The Rapper in Rehab
Theology and rap are hardly kissing cousins. One is the purview of academics laboring in seminaries, the other was born in the South Bronx in the 70s. Turns out they were made for one another. Rising rap star Lecrae seamlessly blends gospel-saturated lyrics with the hooks of southern style hip-hop, and the result is something you have to hear to believe.
Through Reach Records, the label he founded, he is leading a movement of artists spreading the message of the gospel through hip-hop which is quickly gathering a groundswell following.
His recent albums, Rehab and Rehab: The Overdose ,debuted at No. 5 and No. 4 respectively on the Billboard Rap albums chart. Rehab was also nominated for a Grammy in the Best Gospel Rock/Rap album category (Switchfoot's Hello Hurricane won). His music has piqued the interest of people from John Piper to Jay-Z.
We caught up with Lecrae shortly after the Grammys.
You just got back from the Grammys. What was that like?
It was really great. I think God strategically placed us there. I think I met everyone except Justin Bieber. I met a lot of people in the hip-hop community—Lil Wayne and Drake and those guys. I didn't have the longest of conversations with the guys at the top of the totem pole, but some of the producers and managers and lawyers. I really did get to build some strategic relationships. So I'm excited to see the fruit of those.
Let's talk about Rehab and Overdose. Why the theme of addiction?
I had just moved to a new city (Atlanta). My church (Blueprint Church) wasn't really established yet; I was helping with that. I was in a leadership seat and didn't have a lot of people who were pouring into me—just a dry season. I needed rehabilitation. And so I just wanted to cry out in music, and I think it was perfect for anybody who was saying, man, help, I need more. I need something. I need rehabilitation. You're addicted to self, and everything other than Jesus becomes the drug of choice.
Many of your songs take traditional hip-hop themes—drugs, sex, money, fame—and turn them on their heads. Tell me about that process.
It's ultimately the principle. There's something inherently wrong with created beings being the center of our desire. Let's deconstruct that perspective and then reconstruct it with the right one. People appreciate that because they're like, Man, I know. I understand what he's articulating. I just wasn't able to put words around it. I know there's emptiness, but I don't know what else there is. When you point out that they're pursuing something that is vain and empty, people relate to that.
As you become more well-known, how do you stay true to the gospel and at the same time relevant to the hip-hop conversation?
That's always the tension. The biggest thing is seeing what you do as an opportunity to tell a story, so it just depends on what story I'm going to tell. Am I going to tell the story of Christianity, or am I going to tell a story that people just want to hear that's palatable?
Also, making sure the people around you are advocates of God's heart, mission, and humility. Where a lot of people will have entourages of people who tell them how awesome they are, I have people who are constantly reminding me of why I'm there. And we're praying. I mean, we bathe every day in prayer.
I heard that Jay-Z was considering signing you. How do you process that?
I don't think there's a clear cut answer to a lot of the questions; it's always testing everything by the Spirit and according to the Scriptures. I look at someone like Abraham who helped out the King of Sodom and was offered a gift, and Abraham turned it down because he said I don't want anyone to be able to say that they made me rich (Gen. 14:21-23). I don't want anyone to be able to take credit for what God has done.