Lecrae came onto the hip-hop scene over five years ago with a fresh flow and hard hitting beats. The thing that sets him apart is a different perspective, one based on his faith, rather than the typical subject matter of hip-hop. This year he was nominated for a Grammy for his album Rehab and also received two Dove nominations. Lecrae, now five albums deep, has combined social media and hip-hop music to spread God's message across the globe along with his team of artists on Reach Records. Make no mistake though, he is rooted in hip-hop culture and not a gimmick. VIBE got a chance to chop it up with him to find out more about this MC. --Storm
Vibe: Talk about how you decided to get into music and was it always a conscious decision to stray from the mainstream topics of hip-hop?
Lecrae: I always loved authentic communicators and rappers. When I was growing up, I loved 2Pac because I felt like everything he said was just real and what he was dealing with. Whether it was positive or negative, he just communicated it from a real place. If it was “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” or “Keep Your Head Up,” or “Dear Mama,” we just got a whole big picture from his heart and soul. As I started rhyming, what I wanted to do [was] just speak from the heart on the things that were real. As the understanding of my faith increased and my lifestyle changed because of my faith, I just wanted to shoot from the hip from a real place and just speak on the things I had seen and dealt with--whether it was positive or negative. Just speak on it in a way that people would understand how I saw the world.
Can you explain if there was one instance or moment that really sparked your decision not to go the path of a traditional MC? Obviously, you are trailblazer with your decision.
Back in the late 90’s /early 2000’s, my perspective [was] I didn’t grow up in the church. So my thoughts on church were just the little snapshots I had seen, like suits and ties and grandmothers with big hats. So I didn’t really think that somebody like me and Christianity had anything to do with each other. I was in Atlanta and got invited to this conference event and there were young urban Christians. I didn’t know these people existed. Seeing Christians in baggy jeans and Timbs; fitted caps, tattoos and cornrows. I didn’t even know this world existed.That was a defining moment for me and I just learned that there weren’t any rules and regulations; it was just a heart issue. My values changed because my heart changed, so my music changed. It was a process, it wasn’t just like overnight, like all of a sudden everything I wrote was coming from the Bible, and still that’s not the way I tend to do it. But it was a moment then in seeing these guys that I said I don‘t have to do this, I can do something different. So that was the route I took, and I didn’t look back.
Was there ever a point where you had doubts or were thinking about doing something else?
Not really. Yeah , you face a lot of opposition like the church and the people in the church are like, 'nah we don’t accept this as worldly, this is not ok.' And people in the hip-hop community are like 'nah man this seems kind of weird. This is like corny, we don’t do this type of stuff.' I think when people really started checking it out, they were like 'this is real; I really do appreciate this perspective.' So it just motivated me and inspired me to keep going. It would almost be like denying my race or ethnicity, by denying my faith. So I couldn’t just talk about stuff that wasn’t true to who I was. It would be like every song I was to write is about being a white rapper and I’m not a white rapper [laughs] It just wouldn’t make sense! I couldn’t do anything different.
Talk about how you developed your flow and style.
I always appreciated different types of hip-hop. I lived everywhere because we moved around a lot. I’ve lived in California, Denver, Dallas, and now I’m in Atlanta. I’ve just gained an appreciation for so many types of hip-hop, so it was just like my world was mashed up. I grew up with Nas on my playlist, then I would flip the script and you would hear 3 6 Mafia, then you would hear Biggie, then you would hear Sugarfree. It was just this weird hodge podge of music. I think it’s what made my music into what it was. It’s really not having a particular home so it was like hip-hop became my home, and all the different styles and so forth just became how I patterned my music and it is what it is today.
How important is a positive outlook and message needed, especially in 2011?
I think it’s crucial. I think anytime you open your mouth, you’re teaching somebody. You’re teaching them something. Even when you don’t open your mouth, just by the things you do, you‘re teaching somebody. So I learned to do a lot of things without somebody having to tell me how to do something; I just watched. We have a responsibility as humans, especially as young men; we have a responsibility to be a role model and to lead people in a particular direction. We need balance. We need some war stories and pain and struggle but we don’t necessarily need to glorify that. We need to talk about how you overcome those hard circumstances.
How do you feel about being the blueprint to an up-and-coming younger artist who wants to rap but want to do Christian rap?
I think there are a lot of trailblazers, and most of the people that have trail blazed have been looked upon as 'what are you doing?' or were frowned upon. Even when Kanye was first trying to come out and they were like 'nah, polos and good guy and college dropout stuff that’s not what’s prevalent in hip-hop at the time.' And then you have a guy like Drake who comes out and he’s straight from the suburbs and he’s all emotional, and then you have B.O.B who goes left field and does a little rock and pop. I think there is always room for diversity within hip-hop and diverse perspectives as well; I think it’s just some perspectives are frowned upon for whatever reason, but if that’s you and that’s really who you are then you have to be authentic and you have to keep pushing.
Explain the experience performing at some of the faith-based events, which sometimes garner larger crowds than typical rap shows.
We hit the road and have done tours; we’ve done our own tour and you’ve got 5,000 people in the crowd who know every word to every song from California to New York. These aren’t necessarily churches either. We’re at some small stadiums, colleges, House of Blues, so on and so forth. There’s a following and a demand. The demographic looks like if you were at a B.O.B show or a Lupe Fiasco show in terms of people in the crowd. The content obviously is aimed differently; the motivation and the values is different, the world view is different. Some people don’t see things from that perspective; they just enjoy the music so they come. What we’re about isn’t bashing people or condemning people or putting anyone down; that‘s not our goal. We’re about painting a picture of a different reality and hoping people see that and walk away transformed and changed by it.