In this episode with Lecrae, we discuss the challenging but enlightening moments of healing from past trauma, reconciling with people's perceptions of us and realizing we don't have to fit that mold, and finding the power of restoration.
We all, at one point, must reconcile with our past to move forward healthily and effectively. Of course, it isn't always easy to get from point A to point B, but your life can be transformed in monumental ways when you do. Lecrae shares his story of dealing with his past and restoring his mental, spiritual, and emotional health.
Lecrae is a leading figure in the gospel-rap movement, singer, songwriter, record and film producer, actor, and entrepreneur.
He is the president, coowner, and cofounder of Reach Records and cofounder of the film production studio 3 Strand Films.
Lecrae’s debut album, Real Talk, was released in 2004 via Reach Records and has since released multiple award-winning albums and mixtapes, including Rebel, Gravity, Church Clothes, and Anomaly. His ninth and most recent album, Restoration, was released in 2020.
His albums and mixtapes have nearly reached the 2 million mark in sales, and he has received numerous awards, including a Billboard Music Award, multiple BET, Soul Train, and Dove awards. In addition, he has an honorary doctorate of music to go along with his two Grammy wins.
From Our Daily Bread Ministries in partnership with Christianity Today
Transcript from Where You From? Episode #10
Lecrae: Impact had a conference in Atlanta and I was invited by the ministry leader at the time to come to this conference. And I was like, I want to go to Atlanta. It's the Mecca of black people. There's girls there. This is a college event. It's going to be all black college people. Yes, I'm going to this. And I get there and I was intrigued because I didn't know Christians looked like me and dress like me and talk like me and had braids and locs and were former gang members. And I was like, what is this? And then there's a rap concert and I'm like, they rap?! Like, what is happening right now?! And then I heard the gospel and it radically changed my life and I was never the same.
Intro: This is Where Ya From?, a podcast for those who believe it's important to stop and listen before we speak. Join us as we ask another Christian thought leader, “Where ya from?” and discover how their life experiences and expertise – even if we may disagree with something they say – offer us an important perspective.
That's worth thinking about.
Rasool Berry: Welcome to Where Ya From? I'm Rasool Berry. There's no doubt that as we grow up, our experiences shape us into who we become. And for those who spend time discovering how their background shaped them, they can often walk into the future with more confidence and the hope to be who God made them to be.
Today, we're talking to the multifaceted hip hop artist, author, and entrepreneur Lecrae Devon Moore. And Lecrae has had his share of difficult childhood experiences. Whether you know his music or not, Lecrae has a lot to teach us about how we can come to grips with the past. He has often shared in his music and writing reflections on how his childhood trauma lingered throughout his life and how he is experiencing restoration.
Lecrae fell in love with hip hop from the time he first started watching rap videos as a kid. His passion led him into a prolific music career that propelled him to number one on Billboard charts, appearing on Jimmy Fallon and becoming a bestselling author. His latest book, I Am Restored, is linked in the show notes. Join me as we learn more about Lecrae.
Well, I'm excited for this particular show because I've known this person from a lot of different contexts. But we get to get the full back story, you know. So right now my man, Lecrae, where ya from?
Lecrae: Rasool! What’s up, man? Where am I from? They say, it's not where you're from, it’s where you at. And I'm in Atlanta right now. And I've been here for the last 12 years. And I feel like it's where I'm going to die. So. But I would say I'm from Texas, but I did a little time in Denver and I did a little time in San Diego. You know, I grew up--my father wasn't in my life. My father, you know, fell victim to, you know, incarceration and drugs and different issues in his life.
I lived up to my uncles who were all 10 years older than me and were gang members and drug dealers. And so those were some of my role models and who I aspire to be like. I experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse. And so I just had a lot of dysfunction in my childhood. I knew I was loved. But as a grown man, I looked back and realized there was so much dysfunction.
Rasool Berry: Yeah. So as you did go back and look a little bit deeper, one of the things that struck me that you wrote in the book is that you couldn't outrun your dad's absence in your life. And that a lot in a lot of ways, you know, your work ethic or the outward expressions that – even success – were things that were even still coming from a place of trauma. You know, tell us more about that.
Lecrae: Yeah. I mean, You know, so much of what I experienced and that I hadn't even processed was being fleshed out, you know, as an artist or writer or whatever it may be, as God was doing something with my life, but I really wasn't seeing it from the standpoint that a lot of my decision-making processes were – like, looking for affirmation from, you know, great leaders or thinkers – was not just because I admired them, was because I missed out on affirmation as a kid. And so, you know, you just begin to scan through some of the things that I did and some of the decisions that I made over the years and realize like they were centered in a lot of the trauma.
Rasool Berry: Mmm, that's real.
So, all right. But if we kind of put some meat on the bone, so at least like, where were you born and how long did you stay there before you moved to the next location.
Lecrae: I was born in Houston, Texas. I was there probably till around four. Moved to Denver, Colorado. And then as my mom was trying to get on her feet, she sent me to San Diego and I was there on and off until I was 13.
And then at 13 she saw the gangs were really starting to take precedence in my life. And she said, “I got to do something different.” And she remarried and moved to Dallas. And so then I went to Dallas around 15 and then I spent, you know, the rest of my teenage years in Dallas.
Rasool Berry: Got it. Now, Houston and Denver: I can't think of two places to go that are more extremely different between the heat and the demographics of Houston to the extreme, you know, the mountains and whatnot. And then you go from Denver to San Diego, which is another extreme from the mountains to the beach. And I'm thinking at this point, you're starting to be more aware of your surroundings. What was that transition like? And how do you think that shaped who you are?
Lecrae: San Diego was probably very foundational for me because I didn't have any role models anywhere else except San Diego. And so now I have these 16, 17, 18-year-olds, 20-year-olds who are embracing me and bringing me around and I'm learning what they learn.
And of course, San Diego is only two hours from Los Angeles, so the gang culture is very, like, prominent. And so living in Southeast San Diego, which was, you know, the hood of San Diego, it was, like, very gang-oriented, and so kind of my whole world.
But I learned so much, though: hip pop music and break dancing, and all these things kept intruding the space. And so, you know, in between graffiti and gang stuff was like a breakdance competition. So many different things. In between like a fistfight in the neighborhood was like, somebody has a boom box and come listen to this new Eazy-E. So it was like, it really indoctrinated me into a whole different world and a different mindset.
Rasool Berry: Yeah. One of the things that, really, I was curious about. In the song, “Facts”, you mentioned something to the effect of, you grew up hearing how the Black Panthers were some terrorists. I grew up seeing how they fed my mother eggs and grits. Break that down, and also the reality of when people hear “gang” oftentimes in places that are not familiar with the culture and even the origins, you know, that that's just sometimes a foreign reality. So kind of give us an insider's perspective of what that meant and how that even formed you.
Lecrae: Yeah. So, the black Panthers were what a lot of people would consider like this radical leftist group; extreme or political terrorists. And of course, you know, they took some means that were a little extreme. No two Panthers were the same. So some Panthers were a little more extreme in some areas, but in general, they cared about the community. And so they had a free breakfast program where they would feed the kids. And at this point in time, my mother's a child being fed bread.
My mother grew up in the projects poor, dirt poor. She ate dirt, literally ate dirt to keep her stomach full. They had a free breakfast program. And so my mother would get fed by the black Panthers and they would learn these lessons about the community and about taking care of each other. So my mother would pass that information on to me. And what ended up happening is a lot of those Panthers either became political prisoners, or killed, or assassinated, or had to go on the run, you know?
And so my mother's generation who were kids being kind of trained by them, they didn't realize some of these Panthers were Stanford-educated and just, you know. So they're doing the best they can to mirror what they learned, but they—they're poor and they don't have access to education. And so the best they could come up with were like these organized gangs to protect the community. And one of those gangs becomes known as the Crips, you know, “community revolution in progress”. And the Crips got so powerful that some of the people in the community were intimidated and they got together and they said, we're going to form an Alliance called the Bloods to make sure that you guys don't have all the power. Anyway, in-fighting begins to happen, because obviously they don't have the same information and access to education that the Panthers had.
So what I'm growing up in is political, but it's also, like, urban warfare in a lot of ways.
Rasool Berry: Gotcha. All right. So I did some intel. So, one person mentioned, “Yo, if mama didn't move him to Houston, he be throwing up signs right now.” [laughs]
Rasool Berry: He mentioned that, you know, you had an affinity for this and especially... Talk about how, how did you personally find yourself connecting with this culture?
Lecrae: What else do you know? I mean, this is your neighborhood. It’s like, you're not trying to.. it's not like you're trying to glorify killing people. You are proud of your community. In the same way somebody’s proud of Mayberry, you’re proud of your set and your set is your neighborhood. So my community was Skyline Hills, and the gang from Skyline Hills was the Skyline Piru, or East Side Hand Gang.
And it was just kinda like, these were your brothers, your uncles, your cousins. It's like, yeah, I'm from here. So. You know, you have an affinity, which is okay, for your community. It just flipped itself out in some damaged ways.
Rasool Berry: Right. And you also talk about some of those damaged ways you experienced personally. So again, this isn't just academic for you. So tell us about your attempt to be indoctrinated into this, and then also realize you had a different path.
Lecrae: Yeah. At the time our neighborhood was at war with the East Coast Crips, and they would come up to the school, to the neighborhood, and just shoot. And here we are 13, 14-years-old and the older guys and community, you know, they're, they're getting arrested for drive-bys and things of that nature. And what they began to realize is the juveniles can't get prosecuted as adults for murder or for shooting, attempted murder. So, they gas us up to begin to do these crimes.
And I'll never forget. It was like, man, the Crips keep rolling through here. If y'all are really down for the set, the community, y'all gonna have to start shooting back. You know, we were given a revolver and I remember we, it was like one that we were supposed to share and I was excited that we're all, we're all, “this is crazy!”
But when it came down to, like, pulling the trigger and a shooting at somebody, it was as if everything that I had learned from my mother and all the women in my life about the opportunities I have and why I shouldn't, like, get involved in gangs, started to seep in at that moment. I was like, man, I am not, this—I don't think this is what I signed—I liked the fights, the gang signs, the graffiti, this whole shooting at each other? Like, I don't know if I'm about this life, you know? Before I had a chance to really take a nose dive into it, I was ripped out of the community.
Rasool Berry: How do you think your mom realized that you were being shaped by this enough to make another big move out of state?
Lecrae: Oh, I mean, you know, I was getting brought home by the police. I was carrying red bandanas, you know, I was graffiti-ing up stuff and getting arrested for stuff like that. And so it was like, she saw the writing on the wall and was like, nah, I gotta do something different. Cause I'm gonna lose.
Rasool Berry: Now at the same time, you're also... that you're exposed to gang culture, you're also exposed to hip hop culture. I know the two of those aren't mutually exclusive, but when did you first fall in love with hip hop, Lecrae?
Lecrae: Ah, man, I was a little kid and it was summer. I might've been five or six and I was staying with my grandmother that summer in San Diego, and my cousins were staying there, too. And they started watching, I think it was like Yo! MTV Raps, and I was supposed to be sleeping at this point. At this point in time, it was like rap videos came on late. So it was, like, it wasn't a daytime thing. So I remember being a kid, I snuck out of my bed and I was staring at these videos and I was like, whoa, this is crazy.
And I remember Eric B. and Rakim had a song called “Microphone Fiend”, and I saw little kids beating on a speaker and I was like, that's me! You know, I just saw, I had never seen a little black boy on television, you know, and I was like, that looks like me! I could be this kid. And so that's when it happened from here. I fell in love.
Rasool Berry: “I was a fiend before I became a teen.” Ah, man. Yeah, no, that, that big still goes hard. Like, that was the jam.
Did you feel the tug between like, “Yo, I think I might want to be more of a rapper than a banger,” at that time, or was it just all mixed up for you?
Lecrae: What happened was I was in love with consuming hip hop. I was just, it was like I couldn't stop. So everyday I was going to, what we called a Fan March Swap Meet. I'm grabbing tapes. I go to the store, I could afford a single—singles were 99 cents back then. I’d get a single, you know, maybe a maxi single, if you would, if you found some change, you know, for 5.99. And I just couldn't stop consuming it. And I knew every lyric to every song.
And the thing with the gang culture was that I wasn't out finding my footing as a tough guy. I mean, I've got into some scams and I was a slickster and a hustler, but the tough guy thing, I just wasn't finding my footing there, and it made me embarrassed and ashamed, but I started getting good at rapping.
And then some of the tough guys started to notice that I was good at rapping. So they wanted me to come around and they were like, yo, yo, go get, go get Crae. And I was like, the tough guys want me around, you know what I mean? So, you know, you're in—you’re part of that in-crowd because of what you can do. And then they set up rap battles and it was like, oh, I've found my lane, you know. I’m the rapper.
Rasool Berry: That's what's up. Yeah. I remember being in elementary school, we did a talent show and I performed “Lottie Dottie” with my man. Like it was both of us together. And the funny part was, we messed up the second verse, but it didn't matter. Cause everybody was saying it in unison, so they didn't even know. So it's like, it's a, it's a unique experience when you see that kind of connection that people are having, with you, like, “Oh, you love what I love. And you love the fact that I'm doing it.” So what was that like to be dramatically and suddenly removed from San Diego, this culture that you are connecting with, and then all of a sudden brought to Dallas.
Lecrae: I hated it. I totally hated it, for lots of different reasons.
One, it was kinda like, I felt forced and you're, you're just a teenager. You're trying to find yourself. And now you got to start over and it was just like, yo, what is happening right now? Like, I don't know how to handle this. So it was just a weird mix of me trying to find my footing. And yeah, I just, I had to start from scratch and I really rebelled.
I got into a lot of trouble. You know, I got arrested for stealing and got in fights and it was just, was bad, cause I couldn't find my footing. And then my last couple of years of high school, I went to a different high school that was more diverse. So now I'm like, mixing it up with, you know, white people that I hadn't been around consistently, like I had been before.
So I'm like having to reprocess everything. And like I'm on a basketball team and white guys are inviting me to their house and I'm like, yo, I never been over like, like this is different. You know what I mean? It's like the matrix and I'm just learning new worlds and seeing how people do stuff. And I think the basketball team gave me a motive to keep my grades up.
My teammates - the only white friends I had were my teammates - they were like, exposing me to like, “Hey, this is what studying looks like, and this is what we do.” And I was like, “Oh, okay.” You know, and that really began to change the trajectory of my whole educational process..
Rasool Berry: Hmm. So, you know, it sounds like, again, you are having to learn how to be dropped into a unique situation and adjust to that and grow.
But one of the things I didn't realize is that, you know, you, you were a hooper, so like what position did you play?
Lecrae: Yeah, unfortunately, because I was so tall, they just, they put me at like power forward immediately. You know what I mean? Which was like, I don't know what I'm doing. You know what I mean?
They're like, yeah, just put your hands up. But yeah, I had all the post moves, you know, I was dunking. My coach used to always say, “Oh, all you want to do is dunk and fight.” But yeah, it was just a fun time and it helped me build some comradery. Cause I'd have been a loner. Only people I hung out with were the troublemakers at that point in time, and the basketball team gave me some teammates who were striving for stuff that I just wasn't striving for.
Rasool Berry: Okay. So when did college become in the category for you? And was this that time where you start to see people, you know, kind of build some more academic focus or was that always in the background?
Lecrae: No. Oh, I never, I never thought about college. I honestly did not imagine turning 18. So, I thought I was going to turn 18 and go on a robbing spree and just like, “I'm an adult, now. I can go kill and shoot and steal. Rob a bank or something.” I didn't know. You know, it was craziness, but then playing basketball, of course, all everybody wanted to do was study basketball players, and basketball players went to college. So we're looking at Allen Iverson at Georgetown, or we're looking at the Fab Five and now I'm like, “Oh, college!” And you hoop to go to college. So, you know, my first thought is, well, maybe I can get a scholarship.
And, and then, you know, when I, when that started to wane, it was like, well, but I still like, college looks dope as I started investigating and hearing about it. And everybody around me is going to college. So my guidance counselor put me in a program called INROADS.
Rasool Berry: Oh yes!
Lecrae: Yeah, And it was like a program for, like, minority students to get, like, internships and acclimated to, like, you know, the real world. So I didn't know how to write a resume. I didn't know anything like that. And INROADS got me an internship and that got me kind of on that pathway to where it was like, okay, let's do this.
Rasool Berry: That’s crazy because I know INROADS, cause I actually worked there as a... doing some teaching with somebody that's on Restoration album…
Rasool Berry: He was working in the office at University of Pennsylvania while I was there. Do you know who I'm talking about? He went by John Stevens that as his government, now he's known as John Legend.
Lecrae: Legend was a part of INROADS!
Rasool Berry: Yeah, we were working together. He was like doing admin and I was teaching for one summer, you know, right there off campus, so…
Rasool Berry: Small world. So INROADS was putting in a lot of work for all of us. So, Okay. So how did you decide on UNT?
Lecrae: You know, in Texas, they had this big event called Kappa Beach Party, and everybody goes to Kappa Beach Party. And so, you know, we get down there as some, just some high school kids and I'm like, yo, this is amazing. Everyone loves the Kappas. I gotta be a Kappa. I remember because North Texas was the closest in proximity to Dallas, they had thrown some parties and I, you know, had seen them at different events. And I said, that looks—I want to go there. Wherever they are from, I want to go there cause they're having too much fun.
Rasool Berry: Okay. So that's a great segue into the college years. Cause I know, you know, and you've referred to this in Unashamed, as well, that this is where something else significant starts to happen - spiritually—starts to unfold on campus. So tell us about that.
Lecrae: Yeah. I, you know, in a black community, especially like in the late 90s, the black community an atheist was like taboo. A black atheist was non-existent, but I was around a white kid in my class and he said he was an atheist.
And I was like, what is that? And he was like, “I don't believe in God.” And I was like, whoa, I kind of feel him on that, but I'm afraid to say that out loud. Cause I kind of feel the same way. I don't really think there's like a God. But then he said something that scared me. He said, “Yeah, it's just us.” And I think I had a mild anxiety attack because I was like, if it's just us, I'm in control of my life, which is terrifying because I don't know what I'm doing.
So I—that freaked me out and it sent me on a little bit of a journey. And I started trying to dive into religion, just like, you know, philosophically, intellectually. In college, college was like Athens. It's Rome. It's like, all right, let me explore the realms of faith in God. And so I'm like taking a philosophy class here and doing this here.
And I thought I already kind of knew about Christianity because I, you know, my grandmother had church or whatnot. But I decided to go join a meeting that my friend had invited me to. And I went to the meeting and I realized, I didn't know anything. I was like, what are y'all talking? I didn't know, Ezra from Daniel. I was like, I don't know what is what. So pride kept me coming back because I just wanted to feel intelligent. And I felt like I needed to have some mastery over this. And, you know, eventually that organization became Impact, and Impact had a conference in Atlanta.
And I was like, I want to go to Atlanta. It's the Mecca of black people. There's girls there. This is a college event. It’s going to be all black college people. Yes, I'm going to this. And I get there and I was intrigued because I didn't know Christians looked like me and dress like me and talk like me and had braids and locs and were former gang members.
And I was like, what is this? And then there's a rap concert, and I'm like, they rap?! Like what is happening right now?! And then I heard the gospel and it radically changed my life and I was never the same.
Rasool Berry: Yo, you know what's crazy is if people were to ask me, “How did you end up doing ministry full-time?” My journey starts at Impact ‘98, as well. Same conference in Atlanta. I was a senior. I had just come back from studying abroad in Africa. So I was like, really wide open to like purpose and meaning.
And I get there, and I just remember walking into the ballroom and hearing Fred Hammond music blaring and everybody's singing. Thing ain't even start, yet. Nobody's on stage, and folks are just that passionate about their faith and I'm like, “What did I just walk into?” I didn't know that I could see me. And then when pastor James White preached that message on the gospel. Bro. I had never--to this day, I have never experienced the type of response. People falling out, just over hearing the gospel.
Nothing sensational happened. Just a description of what Jesus did for us. And that was all she wrote.
Lecrae: I wish I could get that sermon on tape. I'm always like trying to hunt somebody down. Like, somebody still have a cassette out here of that sermon?
Rasool Berry: So. Okay. When you say it changed your life, would you say that the light bulb went on and you became a follower of Christ at that point, or was it just a recommitment? And then what was the immediate aftermath of that? Because you came there to go see girls and then it sounds like you ended up meeting God.
Lecrae: Total light bulb moment. Total light bulb. But yes, when I got to Impact, it was like a radical transformation. It was as if all those seeds that people had planted and hearing these different messages became very clear. And I remember I came to Impact with, you know, I used to throw some parties and sell a little bit of stuff at the parties. And I had this jewelry on and I had my little rings on and, you know, and I ended up meeting the Lord.
I remember walking the streets of Atlanta taking off my jewelry, giving it to homeless people. Taking my rings off, giving it to homeless people. Like, all the money I had on me, I was like, “I'm going to get you some McDonald's.” You know, it was like, I was so grateful for the transformation that had just happened to me, I just wanted to, like, express it. It was like this feeling of joy I had never experienced.
Rasool Berry: Wow. That's so powerful. So you get back on campus and then there's this other thing that happens with this whole rap passion that you had initially had, that maybe had kind of waned or something, and these two things tend to converge, you know. How did that happen?
Lecrae: Yeah, I think I rapped for fun and I was making beats and stuff like that in a music lab for fun, but there was no outlet for me to rap. And I love rap, you know, and that's what Impact was giving me was this outlet to rap. So I would from time to time come over here, but I was like, man, it's just hard to write, to talk about this faith I don't know anything about. So they're like, “Yo, you're really good.” And I was like, “Yeah, you know what I'm saying. I do me.” But I really didn't have any understanding of God or the Bible. You know, you just rap a whole bunch of stuff, say your dope, say thesis, and then say Jesus. And then it was like, “Yo, I did that.” You know what I mean?
But after becoming a Christian, I just started to devour, you know, sermons and listen and take notes. And it was like everything I learned, you know, I was writing about. And now I had this outlet. You know, I had this—it wasn't much, it was just like Bible study. But after Bible study, we'd always have, like, freestyle sessions.
And that was my time to say the stuff I've been writing and to say the stuff that was on my heart. And I remember it turned into my friend, BJ, volunteering at a detention center and him saying, “Yo, I'm volunteering at this place. I got to speak. Why don't you come with me?” And I was like, absolutely.
And then I came in and it was like, “You want to do one of those songs you did?” I said, yeah! And I did. You know, I had like three songs in the can and I did my song and they loved it. And I was like, “Oh, you liked that? I got another one.” And every week it was, like, they wanted another one. So I would have to have new songs ready for the detention center every week.
Rasool Berry: Now see, that's probably something I didn't know, was how much the opportunity to serve inmates in the prison and kind of do it as a service, how much that fueled your early development. So it wasn't simply entertainment, but you were seeing from very early, the type of inspiration it was developing in people.
Lecrae: Absolutely. And I mean, God does what he wants to do. But the type of consistency and proximity I had to those individuals, I was seeing the light bulbs come on. And it was like, whoa, this is crazy. You know, you know, all glory due to God; I can't reinvent that. But that did something to me. You know what I mean? That really shaped me because I was seeing God use, you know, what we were doing in a way that meant a lot to me because that had just happened to me only a couple years prior.
Rasool Berry: That's what's up. Well, to kind of fast forward. It's funny cause now, you know, this is a perfect segue into the development of reach and all of that. How did that happen? How did you go from, “Man, this is inspiring people,” to, “I'm going to actually make an album and kind of pursue this in a more serious way.”
Lecrae: Yeah, I think I was trying to do something, you know. I had Diddy-esque aspirations. Russell Simmons-esque aspirations, but no capital. No know-how, just a lot of hustle. And my partner, Ben - my partner at Reach Records now - had moved to Denton, Texas where the college ministry was to study the Bible under the pastor there.
The pastor did a Bible study every year and invited about 50 guys. And he was one of those guys that year, but he had worked at a Christian sports camp called Kids Across America where he was the programs director. So he had to understand what kind of music these kids wanted to listen to, and these were kids from the hood all over America.
So he was finding Christian hip hop that they would appreciate. So he had a good ear and he knew what was good. And, you know, said like, “You gotta meet Ben.” And I was like, all right, I'm gonna meet him. And when I met him, I was like, this is the Christian hip hop guru? Like this tall white guy from Louisiana? Like, what is happening right now?
But man, he really had a genuine heart for the Lord. He really did know his music. And him and his friend, Chris, had, you know, life savings that I did not have. You know what I'm saying? And they decided they wanted to spend that to start Reach Records. And I was like, let's do it. You know what I mean?
And initially I was just going to be an artist, but then as they saw who I was and what I was bringing to the table, it was like, nah, you need to be running this with us.
Rasool Berry: Got it. When did you start to realize that this thing was really taking off?
Lecrae: You know, we had made “Crossover”, which is a song on Real Talk, first.
And I think when everybody heard “Crossover”, everybody was like, “Yo, you got something here.” And I was like, you think so? And they was like, “Yo, you got something.” And then they made it the theme song for the sports camp. And people started taking it back home with them to their respective cities and, and you know, this was just, it was all free. We weren't even selling it. It was just like a free song. You download it and you move on.
And I went to a youth group. I think I went to visit somebody at a youth group at a church in Dallas called Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. Dr. Tony Evans.
Rasool Berry: Yes, sir.
Lecrae: And they would play my song, but nobody knew it was me. I was like, “Yo, how'd y'all get this song?” It was like, “Oh no, this dude, man, we heard it at camp. This dude, whoever he is, is crazy.” And I'm like, Wow! This is wild! So that's when I felt like, all right, we got something. And then I was working a job—I was working at a cable company. I went back to the studio and recorded “Sold Out.”
And Tedashii and Ben were like, “This is… what is this?!” I was like, “I got another one. Let's go back.” And I went back and we did another one and it was like, yo, everything you're doing, it sounded amazing. Like, we got something. We put that CD out and probably within, I don't know, two months. My inbox was filled up with requests for me to come to different churches.
And I was like, let's go.
Rasool Berry: When we come back, Lecrae will share about his transition to making music for those on the streets where he grew up and how that transition led to some intense criticism and even rejection from those who had once been so supportive. This is Where Ya From?
If you're enjoying Where Ya From?, would you take a moment to write a quick review and give us some stars? Podcast platforms like iTunes and Google promote highly rated shows. So, a one sentence review of what this episode or show means to you and a quick five star rating will help these important stories reach more people. Thank you for your help and keep listening for more of Where Ya From?
This is Mary Jo Clark, and I'm one of the producers for Where Ya From? And before we return to our conversation with Lecrae, I wanted to share a teaser from our next episode with author Daniel Hill. This is Where Ya From?
Daniel Hill: I think that's the easiest way to bottom line what race is, that it's a story about human value.
God says human value is tied to our image and likeness of God. Right? The Bible says human value is tied to the imago dei. Race says that your value is not tied to the imago dei. It's tied to where you fall on the racial hierarchy.
Rasool Berry: Welcome back to Where Ya From? I'm Rasool Berry. And before we jump back into the second part of my conversation with Lecrae, just a quick reminder that the show notes are available in the podcast description. The show notes not only contain the talking points for today's episode, but also a link to connect with us on our socials.
You will also find a link to purchase Lecrae's book, I Am Restored, and the link to binge all seven episodes of a docuseries I did called, In Pursuit of Jesus. Visit the link in the podcast description, or check out our website, www.whereyafrom.org.
Before the break Lecrae shared about how his life led up to the moment of releasing his first CD, and how exciting it was to watch so many people respond enthusiastically to his music. This momentum lasted for years, but eventually Lecrae read a book called Culture Making by Andy Crouch, who we will have on the show in just a few weeks. This book reminded Lecrae of his experience of rapping in prisons and specifically his desire to create music for kids like him who grew up shaped by street life.
As a fan, I noticed the shift in his music and remember being excited and intrigued about the change, but not all of Lecrae's fans were on board. And eventually this change in a viral tweet that we'll talk about in just a few moments led to intense criticism and rejection. Here's Lecrae on Where Ya From?
Lecrae: Yeah. I'm reading Culture Making. I think I was challenged to not simply copy, not simply critique or condemn, but to create culture and to connect to a world outside of the church. And yeah, it was Culture Making. It was also Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth. Those are two, like, really powerful books for me in terms of like, okay, this whole sacred/secular divide, and how do we navigate this space.
You know, especially working in the inner city of Memphis, I was seeing the kids and I was like, man, they are just connecting with this, and not connecting with this. And I was just trying to figure out how to meet that gap. I just wanted to meet that need.
And so that started a big shift for me in trying to make music that touched the culture and not just the church.
Rasool Berry: All right. So outside looking in, I was like, oh, this is dope. This is a little bit more introspective. But Gravity was when I felt the shift, like more like, oh, this is different. Instead of talking at, it felt like talking to. But for you as an artist, is that the same timeframe or was it a different…?
Lecrae: No, yeah. I peaked. I was like, I don't have anything left to say, you know? I was like, I'm regurgitating the same things over and over again. You know what I mean? No disrespect or shade to any of, any of the theologians that I was reading, but it was like, bro, I can only rap about this Spurgeon chapter one time. I'm not about to rap about this again. Like I need something else.
And what I was experiencing was kind of like this staleness in my faith where I was like, oh, I'm just going around, talking to youth groups all the time. You know, I just feel, like, disconnected.
And so when I got to Atlanta, you know, I was trying to find the ministry. I wanted to plug and play because that's what I was used to in Memphis. It's like, okay, get the urban ministry plug in and serve. Well, Atlanta was the wild west. There was no place to plug in. It was just, you better just start serving in the community. And I was like, “Where's the organization?” No organization. You do it.
And that was very challenging for me. And in that challenge, I had to learn new ways. There wasn't a pathway set up for me, so I had to be more savvy. Meeting people where they were and not having them come to the community center. I had to go to them. And so that changed a lot. So by the time I got to Gravity, I was more comfortable, but the world wasn't comfortable seeing me in that space.
Rasool Berry: Got it. Was it a surprise? And was it like, how did you personally handle some of the criticism or even presumptions that people were making about that shift?
Lecrae: Devastated me, totally devastated me. I wasn't used to that type, that level of critique and criticism. I was a golden child, you know, up until then.
And then you gotta remember, too, a lot of my historical trauma played into it all to where I was now getting the affirmation I'd already—I'd always wanted, you know, and I was staying true to my convictions. I’m healthiest when I can be true to my convictions and not worry about being accepted. Well, I was being true to my convictions and being accepted.
I was saying, send me, I'll go, and they loved it. I was like, oh, this is—God, you're so good! But here I am now being true to my convictions, expecting people to embrace it and come with me. And I didn't realize I now had stepped outside of that evangelical structure. I was like, no, no, no.
Rasool Berry: Right. Which is ironic that you made that correction because especially by the time you get to Church Clothes, I felt like it was actually very evangelistic, even though it was not part of the evangelical culture.
And it's ironic how those two things can be at odds with each other. Like man, it's platinum in three days. And yet at the same time, it's reaching a whole demographic of people who would never go to, you know, another site, you know what I mean, that a lot of Christian enthusiasts of hip hop go to. And so I think it's ironic that sometimes that tension emerges where that which is the most evangelistic is not considered the most appropriate, evangelically.
Lecrae: My albums were to reach the youth groups and the Christian culture. But I was a hip-hop kid and I was feeling like I had to make some of these, these pop-leaning songs to appease this new evangelical audience. And I just wanted to make hip hop and reach the folks where I come from. So that's what Church Clothes was.
Rasool Berry: Got it. So, fast forwarding, July 4th, 2016. I wake up, look at my Twitter, as I'm prone to do, and see an image from you, who I follow. The picture says, this is what my folks were doing on July 4th. And I go, ”Word.” I like the tweet, but I go, “Hmm. This might get a little spicy.” And then I go on and move on with my day.
Tell us about that moment and what the aftermath was for you
Lecrae: Every so often I have one of those, like, “I probably shouldn't say this, but I'm gonna say it” moments. And that's my wiring, you know. Like my wiring is like, I just got to get this off my chest because I feel suffocated. And I think at that point in time, I felt very suffocated.
I felt like I was trampled on for speaking about Trayvon and then Mike Brown and all these different things. And then everyone's like moving on with their life. And then it's like July 4th. And it's like, what am I supposed to do here? You know what I mean? Like last year, this time I would have been selling some merchandise that was, like, July 4th sale.
This time around I'm like, yo, we are still in a very segregated environment here in America. And I don't like it. And what was we doing in 1776? This. Tweet.
Rasool Berry: Did you have any idea the level of backlash that they would create?
Lecrae: No. No. None at all. You know, I think people were just like… The thing about it is people think they know you, and when they think they know you, they know what you've given them. And all I had given them to that point was like, you know, songs about God or faith or whatever. So it's kinda like, “I don't expect anything other than that from you. Why are you giving me something I did not ask for from you? You know, shut up and dribble.”
Rasool Berry: Wow, yeah. Now, and again, just for it to backtrack. I kind of skipped over something that's kind of a major, which is Anomaly debuts number one on Billboard, which you know happened previous to that moment. Talk about the juxtaposition between that, maybe. Between going to the place where you're on Jimmy Fallon, you know, hitting heights that had never been seen before with someone with such an explicit faith and then seeing people, the same people who had supported that movement now criticizing because of this other expression of your faith. Kind of juxtapose those two moments.
Lecrae: That amount of fame and opportunity, financial wherewithal that was happening, coupled with feeling suffocated and feeling as if, like, all of my blackness cannot coexist was a nightmare, but I didn't know it.
So what it did internally was it made me bitter. And in my bitterness, I began to internalize all the criticism. And then, you know, it was like self-fulfilling prophecy. And that's what, that's what happened to me. It was like, you know, you criticize, criticize, criticize, criticize. “You're only doing it for this. You're only doing it for that.” No, I'm not. I'm doing it for the... you don't even... And I got tired of it and then it was like, “I'm done with y'all,” you know? And then it was like with Trayvon and Mike Brown, it was like the last straw for me. And I was like, I'm done. I'm out. I'm checked out. I don't want to deal with y'all no more.
I go on these tours and this is like, this isn't real. You guys are, like, this is the industry. This is not real Christianity. And I don't—what is this? This is an institution.
You know, when people are offering me money to sell kids, you know what I mean? Like, “Hey, if you get up here and get these people to adopt these kids or sponsor these kids, we'll pay you.” And I'm like, wait, what is, what is this? Shouldn't they want to do this anyway? Why do you have to pay me to convince them to do what you think is the right thing to do? Like this is just... So, I was just totally unnerved from the whole thing. And I just, you know, I just checked out and I was like, “Why am I playing by y'all's rules? Y'all don't even play by y'all's rules.” So, let me push back on it.
And so it's not that I'm no longer a Christian. It’s that this is a worldview that has a particular political leaning or a particular, you know, rituals or functionalities that I don't necessarily subscribe to. And so, and I think that's okay.
I think it's not that I look down on it. It's just that I understand that God is bigger than what we here in America deem to be Christianity. Some of it is more institutional than it is biblical, and it's not saying the institution is wrong. It's just to say that it's not a mandate, you know what I mean?
Rasool Berry: And that probably leads us to, you know, some of the things you talk about that led to restoration, right, and the backdrop behind that? These worlds kind of colliding, the immense pressure mixed with the immense scrutiny. And just the, even like you said, that running from the past, but it catching up. Tell us a little bit about how those pressures ended up in, you know, getting you to a place of seeing the value and importance of mental health and all of that.
Lecrae: Yeah. I drove myself into a dark hole, you know. I mean, obviously like let's imagine the human mind is a paper towel and if you put too much weight on it, of course it's gonna snap. What I didn't consider was my paper towel was already wet, you know what I mean? So I came into it with a wet paper towel.
I had so much historical trauma and so many problems and genetic issues, or whatever. So I was preconditioned to end up, you know, mentally ill because of everything that I had been through. And now I'm adding this unusual set of circumstances and problems and stressors. And it was just a recipe for disaster, you know?
And so you add all of the racial trauma, you add all of the criticism, and then you add your own rebellion and the issues that come with that, and substance abuse, and running from God. And it's like, you're a cocktail for disaster.
Rasool Berry: And I think going into Restoration. Already, the song that I play on repeat—I played this song for like, a whole flight: “Wheels Up”.
And I was playing that and you know, it was my favorite song, partly it's just so well done. And it kind of has that nice vibe to it. But then when I watched the video, I started to realize, man, this is actually speaking to my own journey of therapy and seeing the value of it. You know, when you hit that place of a crash, right? Like where did you go? How did you get to the place of saying, I am unhealthy, too? I am getting help that's getting me to the road of restoration.
Lecrae: Yeah, I started therapy, but I didn't know what I was looking for, initially. And so, you know, I had to try. The first place I tried, my problem with them was I couldn't be completely honest, you know, I was just nervous.
I'm like, I'm a public figure. How much can I share? I'm nervous. I don't know. And so I didn't get the help that I could have gotten. And then after that, I was just such a nervous wreck and full of anxiety that there really wasn't—I could not sit with a person without second-guessing them. So it just really took the recommendation of someone to put me in a healthy place.
And I went and Googled somebody, biblical counseling, Atlanta. And that's when I began to find a group of individuals that I felt like, all right, let's try them. Then the journey forward started, and the healing began.
Rasool Berry: So in the video, you kind of close your eyes, you kind of reflect on just even being on a plane, which I also notice in your discography, you kind of referenced those plane moments a lot, and I usually tend to like it.
So I don't know if that's—it seems like you mentioned being an introvert and that's just kind of a place where you kind of get some time. But like, were some of those images that we see in the video connected to what actually, you know, you kind of were experiencing?
Lecrae: Yeah, absolutely. You know, because people don't know what you're dealing with and what you're going through, and there's demands on you. You’re just stressed out. You know, I self-medicated. I just didn't know how to deal with that. And I wish, I wish I knew then what I know now. You know, I may not have had to suffer through some of the things I've had to suffer, but I didn’t know. I didn't know what I was dealing with. I didn't know what anxiety felt like. You know, I was experiencing it, but I didn't know that it was called anxiety, you know what I mean?
Rasool Berry: Yeah. And I'll tell you, I feel like the net result—this is my favorite Lecrae album, period. It's not even close to me, I think. And part of the reason why is I feel like there's a sense of settledness.
Like, I feel like, you know, you're not clapping back at critics. You're not, you know, kind of trying to go into different... You know who you are and you're just kind of settled in that space, which is dope.
And one of the things, too, and I’ve been waiting, burning to ask you this question that I noticed. I think when we look back on your discography, your career, one of the things that I don't really hear people talk about, but there's something that the last several studio albums have in common. I'm just going to name the album and the song.
Rehab - “I Love You”
Gravity - “No Regrets”
Anomaly - “All I Need is You”
All Things Work Together - “I Wish You the Best”
Restoration - “Still”
I don't know of any other artist, especially in hip hop, that has dedicated a song relating to their marriage and their family on every album.
Is that intentional or does that just kind of come out of you, and what is the significance of your family, and specifically your wife?
Lecrae: For me, you know, I'm constantly battling with the Greco-Roman idea of what love and romance is versus what reality is. You know, I came into marriage with a lot of false ideals about what it would be, and I got more than I bargained for. Right?
I came into it expecting, you know, hugs, kisses, caresses, and “You look so good.”
And I got, “You are unbearable to live with, but I'm staying here with you.”
I got, “You are gone all the time, but I'm going to be consistent when you're not.”
I got, “I don't even know what page you're on right now. All this historical trauma you got. You got daddy issues. You got mama issues. You got all these issues, and I'm not going anywhere. Gonna rock with you.”
And man, you gotta give credit where credit is due in that, man. You gotta salute the queen. My wife is the rock, man. I wouldn't want to be married to me. You know what I'm saying? It's hard. So just all the drama that I stir up, you know what I mean?
But she, you know, is unmoved and it is mind-blowing.
Rasool Berry: Got it. Yeah. So, I'm going to get you... this is the last one. You mentioned restoration is a lifelong process, but you can enjoy the journey. What does restoration mean to Lecrae?
Lecrae: For me, it's very specific because I have to navigate PTSD. I have to navigate anxiety probably for the rest of my life.
And so I will have to constantly be in a state of depending on God to restore my mindset, restore my hope, restore my vision. And restoration is the reality that you're going to have those lulls in life. Mine may be every week, but some people it may be every other year or every year, you're going to have that dip and you're going to need restoration. You know what I mean?
Your highest spiritual moment is not going to last forever. And so you're going to have to come back for more. Moses’ face didn't stay shiny when he came off that mountain forever, so you're going to have to get back up there and get in the face of the Lord.
And so, to me, that's what restoration is. It's about doing the things that are necessary to maintain your mental, spiritual, and emotional health.
Rasool Berry: When we take a deeper look into the life of Lecrae, we're able to see how his music truly comes from the highlights and hardships of his life. We all have problems stemming from undiagnosed trauma or hard moments that we may not fully understand.
Lecrae’s decision to find a godly counselor is leading him to godly healing, something we all need. We are so thankful for the chance to learn more about Lecrae and the truth behind his songs. If you think you missed anything in this episode, check out the show notes, which are located in the podcast description. The show notes contain the talking points of today's show and a link for more information about Lecrae and his book, I Am Restored. Just visit www.whereyafrom.org.
And remember, it's not just about where you're at. It's also about where you're from. This show was produced by Mary Jo Clark, Daniel Ryan Day, and Jade Gustafson, and was engineered by Gabrielle Bauer. Also want to give a quick shout-out to Bobby and Anne for their help in creating and promoting Where Ya From?