You’re probably going to hear more of rapper Lecrae thanks to his new deal with Columbia Records.
After a decade of success with Reach Records, the Christian hip-hop outlet he founded, the Grammy- and Dove-winning artist scored his first deal with a major label, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reports.
At Columbia, the biggest label under Sony Music, Lecrae joins some of the most popular names in music: Beyoncé, Adele, Pharrell Williams, and One Direction.
A “rapper who happens to be Christian,” Lecrae has already enjoyed mainstream success—collaborating with hit artists, topping the Billboard charts, and appearing on TheTonight Show. But the Columbia deal takes things to another level.
“That will bring on things like radio airplay, larger tours, more featured placement on digital retailers and large playlists on services like Spotify and Apple Music,” said Chad Horton, co-owner of the Christian hip-hop site Rapzilla. “It will get him more into the mainstream areas that he has been trying to break into the last few years.”
With the new deal, Lecrae will continue to make music “in conjunction” with Reach, the AJC wrote.
“Ultimately, I think it is both a branding and financial move for not only him but the entire Reach Records label roster,” said Horton. The label includes popular artists such as Trip Lee, Tedashii, and Andy Mineo.
While successful Christian rock bands (including Switchfoot, POD, and Jars of Clay) make deals with major labels, it hasn’t happened as often in Christian hip-hop. “It's rare but not unheard of,” said Jason Bellini, who blogs about the genre as Sketch the Journalist.
BB Jay, a Christian rapper compared to Notorious B.I.G. (also known as Biggie Smalls), signed with Jive in the late ‘90s; and Mali Music, an R&B artist, is currently signed with RCA. Several others have deals with spiritual or gospel divisions of major labels, said Bellini.
Fans are bracing for backlash accusing Lecrae, arguably the most prominent Christian hip-hop artist in history, of “selling out” by teaming up with a secular label. “Signing to Columbia Records, in my opinion, is the biggest move in Lecrae’s career—bigger than winning the Grammys…. This opens up for him to reach more, to reach the masses,” stated one defending fan on YouTube.
In his latest mixtape—Church Clothes 3, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard rap charts in January—Lecrae addressed the “sellout” claims in a song called “Sidelines”:
Biz busy on the boards
I hear 'em cheering from the sidelines
Wait, hold up, I think they hatin'
People told me take my time, right?
Nah, they tired of waitin'
They say "Crae, you sold your soul, man"
For real? Who bought it?
"Let the Spirit take control, man"
I don't go nowhere without him
The news of the record deal with Columbia came hours after Lecrae announced that his new book, Un-Ashamed, made The New York Times bestseller list.
Lecrae appeared on the cover of CT in 2013, and Gleanings tracked the success of his 2014 release, Anomaly, which rose to No. 1, earned him his first Grammy nomination in the rap category, and changed how Billboard ranks Christian music.