From “latch-key kid” to key player in the Man Up movement, Lecrae’s life is an example of God’s transformative power – and he’s not quiet about it. In his signature straight-shoot approach, new album Gravity calls Christians to open their eyes to the weight of need in their world and share the love of Jesus as never before.
Family Christian: Can you give us a brief overview of your childhood? Where did Lecrae come from?
Lecrae: I was born in Houston, Texas to essentially a single parent household. We moved from Houston to Denver, and then, just because my mother was single and was just kind of struggling to make ends meet, I would stay with my grandmother quite often in San Diego, California. So between Texas, California, and Denver, those were the places I bounced around. I was just a sponge. I picked up so much in all that time. Obviously not having a strong male influence or role model, I gravitated to anyone who would pay attention. Most of the time those were terrible influences [who] influenced me to run in the wrong direction quite often. I grew up with a great sense of insecurity in figuring out what I was and where I belonged. Not growing up in church didn’t make it any easier. So I pretty much wrestled through that my whole life until my senior summer in high school. I got into a lot of trouble and [things] really exploded. I had to say “God, I need your help.” That’s really when I began to sense that God was drawing me and [I] later became a Christian after hearing the Gospel.
FC: What made you feel that impression that God was pursuing you?
Lecrae: I had gotten into trouble my senior summer. Financial trouble, trouble with other people, trouble with women – I was just running myself into a dead end. So I’m thinking, “I’m seventeen, let me do the mature, adult thing, and go to church.” Grandma was a Christian so the roots of the foundation I had established of the Christian God were through my grandmother. And that was where I needed to go. By grace, there was a young lady that I went to high school with that invited me to a Bible study. I went, and I had never seen Christians who dressed like me or talked like me, so I thought they were Martians from another planet! When I saw them, I said, “Oh you guys are human!” They loved me genuinely and that’s really what started it.
FC: Do you still live in Houston?
Lecrae: No, I’ve since moved from Texas to Memphis, and from Memphis to Atlanta. I’ve been in Atlanta for the last three years.
FC: You’re married?
Lecrae: I am, with three beautiful kids.
FC: So did you marry that lady from high school?
Lecrae: No, I actually met my wife at the same Bible study [though]. She was friends with the young lady who invited me. I met her there, and obviously I thought she was way too Christian for me, but I became a Christian and grew in the Lord and it worked out between us.
FC: How much was music or the arts part of your life growing up? Did you realize early on that there was some talent in your life, or did that come later?
Lecrae: Absolutely. I was a latchkey kid so I would sit at home for hours while my mother was at work. I had to use my imagination. I’d sit in front of the television so much. Sometimes she would allow me to watch television and she would come home to see if it was warm so I had to figure out what I could do with my time. It just became an outlet to start writing, experimenting, and just trying to be creative. I knew I had a passion for the arts, but we didn’t recognize it. It was one of my fifth-grade teachers who recognized it and suggested to my mother that I be put in a special class. That special class led me to audition for a special school so I actually went to a performing arts middle school for a couple years. That’s really where I started to hone my writing skills.
FC: Would you say that you’re trained in other forms of art beside hip hop?
Lecrae: I definitely wanted to be around artistic people all the time, [because] you pick up a lot. Acting and theatrics are my forte. I got a full scholarship for acting. I thought I was going to be an actor. I saw a movie with Bruce Willis in it and thought, “I want to do that.”
FC: So at what point did you decide that maybe there was something in hip hop for you? If you were leaning toward theater or acting, or at least had a desire for that, when did you decide “I want to do something with hip hop”?
Lecrae: Hip hop – it’s an art form but it’s a culture as well. You grow up in the culture and you never leave it. It’s a style of dress; it’s a way of thought. I always grew up in the culture, and it was part of who I was and I carried it into every world I was in. Even moving into the theater world, I would bring that element into it. What was unique about me and different about the world I traveled in, was I grew up watching cousins and uncles. They loved hip hop, listened to it constantly. As a little kid, you just listen to everything they listen to, they’d break dance in front yard and I was just exposed to this. From grabbing paint cans and trying to learn how to do graffiti to all those different elements. As I grew older I found that I really had a knack for rhyming and I pursued that. So by thirteen I got serious about using my writing and rhyming skills. I did it everywhere I could. I didn’t really have a lot of social currency in middle school or high school. I wasn’t the most popular kid. I’m super tall, but I started playing basketball late so it took me a while to catch up. My social currency was being able to rap and that’s what I would do in the cafeteria at lunchtime. That’s what really connected me to other peers.
FC: Did you feel forced to approach hip hop or lyrics differently after you became a Christian?
Lecrae: As a Christian I really did kind of wrestle with “How do I do this?” The things that really steered me away from Christianity [originally] was that I really did think it was about putting on airs and about rules and regulations. I liked baggy jeans and my urban style and I thought that Christians and that didn’t mix. And so going to the Bible study I saw individuals who did dressed like me and talked like me. [Up until that point] I didn’t know Christians wore their hats back and things along those lines, so that really intrigued me. I loved that I could be authentically hip hop, but authentically Christian. The things that God didn’t endorse, obviously I would have to let them go, but there were so many beautiful things that He did endorse and so many wonderful aspects within hip hop culture that just made me me that He could use for His own glory. I just began to walk in that and allow Him to change me.
FC: When you hear the term “Christian rap” or “Christian hip hop,” what do you think?
Lecrae: I think what people are trying to communicate is that there are redeemed individuals within hip hop culture. And I would say I’m one of them. I think that as a Christian, we’re to be a light in this world. I think it’s almost like saying “Christian American,” it doesn’t mean that I’m not American, it just means that I’m distinctly and authentically Christian as much as I am American. And so my Christianity is going to permeate throughout my American-ness. So when I think about Christian hip hop I think of an individual who is a Christian who is using hip hop to communicate things that God will endorse.
FC: What do you think of the Christian hip hop industry? Are we doing well? Are we competing, in a sense?
Lecrae: As an industry, there is definitely a lack of infrastructure. Simply because it’s definitely more of an organic art form, I think there’s definitely a lack of infrastructure. I think that’s been one of the passions that my friends at Reach Records have had; to bring some awareness to music and to really bring a different light and perspective. I’m really grateful to all of the different entities within the Christian music industry for embracing us and giving us a seat at the table. And I think that’s only helping more hip hop artists in positions to serve.
FC: What artists do you listen to personally, either hip hop or not?
Lecrae: I love listening to all the guys on my label: KB, Tedashii, Pro, Andy Mineo, Trip Lee. I love those guys. There’s another guy, Swoope, that I think is a phenomenal artist. They’re people that really inspire me and I think they’re just phenomenally talented at what they do.
FC: You’ve been busy with collaborations lately, appearing on Britt Nicole’s newest and also with Jimmy Needham. Who would be on your list of dream collaborations?
Lecrae: I’m a big fan of Brooke Fraser and Gungor, so I would love to work with them. You might see some Lecrae and Tenth Avenue North action happening as well… I definitely would say Hillsong United. I’m blown away at all that they do. I’ve been to Sydney and seen how incredibly passionate they are about what they do. I think that’s mind-blowing. I’ve been really fortunate. Not many artists can say they’ve done stuff with the Chris Tomlins and the Crowders. So that’s really been a blessing for me.
FC: Do you think you’d ever cross over into mainstream music? And what do you think about that type of responsibility?
Lecrae: There’s a saying that goes around that says “I you crossover make sure you bring the cross over.” That’s definitely my heart and my aim. I want to remain distinct and authentically Christian in whatever realm I’m in. I don’t want people to walk away saying, “Lecrae is a Christian because he said so. Lecrae is a Christian because they labeled him that.” But I want them to say, “Lecrae is a Christian because I can tell by his life that he values Jesus.” That’s really what my aim is, for people to see I truly treasure and value Jesus and His Word. If [crossing over] happens then, by God’s grace, let their lives be changed.
FC: So you’re not apprehensive of something like that happening? You’re just saying, “If that happens, God’s going to have to be the one to make it happen”?
Lecrae: Absolutely. I think as Christians, we all have the same calling, and that calling is to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul and love others as ourselves and to glorify God in everything that we do. If I was an architect, who all of the sudden made it into one of the biggest architectural firms, I’m still going to have that same calling. As a musician, to be able to walk in mainstream realms, I still have that same calling. The Bible says, “Take heed, lest you fall,” but this has really been the story of my life. I’ve traveled into other realms in order to be a light and be a missionary. Some of them were very dangerous, and I don’t look at this as any different.
FC: What do you think of church culture today, here in the U.S.?
Lecrae: Obviously, I love the church, the church that God is establishing, that Jesus died for, so I’ll never have any negative things to say about His church. Even though she’s spotty and has issues, He’s perfecting her. Church culture, or what I’d call Christendom, is this kind of traditionalism that we’ve set in motion. It doesn’t necessarily have any validation in the Bible, and I think can be very dangerous—creating rules and regulations and putting ourselves in positions where we’re the final authority on things because this is the way it’s always been done. It’s dangerous and we can be Pharisees in that regard. I’m very optimistic that there are sincere believers out there that are okay with tradition but don’t want to endorse traditionalism for the sake of traditionalism but want to embrace tradition because it’s God-honoring. I think that’s a beautiful thing.
FC: Tell us a little bit about Man Up: what went into it conceptually and what you hope it accomplishes.
Lecrae: Yes, so Man Up was kind of us at Reach Records and Life Ministries surveying the culture, both the church and outside the church. There was a lack of understanding of what masculinity really looks like and what it is. Obviously, we believe the Bible is the authority on masculinity, and so we wanted to address that. Men, specifically in the West, have no rights of passage, no way to know when they become a man. Everywhere else in the world you gotta kill a lion or stab a shark, or go on some journey, and you come back and you’re a man. But here in the West, we’re really kind of clueless as to what makes us a man. So we’ve begun to make up our own definitions when Jesus has given us so many. He was the picture-perfect man. He was selfless, He was sacrificial, He was courageous, He was authoritative, and He loved his wife – the church – to the death. Those were some of the elements that we wanted to put out there and portray for those inside and for those outside the church, that they may say, “Ah, this is what manhood looks like. And it’s a goal that I’ve never attained in my own strength.” And so, one of the key factors in manhood is repentance. Ya know, you’ve got to man down to man up. Wave your white flag and say, “Jesus I can’t do this.” I think that’s the first step in being a man.
FC: And it has been well-received?
Lecrae: Incredibly well. So we did a campaign where there was an album, a short film, a tour, and a conference. The tour sold out, the album has been incredibly successful, the film is attached to the album so people have been watching it and being encouraged. And at the conference we anticipated about 1,000 people and 2,200 men showed up – three generations, the grandfathers, fathers, and sons. It was mind blowing. It was a powerful, powerful time.
FC: That is so valuable for men and fathers. Talk to us a little bit about Church Clothes: the mix tape, the video, the controversy.
Lecrae: I’ve always been a missionary and what people don’t know is that I’ve always taken some strategic and eyebrow-raising steps. So historically that’s been my M.O. I moved to one of the worst neighborhoods in Memphis, as a newly married man, which everybody said “That’s ridiculous, that’s insane, you’ve lost your mind.” From there, my wife and I went to Asia in ministry there and had to duck and hide and run from authorities and she agreed to go pregnant. Everyone thought we had lost our minds again. God showed us incredible fruit. I’ve always done music to push people to get them to get uncomfortable in their seat so they could wrestle with things. Not to become pew potatoes, just simply sitting there, growing fat with knowledge and not applying it. It’s a mixed tape that’s really aimed and geared toward hip hop culture. And one of the formats that is highly respectable within hip hop culture is a mix tape. Just talking about controversial issues that I don’t think people outside of the church wrestle with. Being an artist that’s well received in Christian circles, the majority of my fan-base is Christian, and are hearing it and seeing it, and have all these questions and issues. For me, it’s me saying to them, “Hey, this exists out here. This is what people are wresting with. We need to get out here and love on people and engage people and engage culture.”
FC: So you’ve encountered some controversy with your music. Do you think it’s because you take a bold approach?
Lecrae: I think some people don’t get it, but as we talked about I think there’s a Christian culture that wants everything to be comfortable and safe and they think that’s what Christianity is. It’s “Aaah, I’ve escaped the craziness of this world and now I’m safe.” And we would like to move into a safe environment and have, ya know, a Christian barber shop and a Christian swimming pool and not have to deal with the world anymore. But Jesus prayed that we would remain in the world but [be] protected. He also told us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church and for the gates to not prevail against His church and [for that to happen], it must mean we’re trying to storm them. So, I think there’s just a sub-sect that want to remain safe and tucked away and not engage the world for the glory of Jesus.
FC: Can you just stop rocking the boat for a while?
Lecrae: (laughing) I would love to, but I can’t.
FC: No don’t! Don’t stop rocking the boat. So, tell us about Gravity. What’s the theme of the record?
Lecrae: Gravity is loosely based on Ecclesiastes and I think what Solomon was trying to do was bring some weight to life and that’s really what I want to do, to paint some sober pictures. Honestly everything sober is not bad so I don’t want people to think that sober pictures are bad. You know, there is a sobering picture when you’re overwhelmed with all of the hurt and the pain in this world. There’s a sober picture of how it’s only for a short period of time, it’s short-lived, or that we still have Jesus. So that’s what I would call a weighty part, a gravitational pull to remind us of who we are in Jesus. So obviously, just wanting to paint hope, but also just giving the pictures of the realities of this life that we live, and how there’s no escaping it other than Jesus.
FC: I do have a couple of questions from our Twitter followers. They should be fairly easy. What was the hardest thing that the media has put you?
Lecrae: Ya know, I don’t know if it’s the media. I would say it’s probably social media. Social media is just constant, it never stops, 24 hours a day. And so there’s always someone who is very loud and very opinionated. I will say it’s strengthened my faith if anything, because it’s made me feel closer to Jesus, or relate to Him more. I’m sure He was constantly criticized, and constantly someone had an opinion about what He was doing. I’m not perfect like Him though so some opinions or critiques might be warranted (laughs).
FC: Who was your favorite artist growing up?
Lecrae: My favorite artist growing up would probably be Lauren Hill. She sings, she raps, she sings from her soul, and then she wasn’t afraid to articulate her faith once she started to embrace it. And I really appreciate that about her.
FC: She certainly wore her heart on her sleeve, that’s for sure. One more question, are there any guests on your new record?
Lecrae: Absolutely. It’s still in the works, but I would love to work with the likes of Brooke Fraser and Gungor. There are a few, but I don’t want to give them away until it’s signed, sealed and delivered.
To find out more about Lecrae’s new album, Gravity, click here.