A Christian set a cultural milestone last week, and you might have missed it.
The Christian Post reports that Lecrae Moore (commonly known as Lecrae) made music history earlier this month when his new album, Anomaly, became the “first solo hip-hop project by a Christian rapper to debut at the top of the Billboard 200 and the gospel album chart in the same week.”
Anomaly also went to number one on the Christian charts, and as Grantland writer Rembert Browne points out, Lecrae is the first artist to ever pull off this trifecta.
Billboard magazine’s latest issue declares Lecrae might be music’s new conscience, writing in a feature story that “Lecrae enjoys a deft command of nuance, a blessing that derives from his straddling of sacred and secular worlds.”
It’s this very separation of “sacred and secular worlds” that Lecrae rejects, and has driven him to bring his music to Christians and non-Christians alike.
Navigating Mainstream Acceptance
While mainstream culture is often wary or dismissive of Christian artists who boldly live their faith, Lecrae continues to garner respect for his craft. Christianity Today describes Lecrae as a “celebrated an artist who can entertain both Christian and mainstream audiences,” citing his tours with top rap artists like Common and Kendrick Lamar. He recently performed on “The Tonight Show” with another major hip-hop act, The Roots, and received an invitation from host Jimmy Fallon to return to the show.
This mainstream embrace isn’t without tension. Lecrae told Billboard that “When you’re a part of hip-hop culture but you’re a Christian…people want you to be either/or.”
In 2013, Nicola Menzie reported on a podcast interview Lecrae gave with “The Exchange,” saying Lecrae confessed that “‘he’d definitely had some sleepless nights and some long conversations’ in trying to balance his faith and career as a hip-hop artist.” He also commented that “There’s always someone saying one thing or the other about me…’too Christian’…’Too pagan’.”
Overcoming the Sacred/Secular Divide
The “too pagan” accusation comes from Christians who fear Lecrae’s mainstream ventures and increasing success have made him “worldly.” In response, Lecrae told “The Exchange” that “I am a Christian. I am a rapper. But Christian is my faith, not my genre.”
It’s a conundrum other Christian artists have faced as they break into mainstream culture, and one Lecrae deals with by embracing the biblical doctrine of work. Lecrae has long been a critic of the sacred/secular divide. Analyzing Lecrae’s beliefs about Christian cultural engagement, Menzie writes,
The 33-year-old rapper believes he, and other Christians, can impact culture simply by being engaged and demonstrating what “redemption has done” in a Christian’s life, instead of creating sub-cultures or living in a bubble.
Lecrae cites the Apostle Paul as an inspiration for bringing his music to church and culture. He told “The Exchange” that,
I’m a big fan of just looking at Paul in Acts and him in the marketplace, but in the synagogue as well. Him mixing it up out there in the culture and knowing who their modern-day poets were and their speakers and philosophers and being able to integrate their ideals and values in his talks as he tries to preach to them.
In his Billboard feature story, Lecrae declares,
I will be talking about things that both people in the church and out of the church are concerned with and think about.
It looks like Lecrae will now be able to talk about those things “that both people” in and out of the church care about on a much larger scale: Billboard reports that Sony’s RED Distribution recently began partnering with Reach Records, Lecrae’s label that he started with friend Ben Washer. The partnership is credited with helping Lecrae expand his audience and reach number one on the charts.
Martin Luther once said that God is interested in good craftsmanship. For Lecrae, the Christian rapper does his Christian duty not by putting crosses on his albums (or scoring a high Jesus-per-minute-ratio), but by making good albums.
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