Lecrae: Restoration Starts with Freedom [‘Set Me Free’ Breakdown]
2020 has been a journey of a year so far, yet 116 leader Lecrae is not bending to fear in our present circumstances, instead declaring it time for Restoration. On “Set Me Free,” the Christian rap icon joins forces with rising star YK Osiris to deliver a preview of what is to come on the Restoration album. Calling for freedom from industry, societal, and personal expectations, Lecrae has proclaimed this season of uncertainty exceeded by ever abounding hope.
The music video for “Set Me Free” begins with a shackled man brought before a panel of eight judges. Their arrangement bears a striking resemblance to paintings of the Last Supper, although their intentions are undoubtedly more sinister. Before the hostage is shot by two bodyguards, he utters something between a prayer and a poem.
“It’s simple, who love me and who don’t?/Lord, let it reveal/Should I go back to saving more, let em die in the field?/How you out there livin life, you just dancing with ghosts/How many people wit em, they know more than a year/Gotta move smart, got something to lose.”
Then, the prisoner is killed, silencing him before he could finish this final word. “Set Me Free” uses this murder as a parallel to Lecrae’s mission, appearing as a representation of Crae’s own struggles as a leader. Nonetheless, Lecrae and artists like him have been entrusted with a call to share this message, no matter the cost.
Lecrae’s place as a leader and the abilities this role comes with are paralleled by the escape of several prisoners within the “Set Me Free” music video. The captives scream for their freedom, bumping heads until one brings out the key to all of their shackles. This first escapee passes the key to his fellow prisoners, so they too can be free. The scene is a clear representation of Crae’s ability to spread a sense of freedom to all who choose to stand by him. Liberated, the escapees rush to overrun their captors, joining Lecrae, who has been standing before the oppressors.
“You broke the hold and now I’m free…”
When presented before the panel of captors, rather than shying away, Lecrae chooses to address God, looking up towards Heaven. This focus on the divine rather than his incarcerators is indicative of Lecrae’s continued devotion to God, as the rapper focuses on praising his Liberator while still trapped. Reflecting on God’s favor throughout years of difficulty, the 116 figurehead raps, “Shackles on my feet, You broke the hold and now I’m free, yeah/Even in the darkest times, You kept Your light on me.” While Lecrae delivers this verbal assault, the prisoners mentioned above rush in, taking control of the room and standing over their former captors. With their restraints at their feet, the freed rebels, Lecrae, and YK Osiris sit at the malevolent group’s table. Finally, the captives have been set free.
Particularly around the releases of Church Clothes 3 and All Things Work Together, it became clear that Lecrae felt abandoned by Christians questioning his basis in faith and push for social justice. While the Reach Records co-founder included similar subject matter in previous projects, Crae was placed under a microscope for speaking on social issues with a less explicit gospel message. Even so, the artist has never shied away from matters of faith, choosing to bring Christianity to culture rather than restricting his music to traditional Christian contexts.
In an interview with Sway Calloway, Lecrae discussed the backlash against his decision to be baptized for the second time in the Jordan River. In response, the philanthropist said, “[i]f everybody throwin’ stones at you, pick ‘em up & build something.”
Lecrae is no stranger to hostility, but he refuses to fold to his detractors. “Set Me Free” continues to battle back against the critics of the Reach co-founder, as represented by the first verse of “Set Me Free.” Here, Crae raps, “…miss me with that drama, get your commas/[g]et your records straight, get your facts straight.” These bars serve as a response to Lecrae’s vilification as he tells listeners to ensure their own lives are in order before coming for him. Despite proving himself as an artist, philanthropist, and Christian, Lecrae’s critiques have continued, leading the artist to beg for God to show him his real sources of support.
“If everybody throwin’ stones at you, pick ‘em up & build something.”
After years of criticism by Christians and non-believers alike, Lecrae is releasing his frustrations, thus taking off the shackles that restricted him from being his most authentic self. This idea is further driven home by the imagery of Crae and collaborator YK Osiris encaged and handcuffed. Despite these bonds, Lecrae remains rebellious, shouting at the guards who keep him within this cell of expectation and uniformity. Rather than hearing their insults, Crae would sooner listen to songs of praise, as indicated by the establishing shot wherein the platinum recording artist is shown listening to the sampled track, “Shackles (Praise You),” thus tuning out the noise of his captors.
As Lecrae prepares to release his newest album, Restoration, the GRAMMY award winner has picked up on trends established in previous projects. Collaborations with mainstream artists, defense of his intentions, and an evolving walk in faith are becoming a mainstay of Lecrae albums, and at a broader level, Lecrae’s life. Rather than choosing to fit in neatly within any label, Lecrae has chosen to be the outcast of all tribes. Standing apart is costly, but Crae is willing to face the opposition and hopes to set a few prisoners free along the way.