On the 9th of September, rapper/recording artist Lecrae released his seventh studio album, titled Anomaly. Lecrae is a profoundly outspoken Christian, and yet his craft has taken him beyond the borders of Christian/Gospel music into the culturally murky water of mainstream music. As one who loves the intersection of faith, music and culture, I want to take a moment to look at Lecrae's new album.
How has this recording artist and senior representative of an outspoken Christian label and movement taken over the number 1 spot on the US Billboard 200 while still remaining true to his ethics and beliefs? This paradox is, without question, one of the largest themes on the album. Critics, fans, other artists, record labels and the general public don't know where or how to box him...thus an Anomaly.
While I'm not going to go through each track on the album, I do want to highlight a few themes that over-arch the album. These themes - I believe - not only create the most honest, personal and unashamed Lecrae I've ever heard, but also shed some light as to why this hard-hitting, outspoken Christian has gained so much traction in mainstream music culture. A culture that is overall, celebrating the dissolution of standards, selfish exploitation, and the erosion of individual human worth.
In a word, the most powerful and gripping theme in the album is that of testimony. Hearing someone divulge their own personal story and experiences to emotionally driven music is a trademark of hip hop and rap in general. Whether you're rapping about your sexual exploitations or your struggle with depression, faith, or standards, hip hop will provide a platform for you to voice your story.
Lecrae has taken this platform by the horns, with tracks like 'Outsiders', 'Fear', 'Timepiece', 'Wish' and most of all 'Good, Bad, Ugly'. These songs, indeed the album as a whole, is excellently produced, and Lecrae uses his gifted verses not to preach at people with good intentions (as is the temptation in Christian/Crossover music) but instead to tell his own story of inadequacy, weakness, and restoration.
I believe it's the power of Lecrae's own testimony coupled with his well-honed musical and lyrical abilities that are resonating so strongly with a mainstream audience. This album is deeply personal, transparent, and not afraid of the shadows. Rather than preach at the audience, Lecrae takes them on his own journey through his struggles and questions and then unashamedly testifies of a grace that is stronger.
Another theme that permeates this album is social justice. Lecrae - in many of his recordings - is shown to be culturally aware, relevant and concerned. Some of the issues that he raises in Anomaly are exactly the sort of issues for which most Christians would come under fire, including abortion, abuse, and racism along with wider social injustices like poverty, militarism, corruption, immigration and slavery.
Lecrae's beliefs are well-pronounced throughout these serious topics calling out the myth that Christians are insulated and have no real idea how to engage with issues of social justice. 'Welcome to America' and 'Dirty Water' are perfect examples of Lecrae's concern with social justice, but tinges of this awareness can be found in almost all of the tracks on the album.
Being a Christian who is firmly planted in hip hop culture is not an easy line to tread. Lecrae uses this juxtaposition as an opportunity to express his values directly to hip hop culture. Tracks such as the critically acclaimed lead single, 'Nuthin', along with 'Say I Won't', 'Runners', and 'All I Need Is You' all address shortcomings that Lecrae has seen or experienced in areas of hip hop culture such as fidelity, integrity, individuality, humility, and sincerity - all to hard-hitting beats and catching hooks that reinforce his message to call culture out and up to higher standard.
Need for Christ
Finally, Lecrae saves a few songs on the album to simply express his need for Christ. Again, this is a theme that shines through all of his more personal tracks - especially for the more discerning ear; but 'Give In' (feat. Crystal Nicole), 'Broken' (feat. Kari Jobe), and 'Messengers' (feat. for KING & COUNTRY) unabashedly point to Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith. 'Messengers' I think is a fitting end to the album, as it encourages believers to go out and use whatever platform they have for the glory of Christ.
It aptly demonstrates Lecrae's self-awareness as an MC with influence, and it contrasts greatly to the feeling of foreboding insecurity and challenging darkness that the opening track 'Outsiders' describes. This is an album that is sonically well-produced, lyrically impacting and culturally relevant.
Lecrae tells his own story and by doing so shows us what being an outside-of-the-box, outspoken, and unashamed Christian can look like.
Blaine Packer is a graduate of Worldview Centre for Intercultural Studies who is passionate about media and mission. Currently residing in Launceston, Tasmania, Blaine is involved in both media and local ministry work at Door of Hope Christian Church.
Blaine Packer's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/blaine-packer.html