Lecrae’s Gravity: An Album That Soars

This is a monumental occasion. A Christian artist has reached the top of the iTunes charts. Lecrae’s brand-new Gravity debuted at #1 on Tuesday, September 4, 2012.

I’d like to indulge in a moment of nostalgia here. We’re never more prone to nostalgia, ironically, than when we step into a new era. You may not have followed Christian hip-hop for years like I have, so I’ll briefly catch you up. On the message boards like Sphere of Hip-Hop, I was introduced to fellow Christian rap fans, people from Montana and New York and California, bonded by a love for Christ and a love for gospel rap. We tracked the pioneering efforts of artists like Mars ILL, Grits, The Cross Movement, Gospel Gangstaz, Tunnel Rats, Braille, and LA Symphony.

On this and other outlets, we considered such essential life questions as whether Toby Mac is a rapper or talented pop star. (Most opted for the latter.) We mused over whether Christian rappers could actually make a difference or were forever consigned to small crowds and little trust among the broader evangelical community.

Today, we have a verdict on that last question. Gospel hip-hop is here. It has broken through. It’s edifying the church, it’s influencing the culture, and, wow, it’s moving units.

Leader of the Pack

Houston-born Lecrae Moore is the head of the new breed of gospel hip-hop artists. With Flame, Trip Lee, Shai Linne, Timothy Brindle, Stephen the Levite, Tedashii, Propaganda, Beautiful Eulogy, and others, he represents a new era in Christian hip-hop, one marked by increased popularity in both the church and the secular music industry and also by enhanced cooperation between different evangelical camps. As with his other albums, Lecrae has released Gravity on Reach Records.

Coming on the heels of the wildly successful (and somewhat controversial) mixtape Church ClothesGravity is a statement album. Church Clothes was downloaded more than 250,000 times on the popular secular rap site DatPiff.com. Gravity is the next step, and like its predecessor, it has some secular flavor, including mainstream artist Big K.R.I.T. For this reason, the album has generated some controversy, which we will address below.

Boasting outstanding production, honest and impressive lyricism, and cover art that mashes motorcycle outlaw with PrometheusGravity represents Lecrae’s bid to make a comprehensively great record and become the first Christian hip-hop artist fully embraced by the musical mainstream. Debuting on top of the iTunes charts, the album may well accomplish this ambitious goal.

Examining Gravity

We see the strength of Gravity when we work through it track-by-track. The album begins with a violin. That may surprise some expecting a properly Houstonian beginning, something with bounce in it. The expected heavy bass isn’t long in coming, but Lecrae shows he’s up to something unusual in Gravity. We’re not a minute in, and the track sounds like something Hans Zimmer might record if he teamed up with Timbaland.

The title track, “Gravity,” features J. R., a smooth crooner, who lends a soulful vibe to Lecrae’s honest confessional. The rapper tells us off the bat who and what he’s aiming for in his music:

I pen songs for the perishin’ and parishioners
Them hearers and them listeners, the home and the visitors
This is not a game, you can’t tame or make it purty
They say the earth cursed, so our mouths stay dirty

Track 3, “Walk with Me,” is a Luther-like examination of sin and suffering that features a cry to the Lord to strengthen Christian faith amid temptation. This is a crucial part of Lecrae’s appeal: he speaks with directness and honesty about life’s struggles even as he constantly points to the superabundance of grace found in Christ. An example of this kind of clarity comes in Track 4, “Free from It All,” where Lecrae raps from the perspective of a beauty-obsessed person, detailing the empty brevity of a life driven by appearance.

The next song features a truly stunning beat. I listened to Track 5, “Falling Down,” many times in preparing for this review, and repeatedly got chills from its gothic vibe. The track, crafted by the uber-talented Watchmen, brings in Trip Lee and Swoope for quick-witted dissertations on the tendency of human existence to break down. Trip is, as they used to say of Sinatra, in good voice.  If you don’t own some Beats by Dre headphones, save your lunch money, buy them, and make this the first song you listen to.

In Track 6, “Fakin’,” Lecrae calls out hip-hop artists who pretend they have what they don’t. That may not sound like a salient subject, but if you’ve ever seen a rap video, you know it is. Not all who record a studio track can drive a Maybach. Lecrae’s boldness is striking, both here and elsewhere. He wants to reach a mainstream crowd, but he’s not pulling his punches. In Gravity, he hits as hard as he can to reach lost souls with the gospel.

We get another superb beat on Track 7, “Violence”—this one from the mysterious Tyshane, who also contributed the beat to “Black Rose” on Church Clothes. The track is itself an act of violence against your speakers, though in it Lecrae decries glorified brutality, another staple of hip-hop music.

Track 8, “Mayday,” features a controversial guest verse from secular rapper Big K.R.I.T. Some think Lecrae shouldn’t give non-Christian artists a microphone, arguing that darkness has no place with light (cf. Eph. 5:5-82 Cor. 6:14). Other Bible-loving believers don’t strictly object, citing Lecrae’s self-expressed desire to be a cultural missionary (per Matt. 28:16-20). I am sensitive to the former group’s concerns. I would surely find it troubling were Lecrae to move beyond what one could conceivably call bridge-building and into more serious partnership with non-Christians. That said, though, if you or I were a painter or a classical musician, might we host a show or concert with a thoughtful, philosophically minded unbeliever who grapples with life’s great questions? It’s possible. This is a complex matter that deserves longer treatment, but I think the crucial matter here is the way the partnership is framed, and the degree to which one goes in collaborating with secular artists.

On Track 9, “Confe$$$ions,” Lecrae returns to the subject of wealth, discussing the fading nature of the pursuit of money. Given his recent success, I can’t help but think he’s speaking not only to a materialistic culture, but also to himself. Sometimes we find ourselves in the most spiritually challenging situation of all not when we suffer, but when God answers our prayers and blesses our work.

Lecrae speaks to a different kind of battle in Track 10, “Buttons,” which is deeply insightful about the way married couples push one another’s buttons. In Christian marriage we don’t lose our sin altogether, but we learn how to be sinners together and not encourage one another in ungodliness. In Track 11, “Power Trip,” Lecrae explores the desire to gain fame and power with Pro, Sho Baraka, and the jester of Reach, Andy Mineo. Sho hits hard with his witty verse:

I been connected to the power, I don’t have to chase it
I roll with the Trinity, this is sorta the Matrix
A hard pill to swallow: we’re evil to the core
Wicked power exploits the poor, and it brings war

On Track 11, “Lord Have Mercy,”—one Waka Flocka might easily have snatched up—Tedashii briefly breaks into a stutter reminiscent of Machine Gun Kelly. Gravity is deep, but it’s also fun.

The Watchmen return for another track on “I Know,” and Lecrae matches the production with a lively delivery: “Cuz I be on my Spike Lee/Even when I do the right thing, they still wanna fight me.”  Track 14, “Tell the World,” sounds like a collaboration between Coldplay and the secular rapper Lecrae most closely resembles, Jay-Z. It’s a great song that, like so much modern Christian hip-hop, packs a great deal of theology into just a few verses:

I can’t offer you nothin’, but your care & kindness keeps comin’
And your love is so unconditional, I get butterflies in my stomach
I got the old me in the rearview, now the new me got a clear view
And I was so dead, I couldn’t hear you, too deep in sin to come near you
. . . My face look the same, my frame ain’t rearranged, but I’m changed; I promise I ain’t the same
Your love’s so deep you suffered and took pain, you died on the cross to give me a new name
Ain’t nothing like I’ve seen before, I got a beaming glow
I was low, down, and dirty, but you cleaned me, Lord
You adopted me, you keep rocking me
I’mma tell the world, and ain’t nobody stopping me!

Here we have, in no particular order, the love of God, regeneration, the great exchange, substitutionary atonement, the active righteousness of Christ, adoption, and the perseverance of faith. To think, some people still worry about whether rap can be theologically rich.

Track 15, “Lucky Ones,” is a slow, melancholy, deeply affecting track. I’m struck by how both Lecrae and his running mate, Trip Lee, know how to speed things up and then slow them way down. I loved Rudy Currence’s velvet hook, and I think this is the first rap track I’ve heard that features a French horn (played by Danika Lukasiewicz). The album could have ended on this note, but it continues. Track 16, “No Regrets,” sounds like Big Juice cooked up a Drake track, though Lecrae’s call to a sold-out life in Christ diverges sharply from Drake’s hedonism.

The album ends on an excellent note. “Higher” features a quick-firing flow from Lecrae and a Bono-like delivery and refrain from Tenth Avenue North. The rap/worship fusion works very well. Track 18, “Fuego,” features KB (of the strong Weight and Glory) and Suzy Rock. It offers a rousing call to “set the world on fire” for Christ, a fitting exhortation for Gravity.

Master of Many Styles

There are few critical comments I could make regarding Gravity. I would like to see Lecrae focus on one kind of sound and milk it for an entire album. His gifting allows him to range over a myriad of styles, but I would love to see him do a concept album or similar project that would allow us to hear him unswervingly explore, say, the classical theme of the intro, the gothic style of “Falling Down,” or the more emotional aesthetic of “Lucky Ones.” His talent allows him to tackle, and master, most any style.

I do also think Lecrae will have to carefully consider how much partnership he forges with secular artists in pursuit of ministry. How much voice do we give non-Christian artists in our works of art? These and other questions naturally pop up for evangelists like Lecrae. Reaching out to a lost culture is serious business, to be sure, but so is staying squarely in the light (2 Cor. 6:14; cf. Eph. 5:5-8).

These brief remarks aside, Gravity accomplishes what it sets out to do. It’s a superbly crafted album that will appeal to Christians because of its content and to non-Christians because of its quality (and, I’m sure, vice versa). With many others, I’m stunned to see how far Christian hip-hop has come and how much God is blessing it in our day. From the forgotten child to the heir of evangelical musical influence in the broader culture—such is Christian hip-hop’s journey these last few decades.

This is a good day, one I pray will mean the spread of the gospel to those who don’t want it, aren’t looking for it, and desperately need it.

* * * * *

You can buy Lecrae’s new album, Gravity, at Amazon.com and many other outlets.

  • http://www.corinthtoday.org paul Cummings

    I love love love Lecrae (And Trip Lee, Tedashii, Pro, Braille…etc) and Christian Rap isn’t really even my favorite genre of music.

    what is so incredibly refreshing is to see the complete and utter Christ-centeredness of his music without bowing to “creatively concealing” Christ in the songs the way so many other Christian artists do. I used to love a Christian metal band called “Disciple”…you just couldn’t get away from JESUS in their music…and then they had a metamorphosis and basically took what others would call a more “artistic” approach to their music…now they sound like any other band on secular radio and you’d even have to read their CD liner notes to see if a song had some “spiritual” connotations in it…

    Lecrae is my favorite Christian artist simply for his Jesus-centered approach and I hope that he leads others especially in the Rock and Metal Genres of Christian music to unashamedly speak the name of Jesus in their music.

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  • Moses Park

    Thanks for this thoughtful review. I’m glad Lecrae is getting mainstream exposure as he continues to influence the greater hip-hop culture and gains the respect of his peers who are not necessarily Christians as well.

    One concern I do have is your comments about his collaboration with Big K.R.I.T., which I think are a bit misguided. Although K.R.I.T. is not necessarily a classical “Christian rapper” in the vein of other Reach Records artists, I don’t think it’s unfair and a bit presumptuous to call him a non-Christian. If you’ve listened extensively to all of his released work (including a highly-acclaimed mixtape and a critically acclaimed major label debut album), you will know that his Christian faith is not a subject he isn’t shy about wrestling with. I’m not claiming to know him and to know thoroughly his religious beliefs, but if you listen carefully to “Mayday” you’ll see that Lecrae is fully aware of this and that K.R.I.T. wrestles heavily with his own faith and the hypocrisy he both sees and struggles with in his life.

    Furthermore, I think the K.R.I.T. collaboration is huge because Lecrae continues to gain respect with mainstream hip-hop but also seems to be serving as an evangelist to those rappers who inevitably grew up in the church but may have never learned to fully grasp the faith or walk in it the way Lecrae seems to be doing while also not compromising the art-form of hip-hop.

    Hopefully this helps shed light on Lecrae’s decision to work with K.R.I.T.- I’m thankful for Lecrae and this album is great, and I hope it blesses many and brings God much glory.

    • g

      moses ….krit calls himself an unbeliever in his own lyrics, bro….. on that very song

      • Moses Park

        Brother, please listen to the lyrics again. He says, “A non-believer I never have or could be.” K.R.I.T. says himself that he was raised in the faith. Go through his other work and his catalogues and you’ll see. Ultimately, no one will know except the Lord himself where the dude stands in his faith.

        My ultimate point was saying that it’s unfair to judge Lecrae and critique this move as a compromising move. It’s not as if Lecrae got Lil’ Wayne on the song. He could’ve had any other secular artist to guest verse so why did he ask this particular rapper? Big K.R.I.T. is not another one of those secular rappers that most uneducated Christians seem to dump into the “he’s secular therefore he’s sinful” category. As a hip-hop enthusiast who both follows Christian rap and secular rap closely, I understand what Lecrae was doing (or at least what I think he was doing) and I for one think it’s an awesome bridge-building opportunity.

  • Sara

    THANK YOU for reviewing Lecrae!!! It’s exciting that a rapper can be even be called a gospel rapper, yet it’s true! My 10 year old son was intro’d to him a few months ago, and we both love his work. (For what it’s worth, we like Toby Mac, too, though recognizing that the two shouldn’t really be compared – two different genres.) This is truly a Christian shaping culture; he elevates this musical art form and brings glory to God in so doing.

  • http://www.theretuned.com Matthew Linder

    Listened to the whole album today because of this post. I am so glad to see such theologicaly and Christ-centerd lyrics reach a mainstream audience. Because of music like this is why I chose to write about Lecrae on my website. http://www.theretuned.com/the-state-of-hip-hop-divergent-views-on-social-justice-in-changes-and-send-merepresent/

  • http://www.theretuned.com Matthew Linder

    Also, what about the TobyMac album that is currently on top of the Billboard 200? http://www.billboard.com/news/tobymac-earns-first-no-1-christian-album-1007930952.story

    • Stephen

      Unfortunately it appears much of Toby Mac’s newest offering is full of the same theologically empty, ‘feel-good’ tunes that characterizes the popular Christian music industry (even with Lecrae getting a guest appearance in!). Consider the title track, ‘Eye On It’. The first verse is emphasizing the singer’s desire for pushing ahead and maybe paraphrases Philippians 3:12 and other verses about striving and running the race. The section of the song that makes a theological point goes like this:

      “I got a new passenger to help me navigate the way
      So when my heart hits the floor, I can recalibrate
      I feel the deeper callin’ me, all else is fadin’ in the past
      So let me run in the race that I know is built to last”

      Any mention of Christ’s atonement, Lordship, our need for grace, our joy in the gospel…absent. Instead we get some phrases that sound Christianly but would fit in just as well in Eastern meditations or in corporate motivational talks.

      Thankfully, Lecrae and other faithful brothers in Christian rap continually go beyond aphorisms and teach authentic Biblical truth with their lyrics.

  • Rob

    Great review. Lecrae is definitely bridging the gap between Christian hip=hop and secular hip-hop in a manner that I believe is noteworthy. If he remains as theologically sound as he is on Gravity, I think the Gospel will only continue to be spread. To God be the Glory!

  • http://urbanresurgence.wordpress.com David Robinson

    Owen, I thought you gave a fair and objective review of Lecrae’s album. I thought your concerns about his collaboration with BIG K.R.I.T. were justified. As noted some look at the collaboration as bridge building and others may see it as an unwise compromise. My thoughts are the latter. But as you said, much more needs to be said. That’s a much needed conversation because I think (but I hope not) many in the CHH genre might attempt to follow Crae’s example because of his popularity and influence. We must be careful that in our mission we still maintain our distinction with diligent discernment.


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  • http://www.hisgirl4life.blogspot.com Tara

    This was super good and informative. I’ve been wondering about the cross between secular artists on Christian albums and got a lot of insight on that from this post. Great job! Thanks for your review! God bless!

  • http://nohappinesslikemine.blogspot.com Heather E. Carrillo

    I’m so excited about this! I can’t wait to get the album myself actually. I’m so thankful for people like Lecrae.

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  • Tommy

    Great review! I’m glad you picked up on the F Horn. That was a tasty musical addition that helped set the mood for the “Lucky Ones” track.

  • Heidi

    LOVE me some Lecrae! The lyrics are rich if you take the time to digest it all. I am so excited to see what the Lord will do with this album. I am pleased to see that Christian’s are not being close-minded and causing division on this issue. I am such a strong believer that ALL things can be used for evil, just as ALL things can be God-glorifying. Thanks for sharing!

  • Ashley

    Thank you for acknowledging the Christian rap culture, you make mention of KB- Weight & Glory album, which for those who havnt heard him before, pls take the time listen to this album. KB hits hard topics and puts out some awsome lyrics that convict your heart to it’s core. If anyone out there is wondering where you can listen to Christian rap on the radio, try the effectradio.com and listen free to the fire every Friday and Saturday night.

  • Trevor Minyard

    There is nothing wrong with ‘Crae doing a song ft. Krit.

    Time and time and time and time and time and time again Lecrae has explicitly shown that he is above all things gospel-centered. He has mentioned in interviews that the ft. in itself is to impact and wrestle through the things of God with Krit.

    It disturbs me how flippantly we are to STILL become Pharisees about these things. Let the man preach people!

  • http://www.lecrae.com albertangallar

    cool music stay in the lord lecrae don’t depart from him

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  • Shelby

    Excellent and very insightful review Dr. Strachan. Perhaps I’m a bit late in my discovery of this gem, but nevertheless, I appreciated the examination of the album and the rationale for the collaboration between the secular and the sacred.

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