I've been listening to Christian rap consistently for a decade now. I started with Grits then graduated to Cross Movement and eventually Lecrae, Flame, Trip Lee and Da T.R.U.T.H. I think I can say plainly that it's great to hear brothers on the mic rapping about faith that I believe in. Yet I always wondered if I'd ever hear one of them blow up to be on the mainstream level.
As a fan of Lecrae since 2006, I'm very happy that he released this mixtape with Don Cannon. He's been arguably the most versatile Christian rapper in terms of flow, skill and content (not just preaching Scripture, but talking about himself, his struggles and more). He's released 5 excellent albums and has been featured on the BET Hip hop Awards and several mainstream sites within the last 2 years (as well as a joint with Statik Selektah).
Church Clothes combines all of his talents and adds them to beats behind producers like 9th Wonder, Boi-1da and more. Musically it's a stunning album considering most Christian rap albums have limited production. It's a reach for Lecrae to extend himself to secular producers as well as Christian ones but to me, it doesn't matter who you work with if you don't compromise yourself.
Everything I do, I do for you
I don't want a single thing, I don't wanna a single thing
Ain't got no kind of angle
I ain't tryin play you, ain't gotta know my name
You ain't gotta know my name
But in my short time on this Earth
I done died, been rebirthed
And I know this sounds strange to you
So give me a little time, let me spit a couple lines
And I promise it might just change you too - Gimme a Second
The title track (video above) hits like a blow in the chest talking about folks bringing up hypocrisy in the church. Most people of faith can understand why people feel this way and that's why I love how Lecrae brings it home in the 2nd part saying basically don't use that as an excuse because what if God's still real, Jesus still forgives sin and some Christians try to live good lives.
Basically, don't judge a faith by bad apples since we all need polish. It's a well-written song that I think captures the real concerns of many and offers real answers.
Other favorites include: "Gimme a Second", "No Regrets" (a powerful song about being ready to die if that time comes), "Black Rose" (a dope flip of a Barrington Levy sample to talk about girls fallen astray) and "Sacrifice", which summarizes Lecrae's message and reason for rapping.
It's not for fame, it's sacrificing himself to reach folks and preach his message. Two powerful verses of heartfelt, rhetorical questions that intends to provoke the listener to understand why he raps. Peep the end to Verse 1.
If this a gimmick then explain what's the incentive
Been extorted, near deported for this faith I'm representing
And when I started penning lyrics
I wasn't thinking bout no cypher ---> (A reference to his BET Awards cypher in 2011)
I was thinking about them addicts
And them juvies and them lifers
Well this is what the people lose they life for
And what they give up all they rights for
It ain't no church in the wild, huh? ------> (Word to Jay-Z and Kanye)
But tell me, who you think I write for?
And I ain't tryin' to be self righteous
But I write just so you'll think twice
Folks wanna call this gospel rap
Nah, homeboy, this is sacrifice
"Misconception" (link above) is a sick posse cut as Crae goes off with the Humble Beast crew of Propaganda, Braille and Odd Thomas armed with a great beat and a DJ scratched hook (borrowing lines from Guru and Nas) straight out of the 90's. Odd Thomas kills this song in the 3rd verse with his flow and "good person/good deeds" content. I love how Lecrae switches his flow up to match the frenzied pace of the three rappers before him. Overall there's good truth in this song worth listening to about clearing up misunderstandings.
The jewel in the middle of the tape is Darkest Hour where Lecrae brought back No Malice, who had left rapping with the Clipse after finding God. The same way he used to spit drug tales, he spit a personal verse that showed his new found identity and apologizing for his past. It's the first verse he's spit since his conversion and if it's any indication, he's at peace with his life and hopefully will keep rapping.
I worried that people would react negatively to this mixtape since Lecrae was working with mainstream producers (9th Wonder - it should be noted - has been very open about his faith on his Twitter account). There have been Christian artists who've tasted the mainstream and some folks have been quick to backlash.
I think it's a great thing that Lecrae is getting more attention. There's a tendency in the church to worry about folks compromising who they are when the fame comes. But I'm not worried about Lecrae because he has a great team around him and appears to be focused on staying humble and delivering his message. Besides, holding back anyone who's preaching the Gospel goes counter to what Christians are supposed to do (go re-read The Great Commission in Matthew 28).
This mixtape is going to introduce a lot of people to what Lecrae and Reach Records stans for and it's gonna be a great set-up for his next album, Gravity. He stretches his wordplay, flow and creativity and instead of watering down his message, he found new ways to deliver it effectively without boring the listener.
I'd tell people to not judge this because Lecrae is a Christian but listen to it as a hip hop mixtape the same way you'd listen to any rapper who's a Muslim or a 5%er. Just like with anyone of faith, judge their product, their words and character, don't assume they're all bad until they give you reason for it. And trust me, Lecrae won't.