Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Why Lecrae Should Matter To You (ROE Pt 3)

Rules of Engagement - Part 3: Create great art, and let your worldview influence your art

Indeed, nowhere is culture more ‘unsalted’ than precisely in the field of the arts – and that in a time when the arts (in the widest sense) are gaining a stronger influence than ever through the mass communications.” - Hans Rookmaaker

So get used to me, cos Imma settle in”- Lecrae

Lecrae is likely the most influential hip hop artist today that demonstrates a biblical-Christian word-view. He's proven to be a man of integrity, strong faith, and a very honest and transparent person, who openly shares about his fears, doubts and weaknesses. He's become a leader within the Christian community, but in recent years, has become known to the hip hop world in general, as a compelling artist who happens to have Christian faith. This is the concept he's basing his new record “Anomaly” around. I have never been as excited about a music release, as I am about this album. If you know me well, you'd know that's a big call.

Confession + explanation: I love hip hop music, in fact you could say I'm a BIG hip hop fan. Especially for a drummer. But I've never been solely into that style/genre. The first major CD I bought was Radiohead's third album. The most recent CD I bought was by my favourite jazz trio. Give me a CD of the latest indie band, and I might like it. Show me a singer/song-writer with soul, and I'll probably love them. I even like the odd Coldplay and Katy Perry song. I've played drums in a semi-professional jazz/fusion band, and percussion in a professional symphony orchestra. For an eclectic musician, and a fan of jazz, rock and classical – Lecrae has a lot of my attention at the moment, and there's a good reason for it.

I know that rap and hip hop isn't everyone's cup of tea. I had a good friend the other day sheepishly tell me “I don't really like hip hop” (this was while I was playing some 'underground' rap in the background). I'm ok with that. Especially considering rap/hip hops connection to popular culture, I do suggest that it if you want to forge a career in the arts or the media in some way, that you learn at least a little bit about Lecrae and his journey.

Learn from a man whose journey so far is unparalleled by any Christian in the realm of the arts today. If more people followed his basic approach, the world would be a totally different place today. Read, listen, watch, bob your head, and learn. (You could start by listening to THIS catchy new number that recently hit #1 on iTunes!!!)

In his mind, he's a missionary, but in his approach, he seeks to be the best artist he can be. His new approach combined with his hard-work and latent talent as a poet and an MC, has brought him favour within the industry, without him compromising his convictions. One rapper said in a track Lecrae might “sell a million”, and I think he might be right.

These days, he raps, connects with his crowd, makes great art, and let's his world-view influence his sound and music. But it wasn't until quite recently that he took on that approach.

For almost a decade, Lecrae has been on a journey through the world of “Christian music”. Since 2004, he has released album after album of gospel centered, spiritually edifying, doctrinally eloquent, sonically brilliant rap music. Songs like “Don't Wanna Waste My Life”, “Rebel” and “Just Like You” and many more, have become favourites to believers across the globe. Christians from many cultures and people groups, particularly those that identify with “hip hop culture”, have been encouraged and discipled by music from Lecrae and his rap crew.

Around 2012 however, he went through a major paradigm shift, and began distancing himself from the “Christian rapper” term. His music, his interviews and blog have sought to explain this. Many rappers continue the job of teaching and “discipling” Christians through their music, but it seems Lecrae was moved to reach more “lost” people.

Between 2011 and 2012 however, he documented in a blog that while he knew his music had been used to transform lives, he was still dissatisfied with the limits that labels had put on his music. He said many wouldn't even give his music a real chance, because they felt that it wouldn't speak to them. It makes sense. Why would a non-believer be interested in something marketed as “Christian”?

I was respected by my non-religious friends, but my music to them was very limited and didn't speak to any areas of life other than salvation and living right. I sought advice and was led to books by people like Francis Shaffer, CS Lewis and others... I was challenged in more ways than you can imagine.”

He also commented on labels of artistic genres such as “Christian” and “gospel”: Interestingly enough, those genres are the only ones categorised based off the content and not the style of music.”
Personally, I do believe that those terms can be beneficial for Christians within themselves (eg new-believers, parents and youth leaders), but the labels can be unhelpful for Christians who seek to connect and create culture for those in the world. Lecrae put it this way:

Though it gives people identifying marks for their music, it can also (in many ways) limit their reach. Many people take these titles to mean the music is for an exclusively Christian audience. If indeed the true Gospel is what transforms people outside the faith, then why should the term Gospel seem exclusive to those in the faith? Of course that's not the intention, it's just a reality that any missionary should consider.”

As an artist, this explains why Lecrae went on a mission (from around 2012 onwards) to distance himself from the “Christian rapper” label.

As he told 50 Cents Youtube channel: “If I'm a Christian rapper, then Lupe's a Muslim rapper”.

This approach didn't fail to draw criticism. He's been criticized for wanting to be successful in the world, and for working with non-Christian artists, and a range of other things. He's responded to those critiques at various times, although the various negative blogs, and comments that can be found on his social media sites prove that we will never please everyone, this side of Christ's coming.

Thankfully, he's developed tough skin, worked hard to keep a sweet spirit, and just has simply gotten on with his mission. “I know what they saying, but I promise that I'm cool...” he rapped in his 2012 album “Gravity”.

Before the release of that breakthrough album, he released an underground mixtape. It was as successful as any hip hop album (by a Christ-follower), ever. It's essential listening if you're a hip hop fan, if you're not, maybe check out a bit of background info, and consider listening to the first single.

If you read XXL (a prominent hip hop magazine), listen to Sway (well-known hip hop DJ), and know about rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Hopsin and others... you'd know Lecrae is hitting the mark within hip hop culture. “Hype” is building for his latest album, and this makes me excited.

His first single is here (more heavy)
His second single is here (this one's far more catchy/”pop-py”.)

To further grasp his transition, compare this line in 2008 from his album "Rebel":

"Lord kill me if I don't preach the gospel"... the following statement made on Facebook earlier this year:

"I know most people want every song to have a very explicit moral message but sometimes that sacrifices the art and beauty and skill of communicating. I'm still fighting to give people what they've come to expect from Albums like "Rebel" while still helping them to understand that trying to force that does a disservice to you, me, and the work God has done on me..." (full post here).

Overall, to Lecrae, “success”, is having people connect with his world-view and message. This can't happen as much, if the “artistic” quality in his music is lost because he is trying to force a particular message. He's set out to be an artist... and he's staking his claim in hip hop culture as a great one. If more artists and media professionals learn from people like him, the world would be a different place.

[Edit: Of course, Lecrae has readily admitted that he hasn't done this perfectly. He shares about his mistakes in this interview, and also in the song "If I Die Tonight" (CC2) -  "Sometimes, the first one to lead, is the first to make big mistakes / and the first one to be criticized and the first one to feel hate / But I swear the moves that I made / I was trying to work on my faith / I've been wrong before but where I'm bout to go / they won't put it all in my face / I just dared to do what they scared to do / And if I died tonight, just know - I may need an heir or two"]

[Edit #2: just announced Lecrae is releasing a new book. Even if you hate rap, keep this book on your radar as it will no doubt give a view into the mind of a great artist who still has his Christianity intact.]

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