Late last month, Columbia Records released All Things Work Together, the latest offering from Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae. Popular among young evangelicals for putting theologically sound rhymes over catchy and well-composed beats, Lecrae has been working to move toward a more mainstream audience over the past few years. That work paid off when, in 2016, he signed a distribution deal with a major record label, Columbia Records.
This is Lecrae’s first album on Columbia, and he makes the most of the new resources a major record label provides: All Things Work Together features slick production and catchy beats crafted by some of the top producers in hip-hop like Metro-Boomin’, Go Grizzly, and Boi-1da.
Beyond providing access to some of the top producers in the game, however, Lecrae’s Columbia deal also provided another gift: freedom. It has given him the resources to walk away from the evangelical fanbase that made him a star, only to turn on him in the wake of his outspoken advocacy against police brutality and for racial justice after Ferguson. Lecrae has been around long enough to know that those who “rock the boat need a life raft.”
It’s probably no coincidence that Lecrae waited until he was on “prime time” to speak without restraint about racial injustice and the ways the church has been complicit or actively contributed to inequality. There are hints, however, that this so-called “new” Lecrae is in some ways who he always was.
In All Things Work Together, Lecrae talks about how his mother revealed to him the bias of his schoolbooks, which led to a different understanding of American history that included the Middle Passage—the route slaves took from Africa to the Americas. He speaks about the important role of historical figures such as Chuck Berry, Eldridge Cleaver, and Angela Davis. As he recently explained in an interview with the women of Truth’s Table, Lecrae was raised with a certain level of black consciousness that he felt he had to put to the side once he became a Christian. More than just revealing his upbringing, though, these songs also point to the ways in which Lecrae felt he had to suppress parts of his identity. Rather than a new Lecrae, then, All Things Work Together actually brings the fullness of his identity as an African American, Christian, father, husband, and rapper to the forefront.
Lecrae understands his unveiling may cost him fans and bookings in white evangelical circles—some previously loyal fans “prolly won’t wanna hear [his] music no mo,’” as he raps on the track “Facts.” He makes it clear on All Things Work Together that he is not a “mascot” or “religious puppet”; he will be speaking his mind without fear, even if it costs him “checks from evangelicals.” In “Come and Get Me,” though, he insists that his unveiling is a work of God:
Huh, once upon a time, God opened up my mind
And he showed me I don’t have to be a product people buy
With this God-given wisdom, I can climb out the holes
Stay up out the system ’cause the system never let you fo
Speak the Truth without no fear
It’s gon’ ruin my career.
He clearly recognizes that his new sense of openness— about his music, his identity, his place in Christianity—comes with a price. He remains defiant, however, in the face of criticisms that have come from white evangelicals who felt, and probably will continue to feel, that he should “focus more on the gospel” and less on difficult issues of racial injustice.