Lecrae’s slavery tweet on July 4th should not have shocked you
Fireworks lit the sky and Lecrae’s Twitter mentions yesterday.
On Independence Day, the Reach Records co-owner and artist tweeted a photograph of slaves on a plantation with the caption, “My family on July 4th 1776.”
My family on July 4th 1776. pic.twitter.com/R9DzWkqDWc
— Lecrae (@lecrae) July 4, 2016
This tweet has received over 15,000 retweets, 21,0000 favorites and a multitude of mixed reviews.
“[Thank you] for the reminder that July 4th meant freedom for some, but not all,” one Twitter user replied. “We must keep fighting until all have equal rights & freedom.”
“Done supporting you bro,” another user told Lecrae. “You make everything a race [issue] lately instead of a gospel issue. You promote guilt instead of love.”
This is the risk that artists run by speaking out about controversial topics. Some fans will appreciate their boldness. Others will cease to be fans.
One of those controversial topics, race, presents unique challenges for Christians to address. For example, a critic of Lecrae’s July 4th tweet tried to use his faith to guilt trip him: “There’s freedom in Christ. I guess that ain’t enough.”
Replies like this even drew the attention of civil rights activist Shaun King.
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) July 4, 2016
Many Christian hip-hop artists have addressed racial injustice over the years, but Reach Records’ massive platform and the demographics of its audience also present unique challenges. Years ago, Reach artists successfully crossed over into the Contemporary Christian music market, which is dominated by white suburban consumers. Many white suburbanites are sober-minded enough to enter conversations about race. Many are not.
However, followers of Reach should not have been shocked by the boldness of Lecrae’s July 4th tweet, nor should they be surprised if Reach rappers continue to facilitate race-related conversations. While the risk of offending white fans could make artists shy away from mentioning race, Lecrae’s tweet is just the latest in a long line of evidence that suggests he and friends will not “just shut up and rap.”
At some point people are going to tell you "just shut up and rap." At that moment you need to decide rather you are an artist or a puppet.
— KB (@KB_HGA) December 9, 2015
This past month, the Washington Post said the death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014 and its aftermath inspired Lecrae to be more vocal.
A key turning point for him was Ferguson. It was perhaps the most forcefully he’d ever spoken out about the systematic disenfranchisement of black Americans. Then he spoke out about feeling that he was being shoved into a corner by the white evangelical community that has nurtured him.
“In order to cry out for my black brothers, I had to hate the police. It was like: ‘Just stick to the gospel!’ I was like, ‘Wow, this is bigger than I thought,’” Lecrae said.
Here is a timeline of Reach artists using their platform to address racial injustice.
Dec. 4, 2014 – Trip Lee releases “Coulda Been Me”
Less than two weeks after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed, black, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, Trip Lee released a song titled “Coulda Been Me”, which expressed how the deaths of Rice, Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant and Eric Garner made him feel as a minority.
“Don’t nobody wanna hear our pain /
That’s how I’m feeling when I’m flipping through them Twitter comments, all I feel is rain /
They telling me get over it’s old /
That stuff don’t exist no more /
But that don’t ring true when I look in these streets /
So it’s real when I feel like it coulda been me”
Jan. 9, 2015 – Lecrae performs “Welcome to America” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
In the middle of a national conversation about police brutality, Lecrae performed an altered version of his Anomaly song “Welcome to America” with snippets of the speech which Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the day before he was assassinated in 1968.
— Alex Medina (@mrmedina) January 10, 2015
With a chance to perform in front of a national audience, some Christian viewers criticized Lecrae for not selecting a song that communicated the Gospel.
Sept. 18, 2015 – Andy Mineo releases Uncomfortable
One of the ways that Mineo made listeners of his last album uncomfortable was his tackling of white privilege.
“My own people owned people, but they don’t own that /
They say racism dead, man our president is black /
Two terms in the White House, that don’t mean jack /
If we still believe our present ain’t affected by our past” – Mineo on “Uncomfortable”
“Some push the white cause they ain’t have the privilege” – Mineo on “Uptown”
“When I was young, I thought the world was alright /
It’s funny, I even thought that Jesus was white” – Mineo on “Now I Know”
Mineo’s DJ, Dre, even conducted man-on-the-street interviews about white privilege prior to the release of Uncomfortable.
Oct. 13, 2015 – KB performs “I Believe” at the Dove Awards
KB’s performance of his Tomorrow We Live song “I Believe” featuring Mattie of For Today stood out at the 2015 Dove Awards. From the Associated Press:
[Kevin Burgess] and a group of dancers faced off against other dancers dressed as police officers in riot gear. The song, “I Believe,” ended with both sides joining in dance and Burgess said as a black man in America, he wanted the performance to explore the issue of police violence.
“What does it look like to have the two come together and talk and become unified, linking together to actually bring peace?” KB said. “It’s a hot topic. And I want to see more believers coming in hand and hand.”
Jan. 15, 2016 – Lecrae releases Church Clothes 3
Lecrae used his first project in 16 months to address several social ills. The most powerful of which came on “Gangland”, where Lecrae and Propaganda gave a history lesson on the influence of racial injustice on America’s gang violence.
“It was a perfect storm,” Lecrae said after his second verse. “I mean, we’re talkin’ post-segregation. And what are you gonna do? The factories have closed and no one’s hiring anybody from the urban community because of what you look like. And now there’s a war going on in Nicaragua and drugs are being imported into your community. Are you gonna to sell drugs or are you gonna be homeless? Cause the government’s not paying attention.”
“Gangland” ends with a chilling spoken-word performance by Propaganda that includes this haymaker.
Delusional calling that system criminal justice /
Where the rich and the guilty are safer than the poor and the innocent /
Why would we listen? /
When American churches scuff they Toms on our brother’s dead bodies as they march to stop gay marriage /
We had issues with Planned Parenthood, too /
We just cared about black lives outside the womb just as much as in
Propaganda concludes “Gangland” with a line that communicates not only the heart behind the song, but also what likely is the motivation behind each event on this timeline: “Being right is a distant second to the joy of compassion.”
Compassion — which one could argue just so happens to be the missing ingredient in the disapproving-half of responses to Lecrae’s tweet yesterday.