quick version of your coming to Jesus Christ.
Lecrae: Essentially for me, the concept of Christianity was regulated and limited to grandmothers and pious people who dressed a particular way. … What happened was people who were unafraid to speak truth to me and befriend me invited me to places. They really shook me and took me for a loop. I went because of their genuineness, their love and their consistency. I just kept coming back to their functions and meetings. One of these happened to be an event where there were a lot of people who looked like me, talked like me, dressed like me, but were in love with Jesus and I had never seen anything like that. I was really intrigued. That particular night a man named Jim White—who is still a great mentor to me today—articulated the Gospel and showed me that what I was doing was fighting for significance. [I came to realize] that was a dead end and that Jesus had paid the price for me and I was significant because of God making me in his image. I can be redeemed and restored. That was the process for me—dropping all the values that I had, all the ideals I had, the ideas of gangsterism or false sense of masculinity, and leaving all that behind and embracing Jesus.
Waliszewski: When some people come to Christ, it seems like all their past and all their past garbage instantly drops off and they become this kind of Mother Theresa-like person. But your testimony is a lot different than that. It sounds like you went through more of a process.
Lecrae: The Lord chastens whom he loves. I was fortunate that God just really chastened me in that time period. If a shepherd loves his sheep and the sheep belongs to him and the sheep keeps running away, he eventually breaks the leg of the sheep and carries him where he needs to go. It was evident that I belong to God and I had to get my leg broken and kind of hoisted over His shoulder and carried to a place of restoration.
[When I struggled, it was because of] a lack of community, a lack of consistent believers in my life and a lack of embracing the discipleship process. Plus, I was trying to be a rogue and do it on my own, in my own power and in my own strength. Then it was one failure then two, then the next thing I know I’m living in consistent sin and internal turmoil. God just kept beating me up and putting road blocks in my way until on a fateful day I ended up with my car totaled. I had just gotten stitches in my eye from a fight, and broken up with a girlfriend so I was in really bad shape. At that point of time, I was just tired, I was tired of running. I thank God for the community of believers that opened their arms and embraced me and nurtured me back to health.
Waliszewski: You’re sometimes criticized for being in concert with secular musicians, some whom are far from squeaky clean. What do you say when people tell you that you’re missing God by hanging out with secular musicians?
Lecrae: I can understand the perspective. When it pertains to things like music, we really don’t have a paradigm or a understanding of how all that works. Obviously, we wouldn’t let somebody who is not a believer come in the pulpit in church and preach a sermon, but how do we have a conversation with that person and is it OK to record that conversation, even though they’re saying things that are anti-biblical? So it’s about being salt and being light. Obviously, I wouldn’t let anybody say anything harmful or extremely contrary on my projects, nor would I team up with somebody and kind of give people the impression that someone was a Christian when they weren’t. But at the end of the day for me it’s more so about being a missionary, a cultural missionary and using my platform to invite people from all backgrounds to come and see and taste and see that God is good.
Waliszewski: Plugged In referred to your Gravity album as “Christian hip-hop at its very finest.” which, believe me, is high praise. I know you get a lot of praise. But I know like everybody you have your haters, too. How do you stay grounded?
Lecrae: I think there is a lot of layers to it, but I know one major piece of that battle—what a lot of people don’t realize—is the years of God revealing a different level or different layer of this “acclaim” or “fame.” It hasn’t been just an onslaught of it. I think He really began to work on my heart years and years ago [with just] a handful of people in the crowd. And He would start pruning me and prepping me to be able to handle the next circumstance. It hasn’t been I woke up one day and now there are these screaming fans. It’s kind of been a progression that I’ve been able to work through at every level. And so at this point in time, I don’t want to sound unfazed by it, but I would say that I have a lot of resources and a lot of directions to turn in order to wrestle through it and handle it.
Waliszewski: I found your entire Gravity album on YouTube. How do you feel about that? I mean everybody has got to make a living, but here everybody can get your entire album for free .
Lecrae: Obviously, I’m not excited about that, but …it’s a challenge that I’ve got to face. And, you know I think ultimately God has not promised me that I’d make a living off of music, but He has promised me that He will provide all of my needs… I just try to remember that and wrestle through all those unique technological challenges.