In a 1994 interview with BET, one of the rapper’s most compelling on record, 2Pac offers some words for those who might think to question his place in society: “If I can’t live free, if I can’t live with the same respect as the next man,” he says, “I don’t want to be here. God has cursed me to see what life should be like.” He goes on to share his compassion for those caught up in what could be described as the trap — the forgotten communities across the nation to which he was no stranger throughout his short life.
Since coming onto the scene with his 2004 debut Real Talk, Lecrae has also occupied two distinct yet not entirely opposing worlds: the sacred and the secular. His music, not unlike his life, has been as much about inspiring the streets and interrogating real-world issues as it has been about documenting his personal journey of faith. And while his approach has been a balm for like-minded believers going on a decade and a half, it’s also earned him a fair share of critics. Sticklers who view his ascent into the mainstream as a form of spiritual compromise. But all of it has only made Lecrae more vigilant about his convictions, in both life and art. Lecrae has made it clear that he won’t be boxed in to any genre or made to serve as a poster child for any particular agenda.
Following a host of celebrated mixtapes and LPs, his last being 2017’s exemplary All Things Work Together, which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, Lecrae is back with new material. Let the Trap Say Amen, a collaboration with decorated producer Zaytoven (Gucci Mane, Migos, Future), was born out of a mutual respect for each other’s work. After years of maneuvering through some of the same circles, the two saw it fit to join forces. The result is a project brimming with thunderous beats, rapid-fire bars, and, as fans have come to expect from Lecrae, vivid storytelling. In it, the rapper looks at a shifting America through fresh eyes and emerges with a manifesto of sorts; these are trap-psalms for the forgotten. That he still manages to make it fun, thanks in large part to Zaytoven’s instrumentation and custom-fitted atmospherics, is a feat worth noting. Stand-out tracks include the lead single “Get Back Right,” “By Chance,” with its soothing piano loop, and the confessional “Judge Me,” which has Lecrae silencing his detractors and reaffirming his position as an artist with a word to impart.
Lecrae’s career has, in some ways, come to defy categorization. And truth be told, this is him at his most poised and self-aware. “2 Sides 2 the Game,” another highlight, sees Lecrae teaming up with one of Atlanta’s best-loved sons Waka Flocka. Over Zaytoven’s monstrous trap drums, the two rappers swap captivating street tales that examine their respective family histories in the trap. It takes on an eerie tone and reflects the pure, unsullied Atlanta soundscape that dominates hip-hop in 2018; it sounds like gold grills, cookouts, and late-night rides through the city. “It’s two sides to the game and they ain’t gon’ tell it” they implore.
Billboard caught up with Lecrae to speak about the new project, how he connected with Zaytoven, and what the trap means to him.
How did you and Zaytoven first meet?
Me and Zay met through some mutual friends. He knew Shawn Holiday, Senior VP at Sony, who helped A&R my last album All Things Work Together. He also knew 1K Phew, a young artist that he was grooming and who I later signed to my label Reach Records.
You and Zaytoven both reside in Atlanta, and the project feels very closely tied to the city. Did you set out wanting to go a certain direction sonically and in your content?
Absolutely. I’ve been a fan of Zay for many years. I just never imagined we’d be working together on an album. But we just had this chemistry from the jump. He actually works a lot like I do. We tend to make song after song. But neither of us like to follow any kind of a script; it’s more of a feeling. That’s how the south moves as a whole, and we wanted to bring that into the music in every way.
So it’s more intuitive than formulaic.
Yeah, it’s like the blues, man. Blues and gospel. You just feel it and do it. I think of people like Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and Isaac Hayes. They all came out of the south, and they followed a certain tradition and energy. That’s no knock to groups like The Temptations or The Supremes, not at all, but they were way more polished in how they did things. But the heart of the south is based more off of instinct and feeling, and following wherever that feeling takes you. It’s natural, and visceral.
What was the process of writing and recording the album?
We were together a lot while creating all of the songs. It was a really easy process, actually. We would just trade ideas in the studio; he would tell me what he thought a track needed and I would catch a vibe right there and jump in the booth. Or sometimes I would record separately and show him when he came into the studio, and he’d be like “wow!”
Why was it important to you to show a different side of the trap? You seem very intentional about offering people a different angle from what they might be used to.
I think a lot of people don’t realize the diversity of the trap. Especially people that don’t understand what goes on in some of these communities. They don’t see the nuance. They only see the dope pushers, the money, the crime, and all that.
They don’t see the circumstances that might lead to people embracing a particular lifestyle.
Right, and these are real people we’re talking about. People with real emotions and thoughts, hopes and dreams. A lot of the time, the stories that get told are the ones that folks want to hear. They want to hear a story that sounds like an action movie. They don’t want to hear about growth, intelligence, and development. But all of that is there. I’ve seen it. My man T.I. has seen it. Killer Mike has seen it. 2 Chainz has seen it. And we still do. We’re all intelligent entrepreneurs. So yeah, we can tell you horror stories all day. But we also want to tell hero stories. The question is, what do the people gravitate toward the most?
You’ve spoken a lot in the past about the struggle of having to grow and mature in the public eye. The scrutiny that comes with it. How do you deal with people’s expectations of you these days?
Truthfully, I’m at a point now where I’m not even worried about what people think I should be saying or doing. They don’t tuck my kids in at night. They can’t answer to God for me. I’ve got to be who God created Lecrae to be. That’s all I can do. Anything else just makes me a slave. A slave to the opinions of people who don’t know me; a slave to their money; a slave to their desires for me. But I don’t have time to focus on that. I’m free. So, every time you hear me, just know that I’m speaking as a liberated person.