Social Justice and CHH Part I: A Decade with Lecrae and Derek Minor
Christian Hip-Hop (CHH) artists are increasingly vocal about social and racial justice. Over the past year, Lecrae has engaged in conversations surrounding Black Lives Matter and Derek Minor appears more occupied with Black ownership than with music. This concern held by artists for social and racial justice has sparked various responses to these artists. Some argue that these commitments to justice and racial equality by Lecrae and Minor are at best presently popular or political and at worst anti-Christian.
Regardless of where you stand on the debate, I invite you to walk with me down the corridors of CHH spanning the past decade to see how Lecrae and Minor have spoken on behalf of the oppressed and marginalized in the lyrics of their music.
Many see Lecrae’s early music as a sort of genesis to today’s Christian Hip-Hop movement, even though prominent figures predate his influence. His first mixtape titled Church Clothes Volume 1 was a momentous development within the genre of CHH. Lecrae’s underlying message in Church Clothes can be summarized in a single phrase: “come as you are.” It is here that the holy and the human radically intersect, and Lecrae’s underlying focus communicates a communal experience with the sacred. He tells stories from his life, from the lives of others, and stories from larger communities.
In his mixtape, released nearly ten years ago, Lecrae explicitly raps about matters of social injustice. In his song “Black Rose,” Lecrae states:
Man, the school system, it fail us
And the government won’t bail us
Out of all this hell we in
Medicines they want to kill us
(“Black Rose,” in Church Clothes Volume 1, Lecrae, 2012)
By expressing the above, Lecrae breaks the mold of his previous albums. Instead of strictly focusing on Christian morality and encouraging listeners to avoid violence, substance abuse, or lifestyles contrary to Christian values, Lecrae lifts the social reality of a community to the attention of the listener.
In a way, Lecrae exits the four walls of the church and provides a rhythmic commentary on a social predicament. His lyrics explicitly address a community trapped in a social dilemma, and the title “Black Rose” implicitly identifies that community.
In addition to Lecrae, Derek Minor has directly spoken about injustice. In Minor’s song “We Gone Make It,” released in 2013 and appearing on his album Minorville, he openly expresses the reality of racial prejudice and hints at police brutality,
I know the struggle, I feel you
Cops still in my rearview
And I ain’t broke no laws
But I guess my skins in clear view
(“We Gone Make It,” in Minorville, Derek Minor, Canton Jones, 2013)
Where Lecrae identified an underprivileged community at the mercy of an unjust government in “Black Rose,” Minor went a step further to identify skin as the sole factor for unjust discrimination.
Following the release of “Black Rose” in 2012 and “We Gone Make It” in 2013, Lecrae and Derek Minor continually confronted social and racial injustice in their music. In 2014, Lecrae released his album Anomaly. While his track “Give In” received radio attention on Christian airwaves, he unapologetically addressed topics of social justice, racism, and slavery in other songs on the album.
In his song “Welcome to America,” Lecrae speaks on behalf of people and communities that have never arrived at the nostalgic hope of the American dream, and in the first verse he addresses the ongoing effects of slavery that bar many from that dream,
I was born in the mainland
Great-Grandpa from a strange land
He was stripped away and given bricks to lay
I guess you could say he a slave hand
(“Welcome to America,” in Anomaly, Lecrae, 2014)
In the above, Lecrae speaks to the reality of slavery in America’s past, and his method of rapping in the singular first-person hints at his biological connection to that heritage. While slavery is mentioned in this song, it is not Lecrae’s central focus. He addresses a wide range of topics relevant to a number of communities and experiences. In so doing, he describes America from the perspective of the disenfranchised rather than the privileged.
Slavery is partly discussed by Lecrae in “Welcome to America,” but he gives the topic full attention in a song off the same album titled “Dirty Water”:
Worthless, worthless, 400 years we done heard that
My family came here on slave ships
Some herd cattle, some herd blacks
Know some of ya’ll done heard that
My kin was treated less than men
That’s why we raised to hate each other, cause we hate our skin
(“Dirty Water,” in Anomaly, Lecrae, 2014)
This heavy 808 driven track with a passionate delivery embodies a sort of rage and grief expressed by Lecrae over the Black bodies that suffered from the Middle Passage and forced chattel slavery. In addition to the energy and theme of the song, Lecrae draws direct connections from the past to the present: “my kin was treated less than men. That’s why we raised to hate each other, cause we hate our skin.”
The past, as Lecrae sees it, very much affects the present. To understand the Black community, according to Lecrae, one must-see historical events as contributing factors to current issues.
Minor, was also the producer of this track, linking the two artists together.
By 2016, both Lecrae and Minor advanced their commitment to social justice and continued speaking out about race, but the conversation took a distinct turn. In 2016, Minor released his album Reflection. On an insanely hype track titled “Believe It,” he boldly expresses,
They don’t wanna hear what I gotta say
They don’t wanna hear what I gotta say
They don’t wanna hear me talk about how Sunday service is the most segregated time in the USA
(“Believe It,” in Reflection, Derek Minor, 2016)
In earlier songs, Lecrae and Minor addressed communities, government, and race, but Minor did something unexpected in “Believe It”— he took shots at the church for its ongoing complicity and reluctance to address racism in and outside the church. In the first verse of “Believe It,” Minor passionately articulates:
How many people gotta die tonight before we stop preaching to the choir
They get scared when I talk about the drugs, and the guns, and the hood, and the poor,
Like if we don’t pay attention it won’t happen any more
In the suburbs, where the money at, we’ll send it overseas ‘fore they send it to Chicago
Cops killing kids bet they talk about Chicago
Yeah, the hood messed up. Pray ‘fore you judge though.
(“Believe It,” in Reflection, Derek Minor, 2016)
Minor called out the church for remaining silent on behalf of the marginalized and oppressed. It is likely that he was addressing the white church when mentioning the suburbs where all the money is at, which was a risky move for any Christian artist who received support from white Evangelicals. Regardless of the risk, Minor directly confronted the institution that refused to aid oppressed communities in America — the white church.
Lecrae’s mixtape Church Clothes Volume 3 also appeared in 2016. To further the discussion on race and social oppression, Lecrae converged rap and history in his track “Gangland.” The song details the historical trends that influenced gang development in Black neighborhoods. But Lecrae is not simply listing people, places, and dates; he is choosing sides:
The New Jim Crow or the old one
People out here fighting for equality and honestly I think they owed some
(“Gangland,” in Church Clothes 3, Lecrae featuring Propaganda, 2016)
Almost like an academic, Lecrae supplies the listener with the historical context of the Black community, prior, during, and after the Civil Rights movement. He argues that the Black community deserves the very equality that they have continually fought for.
In 2017, Lecrae further lamented over the social injustice in America, and he acknowledged the fact that a portion of his audience would not accept his advocacy against racial prejudice,
When you speak out for your race, just watch
They gon’ twist and say you hate these cops
I’ma take these shots
(“Always Knew,” in All Things Work Together, Lecrae, 2017)
Lecrae took a firm stance that, even if fans or churches disapproved of his position on matters of race, he would stand firm and take whatever “shots” came his way.
By 2018, the conversation surrounding race and social justice intensified with Minor’s album, The Trap. Minor maintains a singular focus throughout this album, and in the intro song, “The Trap,” he pulls no punches in letting the listener know the content and intent of the album:
Whole body full of rage
Whole soul full of pain
When hurt people hurt people you gone hear that ‘ch ‘ch from the gage
Yeah I’m talking ‘bout race
And any topic I can think
And I say it to your face
Well hallelujah that’s grace
(“The Trap,” in The Trap, Derek Minor, feat. The Wright Way, 2018)
Minor openly addresses the hurt and anger within the Black community. His play on words that “hurt people hurt people” speaks to the unjust treatment the Black community has faced, and if you think for a second that he is not talking about race, well, he clears the air, “I’m talking ‘bout race.”
Lecrae and Derek Minor have openly addressed race and social justice for the better part of the past decade, and these are only two artists. The above selection of songs demonstrates that CHH artists have publicly commented on social and racial inequality within their music. Lecrae and Derek Minor have labored in this issue for ten years and counting, and, as we have seen, the conversation is complex and requires attention to a number of topics.
The above songs include themes of community, government, history, ethnicity, and the church when addressing prejudice. For anyone discounting CHH artists’ commitment to social and racial justice on the false premise that it is some new development, I encourage you to explore the storehouse of information captured within the lyrics of artist who have long demonstrated their advocacy for the underprivileged.
Tune in next week for part two of “Social Justice and CHH” where I will consider the separate experiences of pain, prejudice, and poverty as told in the music of three influential artists.