The contrast between Lecrae and virtually every other artist thriving in the current commercial hip-hop space is overwhelmingly vast. For years he was the jewel of a somewhat lackluster sub-genre, one comprised of fellow faithfuls who’s stylings, in some eyes, were just a bit too holy and unambitious to win over the worldly folk. Now, though—post-Grammy, post-BET and Billboard nods, post-cosign from all your favorites—it’s a new day altogether. And Lecrae is basically alone. He exists in a singular landscape, mapping out uncharted territory in hopes of finding signs of life. With nothing but a mic and a prayer, the Atlanta-based MC is attempting to redefine the public’s narrow perception of rappers that have both conviction and skills to boot.
On his newest offering, Anomaly, Lecrae sounds more aware than ever. Aware of his place and of the stories he’s been charged to tell. Immediately, he establishes himself as an outsider who doesn’t quite fit in anywhere, treading the thin grey line between the sacred and secular. Over heavy synths and sharp, cracking drums, he flexes with a newfound lyrical prowess. He tackles concepts such as war and nationalism on “Welcome to America” and the pitfalls of conformity on the lead single, “Nuthin,” masterfully produced by Gawvi.
Lecrae’s fast-paced flow does the work of complementing many of the bursting choruses, which are bigger and more pronounced than they’ve been on any of his previous releases. And much can be said about his voice this time around, which he’s learned to stretch and manipulate to great effect. Numbers like “Fear” and “Timepiece” show him favoring a more melodic approach, and it keeps things punchy and palatable. The title track, a musically comparable homage to OutKast’s “Spottieottiedopaliscious,” is beyond worthy of the replays it will elicit. “Trying to get me a throne of my own so I could put my feet up,” he fesses, referencing his colorful past. “Thank God my kingdom was overthrown by the soul redeemer.”
Throughout the 15-song album we’re reminded that “the system didn’t plan for this.” The idea of being strange and “other” is a running theme, one which will no doubt be embraced by those who share in Lecrae’s worldview. It should be noted, the tone on Anomaly from jump is unabashedly serious. It’s not totally joyless but Lecrae is clearly concerned with using only the hardest brushstrokes at his disposal. Even the most buoyant of all the tracks—the Andy Mineo assisted “Say I Won’t” produced by Gawvi and 808xElite—sounds revolutionary. And that can’t be entirely bad. Especially when it’s this good. So while Anomaly may have benefited from at least one light party cut, one can appreciate Lecrae for never letting his passion wane. If “Broken” featuring Kari Jobe doesn’t hit you good in the heart place, you might just be a whitewashed tomb full of dead men’s bones. In all, the album follows a loose narrative arc something like: oddball comes to terms with being an oddball, looks outward at the world’s ills, finds solace in a force greater than himself.
Art can easily become dull when it’s free of contradictions. And as far as hip-hop is concerned, those with lasting power have often been the most conflicted. Kanye West, Tupac, and even T.I. come to mind. People have long gravitated to their tortured, paradoxical nature in both life and art. The fact that Lecrae has managed to defy this and still remain interesting is perhaps another testament to his brute otherness. The system may not have planned for this but it’s definitely coming around. —Juan Vidal (@itsjuanlove)