Lecrae – An Epilogue Entitled ‘Restoration’ (Thematic Breakdown)
For over 15 years, Lecrae has been combining his passions for Jesus and hip-hop, becoming, whether he wanted the spot or not, the face of Christian rap. The journey included incredible highs, including awards from both faith-based and mainstream outlets, philanthropic opportunities, collaborative efforts alongside incredible artists, a movie role, and the creation of Reach Records. But, as has been made apparent within the music and interviews Crae has done following his release of 2014’s Anomaly, the fame is not all it seems. This project’s success was groundbreaking and seemed to signal exponential growth for the Reach Records founder. But success comes with the burden of greater expectation, from both oneself and one’s audience.
From top to bottom, Restoration feels like an ending, which makes sense given Lecrae’s implication this may be his last album. The opening track, “Restore Me,” introduces several forms of trauma the Houston-born rapper experienced, as well as his means of escape. Where Lecrae felt he had “[g]one too far to turn back,” God responds, “[b]oy you tellin’ lies.”
These interactions are the heartbeat of Restoration as Lecrae takes listeners through his constant cycle of fighting to believe in God when circumstances would have him abandon faith altogether. Amid these struggles, Lecrae has learned, as he often states in concerts in the Road to Restoration documentary, while one may not be able to change their circumstances, they can be changed in their circumstances. Taylor Hill’s prayer at the end of this track falls in line with this thinking, as he sings, “[u]se all this pain, use all this hurt/[t]o grow me/[i]f that’s what it takes to know what I’m worth/[r]estore me.” This prayer serves as the beginning of the restorative process Lecrae presents in this album, a journey that brings him through stages of uncertainty and introspection to new levels of gratitude.
Unsatisfying Worldly Treasures
Given its position as the first single released from Restoration, “Set Me Free” has already been spoken about at length. Nonetheless, it is worth noting some thematic elements of the single that tie into the larger narrative of Restoration. The song revolves around Crae’s struggle to be authentic while facing down expectations from the music industry, his own fanbase, and in reality, himself. “Over The Top” and its accompanying music video expands on these themes, dismantling preconceived notions of what being a successful artist, Christian or not, looks like. Where general audiences get to see the glamour of celebrity, the uncomfortable reality is, as Lecrae states, even our “…favorite rappers [are] made of flesh.”
While his achievements are nothing to be scoffed at, Lecrae is past pursuing awards, focusing on his mission rather than its benefits. These concepts are evidenced within the “Over The Top” music video with images of poisonous creatures surrounding Lecrae’s various awards, and a masked figure bringing the rapper bags of money, which he later throws in a fire. Having seen through the visage of fame and won its spoils, the Atlanta-based artist declares, “You can have the percs, I’d rather have a purpose.” After topping the Billboard charts, achieving a platinum record, and winning three GRAMMYs, Lecrae knows “…they don’t keep [his] soul intact.” Thus, their value is diminished by his responsibilities to his community, family, and faith.
Despair and Desperation
The next few songs off Restoration communicate the emotional turmoil Lecrae has been feeling, with both his identity and emotional security being placed at risk. “Self Discovery,” which Crae previously referred to as his favorite song off the album, identifies his stressors, including lack of cultural knowledge, financial burden, and “…PTSD runnin’ through me from [his] kinfolk.”
Right now it’s “Self Discovery” but it changes weekly
— Lecrae (@lecrae) August 14, 2020
As has been detailed in previous songs and his first book, Unashamed, Crae has experienced molestation, loss of loved ones including DJ Official, and the constant stream of Black lives being taken and put on media outlets for the world to see. With 2020 bringing a series of these killings and reigniting the fight against systemic racism, Lecrae felt led to write and release “Deep End” before Restoration’s release, which we compared to Kanye West’s “Wash Us in the Blood.” The sheer weight of his personal and the broader societal issues drags Lecrae into grave uncertainty, threatening to sink him into a sea of anxiety and depression. But when His disciples cry, “Lord, save me” (Matt. 14:30; NIV), Christ never lets us “Drown.”
“Drown,” Lecrae’s first and only collaboration with John Legend, questions whether God can really preserve us when everyone else has failed. In the chorus, Legend does not shy away from the reality of humans seeking God “…when it’s too late,” but He remains, “…the only one, who takes… pain away.” As for Lecrae, his second verse begs God to save the artist from sinking into his despair, recognizing that it is his hope in God “…that keeps [him] sober.”
“Saturday Morning,” expands the perspective of what Crae was drowning in, speaking on his experience in attempting to “numb the pain” with alcohol, the contentment he has pretended to have and struggles with fame leaving him open to others’ critique. But, God leaves no prayer unanswered, and it is when Crae begins to declare the realities of how much God has truly blessed him, that Restoration takes an upward swing.
On “Sunday Morning,” Lecrae uses Sunday’s symbolism as the day of Christ’s resurrection to symbolize the “refresh” God gave him from the pain and depression of days past. Crae runs down all the issues he experienced on the song, stating, “[m]akin money that I can’t spend, I had a failing marriage and some fake friends/I had to doubt my doubts and let my faith in.”
The next track on the album, “Zombie,” adds details before the start of his faith journey, as Lecrae sings, “…stealin’ momma’s liquor,” “[s]nortin, sippin’, smokin’ ‘til I’m blown away,” and “[c]hasin all the barbies, tryna get the bacon.” While all these difficulties are real, Lecrae knows Jesus provides a new beginning when we think all is over, as he states, “I thought I was finished here/Jesus told me ‘start again.’”
“Only Human” serves as Lecrae’s confession of his own mortality and need for God to serve as his guide. In a space where his every move is subject to critique, the artist has felt a lack of authenticity, rapping, “I thought I was running from demons, but maybe/I’m running from me and my tether is roamin’/running from clones.” This line, seemingly an allusion to Jordan Peele’s 2019 film, Us, speaks of the version of Lecrae he attempted to build, and his fleeing from this clone. The true Lecrae, after years of trying to hide, found himself at rock bottom, stating, “I ain’t wanna live, my babies need me live/[c]ome too far to shut my eyes…/[b]ut God said ‘Hol’ up, I got it, I do this…”
Where Lecrae thought all his troubles and the downward spiral that resulted had separated him from God entirely, God’s response is “‘[a]lready knew it’/[a]nd yet I still love you, I’m walking you through it…/[y]our actions are foolish but I know you human.” With God to lean on, Lecrae has finally achieved the renewal he always needed, not by cruising through life, but by learning to trust God through each step of his walk.
Lecrae is Restored
With the Restoration album, and the process completed, “Nothing Left to Hide” serves as a fitting swan song. The track summarizes the lessons Lecrae has learned since beginning his career, and questions the point of life if God is not overseeing it all. By rejecting the expectations of both the Christian and secular worlds and “…[turning] to Christ on [his] darkest night,” the 116 leader has been rescued from certain doom by God Himself. Where the Reach founder could have lost his faith entirely, God chased after the artist relentlessly. Crae describes this love, “[l]ike a hound, ain’t no other way around it,” following up with, “[y]ou either choose love or you choose death/I chose to let the love of God drown me.” In his restorative process, Lecrae has finally found freedom, and all the glory goes to his Creator.
Lecrae’s third verse on “Nothing Left to Hide” opens with the artist stating, “…[m]aybe this the end of a long run/[c]an’t believe they let us make it this far/[i]f you ask me how I did it, I’d be lyin’ if I gave you any other answer but God.” Naturally, there’s quite a bit of speculation surrounding this being his final album, whether this is the end or the start of a new season, we thank you, Lecrae.
Be sure to check out our Bar Exam of Restoration and Lecrae’s own breakdown below.