Christian rapper Lecrae’s first new material since 2014’s Anomaly picks up thematically where that effort left off. Which is to say that his third Church Clothes “mixtape” (an album-length project that’s not considered an official studio-release) brims with Lecrae’s signature brand of pull-no-punches rap. Racism, sex trafficking, gang violence and materialism are among the many serious topics he hits head-on—from a point of view that’s deeply shaped by his faith.
Lecrae wastes no time before diving into the thematic deep end. Album opener “Freedom” immediately begins to deal with the subject of sex trafficking and exploitation of children (“Man, they out here prostitutin’ kiddos/Fill they pockets with dinero/Pedophiles, pitiful/Sell a child to centerfold/Take they innocence, put it on the Internet”). The balance of the track contrasts slavery (literal, historical and metaphorical) with freedom (literal and spiritual). Lecrae ponders the cost of chasing after our personal desires (“Ima go pursue my happiness, they told me it was free/But I’m still payin’ for it, I’m indebted to this thing”), and contrasts our culture’s understanding of freedom with Scripture’s (“Is you cookin’ or is you hearin’ your Father say, ‘Well done’?/Is He lookin’ at all your honors?/ … Got some money and a soul, and neither one saved us/Slaves, get free”).
“Deja Vu” ponders the problems of the world (race riots, abortion, drugs, police brutality), talks about the ineffective ways people try to cope (“Rich man need a vacation, hop a plane/Broke man need a vacation, Mary Jane”), and even admits how hard it is to hold onto your convictions (“I feel like giving up the faith”) before ultimately focusing on the truth that God is with us through good times and bad (“And some days are a nightmare/And some dreams come true/But the Lord’s still right there”).
“Sidelines” addresses some of the criticisms Lecrae has evidently heard: “They say, ‘Crae, you sold your soul, man’/For real? Who bought it/’Let the Spirit take control, man’/I don’t go nowhere without Him/They scared that Ima cause these babies to stumble/They scared my integrity is gon’ crumble, appreciate the prayers.” But he isn’t going to let such fears prompt him to “hang out on the sidelines.” And he (rightfully) brags a bit about his own sense of positive influence on young listeners: “We out here building the children, you know I love ‘em, boy.”
On “It Is What It Is,” Lecrae sings about staying faithful to his wife and recognizing that the stuff the world values (fancy cars, rock-hard abs) aren’t effective measures of personal significance, especially in comparison to people’s eternal destiny (“It’s all a gift, every breath is a birthday/So I spend time tryna find all these souls lost/’Cause it’s a wasted time if I got it all and they souls lost”). “Cruising” reflects on the good, simple things in life, such as an attentive wife, spending time in God’s Word, giving money to a homeless person and having dinner at a favorite restaurant.
A determination to resist an interloper’s sensual advances shows up on “Can’t Do You.” “Forever” testifies to the importance of being a strong, faithful husband (“I know a lot of guys out there are tryna steal your heart/But a real man hold onto it tight, ‘til death do you part/Momma done raise me right, tryna make me a knight, life/Shinin’ armor, don’t harm her, arm her with all your honor”). Lecrae differentiates between self-centered casual sex and “real love” (“Any boy can go find a girl and try to satisfy her for a whole night/But a real man can take one woman and satisfy her for a whole life/Sex talk, flex talk/It seems that’s all they talk about/But real love is them sacrifices that you make for me when I’m out of town/ … Let’s marathon it, let’s work it out forever”).
Lecrae says of his sense of mission (on “Misconceptions 3”), “Look, I was created to make a statement/A sentence sent us to Earth on this mission/Tryna make a way for my siblings/Brothers and sisters who drinkin’/Out of them cisterns with cracks in ‘em/Listen, but lack hearing/Who lookin’, but lack vision/ … Made in the Lord’s image.” On album closer “I Would Know,” guest rappers KB and Elhae sing (respectively) “Breakin’ cycles, make disciples, that’s all I know” and “Remember this: You will always reap what you sow.”
On “Gangland,” we hear this take on an accused man’s fate: “He’ll probably end up dead or sittin’ in a penitentiary/And tell the judge he can go to h— for the sentence.”
That bit of rage is on a track that raises hard questions about social and racial issues, and Lecrae clearly isn’t shy about making people feel uncomfortable in the process. “Why would we listen/When American churches scuff they Toms on our brothers’ dead bodies/As they march to stop gay marriage?” he spits. “We had issues with Planned Parenthood too/We just cared about black lives outside the womb just as much as in.” Also, “Delusional, call that system criminal justice/Where the rich and the guilty are safer than the poor and the innocent/ … It was a crooked system just like this that left the King of Kings bloodless/Yeah, we are truly a descendent of a King/Only His reign is infinite.”
If the glove fits, he’s saying.
Indeed, Lecrae’s latest “mixtape” percolates and pops with a passion for important—and at times challenging, complex and controversial—subjects. I don’t think it’s possible to listen thoughtfully to Lecrae’s substantive spiritual musings here without being confronted with issues we might otherwise be tempted to avoid or minimize. But that’s not where he leaves things. Church Clothes 3 poignantly zooms in on what matters most in life, namely the Good News of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf—a message of hope in stark contrast to all the bad news Lecrae knows we’re exposed to every day.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.