Lecrae Walks into a Bar, Do You Talk to Him?
Reach Records emcee Lecrae is slowly unveiling his upcoming book “Unashamed,” by releasing chapter excerpts on Medium. His latest post, “Red Carpet Treatment,” chronicles his experience as a “known,” or in some sense, unknown, artist infiltrating the elite members of mainstream music at the Grammy Awards. However, the biggest takeaway from this passage is despite his star status and large stature, he felt small and “different” among his peers.
Christians are called to be followers of Christ. The Great Commission tells us to go out into all the world and make disciples of men. We are supposed to look and act differently from everyone else. That seems easy, but in reality, it is incredibly daunting and sometimes downright scary. The perception of a perfect Jesus is unfathomable to us, so instead of striving for this goal, we settle to “do the best we can.”
“It’s like, you fit in, but you don’t fully fit in. There is a sameness with those around you, but also a difference. You feel accepted by those around you, but not all the time or all the way,” Lecrae wrote.
We have all been in Lecrae’s shoes. We have been the guy or girl sitting with a group of friends in school trying to fit in, and trying to be cool. Now couple the peer pressure, teenage politics, and the “oh, yeah, I’m a Christian trying to live out God’s calling on my life,” and things get complicated. Those around you may mention parties, one night stands, and all sorts of things that you were either never exposed to or stand boldly against. If you were to say, “I don’t believe in that” or “guys, you know Jesus says…” well, you probably wouldn’t have any friends. So instead, you kind of just coast in the back listening to stories of a life you don’t lead. You might say that I need new friends, and maybe you’re right – but we all have that cousin, uncle, family member, who won’t swear or be themselves around you because “guys, don’t say that stuff, he’s a Christian.” It’s nice to them to do that, but also a little weird or played out at times.
“The awkwardness would grow, and I could almost hear their thoughts: Can I cuss around him? He is about to preach at me, or judge me if I drink this whole bottle of Cristal and stumble out of here?” wrote Lecrae in the passage. “Maybe they don’t know if they can be fully themselves around me. Or perhaps they don’t think they would like the content of my music or the assumptions behind my music or the worldview I hold. Regardless, they don’t want to know more. From that point on, it felt awkward. It was like I was marked.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a believer who has not been in a situation like that. It takes us out of the fight before we even have a chance to put our fists up. How can we exude Christ if people treat us like the leper in the room?
“Being an outspoken Christian in the music industry means always feeling out of place. It’s like whatever you have accomplished is less credible because of your faith. You’re in the circle, but you’re not really in the circle. You fit in, but you don’t really fit in. When you’re standing next to people or sitting beside people, it’s as if you’re not really there,” he wrote.
This, however, is not a new phenomenon. Christianity has had a stake in the mainstream for quite some time already.
In the 90s, DC Talk had the type of platform Lecrae had. Kevin Max told the Bad Christian Podcast that execs and publications would put them on the same platform as well-known evangelists and would consider them rock and roll pastors. They weren’t necessarily upset by the label, but it put them in a position to fail spectacularly on a grand stage. This often happens as Christians and people who have perceptions of Christians, elevate the artist to a pedestal of perfection – an impossible feat.
“There were a lot of people looking for holes in it…” said Max, as the outside world looked for any behind the scenes drug use or perceived groupies, “We tried to keep a very high level of social awareness and be real to ourselves and keep each other accountable. We were pretty squeaky clean, and we took it seriously.”
DC Talk knew if they were going to stand for Christ, they needed to be legitimate about it. The song “What If I Stumble” was to show they were flawed human beings just like the non-Christian outsiders they also reached. Their message was bold, brash, and “overtly Christian,” and even they had their detractors.
This is a problem that Lecrae encounters frequently. Interviews turn into chances to catch him slipping. Quotes become headlines, and context sometimes gets blurred. Every piece of the press becomes something to call Lecrae out on. While DC Talk has been there, done that, they never had the heat lamp-like focus of social media, YouTube, and the comments sections of publications to fend for themselves on.
The badge of honor that comes with being a Christian also makes you a “marked” man from everyone, or as Andy Mineo recently said, “When you walk in the middle, you get hit with stones from both sides.”
Recently, Reach Records and its artists have come under fire for trying to distance themselves from the title of “Christian rapper.” It is their hope that by eliminating the term attached to their profession, they’d stop being treated as an outcast and be welcomed at the table. The important discussions of faith can’t happen if you don’t even have a seat with your name on it.
“It isn’t that I’m ashamed of being a Christian. I’m not,” writes Lecrae. “If someone asked me to renounce my faith or take a bullet in the brain, I’m dying that day. But labeling the music that way creates hurdles and is loaded down with baggage. Plus, it just isn’t a true expression of the music I’m making. I try to produce music that is life-giving and inspires people to hope, but it isn’t just for the super-religious. I want to address themes that people who aren’t Christian can appreciate.”
Some Christians hear that and they get upset. They will accuse Lecrae of “selling out” or forgetting about his vow to Jesus. It doesn’t appear to be a shot at Christianity, it looks to be a chance to draw someone who might not have “Christianity” on their radar in. Again, this is Lecrae battling for a spot at the cool kids table so he can be part of the conversation. If Jesus didn’t walk amongst the sinners, then the sinners wouldn’t be saved. And that is not calling the unsaved “wicked sinners,” it’s putting the ALL, in go out and make disciples of “all” nations.
Now the dilemma strikes a new chord. I’m too Christian for the non-believer, and not Christian enough for the believers. Lecrae didn’t directly address this in the post, but his labelmate Tedashii did in a recent interview with Rapzilla.
“I remember going into places, getting invited to churches and parents standing at the doors saying, ‘He can do this outside but he isn’t coming in here’,” said Tedashii, regarding his beginnings with Christian rap.
“That was white parents and black parents. That wasn’t a race thing, that was a legitimate ‘We don’t want this in our church’ and I was fine with that,” he said. “From an artist standpoint, I get it. I’m not here to force feed this music to you or even make you fall in love with a specific genre. I just wanted to share my heart with you.”
Tedashii had this experience just over 10 years ago. The church that he represented as a “Christian rapper” made him feel like the awkward outsider. I’d like to think the church has come a long way since then in accepting various platforms of sharing the gospel. Remember, just 30 or so years ago, rock and roll, even done by Christians, was the “devil’s music.”
Now that Lecrae has been let into the four walls of the church, he has decided to walk out of the building and take the gospel to the arenas and awards shows in what he has prayerfully decided is the best way. The reason why he is this “marked man” is because the world can see his light. When light shines in the dark, what’s hidden can no longer hide in the shadows. His title of “Christian rapper” makes people uncomfortable so they would rather have him stay in that box by himself. This is where Christians can get together and pray that Lecrae’s walk stays strong. They can pray that the right people will extend a hand and say, “Hey, sit with us and tell us about yourself,” they can pray that non-believers are as open about everything with Lecrae as he is about taking a bullet for his beliefs.
In Jesus day, He navigated Pharisees, Sadducees, and skeptics with parables, examples, and signs and wonders. Today, we have music and entertainment, which overwhelmingly controls the way the world spins. Now is time, more than ever, that Christians should start figuring out how to effectively use the tools we have in this age to draw people closer to God. Hopefully, the red carpet of the Grammys is just the start of where we find ourselves screaming, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”
Read Lecrae’s full passage here and let’s continue this important conversation. What do you think about Lecrae’s passage? What are your thoughts on feeling like an outsider with a target on your back?