Record from Lecrae calls for Hands-On Faith

By Aaron Epp

Time magazine called it “Christian music’s moment.” Lecrae, a hip-hop artist whose lyrics are inspired by his Christian faith, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200 when his sixth album, Gravity, was released in 2012. He had already claimed the number one spot on iTunes, including owning the first, second and seventh slots on iTunes’ hip-hop chart at the same time for the deluxe and regular versions of Gravity and his mixtape, Church Clothes.

The rapper’s chart-topping success is just another step in a career that has seen him start both a record company and a ministry, sell hundreds of thousands of albums, earn Grammy and GMA Dove Award nominations, and receive praise from athletes like Tim Tebow, Bubba Watson and Jeremy Lin.

Not bad for a guy who, instead of singing about ‘gangsta life’ or doing drugs, spits selfless rhymes like, “Feed the hungry and touch the sick / We gon’ help the homeless and love the kids.” As he pointed out on his Instagram account when Gravity reached the top spot on iTunes, “Dear Hip Hop, this didn’t happen because of swag, drug reference, or stripper anthems. #Godisgood.”

“I’m passionate about my faith,” the 34-year-old told Time last September, “and want to create great music that provides an alternative.”

Fatherless gangster

It wasn’t always that way, though. Born Lecrae Moore in Houston, Texas to a single mother, Lecrae never knew his father growing up. Lecrae’s father abandoned his mother and became a drug addict.

“I grew up wrestling with significance because my father and mother weren’t together,” Lecrae told IAmSecond.com last year. “I felt like my dad was a piece of my life that I needed to have to feel like I was somebody.”

His single mother worked a lot, leaving him in the care of family and friends. The hip-hop music videos he watched at his grandmother’s house had a deep impact on him and gave him the role models he was looking for.

“I found people to look up to,” Lecrae said. “There were no Barack Obamas, there were no Martin Luther Kings or Malcolm Xs—they had all passed away. So, I had Tupac.”

Lecrae wasn’t a great athlete, he wasn’t a particularly bright student and he wasn’t the toughest guy in school, but he writing hip-hop songs gave him a purpose.

“Being able to rap was my source of significance.”

Lecrae looked up to gangsters and clearly remembers the day his uncle showed him a real gun. Soon after, Lecrae took a BB gun into the street and pointed it at a car. The driver freaked out.

“To me, that was fun,” Lecrae said.

By the time he was 16, Lecrae was doing drugs, getting into fights and had been arrested for stealing.

“I would say before I dedicated my life to living for God, I was really your average thrill seeker,” he told Complex magazine this past June. “Whatever came, came. They nicknamed me ‘Crazy ‘Crae.’ I would just do whatever, whenever, however. I’d get drunk, jump out of a third-story balcony. So I just lived reckless. I think I just didn’t really know what I was living for. I was just living for whatever happens today and that was the extent of it for me.”

Lecrae’s life began to change when a friend invited him to a conference where he saw Christian hip-hop group The Cross Movement perform.

“[I see at this conference] guys who had been shot from being in gangs, girls who were extremely promiscuous in the past, I see rappers, I see dancers, I see singers; I see people who came from the same background I came from,” Lecrae told IAmSecond.com. “They still embodied who they were culturally, but they were all in love with Jesus, and I’d never seen that before.”

A speaker at the conference who spoke about Jesus dying on the cross also impacted Lecrae.

“It made me think, man, somebody thinks I’m significant enough to die for me—significant enough to climb on this mountain with this cross on his back and take nails in his wrists and his feet for me.”

Lecrae’s life changed when he became a Christian.

He began volunteering at a juvenile detention centre where he would rap for the inmates about the struggles he had experienced prior to becoming a Christian. Some of them would weep, and some were so impacted that they requested to hear the songs again.

“It hit me,” Lecrae recalled. “This is what I want to do. I want to use music to offer hope and encouragement to people.”

Bridging the gap

Five years after becoming a Christian, Lecrae teamed up with a friend to start Reach Records. The label released his debut album, Real Talk, in 2004.

Lecrae also co-founded ReachLife Ministries, an organization that, according to its website, “exists to help bridge the gap between biblical truth and the urban context.” One of the ministry’s recent initiatives was Man Up, a conference held in Atlanta, Georgia in April 2012.

The two-day event was part of The Man Up Campaign that ReachLife started “calling men in the hip-hop culture to true biblical manhood through repentance and faith in Christ,” the organization’s website says. “It is our call for men in urban culture to repent for their failure to become the men that God has created them to be and for believers to live as who they truly are in Christ.”

The campaign includes a film, concert series, album and curriculum for church and small group use.

“Everybody on staff at ReachLife and the artists at Reach Records realized that biblical masculinity was one of the things lacking in culture, specifically urban culture,” Lecrae told Christianity Today earlier this year.

Lecrae told the magazine that the Man Up Campaign addresses father absence by telling “young African American males that you’re immediately an example for other African American males in the community at large. Not only are the young men challenged and encouraged by this, but also the young ladies, because they get to see what they should be looking for and how to encourage their brothers in the direction of taking leadership and responsibility.”

Man Up’s impact is reaching beyond Atlanta and the Christian community. Atlanta politicians have shown

interest in partnering with Man Up to address local father absence, and Lecrae was invited to speak in Washington, D.C. in the spring of 2013.

“I spoke with a lot of Congress members and also to one of President Obama’s leaders for his fatherhood campaign,” Lecrae told Christianity Today.

As a husband and father of three, Lecrae feels the campaign is especially important.

“Now I’m a husband and a father, and I’ve never seen this fleshed out in the home, so I only know what I’ve read and what men have taught me,” he said. “That’s why it’s crucial and important for other men to learn while they have the opportunity.”

He’s a successful recording artist getting coverage in Time now, but Lecrae still remembers when he was someone who “didn’t fit in anywhere. I was just a misfit of a person.”

Thanks to God’s grace, that has changed.

“I spent a lot of time [prior to becoming a Christian] looking for father figures,” Lecrae told IAmSecond.com. “God has shown me that ultimately, he’s my Father. That drives me to keep pressing [on].

“I’ve learned to stay close to my source of significance, to my source of worth,” he added, “and that’s God.”

Lecrae’s latest album, Anomaly, is scheduled for release on September 9, 2014.

Aaron Epp is the Alumni Writer & Social Media Coordinator at The Canadian Mennonite University, and a senior correspondent of ChristianWeek newspaper in Winnipeg.