Christian rapper Lecrae Moore has been spittin' rhymes since 2004. Still, unless you're a hard-core Christian hip-hop fan, there's a reasonable chance you've never heard of this Houston-born rapper who goes by his first name alone.
Until now, that is.
Lecrae's sixth album, Gravity, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart with sales of 72,000 units. Had it dropped one week earlier, it would have been No. 1.
Lecrae was raised by a single mother. He bounced around between Houston, Denver and San Diego. And he was, by his own admission, on a bad path headed the wrong direction when his grandmother's spiritual influence providentially contributed to his about-face and embrace of Jesus at age 17.
Accordingly, Lecrae's songs have the feel of authenticity when he raps about relinquishing worldly vices such as drinking, drugs, violence and promiscuity. But the 32-year-old artist, who's now married with three children and lives in Atlanta, never glorifies that wild-child past. Instead, he's radically, unapologetically focused on glorifying his Savior even as his incisive rhymes systematically deconstruct rap's common and carnal clichés.
Lecrae powerfully affirms that it is God, through His Son's sacrifice, who frees us spiritually. "Gravity" tells us, "We glued to our depravity/Until somebody free us from this gravity." "Lucky Ones" includes these theologically dense lyrics: "Evil abounds, weight is pulling us down/ … Deserving of desertion, servants of destruction/And every day we taste of a grace that we're unconcerned with/My sin I should be burned with, I'm guilty, filthy and stained/But He became a curse, drank my cup and took my pain/Yeah, and for that He reigns, through faith I'm changed."
Likewise, "Tell the World" paraphrases many biblical passages that deal with the heart of the gospel message: "I know one thing's true, I don't even really deserve to know You/But, I'm a witness that You did this, and I'm brand new/So I'm read' to go, and I'ma tell the world what they need to know/A slave to myself, but You let me go/I tried getting high, but it left me low/You did what they could never do/You cleaned up my soul and/Gave me new life, I'm so brand new/ … I ain't love you first, but you first loved me/In my heart I cursed you, but you set me free/I gave You no reason to give me new seasons, to give new life, new breathing/But you hung there bleedin', and You died for my lies and my cheatin', my lust and my greed/What is a man that you mindful of him?/ … Like a hero in a dream/Christ came, and he rescued me/ … Now I'ma tell the world."
Several tracks warn that worldly riches—and the pleasures and privileges they can purchase—are fleeting. On "Gravity," Lecrae raps, "Yo' eyes wide open apparently, but you sleep/And everything you have in your hands you'll never keep/ … Eternal life is what I'm thinkin' I'ma bank my hope on." "Confe$$ions" finds him lending a listening ear to rich rapper friends who call to tell him how empty their lives are, despite having more money than they know what to do with. Likewise, "Fallin' Down" warns rappers who brag about stacking their money that they don't get to take any of it with them ("Death'll hit you like a drive by/And to that stuff you acquired, you gotta say, 'Bye-bye'").
Only a quarter turn from that is "Free From It All," which offers an incisive critique of the emptiness of fame and celebrity. And "Fakin'" chastises rappers for pretending to be nastier than they are even as it warns young imitators against trying to cop their carnal heroes' ways ("Careful with that cannon, boy, you might just shoot ya' self/Somebody wake 'em, tell 'em to stop fakin'/ … You ain't really no ghetto boy, why you fakin' that hard face?").
Which brings us to the reggae song "Violence," as it laments the fact that impressionable, impoverished youngsters may emulate the violent lifestyle glorified in rap music ("Too scared of being broke to think about being betta'/Plus, we get bombarded by all these images of bravado/You ain't really a man if you don't follow these models/But the weakest ones follow, the strong reconsider").
"Lord Have Mercy" alludes to family members whose drug addiction led to their deaths. "Walk With Me" finds a struggling pilgrim praying for Jesus' help. "Buttons" affirms marital commitment even in the midst of conflict.
A line on "Gravity" flirts with profanity by turning the name of Satan's final home into a double entendre ("The devil want us burning for the h‑‑‑ of it"). "I Know" reflects on Lecrae's hard upbringing with this line: "My momma told me they would screw us, but I already knew it."
A lyric on "The Drop (Intro)" could be heard as praising deceased rapper Tupac Shakur ("And we never gonna die, that's why we ride and rise like 'Pac got back up").
Sober. That's the word Lecrae uses to describe the overarching spiritual message on Gravity.
In a lengthy interview with Family Christian Stores, Lecrae said, "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."
He's not just saying that because he's talking to a Christian retail outlet. Over and over again, Lecrae's lyrics utterly repudiate the false gospel of wealth and worldliness, power and promiscuity that permeates secular hip-hop. The result is nothing short of a tour de force album, Christian hip-hop at its very finest.