With the latest highly publicized killings of Black citizens at the hands of law enforcement, leaders have emerged seeking both justice and restoration. Two of these leaders, Kanye West and Lecrae, elected to use their platforms as hip-hop artists, addressing their pain with one of the most unifying forces of all, music. But Crae and Ye also identify as Christians. Thus their feelings are filtered through a biblical worldview that recognizes the pain of present circumstances but professes hope in a better tomorrow.
On their most recent releases, “Deep End” and “Wash Us In The Blood,” the two rappers present prayers to God that He would emerge amid the chaos and provide divine comfort. While their messages and imagery are similar, “Deep End” and “Wash Us In The Blood” are differentiated by the styles of the artists behind the songs. Lecrae is deep in mourning, begging God to help the Reach Records co-founder preserve his mental state while trusting He will come to make all things new. Kanye prays for this restoration to come immediately, asking God to put an end to the injustices faced in the United States.
Lecrae’s Somber Mourning
“Deep End” was written in light of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks, although any who have followed Lecrae’s most recent projects know his pain stretches far beyond these tragedies. While Crae’s care for social justice has not always been well-received by the masses, he makes it abundantly clear he has no intention of slowing down, rapping, “[t]he world gone mad, can’t ignore this noise.” Yet “Deep End” takes on a different tone than tracks like Church Clothes 3’s informative track “Gangland” or boisterous All Things Work Together song “Facts.” In this instance, the Reach Records co-founder builds on the themes being set up for the upcoming album Restoration, while sharing his heartache.
The promotional material and interviews leading up to Restoration have indicated Lecrae’s feeling of progress from the conflict of faith and culture he experienced in the late 2010s. “Deep End” further develops this idea with lyrics, “…I’ve been doin’ better than I was before…/[d]eep end of this pit, but still somehow I keep on floating on.”
While the present circumstances have taken an undeniable mental toll on Lecrae, his restoration period has shown the artist that God remains sovereign even in the chaos. Such newfound wisdom does not minimize the grieving process, but has moved Lecrae to “…hold onto [his] peace/ ‘Cause [he is] liable to lose it and go get the piece.” This desire to remain steadfast in hope is matched by the perseverance in Crae’s campaign for a more just society, a sentiment he expresses with the line, “[i]f I’m still breathin’, I’m runnin’ for Ahmaud…”
The chorus of Lecrae’s “Deep End” transforms the lyrics into a lament prayer, with Crae begging for a reason not to lose his mind. Within the “Deep End” music video, this prayer is represented quite literally, with Lecrae bending to his knees in a humble position of prayer. This visual placed alongside constant shots of water, which immediately brings baptism to mind, a concept lining up perfectly with the theme of the Restoration project.
But, perhaps the more powerful parallel is found in the story of Peter walking on water towards Jesus. In this instance, the disciples saw Jesus walking on water when He calls for them not to fear. In response, Peter asks Jesus to prove his identity by telling the apostle to join Him on the water. After taking a few steps, Peter falls, asking Jesus to save his life from drowning. Much like Peter, Lecrae feels the call of Jesus to walk towards Him through the storm of pain, yet he is fully aware that he may fall along the way. But, as Crae states, “[t]hought I lost my grip but God reminded me He’s holding on.”
Kanye’s Righteous Rage
Kanye West’s “Wash Us In The Blood” pays similar attention to present circumstances, with the lyrics also calling for God to make Himself known. The song’s most apparent plea, “Holy Spirit come down,” is reminiscent of the day of Pentecost detailed in the book of Acts. On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were filled with the very Spirit of God, giving them the ability to preach the Gospel to multitudes of people, even those that spoke languages entirely different from their own.
Similarly, West has been able to use his platform of fame to send the message of the Gospel with the Jesus is King, and Jesus is Born projects to millions. “Wash Us in the Blood” and the upcoming project God’s Country appear to carry the same motivation, with Ye begging for cleansing in the blood of Jesus “…as we live in this evil and crooked and jezebelic world.” Ye places the destructive nature of society on full display in the “Wash Us in the Blood” music video with images of looting, fighting, and what appears to be two COVID-19 patients all appearing. This seemingly hopeless imagery is juxtaposed against West’s perception of self and lyrics commenting on realities beneath the surface.
While Kanye West’s pride has often been the focus of both fans and critics, the “Wash Us in the Blood” music video uses images from West’s past for differently. These moments serve two purposes, to evidence God’s hand in the GOOD Music founder’s life and the potential for Black Americans to succeed. The video also shows footage of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor simply living their lives, the former jogging, and the latter dancing by a pool table. West and music video director Arthur Jafa showcase these bits of footage to capture a more broad, optimistic view of the “Black experience,” since as West states, “[y]ou know its fake if it’s in the news…”
The point here seems clear, large media outlets choose to broadcast images that suit a specific narrative, preferring to show death over life, looting over dancing, and the version of Kanye West they elect is best for the headline.
West draws similarities between this manipulation of the truth, and Satan’s title as the “Father of lies,” rapping, “[t]he devil a liar and I been the truth.” The Chicago native believes he has had a role in uncovering uncomfortable realities, some of which are addressed in “Wash Us in the Blood,” including, “[w]hole life bein’ thugs…/[n]o choice sellin’ drugs/[g]enocide what it does…”
With these bars, Ye appears to be referring to racism and sin as the proverbial “it,” these evils forcing residents of low-income communities to participate in criminal activities due to a lack of social mobility. Such ideas and the concept of systemic racism are often dismissed as hateful towards the United States. Still, Jafa and West go as far back as the African slave trade to emphasize the continuing effects of racist institutions, alluding to the system with a quick shot of a sea of chains.
Collaborator Travis Scott adds his scathing critique of America, a country often referred to as a “Christian nation.” Such a title seems contradictory when, as Scott raps, “[t]hirty states still execute…/[t]hou shall not kill…” If the United States is truly God’s country, it seems unjustifiable to execute any for their crimes, especially given God Himself awards humanity the opportunity to repent, albeit while facing the consequences.
Together, Kanye West and Lecrae’s responses to the racial unrest in the United States indicate a balance in their worldviews. Simultaneously, the two Christian hip-hop stars tackle grief, social commentary, undying hope in God’s inevitable intervention, and humanity’s role in campaigning for justice. Both artists evidence these calls to action with footage from several recent protests, and in Lecrae’s case, several art pieces and photos showing the Black lives taken too soon. Crae and Ye’s respective faith relationships have given them hope for the restoration that God will bring and push them to take an active role in fighting back against temporal evils until He restores all. While Restoration and God’s Country are yet to be released in full, one can safely assume both albums and the artists behind them will continue to make their voices heard on society’s present ills and the better world to come.