To be different is to be vulnerable to ridicule. To risk being marginalized. To be an … anomaly.
In a genre that often glorifies excess, Christian rapper Lecrae is an anomaly. His humble insistence that we're all broken and in need of redemption repudiates hip-hop's typically cocky mode. In an interview with hiphopwired.com, he explained the meaning behind his new album's title. "Conceptually, [Anomaly is] about how I deviate from the norm just being a product of hip-hop, but yet staying true to who I am and what I'm about, even though the culture is going its own route. It's saying, 'Man, I don't care. I'll be different.'"
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Exactly what does being different look like? On “Messengers,” Lacrae answers, “We've been given a call/Been forgiven, risen, we livin' to give Him our all.” And guest rapper Andy Mineo aspires "to know Christ and live life like every night my last night” on “Say I Won't.” "Fear" tells us that he's "chilling with my Creator/Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus to all of my haters." (That track also quotes Psalm 23.) On "Outsiders," he refuses to compromise ("I won't stay here another night/If I gotta sacrifice/Who I am on the inside"), rebukes people who are drunk on pride ("'Cause you hardly sober/Double shots of that ego"), and proclaims, "I tried my best to fit in/ … Now I realize that I'm free/And I realize that I'm me." "Broken" says, "Regardless of our money, we all broke together," but promises, "The King is coming to put us back together again." Likewise, "Messengers" insists, "We've been given a call/Been forgiven, risen."
"Good, Bad, Ugly" tells the story of Lecrae getting a girlfriend pregnant, then taking her to get an abortion (all before he became a Christian). It's a tabloid-worthy tale, but one Lecrae now recalls from the perspective of redemption and forgiveness. "Sex on my brain," he raps, "and death in my veins/Had a main thing, we stayed up 'til 2:00 (smoke)/Waking and thinking we naked, my body was loving it/Soul was hating it, man/ … That girl was so fine/Heard a heartbeat that wasn't hers or mine/The miracle of life started inside/ … Should I sacrifice this life to keep my vanity and live nice?/ … Scared my dreams were not gonna survive/So I dropped her off at that clinic/That day, a part of us died." Then the second verse links Lecrae's promiscuity to having been sexually abused: "I ain't about to sit here and name her/I was almost 8, when she came in late/Woke me up with a game to play/Did a few things that's hard to say/ … How a young boy supposed to deal/ … Had my innocence just stripped from me/ … So into, I got promiscuous." The song ends on a hopeful note for others who've had similar experiences: "And only God can help me get free/But I've been forgiven, my Savior risen/I'm out of the prison/ … We are not defined by our past/The future look bright, I see the light on."
"Nuthin" deconstructs hip-hop's infatuation with materialism and sexual prowess as mistaken markers of self-worth: "Let me guess," Lecrae says to his musical peers, "you counting money to the ceiling/Difference 'tween us like at least a couple million/It's foreign cars, pretty girls everywhere you go." Then this zinger: "You still a slave and money can't buy you freedom, partna'." That said, Lecrae reminds us that the folks he's singing about are worth so much, even if their sense of self-worth is misplaced: "But I know these people greater than the songs they created." He also observes wisely, "And we was made in His image," then wonders, "Why we so Judas?" The title track also questions where rappers find their identity: "Money, money, money, sex, drugs … /But dig a little deeper and you'll find another insecure man sittin' in a two-seater/The same little boy that got beat up/With plenty pains in his past you could bring up."
"Welcome to America" deals with poverty, materialism, exploited workers, immigration, war, wounded soldiers, pornography and sex trafficking, among other serious topics. Lecrae proffers an unvarnished look at our nation's deepest problems, yet insists it's still a place immigrants want to live and one that our soldiers lay down their lives to defend. Similarly complex and pointedly profitable, though sometimes hard to hear ("They must be whores 'cause the master rapes them and leaves the child") is Lecrae's unpacking of slavery's 400-year legacy on "Dirty Water."
"Timepiece" ponders the biblical truth that we'll all have to give an account to God for how we used our time on earth. "All I Need Is You" and "Give In" both sing the praises of finding the love of your life and staying faithful. Similarly, "Runners" encourages every man to cherish the woman he loves while rejecting the twin temptations to lust and cheat.
But "Runners" also flirts once with a crudity when Lecrae spits, "Lookin' out for little mommas with a fat (faaassst)." Guest rapper Andy Mineo jokes about medical marijuana on "Say I Won't" ("Thinking you'll stop me, no, never, not letting you/You must be high on that medical/Thinking I won't").
Lecrae rejects hip-hop's "gangsterism" clichés, but he never turns his back on those still caught in the web of money, sex, drugs and despair. If there's one theme that comes through loud and clear on Anomaly, it's his laser-like focus on how surrendering to Christ transforms our identity—both our sense of who we are and where we look for significance in life. He understands at a deep level—as revealed by some breathtakingly candid lyrics about tragic choices he made before he found Christ—the allure of finding our identity in worldly things. And he understands exactly Who he needs to point people to when that allure feels inescapable.