Photo by Philip Rood
Guess which rapper is unashamed to call himself a Christian, talks to God in his music, raps to change lives and his greatest critics are in his own demographic.
“That would be me,” laughed Lecrae.
The Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist suits this depiction perfectly. However, Rapzilla had another artist in mind to whom this description applies just as well: Machine Gun Kelly (MGK).
“I am a Christian,” the Bad Boy recording artist said before his Mar. 8th concert in Silver Springs, MD. “I’m a really God-fearing man. I make music about God. It’s just scary, that’s all, ‘cause my talks with God are a little more intense.”
Lecrae, familiar with MGK, had heard no evidence of faith in his music. The Reach Records rapper admitted he was shocked to hear the Cleveland-born rapper had claimed Christianity.
Lecrae is so unashamed of the gospel that he’s labeled as gospel while MGK admits he would never be mistaken for a “Christian rapper." Despite that difference, their life stories are stunningly similar.
Both MGK and Lecrae were raised in broken homes: Lecrae never met his father; when MGK was nine, his mother cheated on his father and abandoned them.
His depressed father failed to be the anchor MGK needed throughout a childhood plagued by bullying, homelessness and throat polyps, which nearly took away the one last thing he had—hip hop.
Both he and Lecrae turned to drugs, alcohol and women to numb their pain. Since then, they’ve both turned their own and—more importantly to them—others’ lives around.
“Because of [MGK], I'm gonna walk someday, because of his message,” said a disabled fan from his wheelchair in September of 2011. “’Cause I know he came from nothing, and I’m coming from nothing too.” That December, the fan walked across the stage into the artist’s arms.
Both MGK and Lecrae are heroes: their music changes lives.
Tragically, while Lecrae’s divinely-inspired music possesses the potential for eternal impact, as a spiritually confused artist, MGK is only capable of touching his fans’ earthly journey.
MGK is a wild boy, dividing his time between smoking weed and having sex. Richard Baker, the artist’s real name, knows there’s more to life, and his listeners can hear it in his lyrics.
“Save me Lord, save me Lord, what the (expletive) is this curse you gave me, Lord?” says MGK in the first verse of the track “Halo.” “Everybody think I finally made it Lord, but all I am is now is a slave, my God.”
He explained to Rapzilla that his song “Save Me” is a cry to God for help. Crying out to God, or at least praying to Him, isn’t a rare occurrence for MGK.
MGK (Machine Gun Kelly)
“We pray before every show,” he said. “We leave a lot of decisions up to Him.”
MGK claims he’s supportive of Christian hip hop. As a self-proclaimed Christian, he wasn’t aware of any reason for him not to “agree” with it, although he admitted that he hadn’t heard of a Christian rapper besides Lecrae.
“I’m a very God-fearing person,” said MGK. “God just knows my lights are a little bit darker maybe than the average Christian rapper.”
Lecrae got saved after a friend invited him to a Bible study. A friend like that has either not shown up in MGK’s life or has yet to make a visible impact. MGK is one of countless artists who are open to Christianity and could be one influence away from surrendering their life to Jesus.
“That’s exactly why I’m [in the mainstream],” said Lecrae. “The only reason why I’m there is to have influence and opportunity to share Christ with the people in that world—that’s it. And hopefully I can be that for the MGKs of the industry.”
The Christian hip-hop scene still doesn’t know what to make of the radical shift Lecrae has made in his music since his album “Rebel” to his more recent “Church Clothes,” rapping less about the gospel and more about relatable happenings from a Christian worldview. As a result, he’s been accused of selling out for money and fame.
Essentially, all he’s done is left the pulpit to be a missionary.
The importance of Christians in the mainstream can’t be understated because artists like Lecrae—and Sho Baraka, J.R., No Malice, Mali Music, Dee-1, S1 and others—are able to build relationships with rappers like MGK, Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T. and Tech N9ne who are open to Christianity. Those believers could ultimately be the one positive influence whom God uses to turn the religious willingness of those admittedly confused artists into relational willingness.
If MGK surrenders his life completely to Christ, hundreds of thousands of his fans outside of Lecrae’s target audience would be listening to a Christ-led artist, perhaps for a first time.
Don’t assume that Lecrae possesses a ploy to convert as many people as possible. This means much more than a spiritual roster.
“Everybody that I have relationships within the industry—I respect them and I never want them to feel like projects,” he said. “I never want them to feel like I’m leveraging their name or I’m only hanging out with them because they’re my project and, ‘I’m gonna get you saved buddy.’ I really do want them to know I genuinely care about them.”
Kendrick Lamar & Lecrae
Kendrick Lamar is one of Lecrae’s closest friends in the mainstream. Staying true to form, Lecrae refused to shed light on any spiritual growth that Lamar has had since they formed a relationship.
“The Lord does what the Lord does,” Lecrae said. “I wouldn’t dare trace anything back to me in terms of my conversations and dealings with [Lamar]. I’m just available and if the Lord sees fit to use me, praise God.”
Critics in the church will question the need for Lecrae to enter the mainstream. They’ll ask, can’t he build common ground with artists in the industry while still making pre-“Church Clothes” music?
Lecrae met Lamar, Don Cannon and Lupe Fiasco before “Church Clothes.” He knows it would be difficult to continue to build common ground with mainstream artists while still being labeled as a Christian artist.
“You do Christian hip hop? That means your music is for Christians. That’s what people think. I’m out here with them all the time—that's what they think,” said Lecrae, explaining why he’s been so adamant about avoiding the “Christian rapper” label. “As a missionary, I don’t want any hindrance.”