He’s many things, sure. He’s also in flames. This husband, father, artist, behind it all he’s a person, just a man. And although that’s all he is or will be, people gather—in lines that span blocks and blocks—to watch him.
I witnessed it once, from backstage, with the eyes in my own skull. The show. A towering figure commanding a crowd, this multitude mouthing his every word. He made them drunk with something, they believed him. His emotion. That was just a few years ago. Now things are crazier and escalating. But the man who is Lecrae Moore is still only a man.
It’s true that Lecrae built something special practically from the dirt. Not alone, but you understand. With the help of a tight circle, he’s managed to take hold of hip-hop’s consciousness and inject it with something impassioned. His drive has gone uncontested to those who know. In his ascent, the Atlanta emcee has become the face and voice of a movement. And that movement has a name: 116.
“I like to rally people together,” Lecrae tells me over the phone. He’s just wrapped up his Music Matters showcase at the BET Experience and is getting ready to head to Hong Kong for an event. “Times are changing,” he says. “I’m not afraid anymore.”
Like many of his peers, the man’s got ambition. Given his tour schedule, steady musical output, and growing film credits, Lecrae is part of a generation of artists that has nearly forfeited rest altogether. However, that’s where the similarities go and die. See, there’s something different here, something his fans feel but might struggle to pinpoint. Lecrae’s motivation doesn’t come across as self-seeking, he’s not enamored with or swayed by skirts and endless earthen treasures. And while he’s no perfect being, his aim is to redirect the attention outward toward something grander and more altruistic.
“Honestly, I’m so tired of the redundancy,” the 34-year-old rapper says. “The world needs artists that are willing to provoke. Let’s talk about issues: education, racism, faith, fatherlessness. These are the things that inform what I do.”
The bare bones: Six albums in, Lecrae’s reach has expanded in directions not even he could have predicted. His seventh full-length LP, Anomaly, is due out soon. It’s the follow up to 2012’s Grammy Award-winning album Gravity and last year’s Church Clothes 2 mixtape, which propelled him to where he is today. Thing is, he’s in a position to transform the culture as you see it, or at least do his part. Whether you believe it even needs transforming is moot.
In the music industry, there’s always this notion of “making it.” I wonder what that looks like to him, if he feels he’s arrived.
“I think this is a dangerous mindset,” he says. “And each day I have to fight for contentment. There was a time when I was just happy to pay my bills doing this. I want to use my gifts and live there, in that space: content.”
What I actually want to know is if all this busyness and running around can be a burden. He fires back, without pause: “Yes, it can be.” Then there’s a deep silence, the kind like when a man is thinking. I hear a voice, his road manager, I think, someone going on about breakfast. Lecrae draws a breath. “Look, it’s an animal you have to tame. You do. My body hates it. This type of work takes a lot of your time. I mean, recently I was talking to a renowned filmmaker and he told me he’s missed the last seven years of his son’s life. I often have to ask myself what it is I’m chasing. Our ambitions can sometimes be unhealthy.”
“It can be addicting though, right?” I ask. “The chase. There’s always a new thing to conquer, another reward.” “There is”, he adds. “But you can’t build your house there. It never ends.”
No, Lecrae didn’t go to that pool party he was invited to. Again, the man is spoken for and he takes that seriously. In a rap world that prides itself on cheap thrills, he wears his monogamy like a crown. He understands full well the traps and perils of a man on the road. And he does what he can to steer clear of them.
True to his upcoming album’s name, Lecrae is an anomaly. He exists on some suspended planet, between the sacred and secular. And though he’s sold tons of records and packed out arenas across the world, his approach is completely alien to most.
“I realize there’s a tension,” he says. “But that’s why we all need people that will hold us up, help us to stand our ground.” I ask if he worries about failing, letting people down. He tells me about a song on Anomaly called “Fear,” and that yes, he thinks about it every day. “Still, fear fuels my faith.”
This new album, he says he went into it alone. And he tells me about some of the collaborations he considered—Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West—but that he decided not to pursue them on account of his wanting to prove some things to himself. I don’t believe him. I ask why he would divert from some of the names he’d just mentioned. “Let me finish,” he insists.
Lecrae says he wanted to delve into certain themes on his own, and he talks about textures and soundscapes, about coming into his skin as an artist. He says he didn’t like some of the content on Gravity, that he was still experimenting during that period, looking for his true voice. What he’s doing now is bigger, Lecrae tells me, and more honest. He says he thinks people will be liberated by it. The world gets a first taste on the Gawvi-produced lead single “Nuthin,'” which drops tomorrow (July 1).
Have you ever seen a man on fire? Get this: What Lecrae has—confidence, wisdom, clarity of mind and mission—he’s cultivated through time. If a man is shaped by his experiences, how he uses those experiences will determine his effectiveness in life and work. There are reasons the guy is winning. And since he’s not one for aimless pursuits, the embers will burn for only as long as he’ll allow it. He’s in the thick of it, burning bright. And I just know he won’t be consumed. —Juan Vidal (@itsjuanlove)