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Can a Christian truly embrace hip-hop culture? The disparity between faith and rap music has sparked an ongoing debate in hip-hop over the years, and at the intersection of this debate is Lecrae, the faith-based rapper who unabashedly wears Christianity on his sleeve all while delivering uplifting messages over booming, trap-style beats.
Lecrae’s not one to be pigeonholed into the label “Christian rapper” -- as his 2014 album title suggests, he's an "anomaly." On his newest album All Things Work Together, the rapper says he “finally felt the freedom to say everything," addressing a range of topics from his experience as a Christian in the rap sphere, to battling depression and his “Blessings.”
Recruiting the likes of Ty Dolla Sign, Tori Kelly, Verse Simmonds and Kierra Sheard for features on the 14-track effort, as well as production from Metro Boomin, Boi-1da and Mike WiLL Made-It’s EarDrummers, the Houston native set out to create one of his most vulnerable and raw albums to date, and is no longer concerned with public perception.
“Before, I kind of sugarcoated stuff, but I don’t care anymore,” he tells Billboard. “I’m going to be me fully, and if [my fans] really love me, they gotta ride with me – this is who I really am.”
Billboard sat down with Lecrae to discuss his new album All Things Work Together, being understood by the hip-hop world and which song nearly brought him to tears. Stream Lecrae's new album here.
For the album’s title, you seemed to quote the scripture Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Was that intentional?
Yeah, it was intentional. It was personal, but then I was like, 'How do I make it general, too?' Because everybody may not know that scripture or understand the deeper meaning. I think everyone can relate to all things working together because it’s like going to military training and you come out on the other side better, stronger. For me, it’s the idea that God has a purpose and a bigger plan for everything that I’m going through so I just gotta get to the end of this and hopefully it’ll reveal itself.
What’s the story behind that title?
I went through hell -- no pun intended -- in 2015-2016, and it was just a tough time. The music I was putting out sounded really dark and emotional, but then I got to the other side and the light, the sun came out between the clouds in 2017 and I saw how everything kind of worked together. The pain and the suffering that I went through made me an activist, it made me stronger, it made me more compassionate.
When was the genesis of this project?
I started in 2015. I went to Los Angeles and started working and then I linked up with my good friend Natalie Lauren, and Natalie really owned the creative process and helped me find the best music possible, and it took two years to really make it happen.
What was the first song you created for the album?
I want to say it was probably “Wish You The Best” with Verse Simmonds, that was the first song that made it. I started working with Verse early. Like “Blessings” and “Wish You The Best” were the first two songs.
Certain artists have a specific city they love to record in. What city brings out the most in you?
Atlanta and L.A. Atlanta to me has the sauce as far as urban music is concerned. It has the sauce, but L.A. and kind of New York, but N.Y. was dreary and cold when I was recording, but L.A. is really free and creative, and it allows you to express yourself. So I like L.A. for that reason. But Atlanta had the sauce and the soul that I wanted for the album.
The production on this album is heavily influenced by that Atlanta sound. You linked up with Atlanta’s own Metro Boomin for “Hammer Time,” who else did you collaborate with for ATWT?
A+ from EarDrummers, which is Mike WiLL Made-It’s team, Boi-1da, T-Minus, a lot of people who made big rap records and there are some classic hip-hop records on the album, too, but I just wanted to lead off with the cultural ones, something for the culture, so they realize, "Oh, he’s speaking to us too."
How did your writing approach differ when creating this album as opposed to creating 2014’s Anomaly?
This was a hard project for me. It took a long time. I recorded about 60-70 records, and these 14 are the ones that stuck. It was a lot of emotional stuff, and we we’re like, "We need to find some light in the midst of all these songs," because they sounded so dark.
On the opening track, “Always Knew,” you say 'How can he love Jesus, Kanye, K. Dot, Martin, Malcolm and Schaeffer, Mitsubishi and Maybach/ Contradictory? Nah, it’s complimentary/ Understanding me ain’t for the simple in elementary.' So, you consider yourself complex?
I think complexity is beautiful. I think we want everything to be black and white, but we miss out on the whole rainbow and the beauty of that when you try to limit it... There’s some stuff I may not condone, but I don’t condemn and I just try to see the beauty in it and what God intended in things, instead of condemning everything. I feel like that’s what a lot of Christians do, they criticize. They condemn instead of creating, and I just wanted to change that narrative and show people that … and plus, there’s a lot of Christians who say, "Oh, that’s me too, I was scared to say it, but at the end of the day, just be you and I’m gonna be me."
Do you ever find yourself at a crossroads trying to cater to your Christian fan base while gaining the respect from hip-hop?
For this album, I quit caring. I said it like 'How is that possible?' because I’m complex, but I quit caring and quit worrying. I’m like an old man who got dentures – my teeth gone, I don’t care, I’m taking them out and putting them on the table next to me, "What’s up?" I’m just very comfortable in my own skin and I know that there are people just like me.
What experiences inspired some of the songs on this album?
It all kind of started with the Mike Brown verdict, and I noticed that a lot of people did not take time to hear my perspective or hear my views, they just attacked. I was like, "I thought you were my supporters, my family, my fans," but for them it was like, "Nah, we only support you in as much as you say the things we want to hear." I was like, "Oh, so you don’t really like me. You like your version of me."
Then Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and a lot of those things. I was like, "Man, y’all can’t strip my faith away from me because we don’t agree, and you should be more mature than to throw a person away because you don’t agree with them." I have plenty of friends I don’t agree with, but I’m still their friend and I still support them, and I just feel like if you really love me, you gotta love this aspect of who I am.
What’s your favorite record from ATWT?
That is tough, but I would say it’s tie between “Always Knew” and then “Worth It,” because they’re both so real and I think I’m telling my story, but I’m also telling other people’s stories, too.
You connected with Kierra Sheard for “Worth It” so how did that collaboration come about?
I wanted someone who had an amazing voice but who can also capture the sentiment of the struggle of you know, "God, do you still love me? I’ve fallen so short," and could tackle it authentically. I knew she could, because that’s a friend of mine who is a young Christian, who asks the same questions as I ask, and wrestles with the same stuff that I wrestle with. She could relate, and captured the feeling perfectly and knocked it all the way out the park.
I feel like “Cry For You” is one of the heavier songs of the project. Who were you speaking to on that track?
“Cry For You” was not supposed to be a song for the album, it was supposed to be a journal entry. I wrote it and Taylor Hill, who sings on the song, he sent over just the vocals. I was just reading this kind of journal entry rhyme form over it, and Natalie was like, 'Keep that, that’s the song.' That was the first take, we didn’t re-do it. All the pain -- I was nearly crying. Some songs were meant to be written but not shared, but that one I wanted to share with the world.
Talk about your evolution from Anomaly to All Things Work Together.
Anomaly was me saying, “I’m an anomaly, I’m an outsider, I’m different,” and people were like, 'Sure,' but now they’re seeing that I’m really different. I’m finally comfortable in my skin, I’m comfortable at a conference with a pastor and comfortable backstage at in smoke-filled room with 2 Chainz, and I’m okay. It’s the complex and gray areas that I flourish in.
After creating such an emotional album, what have you learned most about yourself throughout the process?
I’ve learned that I can make it through the ugliest storm and come out better because I really didn’t know how I was going to end up and obviously I still have some wounds and scars and I’m still growing, God is still restoring a lot of me but I realized that God is faithful too. No matter how bad you mess up, God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it.
What do you hope fans take away from this album?
I hope that they understand there is hope in the chaos. I hope that they get that God loves them and there is nothing they can do about it – it’s an unrelenting pursuit of you – and I want people to feel that. I want people to feel that they can make it, I don’t care how crazy it gets, we are resilient people and I want people to know that.
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