Exclusive: Lecrae Talks Hip-Hop's Changing Views on Religion & Masculinity
Lecrae is counting his “Blessings.”
Nearly three years after hitting No. 1 with his 2014 album Anomaly, the chart-topping rapper has teamed up with Ty Dolla $ign for his latest single, “Blessings.” Produced by Ear Drummers’ A-Plu$, the track packs a punch to match its positivity.
“I just tell it how it really is,” raps Lecrae on the cut. “I ain’t trippin’ they ain’t feelin’ this / I ain’t saying I deserve nothin’, I’m just trying to talk about the benefits.”
With Ty’s harmonies over the upbeat production, “Blessings” adds to Crae’s uplifting narrative, one that’s clearly connected with fans for years. Anomaly became Lecrae’s first No. 1 on the Billboard 200, while his 2012 LP Gravity peaked at No. 3. His next album, yet-to-be-named, is likely to follow that trend.
Despite all of his success, Lecrae has often found himself boxed into a specific category. Due to his faith, he’s been labeled a Christian rapper and in the past, it’s led to a separation between him and his peers. Today, the 37-year-old rapper says he isn’t affected by this anymore and that hip-hop itself is changing its views on faith-based raps.
“I think people are open to the conversation,” he tells Rap-Up. “The thing about hip-hop to remember is that everybody was holding onto a false sense of masculinity, a false bravado, machismo, tough guy. Kanye [West] comes along with pink Polos and backpacks, Drake’s emotional, and Chance [the Rapper] is like, ‘Man, I don’t even play by those rules.’ Hip-Hop doesn’t play by those rules anymore. Just be yourself. There’s more room for people to be themselves and not feel like they’re a part of a box. People are open to exploring that.”
During the Q&A, Lecrae also opened up about “Blessings” and its uplifting message, depression despite success, and what fans should expect from his next LP.
Lyrically, what blessings inspired the song “Blessings”?
It’s kind of a dual thing. Obviously my own personal faith and wanting to reclaim this conversation. Everyone’s talking about blessings and may even have negative connotations about it. I wanted to articulate from a positive sense and not use it as a catchphrase, but with seriousness. Sometimes, we forget about the little things, the blessings we have going on for us. I always say, before you complain, be thankful you have breath to complain with. I see prisoners sometimes, when I visit prisons. If they can have smiles on their faces, why shouldn’t I? It’s just about us appreciating some of the simple things we overlook a lot of times, when we let ourselves be overwhelmed with negativity.
What life lessons helped influence that outlook?
For me, it’s friendship and real friends. That’s one of the biggest lessons people overlook. I’ve had people walk me through hard times last year and that was a huge blessing. Being able to take care of your family. I was able to take care of my mother and my mother-in-law, uncles, aunts, and do unique things for them that they otherwise wouldn’t have done. That’s a blessing, just being able to do that.
What hard times are you referring to?
A lot of 2016, in spite of a gold album, in spite of a best-selling book, I experienced a lot of depression and sadness. All of the racial tension in America grieved my heart and me speaking out about it, and being attacked by people was really upsetting. I lost one of my good friends who DJ’d for me for years. He passed away. Family members. Just a lot of stuff. It was a pile-up of all these particulars and it was a tough year for me. I was grateful to have friends and loved ones I could rely on. They were truly a blessing.
What inspired “Blessings” in terms of production?
I just love music and I live in Atlanta. I feel like Atlanta is the soil where a lot of sounds are birthed, kind of like what Detroit was to the Motown era. That’s what Atlanta is right now, for urban music. I was just being authentic to the soil, being who I was, where I live. That’s all the influences that have connected with me. Got with Ear Drummers and Ty and it turned into a really great song.
What made this combination of collaborators necessary and what did you learn from them?
Working with A-Plu$ from Ear Drummers, part of Mike WiLL Made-It’s team, the dope part for me was just him bringing his best and the caliber and quality of his art, just having access to somebody like that, being in Atlanta and having him come to the studio for a couple days and hang out. We just went through music and tried different stuff. That was super dope. The music is timely and it’s necessary in terms of what people enjoy listening to. It’s for the clubs, the radios, the beach. It’s just life music.
I met Ty years back and I sent him a couple of records and he wanted to mess with a couple of them, but this one ended up being the one that stuck. He wanted to do it and looked forward to it. I think it’s the right season, the right time, and I’ve done stuff with a lot of people, but I’m grateful to do this.
Earlier, you mentioned that “blessings” has become a catchphrase. What did you mean by that?
Well, every time you turn around, it’s #blessings. Sometimes, it’s like, “Really? Is that what we’re going to put that to?” Let’s keep it on the up-and-up. You see some stuff that’s crazy. On one extreme end of it, it’s “Found out that somebody fought my baby mama and beat her up. That’s a blessing because she gets on my nerves.” I’m like, “Come on, man.” Let’s not take it to that extreme. Let’s not look at it from that angle. My personal belief is that all good things come from God so we can’t look at everything that we would say is not good, but we still like it, like that’s a blessing. Like Birdman said, let’s put some respek on the name. Let’s put a little respek on that. That’s all.
In the past, faith has sometimes been viewed differently. If you were a Christian rapper, you were seen only as a Christian rapper. The same with other faiths. Last year, Chance the Rapper dropped his song “Blessings,” while Big Sean, Drake, and Kanye West had their own hit called “Blessings.” “Ultralight Beam” is also faith-based. How do you feel hip-hop’s perception on faith is changing?
I think people are open to the conversation. The thing about hip-hop to remember is that everybody was holding onto a false sense of masculinity, a false bravado, machismo, tough guy. Kanye comes along with pink Polos and backpacks, Drake’s emotional, and Chance is like, “Man, I don’t even play by those rules.” Hip-Hop doesn’t play by those rules anymore. Just be yourself. There’s more room for people to be themselves and not feel like they’re a part of a box. People are open to exploring that. I don’t have to pretend I’m a gangster. I can just be me. If I’m a cornball or goofy or got pink hair, if I’m Danny Brown or OG Maco or Drake or Kendrick Lamar, I just get to be me.
At the same time, some artists are still boxed into religion. Others, despite how much they references it, are not. Why do you think that is?
Sure. I think it’s about the introduction. That’s how the world came to know me so of course, they’re going to see me in that box, every time they experience me. If I was introduced as a gangster and then started talking about Jesus all of a sudden, people would look at me like, “What is he doing?” I just look at it, there’s always gonna be new fans, new people coming in who don’t have any history. Hopefully, they’ll just appreciate the art and maybe there’ll be something in it that will impact them. But I’m not affected by it. If you want to put a label on it or box it, do you. I’m going to keep making music and hopefully it lands where it needs to.
Have you always felt that way? Was there ever a time where you felt opposed to being boxed in that way?
Yeah, I was opposed to it because I felt like it limited the reach of the music. But then, as of late, it’s kind of like, it is what it is and that’s what it’s gonna be and that’s fine. At the end of the day, the music will go where it needs to go. Some people don’t have labels but look at Beyoncé. She’s definitely a pop star, but she’ll always be considered an R&B artist because that’s how the world came to know her. But her music is on a pop scale. It’s reaching the masses. Regardless, people are like, “Beyonce, the R&B artist.” So, it doesn’t matter because they love the music.
This will be the first time we’ve ever had a record marketed or released for radio. Usually, we don’t even think about that. We just usually go direct to fans so that will be new territory. We’ll see what happens with that. Then, of course, the album will follow this year. Then, of course, a tour. I also want to get back to doing a lot more writing and speaking and then eventually, be an architect and start helping develop other artists to build their platforms. That’s my ambition and aim. I’ll always be creative, directing or producing, but I’m excited about seeing other young artists get an opportunity to shine.
You mentioned the album. What can we expect from it and when can we expect it?
I think you’ll get Lecrae. My last album was me saying, “I want to break free. I want to be me.” This album is me just being me. I was blessed with the opportunity to work with pretty much anybody I wanted to. I was fortunate to do that. I got to handpick and work with different people and I got to write over 100 songs. I got to say everything I needed to say and then I had to figure out what songs would make it. As far as a title is concerned, it’ll be something that reflects my perspective on life and everything else that’s going on. That’s what the sound will be and it’ll be every element: my Monday through Monday, the hard days, the fun days, the going out and having a good time, and the Sunday mornings. It’ll be all of it. Early this year, look for it.