We talked to Lecrae about social media, sports, and battle rapping with the devil.
Lecrae with Jeremy Lin
Since Noisey interviewed Lecrae a year ago, he’s won a Grammy award for Best Gospel Album, and his Church Clothes 2 mixtape has gotten him ever-so-slightly accepted in mainstream rap circles. Beyond music, he’s become something of a phenomenon in the world of sports. Athletes, some famously religious, fucking love the guy. Lecrae hangs out with Dwyane Wade, Jeremy Lin, and Steph Curry. He's one of the MLB's most popular choices walk-up music choices. Even one of the world’s most famous basketball players, Barack Obama, supported Lecrae in his fatherhood PSA. He’s also become a sought after pastor for various sports teams from the Kings to Team USA to the Yankees, going to arenas or hotels before games to initiate prayer sessions.
Lecrae is huge on social media, too, with 859,000 Twitter followers and 1.6 million Facebook fans. Athletes will tweet out pictures of his new album title, Anomaly, hashtagged, along with various platitudes. The enthusiasm translates to the real world: According to a recent Pollstar report, Lecrae's tour sold the most tickets of any artist in the first quarter of 2014, edging out "Disney on Ice," Bruce Springsteen, Depeche Mode, and Beyoncé.
We caught up with Lecrae to discuss what all this social media stuff means, what it's like working with athletes, his new album, and more.
Do you ever worry that because you have such a large social media following and are known for your faith you are under a lot of scrutiny and held to a higher moral standard?
I definitely understand the repercussions in light of me being so vocal about my faith. I can understand the repercussions for not living up to what people’s standards may be. At the same time, I just aspire to be a man of integrity. It’s not really like I’m trying to do it for the fans. I’m just trying to be the person that I can wake up in the morning and not feel like I’m wasting my life. So, no, I don’t feel any extra pressure. I do understand that with great power comes great responsibility. I take it seriously, but I don’t feel like, “Oh man, I gotta live differently now.” I’m still being me.
So you call yourself a “revolutionary” with a “mission.” Can you talk about that?
I look at people like Bob Marley. He was a musician, but it was more than music to him. It was about inspiring change and inspiring something to happen. Music was just a catalyst for that. I want to be a revolutionary in standing up against a lot of the social ills that we see in society. And I think that a lot of artists want a sort of cognitive dissonance. They want to talk about things but not really be involved in ‘em. I just want to break that mold, which is what I’ve been trying to do.
And how do you think you can overcome those problems using rapping and preaching?
It’s all a platform to say things that matter and to rally people around things that matter. For me, one of the things that I’ve seen is an issue with fatherlessness. I’ve experienced it. So I thought, “let me be a catalyst for [talk about] fatherlessness” and not just write songs about it but challenge men to be the dads that they can be. So that’s sparked off campaigns and different types of things along those lines. And people like Dwyane Wade have gotten behind those campaigns, and it’s been great.
So you’re known for preaching to sports teams in their locker rooms before games. Let's say you’re visiting a team with someone like Michael Vick on it, who isn’t known as a moral paragon. Do you give these players personal advice, or just encourage them in their athletic pursuits?
It’s mostly personal. Everything’s interconnected. My music is connected to my life. To them athletics are connected to their lives. If they’re doing good personally, it’s somehow connected to how they’re performing on the court, you know? For me it’s just trying to give life advice, it’s trying to encourage them and so forth. I went to speak to a team on “cut day,” and I know that many of those players at the end of the day are going to find out whether they’re signed for the rest of the season or not. You take that into account when you’re talking to them and make them understand that their worth and their value does not come from whether or not they make this team. They have intrinsic worth and value that is completely separate from whether or not they make the team. That goes a long way, especially in that moment.
Say you read about a player like Wilt Chamberlain, who was known for his sexual pursuits. Do you ever go try to give them advice about that kind of stuff and say “Oh you shouldn’t do that?”
Nah, man. I’m gonna let you know that I’m available. I’m not going to be uncomfortably invasive. I don’t know if the media’s telling about a certain player or not. I just want to let them know I’m available to talk about any and all sets of issues that life may be handing us. In a lot of cases, you don’t know these people. You just know what’s been written or said about them. I might just take it as an opportunity to get to know them and let them know that I’m a genuine person who sincerely cares about them as people... and not as “so-and-so the star athlete.”
So how does it make you feel when a player like Jeremy Lin or Steph Curry tweets out the #Anomaly and maybe a bible verse or one of your lyrics?
It makes me feel like I’m not alone. We’re all anomalies in the sense that you might look at us the same way like, “I don’t get it; you don’t sit here; you don’t belong; a morally upstanding hip-hop artist? What is that? It doesn’t make sense to me.” But we all have stories, and we all have unique stories that make us who we are. To see those guys use their platform to do that is a testament to something that’s real. They’re not getting paid to do that. These are guys who are genuinely connected to what I have going on, and they resonate with it.
Do you find it weird to use Twitter to talk about profound topics like social injustice?
(Laughs) Yeah, everything has its limitations. The internet and social media—we’re still trying to figure out how exactly to use it. It’s not an absolute. It’s still a variable that we’re trying to understand how it works and how it doesn’t work. I think some things work well for one person and may not work well for another person. Personally, I don’t think a soundbite is enough to really conquer a huge issue, but it may start a conversation.
Do you think there’s something strangely transcendent about the fact that when you put a message on Twitter, immediately like a million people are going to see it?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s a Catch-22, a good and a bad thing. I think we—people in general—are very self-consumed. We wonder what everyone else thinks about us, and we wonder if we’re accepted and what’s the verdict out on us. The polar opposite of that is to say, “I don’t care about what anybody says; all I care about is what I say.” But then what if you’re wrong about your own perception? So that’s the weird part about it. You have some people who are just validating what you say, and you could be completely wrong. Then, you’ve also got people who are just validating what you say because, in their minds, they don’t want to be left out. Then you’re finding your value and your verdict in whether someone retweets what you have to say. It just ties into the whole idea of being an anomaly and saying, listen, if you know you’re staying the lane you’re supposed to be running in, then regardless, stay in it. And if no one retweets it—hey, if it’s real, it’s true.
Do you think there’s a double standard with how the media treats rappers and athletes? Like athletes are expected to be humble and praise God, but when you say you’re a Christian rapper everyone kind of does a double take and focuses on that?
Yeah, I don’t like it. Just being honest with you. It’s not that I don’t like being associated with Jesus. That doesn’t bother me at all. But, when there’s these pre-suppositions about music, and there’s so much focus on what’s couched in that word [“Christian”] I don’t like it, and it’s something I struggle with. I think if everyone had a correct perception of even the word Christian, then, sure, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But there’s so many different perspectives on that, and it creates all kinds of tension. It’s funny. People have asked me—prior to me accepting Christianity, I would have said, “Christian rap, that sounds stupid. That sounds ridiculous and corny.” So, I totally understand that. And that’s why I’m like, “Eh, let’s just leave the categories off.” I may not line up with what you think that category should have in it. If I have a song that’s just about my son, but it has no mention in it of faith whatsoever, then you might have a problem with that. I liken it to Macklemore. Is it hip-hop? Is it not hip-hop? Is it pop? Pop-rap? Everyone has an opinion on what category that belongs to, instead of just letting it stand by itself. And that’s what I hope my music does: just stand out and be what it is.
Do you accredit God with your talent as a rapper?
I feel like there’s providential—you know Malcolm Gladwell wrote the book Outliers, and he talks a lot about providence and practice—there’s some providential things that you just can’t help, and yes I would accredit that to God. Providentially, Bill Gates lived in a specific neighborhood and went to a specific school and didn’t have any choice in that matter. He didn’t have any choice in his DNA or his genetic composition, and I do attribute that to God. Providentially, I was placed in certain environments where hip-hop was prevalent, and that was the experience that I had. And then there was practice. So God put me in that place, but then there was a responsibility for me to practice and to work at it and to hone my craft. So I think they work hand-in-hand.
Do you have a similar kind of conversation with athletes about their talents?
Yeah, I mean, Steph Curry’s a good friend of mine, and he went to this super small school [Davidson], and no one really expected anything out of him. But his dad was a professional NBA player, so providentially he’s been given access to a pro who can teach him and give him things that he otherwise may have never had access to. That providence comes with a responsibility. Given that you have access and you’ve learned these things and you’re in this small school, you have to take advantage of that. So he went to that school and killed it and became the incredible athlete that he is today.
You’re from Texas, right?
Yeah, Texas is the greatest state on the planet. But I give everyone else a pass.
Did you find providence in the Spurs’ passing during the Finals?
Hey man, listen. Obviously there’s providence everywhere, but they took advantage of it. Providentially all those guys were placed on that team with Popovich, who’s a phenomenal coach. They took responsibility and worked hard and learned the offense and are the best team in the NBA right now. And [they] are the champions.
Anomaly album art
What do you think Jesus would be like as a rapper? Southern rap? Christian rap?
I think he’d be extremely revolutionary. He would probably have a lot of people within the church walls not liking it because he was very confrontational and kind of went against the grain. He wasn’t consumed with religious culture. He had an understanding that it wasn’t about religion. It was about relationships. So that’s probably how his approach would be.
Conversely, what do you think Satan would be like as a rapper?
(Laughs) I think he might be already...I don’t know. He’s probably parading out there as a rapper right now. I would say slick. Smooth. And crafty, man, probably one of the dopest lyricists ever.
Do you think you’d be able to beat him in a rap battle?
I don’t know...I doubt it, man. I wouldn’t even try.
We’re doomed, then! What’s your focus on the new album, Anomaly?
It’s an ode to the outsider culture. To the person that’s always struggling to fit in and needs to just embrace being in their own skin. I got a studio with my man S1 (Symbolyc One), who’s worked with Kanye and everybody, and we just connect. We connect on a real level. We just want to make records that embody how we feel. Because I’m not quite a church boy. I don’t fit in with your typical pastor. But I don’t necessarily fit in with hanging out with 2 Chainz. I’m just someone in the middle as this anomaly. That’s the theme. Musically, it’s driven by a lot of live instrumentation and world music. I don’t want any throwaway music on there or anything that was just trendy. I wanted lasting, timeless music.
Anything else you wanna talk about?
Anomaly’s dropping this fall! We battle rapping with the devil!
Jonathan Peltz goes to LIV after church on Sunday. He's on Twitter - @thecrazypman
Want more religious stuff? We've got all denominations covered: