Raised in a single-headed household and once a participant in the world of drugs, theft, alcohol and gang activity, Christian hip hop artist Lecrae is on a mission to reach urban culture. A lifework that started as a way to share his personal testimony across the University of North Texas campus has evolved into an unprecedented music ministry with five studio albums, a Grammy nomination and ReachLife Ministries, a grass-roots movement marked by a passion to bring Christ to the urban community. One of the most successful commercial stars in Christian hip hop history, Lecrae talks to Jennie Blizzard about “Rehab,” manhood, ReachLife, Jesus, Jay-Z and the mainstream hip hop world.
From the Streets to Gospel Beats
In 2010, you released the Grammy-nominated album “Rehab” and recently released “Rehab Deluxe”—which includes previously unreleased tracks and a short film documentary. Why “Rehab Deluxe”?
One reason I decided to do this is because I didn’t want to short-change my fans. And so we decided to put the music all in one package so that we could encourage our fans to continue spreading the music. So maybe you have one CD already but you really want some of the features that “Rehab Deluxe” has, you can say, “You know what, I’m going to give my other CD away to somebody” and kind of push the CD out into other people’s hands and continue to spread the message.
But more than anything I wanted to communicate the story of what God has been doing. So much has happened since “Rehab” came out, and I just wanted to continue to encourage people through what we’ve been doing and what’s been going on.
“Rehab Deluxe” features a track called “Hallelujah,” which encourages listeners to keep pursuing Christ, who brings freedom from past experiences and present struggles. What have been some “Hallelujah” moments in your life that can inspire others?
Oh, my goodness. I think the biggest thing is when you look up and you think that you’re alone. Even when people around you don’t quite understand you or they don’t quite know what you’re going through. It’s just amazing when you get to the point and realize that you’re not alone but Jesus is with you. He will never leave you or forsake you. Nobody understands you better than he does, and it’s a comforting moment and feeling. And I think, personally, I’ve had those experiences. Just running the streets and doing all kinds of silly nonsense getting myself into trouble—you just realize and you look up and you say “I’m alone out here.” You’re looking for help and answers. And even when you were
looking, Jesus was always there.
What led you to co-found Reach Records and eventually create ReachLife Ministries, which helps bridge the gap between biblical truth and urban context?
With Reach Records, we just felt like there was a voice that wasn’t being heard in music, especially in the South—at a time when hip hop in the South was really taking over. You were hearing a lot about pimps and players and money and misogyny. And it was like “Man, this is not how we all live.” In hip hop there’s a voice of people whose lives have been transformed. All of us don’t go out to the club and get drunk every night. And all of us don’t chase women every night, especially those [of us] who love Jesus. I really wanted to put that message out there, so we started Reach Records.
Then with Reach Records, I started traveling from city to city and just talking to different people and realized there was a lack of resources to just tell our story. So you can go to a Christian bookstore and there may be some great books and a lot of the materials and DVDs, but we weren’t seeing people who looked like us and talked like us and went through what we went through, sharing their stories of redemption. So we wanted to create some resources that targeted the urban context.
With ReachLife Ministries, we’ve done a curriculum called “13 Letters,” where we walked people through Paul’s 13 New Testament Epistles. We did it in video form so people can see how it’s transforming young men and women in urban environments. We did a gospel track called “Before I Die,” which asked some of the questions that we wrestle with, and we just recently released “Man Up” [a film and curriculum] that chronicles the life of a young man and his struggles with what it means to be a man, dealing with teenage preg- nancy, dealing with jobs, dealing with gangs, drugs and having to wrestle with and navi- gate through all of those different things. And what society is telling you what a man is, versus what the Bible is telling you what a man is.
You’ve recently reunited with 116 Clique for the “Man Up” project, which is a short film and a music CD. Tell me about that endeavor and what led you to become involved in the project?
It really just came about with us just sitting around and talking about our own life experi-ences. Me personally, I grew up without my biological father. He was a drug addict. I grew up idealizing guys in the streets and gang members. I wanted to create some material that helps people navigate through those circumstances. And Sho Baraka, who’s an incredible writer, outlined the movie, and we just created a project and soundtrack that we felt would be transformative.
As a frontrunner in Christian rap, what would you say to people who don’t readily accept hip hop as an appropriate form of expression in Christian music?
Well, number one, it probably isn’t for them if that’s the way they feel. And it probably is a form of expression that they don’t know culturally in the first place, so there’s a little opposition. At the end of the day, Psalms 24:1 says that “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof” and everything within, and nothing is to be rejected but received with thanksgiving. I think the problem is not with the method. Music doesn’t get saved. People get saved. So the question that I would ask people is what’s going on with the heart behind what’s being communicated. Just because the medium is accepted doesn’t mean that the heart in which it’s being delivered is pure. We fully believe that God endorses this, and there is nothing in scripture that would make us feel otherwise.
What’s next for Lecrae?
Right now I’m on the “Rehab” tour. What’s next for me is trying to be a light in main- stream hip hop as well. Some unique opportunities have come up such as being a guest on the BET Hip Hop Awards and being in some mainstream hip hop publications. Just letting them know we are here and exposing who we are and what we’re trying to do and letting anyone who’s in need know that we’re a resource that they can turn to. That’s ultimately how I got saved. I saw people who looked like me, talked like me and dressed like me. And I was like, “Wait a minute. We can love God too?” My desire would be to see an individual like T.I. when he gets out of prison to know some individuals he can turn to help him walk with the Lord. That’s really my hope and ambition right now.
Who are your personal and professional influences and why?
Well, I would say in gospel music, it would be Kirk Franklin because he was a trendsetter and he did something that nobody was doing. I really respect what he did. I respect people like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien who did ‘The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings’ because they were able to introduce a very Christian message to a mainstream audience, which I thought was incredible. And in terms of hip hop I definitely respect the gifting of a Jay-Z. Even if he’s not doing it for the kingdom it’s evident that he’s using his gifts in some unique ways that we can all learn from, especially if we desire to preach and push the kingdom of God.
What’s playing on your iPod these days?
I’m loving a lot of the guys from Reach Records. They’re my guys. But on top of that I’m jamming out to a lot of independent artists like Cannon, a young guy who’s on fire for Jesus. I love Mali Music. I’ve been listening to a lot of Mali Music, who I think are phe- nomenal artists. And that’s kind of what I’ve been stuck on right now.