I hit Lucas up asking what he thought of Lecrae, he wrote back, "He’s a Christian rapper...other than that nope, I'm realizing I don't know much." So then I asked Yoh the same question and he responded with, "I know he's a gospel rapper, not much else."
Their reactions were far from isolated, and I understand them because for a long time they were my reactions. Labels can be limiting, but they're also necessary. There are only so many hours in the day available to listen to more music than anyone ever could in a lifetime, and labels help us narrow down an overload of options. I'm not Christian, I don't listen to Christian hip-hop, Lecrae is a Christian rapper, so I don't listen to Lecrae. It's a limiting train of thought, but without some limits we'd lose our minds. Out of all the great hip-hop being released every day, why would you listen to Lecrae?
Because Lecrae is an elite rapper, that's why. Bar for bar he's right there in the discussion with any emcee mentioned in the "Control" verse, although even Christian rap's most lowkey famous Christian rapper Kendrick Lamar apparently also considered him so far outside the mainstream hip-hop competition that he didn't mention him.
Don't believe me, just watch:
If TDE announced Lecrae was their new artist and then dropped that song, if J. Cole introduced Lecrae as Dreamville's next artist, if he was presented in almost any other context but "Christian rapper" and "Gangland" was the first song we heard from him, the hip-hop internet would be losing its mind.
But Lecrae wouldn't sign to Kendrick or Cole because, like them, he's leading his own label, Reach Records, and straight up, the roster of "Christian" rappers he's running with could rival many of the elite squads and crews we usually talk about. I'm well aware that this is the kind of statement that will send the Coleminers running to grab their shovels and bury me, but I'm dead serious when I say that in a two-v-two "Who did it better?" competition, I'd take Lecrae and Andy Mineo on this "Say I Won't" beat over Cole and anyone you want to pick off Dreamville.
If you didn't know Lecrae as a "Christian" rapper and only heard those two songs you wouldn't think of him as a Christian rapper, you might not even notice some of the religious themes interwoven into the music. By contrast, Chance's Coloring Book is far more overtly religious, but because the public's first impression of Chance was shaped by dropping acid and rap, not God, he'll always be considered a rapper first and a Christian rapper second.
That doesn't mean Lecrae's music isn't Christian. Like being a female rapper, or a white rapper, or a conscious rapper or a gangster rapper or whatever other label we want to affix to an artist, Lecrae's Christianity is an undeniable part of his identity that he embraces and uses as a foundation for his art, a foundation that many will relate to and appreciate. But you're just as likely to hear him rap about being a military veteran and a Black man in America as being a Christian, and when he does, he's as good as any emcee we typically consider elite.
You shouldn't listen to Lecrae because he's dope for a Christian rapper, you should listen to Lecrae because he's dope as fuck. Forget the labels, just listen.