Youth Culture Window


As the young man in baggy pants, tattoos, and a sideways hat walks up to the stage, many presume it’s just another hip hop star about to spit rhymes that glorify drugs, alcohol, violence, or the debasement of women. Instead, he raps about Jesus, righteousness, and a denouncement of hypocrisy.

That’s because this rapper is Lecrae. 

Who Is He?
He’s been known in Christian circles for several years, but became a household name last month when his 6th album Gravity was released on September 4th and two of his songs immediately captured the #1 and #2 spots on iTunes’ Top Singles. He’s the co-founder of Reach Records, a musical conglomerate that includes a long list of Christian rappers, and he’s attracted the attention of high profile Christian celebrities, including athletes such as Bubba Watson, Jeremy Lin…and God’s favorite quarterback, Tim Tebow.

He’s also the man behind ReachLife Ministries, a resource that helps “bridge the gap between biblical truth and the urban context” that tries to solve some of these problems. His Twitter account describes him this way: Living to know God, dying to make Him known.

But who is he?

The Typical Story
Sadly, the story of Lecrae Moore, known simply as Lecrae to his millions of fans, is a “typical” one for many young men growing up in an urban setting. His father left for a life of drugs when Lecrae was very young which caused the family to frequently relocate. Lecrae grew up in the streets of Houston, Denver, and Dallas before finally settling in Atlanta.

During his childhood, he idolized the hip hop culture which was replete with guns, alcohol, drugs, and money. All of his uncles – his only role models – were a part of the urban scene, and Lecrae did his best to fit in with them as he grew older. But after a run in with the cops over trespassing and possession of drugs, Lecrae tried to turn his life around.

He failed.

A friend then invited Lecrae to a Christian conference when he was 19. There, for the first time, he heard Christian rap artists sing about redemption and hope. But it wasn’t until Lecrae limped away from a terrible auto accident that he finally bowed to Christ, a decision that resulted in a total transformation of his life. He returned to college, passed out copies of his testimony to the students, and began volunteering at juvenile detention centers, working with kids who were as troubled as he once was. The online video of his testimony published by CBN retells the story in his own words. (Don’t miss the grace given to him by the cop.)

His work with the kids would ultimately lead to music, and the music would ultimately lead to a national stage.

Atypical Music
Though his background is typical, his music is anything but. Here’s an excerpt from Gravity, the title track of his latest album:

Eternal life is what I’m thinkin’ I’mma bank my hope on
Believe me, easy is irrelevant
The devil want us burning for the hell of it
Elephants in the room say we can’t talk about impending doom
Or we gospel rappin’ or preaching people out of they shoes
It’s cool, I’ll be that dude. We glued to our depravity,
Until somebody free us from this gravity. Fly!

I’m not an expert in music, rap or otherwise, but even I can notice a difference between Lecrae’s lyrics and secular hip hop stars such as Flo RidaNicki Minaj, and Lil Wayne. Ironically, the same week that Lecrae released Gravity, the unusually foul Kanye West took to Twitter to pose this “philosophical” question:

I usually never tweet questions but I struggle with this so here goes…Is the word BITCH acceptable? To be more specific, is it acceptable for a man to call a woman a bitch even if it’s endearing? Even typing it in question form it’s still feels harsh? Has hip hop conditioned us to accept this word? Do we love this word as much as we love the word NIGGA in an endearing way?

I don’t know whether to be proud of Kanye for asking the question, or to simply shake my head that we live in a society where a question like that even needs to be asked. (I know what my wife would do to me if I tried to call her an endearing “bitch!”)

That’s what makes Lecrae’s work so refreshing. Parents and youth workers can recommend his solid hip hop music without having to repent later.

The Typical Routine
But you don’t have to take my word for it; in fact, I’d encourage you not to. In spite of it being “Christian” in nature, I suggest you treat Lecrae’s music the same way you’d treat any music that your teens want to download that’s also new to you. Here’s the routine:

  1. Do your research. BoomBox gives this song-by-song breakdown of the album Gravity, but suffice it to say, the music contains rock, strings, lots of collaboration, and of course, rapid-fire lyrics and rhymes. You can check out some of Lecrae’s newest music on YouTube, for instance, Lord Have Mercy. The music video for Church Clothes also drew a big following and is available for viewing online, as well. Plus, Focus on the Family’s Plugged In offers this review of Gravity. In other words, there’s plenty of data available to help you make an informed decision. Take advantage of it.
  2. Ask your kids plenty of questions. You might print off the lyrics from several of his songs and ask your teenagers about the meaning behind them, but there are lots of other questions you could ask, too. Here are just a few to get you going:
    What do you know about Lecrae, his beliefs, or his lifestyle?
    What is his motivation for rapping?
    How does he differ from other rappers?
    How will listening to his music affect your faith?

As you research Lecrae’s music, you might not find deep theology embedded in his songs, but you’ll be encouraged to hear the way he inspires his listeners to shake off their sin/hypocrisy and be a force for the Kingdom of God. (In fact, we like his music so much, we’ve created a MUSIC DISCUSSIONbased off of one of his songs.) Without a doubt, Lecrae’s rap music will be the best rap music you’ve ever purchased from iTunes.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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