Lecrae read SPZRKT’s “break up” letter to Christian hip hop in January. He also read critics’ reaction to it, which inspired his verse on “Sideways,” the lead single for KB’s upcoming album Tomorrow We Live.

“I saw the backlash [SPZRKT] got for saying bye, and I was like, ‘Guys, if you want to make music to edify the body, then go for it,’” Lecrae said. “But all the chatter and the blogs, from my perspective, it gets a little unnecessary.”

After four years of making moves in mainstream hip hop, Lecrae is familiar with chatter and blogs.

While SPZRKT received much support for his open letter, in which he expressed a desire to reach a broader audience than Christian hip-hop fans, readers were not unanimous. Lecrae, who has tried to distance himself from the Christian rapper label to accomplish the same, identified with the criticism.

“I think people take it personal and feel offended because, when you say ‘CHH,’ some people, that’s how they identify themselves,” Lecrae said, “so they’re saying, ‘You must be talking about me,’ and, at the end of the day, I’m talking about an it, not a who.

“I think folks make too big of a deal about what’s really more of a culture than a genre. There’s no industry necessarily. It’s not really a genre, so to speak. It’s kind of the stepchild of CCM in a lot of ways. It’s a culture that we have definitely established in and of ourselves — Flavor Fest, Rap Fest and all those types of things. It’s a culture, but I think we become separatist in a lot of ways when we say, ‘It’s about CHH and CHH and CHH,’ and I’m like, ‘If we’re kingdom people, we shouldn’t get caught up trying to build something that is more about us than it is about reaching the world.’”

These are the lines in Lecrae’s guest verse that addressed Christian hip hop.

I ain’t tryna’ build CHH /
I’m in my own lane, but they like he ain’t safe /
They rappin’ in a bubble, can’t nobody see their face /
I ain’t worried ‘bout a genre, the street ain’t safe

Lecrae clarified that he did not write his verse with everyone who identifies with Christian hip hop in mind — only separatists who literally say of Lecrae, “He’s not safe. He’s dangerous. He’s a detriment to the kingdom,” which Lecrae says he hears.

“I’m like, ‘Man, you’re in a bubble,’” Lecrae said. “That’s not to say folks like my man Bizzle, who’s like, ‘Nah, I’m Christian hip hop’ — that’s not talking about a Bizzle because I know Bizzle gets busy, and he gets outside of a bubble, nor does he criticize people like myself. But there are individuals who say, ‘It’s dangerous doing what you do, going where you go and you’re susceptible to whatever, whatever, whatever.’

“If you’re a light, be a light. But if you’re going to sit around and criticize other people for trying to be a light, I just would like you to point that finger right back at yourself for not getting out there and being a light to the world.”

How ‘Sideways’ changed hands, was influenced by a Latin poet

“Sideways” actually started as Lecrae’s song. Then KB wanted it.

“I gave him a left hook and a punch to the gut and said, ‘This is now my song,’” KB said, before explaining what actually happened.

“[Lecrae] had a project in mind that he was going to work on and ended up going a different direction. He had several songs. That was one of them that was kind of up in the air that he really wasn’t going to have the time or inspiration to go after. I was like the little kid in the back of the class, raising his hand to answer a question. I sorted lifted up my hand and was like, ‘Uh, I want this.’”

KB proceeded to shape the song, for which a beat and rough hook were already created. He revealed that an artist from Atlanta named Perfekt recorded the hook.

The vision for “Sideways,” KB said, was inspired by experiences like the story he told to end his second verse.

They don’t know what to do with us /
Degree in theology, raps for a living /
Black man in first class that is reading the scriptures /
I put my tray table up, smile while they lookin’ sideways

“I wanted to do something about the peculiar nature of not just being young and spiritual … but there’s other things too that cause people to look at you sideways,” he said. “That event on a plane, in an airport is a regular thing for me — regularly getting looked at weird.

“‘What are you doing up here? Where’s your business suit?’ They’re always asking people around me, ‘Do you want us to take your jacket, sir, and put it in the closet?’ But I got this freaking leather varsity hip-hop jacket. ‘Do you want us to hold that? Do people hold … what do … what do we do with you?’ That’s a regular occurrence for me.”

KB said the reason he chose the term sideways also played a role in how he wrote Tomorrow We Live, which he said Latin poet Pablo Neruda influenced.

“[Neruda] was a master at describing things without clearly saying them,” KB said. “I think there’s a place for clearly-stated things, but I think in all art that I love, people are impacted by experiences. You can describe something to them instead of giving them vocab words. Sideways is a description of an experience that people can relate to a lot more profoundly than if it were simply said, ‘Being looked at strange.’”

‘Not just in the steeple, you out in the woods’

Photo courtesy of E-40’s Instagram.

After he finished addressing his critics in Christian hip hop, Lecrae wrote about where he’s gone to make a broader impact.

And lately I’ve been hangin’ in the hood /
Everybody lookin’ like what /
You for the people, you pushin’ back evil /
Not just in the steeple, you out in the woods

These rhymes are two-fold, he said. Not only has he “been hanging in the hood,” helping start a school, Peace Preparatory Academy, in one of the more dangerous neighborhoods in Atlanta, but he’s recording outside the bubble of his own studio.

“It’s being in the studios with people like E-40, Travi$ Scott or Migos,” Lecrae said. “A lot of people don’t understand that being an artist is my occupation, so when I go to work, I go to studios, events and functions. I’m not always working with these artists necessarily, but I’m in their building, talking and sharing perspective. And so people are able to say, ‘Man, this is that Christian dude, but he’s here,’ versus, ‘Oh yeah, I heard your stuff, but I don’t ever see you.’”

KB expounded upon the value of this.

“I’ve tried to intentionally go places with this record where there are non-Christians,” he said. “I want to record in studios where Jeezy was there the week before.

“We say that our music is on par with anybody else’s, but I want to be in those circles where we can prove it — not for the sake of us walking away like, ‘Hey, we’re just as talented,’ but there needs to be a representation of Jesus in the areas where he’s not. If hip hop is such a powerful medium to do that and our music will cause no obstacle sonically for a person who doesn’t really rock with our faith, we want to intentionally go there and be light.”

KB explains random ‘Sideways’ lines

Rapzilla: “This music with or without me boy still goin’ be intersecting circles like an Audi boy.” Maybe I’m reaching, but honestly the first time I heard it, I thought, “What other than not being attached to the idea of music long-term would make someone say that?”

KB: What I’m saying is, I may or may not be in music long-term. I don’t need hip hop to influence people. Hip hop is what I do. It’s not who I am. Who I am is going to be expressed whether I’m bagging groceries or if I’m on stage in front of thousands of people doing music.

What I am is a bearer of eternal truth. That’s what I do. That’s what I live for. Hip hop is just a means by which I do that, and I love it. I appreciate the art. I respect the genre, but that is not who I am. If I lose hip hop, I will not lose myself.

That is something that is very challenging for people who put all their stock in what they do. To stop doing what they do would mean suicide for a lot of people. My prayer is that would not be. My ability to influence, if it were to be cut in half tomorrow, I’ll still be an influence I’ll still be going to regions where people need it.

RZ: “I be turnin’ down girls like the volume boy.” There has to be some good stories behind that.

KB: By the Lord’s grace, I haven’t had a lot of women try me recently. Before marriage, there was a lot of opportunities for me to fail in that area, and because of just strong community, commitment to something else and grace of almighty God, I curved a lot of women when I was a single man. But even when I got married, random people don’t know who you are when you’re at a restaurant or hotel lobby.

One time, I had a lady from the front desk text me when I got into my room. She took my number from the file and text me when I got up stairs, starting a conversation with me. I was like, “Uh, delete. If this isn’t the devil, I don’t know what it is.”

One of my favorite things in the world: Throw my ring up. I’ve had to flash my ring many times. Sometimes I’m probably not as diplomatic as others, but I go with the David Robinson philosophy — if somebody’s feelings are going to be hurt, it’s not going to be my wife’s. A good encourager for those things is a good marriage, and I happened to be in one, so I rejoice and get to say those types of things.

Pre-order Tomorrow We Live on iTunes or Amazon. Here is the tracklisting and here is KB’s second single, “Crowns & Thorns (Oceans).”