What up, y’all… can you believe it? Thirty-Five years of Christian men and women rockin’ mics and reppin’ the name of Christ.
I keep having to say that to myself and to others, not only to remind myself that this particular segment of what we call the Christian music industry has come a long way, but also to inform other people that it didn’t start with Lecrae. Seriously, few of the mainstream music journalistic outlets that cover Lecrae and/or the Reach Records / 116 Clique movement ever take the time to dig into the scene. It may be new to certain people, or certain places, or it may have made new gains that haven’t been made before, but Christian rap is not a new thing. I know this because I’ve been listening to Christian rap since I was ten, and I’m over 40.
So this is a collection of 30 rap songs by Christian artists from the first 30 years that I consider to be significant or meaningful. They’re all good, in their own way… some of them I still bump on a regular basis. Some of them may sound a little dated now, but back when they came out, they were bangin’ (or, def, the bomb, or the hotness, whatever slang was big at the time).
Note that I’m not claiming that these are the best Christian rap songs from the last 35 years, because that’s an argument that can’t be proved. I’m just going with the songs that I feel are or were notable, special, or interesting. To hedge my bets a little, I’m also including a bunch of “honorable mention” titles, which are songs that are just as good and worthy of exposure, but which I just couldn’t write about since I’m only doing one song per year.
Also, I’ve included YouTube links for ease of playing, but when possible, I’ve also included links to purchase the music. If you really want to support Christian hip-hop, support the artists who’ve helped lay the groundwork for the plethora of great hip-hop we have to listen to today.
So without any further ado, take a ride with me into the wayback machine as we celebrate 35 years of Christians in hip-hop…
Fighting through a dark season in your life where you find yourself depressed and at times filled with debilitating sadness is challenging enough for the average person. But it’s hard to imagine what that’s like for those in the public eye, living under social media scrutiny. In his latest book, I am Restored: How I Lost My Religion, but Found My Faith, Lecrae reveals a maturity in his faith after navigating through the uglier side of politics and Christianity, being a celebrity, a Black man, and a believer.
It’s part of a series of initiatives in 2020 focused on his personal restoration as well as serving as a catalyst for others in his faith, the music industry, and within popular culture. In May 2020, he released “Set me Free” featuring YK Osiris, the first track from his forthcoming ninth album, “Restoration.” A documentary about his life also will be coming out this summer.
Lecrae’s journey toward restoration began in his first book, Unashamed, where he didn’t hold back in talking about what he’s been through on his road to salvation—from drugs and abuse to rehab and even suicide.
I recently spoke to Lecrae about restoration issues of race, practical steps for dealing with depression and dark seasons, and how he’ll raise his kids in the faith.
Shari Noland: The full title of your book is I am Restored: How I Lost My Religion But Found My Faith. It’s a provocative title. Can you explain the distinction you’re making between religion and faith?
Lecrae: I would define religion as working to earn God’s love and God’s affirmation, and faith being operating out of already having God’s love and affirmation. So, for me, it was understanding the difference between my devotion to God and God’s devotion to me.
Shari Noland: You spent some time traveling to Biblical places and being rebaptized. How did your travel to those biblical places influence your perspective on your faith?
Lecrae: Yeah, it was pretty intense. I think it’s almost like when my wife was pregnant, I knew there was a child coming, but I hadn’t seen the child. So, there’s a belief—there’s even ultrasounds—which is like I’m reading the Bible. I can get an idea, but it was just different once I saw the actual child. Similarly, it was like I knew these places existed, I knew God was real, but then just being there and then you see the evidence and you see the places that are written about was really mind blowing and just reinvigorated my faith on a different level.
Shari Noland: Do you have any thoughts about Black Jesus vs. White Jesus?
Lecrae: I actually do. If I’m being completely honest, that’s what a large portion of what my book talks about. I ended up in a dark season because of a lot of issues with race in the church. I had to wrestle with how my faith and my Blackness work together. And it wasn’t until I went to Egypt and I realized that we in America have a very Western perspective on the Bible and on God, and that’s okay. I mean, we’re from the West, so we should. However, it’s not always accurate. And I think because in the West, we’ve seen so many depictions of angels as white of Jesus as white, of the disciples as white, sometimes when you see the issues with race in America, that can help create problems within your faith. So, because you’re seeing issues of race or issues with your white brothers and sisters that are frustrating to you, you now begin to wrestle with your faith because it’s like, “Well, God, is this how you are?”
The only other example I can give is that I didn’t grow up with my father in my life. Older men were very abusive, and so for me to consider God being a father was just strange to me. I just couldn’t reconcile it in my mind for a long time. And long story short, I had to understand that. Yes, Jesus came to this earth and He dwelt in a human body, but He does transcend race.
But at the end of the day, your race and your ethnicity matters. There’s beauty in our diversity, and we should embrace that and accept that. Obviously, Jesus is not a white man. He isn’t from Europe, He’s a Palestinian Jew. He’s not an African American. He’s not an African man, but he’s a Palestinian Jew. He’s a person of color. And if that makes a difference to you, awesome. But ultimately, what should make a difference is what He did for you on the cross and how He lived. And that’s what we should pledge allegiance to more than His ethnic identity.
Shari Noland: You’ve mentioned that your grandmother took you to church at an early age. Given what you’ve been through in your life, how will you raise your children in the faith?
Lecrae: My grandmother was very traditional—so there wasn’t quite the children’s ministry. I didn’t really participate in any kind of youth programs or anything like that. It was just sitting in there and hearing her and some of her congregation on the organ. That was my church experience.
A lot of my grandmother’s children walked away from the faith because there were just way too many rules. They weren’t allowed to wear pants or lipstick. There’s so many rules in order to earn God’s love, so to speak. And she’s since changed a lot.
But I think, for me, I want to make sure my kids understand that there’s nothing they can do to make God love them any more or any less and that you live in light of love instead of trying to earn love. I wouldn’t want them to try to earn my love. I’d want them to just understand that daddy loves you and you don’t have to earn it. But because daddy loves you, that may change some of the decisions you make and change some of the actions that you take in life. And I hope they treat God the same way.
Shari Noland: What are your conversations like with God when you’re going through the creative process?
Lecrae: A practical step that I think for me, in my time of prayer or meditation, is that I remind myself that He’s present. The Psalms say that He’s the shade at your right hand. So I’m reminded He’s as close to me as my right hand is from me. So, I can talk to Him like a father. I can talk to Him in a way that my kids would talk to me. I don’t have to come to Him with these verbose wordings. If my kids came up to me and said, “Oh, mighty father, may I please go outside?” I’d say, “Well, why are you talking to me like that?” So, I just talk with God, and I say, “Dad, I’m struggling, and I’m wrestling with some of these things. Can you help me with this or with that?” And that changes the dynamic. He becomes close and present, versus being far and unapproachable.
Shari Noland: With the book, album, and documentary, how are you hoping to impact people? What messages do you want them to take from your initiatives?
Lecrae: For me, it’s being very transparent, very vulnerable. So, I show a lot of my scars, and hopefully, by showing off my scars, other people can realize that their wounds can be healed. So, I go in depth, I talk about my marital struggles, my career struggles, personality struggles, identity, politics, race, all those things that feed into our regular lives. I think sometimes people just say, “I’ll just pray, and it’ll be okay.” And prayer’s definitely a part of it, but there’s some action steps and there’s some struggles that people just don’t want to talk about. I want folks to find freedom by seeing how I’ve struggled through those things.
Shari Noland: In Unashamed you wrote, “If you live for people’s acceptance, you’ll die from their rejection.” and you often have said that these are words by which you live. Why?
Lecrae: Because that’s something I struggle with. Sometimes we get caught in this mindset of living for the acceptance of other people, and that’ll carry you into your ideas about God, as well. You get so wrapped up in trying to be what other people want you to be instead of being who you were created to be. And for myself, I’ve done that for a large portion of my life and my career. Oftentimes, people build you up in order to tear you down. So if you’re just trying to earn everyone else’s approval, at some point in time when they don’t approve of you or when they don’t agree with you, then you’ll be devastated. I want to free people from that thought process.
Shari Noland: Yeah, it’s hard sometimes not to crave acceptance from people. And I see what you’re saying about being true to yourself. But, practically speaking, how can people keep strong and do that?
Lecrae: We live in a comparison culture, so it’s fighting the temptation to compare yourself to other people. We all have our own races to run, so run your race as best as you can. I believe that success isn’t what I do compared to other people, success is what I do compared to what I was created to do. If I’m constantly looking over my shoulder at how everyone else is running and their success or their form, their stride, then I will not pay attention to my own self and my own abilities. So, that’s what I want people to just try to do as much as possible. It’s going to be a lifelong battle. It won’t happen overnight.
Shari Noland: Can you share a few pieces of advice with us? Maybe give a little tidbit of what’s in your book?
Lecrae: I think one is being vulnerable and transparent as far as your mistakes are concerned, as far as your shortcomings are concerned, with a close circle of friends. That’s been one of my steps in terms of getting past things. In terms of wrestling through issues of race or politics, I understand that I don’t have to find a tribe. The tribe that I belong to is God. So, there’s going to be moments in your life where you’re not going to fit in or you’re not going to agree, and that’s okay. It’s accepting that it’s okay and learning how to disagree with people but love them in the process and being okay with other people not agreeing with you and your decisions. So, I think those are some practical pieces of advice or proverbial wisdom that I try to give people.
Shari Noland: You’ve talked about the bouts of depression you’ve had and how God restored you from them. What advice might you give people who are going through similar struggles?
Lecrae: I think one is helping people understand that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to be in seasons of blue and seasons of darkness. The Bible says, “We walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” So one, you’re walking through it, you’re not living in it. And then, it’s the valley of the shadow of death. So shadows are only cast when there’s light present. So, there’s always going to be light in the midst of the shadows.
I want people to know that it’s okay, to feel lesser than or feel strange or not feel like you’ve got to perk up. Embrace that moment. Sometimes we need to grieve.
And then, also there are some mental health or brain health components that are different. Some of what I experienced was different. It wasn’t just a sadness or a grief. It was a serious bout with depression. And when it comes to that, I’m a big advocate of medication, meditation, and mediation. Those three things shouldn’t be frowned upon. If you need medication, then take it. If you need mediation, which is a counselor, then take it. And meditation—spending time clearing your mind and spending time with being present and around Godly presence.
Shari Noland: What was the turning point that made you realize that you needed help beyond what you were doing on your own?
Lecrae: I mean, the basic analogy that I think people use all the time is the guy who’s praying. He’s drowning and he’s like, “God send me some help.” And a helicopter passes, and he says, “No, I’m waiting on God.” And a boat passes, he says, “No, I’m waiting on God.” And then, someone throws him a rope, he says, “No, I’m waiting on God.” And he ends up dying and he goes to heaven and he says, “God, where were you?” And God says, “Man, I sent you a boat, a plane, and a rope, you didn’t take it.”
Similarly, I think oftentimes we think, “Oh, I’m just going to pray it away, I’m going to pray it away,” and we don’t realize, “No, no, no, no, no. God is furnishing you with these options to give you the help that you need.” And so, that is a means of God’s grace and His goodness, and that’s what I felt about Him and how other people should feel. The goal is to be healthy. That’s it. That’s the goal. And if God is giving you a means to be healthy, then take it.
Photo on UrbanFaith.com home page courtesy of Alex Harper
We are fascinated with the Illuminati. If you have been following any celebrity of note, then you have to be familiar with the concept of the Illuminati. The secret society that controls the world from the shadows is supposedly filled with Black celebrities. Jay-Z, Beyonce, and even Lecrae, the Christian hip-hop artist, were named as members of this elite group of world takeover artists. Now, LeCrae as a member of the Illuminati is about as believable as Donald Trump as a crusader for social justice. Although it’s ridiculous and almost laughable, the question still remains, “What is our fascination with the Illuminati?”
History of the Illuminati Fascination
The Illuminati has always been a hip-hop staple since I could remember. There were always subtle references in songs. From the Goodie Mob’s “Cell Therapy” to LL Cool J’s reference in the “I Shot Ya” remix, hip-hop from the mid-90s to now has had an obsession with the Illuminati. Ras Kass, Outkast, Bun B, and many others have all mentioned the Illuminati in their lyrics. In Tupac’s prime, he released Don Killuminati, and the reference was not missed.
It’s gotten to be a staple for the YouTube crowd as well. Tons of videos analyze different artists and how their music and videos are laced with Illuminati symbolism. The symbolism is usually related to the all-seeing eye or Eye of Providence—the famous image on the dollar bill—as well as references to light or pyramids. Also, skulls, goats, snakes, the sun, fire, and eagles are seen as Illuminati symbols. Basically, everything is an illuminati symbol.
Doing a casual search on YouTube will also reveal celebrity exposé interviews with the likes of Professor Griff of Public Enemy fame and others speaking of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. as Illuminati blood sacrifices. There is also a theory that the Illuminati-controlled hip-hop industry is influencing young men to turn homosexual.
Theories abound on how hip-hop is influenced by this supposed secret society. And hip-hop is chock full of references about the Illuminati’s influence over the entire world. But just who are the Illuminati? Where did this understanding of a secret society dominating the world even come from?
Who are the Illuminati?
The Illuminati was a group in the 18th century formed to oppose religious and cultic superstition. It’s ironic that this group that was formed to fight against superstition has now become the stuff of legend. Charles Theodore, a Bavarian ruler, used an edict to outlaw the group, along with a host of other secret societies. Subsequently, the group disbanded.
This didn’t stop people from believing that the group was still in operation. Soon after, they were accused of being responsible for the French Revolution. This was the first of many accusations that the formally disbanded Illuminati were supposedly masterminds behind, some of the greatest events in history. The Illuminati have been said to be responsible for events from Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo to the assassination of JFK. Even recently, they were said to have orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The organization is said to have risen to this kind of power because of their connection to the big world banks. Through these connections, they have consolidated power in the media industry as well. This has given rise to theories that different music artists and Hollywood stars are also members of the secret society. In fact, the list of people who are said to be members of the Illuminati is a who’s who in terms of the Hollywood A-List; Kanye, Snoop Dogg, Lady Gaga, Emma Watson, Celine Dion, and Miley Cyrus have all been alleged to be on the Illuminati roster.
Why are we fascinated with the Illuminati?
So, the question remains, “Why are we so fascinated with the Illuminati?” There is a lot of energy and discussion about a secret society that no one knows for sure exists. The evidence regarding their existence is skimpy. The different signs and symbols used to rope celebrities into the Illuminati’s orbit are coincidental at best. What makes people suspect that a secret society is pulling the strings of everyone on the planet?
I think this goes back to the feeling of powerlessness many in underprivileged communities feel. Since things are so bad, then there must be a secret power doing this. This can’t just be normal life. There’s got to be an explanation for the evil we see in the world. There’s got to be a good reason for the injustice and oppression that makes its way to my neighborhood on a daily basis.
Said in another way, there can be no good reason for people to be losing their minds like they are now. Why is there so much Black-on-Black crime? Illuminati. Why is there so much pollution? Illuminati. Inflation? Illuminati. Unhealthy relationships? Illuminati. Pharmaceuticals with crazy, harmful, side effects? Illuminati. Every bad thing can be traced back to the Illuminati, and ultimately no one is responsible.
When it’s connected to celebrities, it’s kind of a different story. People want to know how someone like Jay-Z can rise to the top and make millions and they can’t. They want to explain away success. In their minds, for someone to be that successful, they had to sell their soul to the devil and join a secret society. Let’s push aside hard work, talent, and market trends. Let’s give credit to people we can’t even verify exist.
How Do We as Christians Respond to This Fascination?
It’s crazy that some people have actually accused Lecrae of being a member of the Illuminati because of his latest video. Yeah, the same Lecrae whose songs are laced with the fundamental truths of the Gospel. I don’t see how the Illuminati can use the story of the Creation, Fall, and redemption to their advantage. This is where Illuminati conspiracy theories become laughable.
The funny thing is in some way I agree with many of the Illuminati conspiracy theorists. There is someone pulling the strings. It’s just not the inheritors of an 18th-century secret society bent on world domination. When it comes to evil and oppression as a Christian, I believe there are invisible forces at work whose sole goal is to control people’s actions and direct them towards evil.
In the Bible, they are called demons and are led by Satan. In Ephesians 2, he is called the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience. The devil is bent on world domination by causing people to disobey God. When they don’t bend to his will, then he is set on destroying them. That’s his modus operandi.
At the same time, I’m convinced that, ultimately, He’s not the one pulling the strings behind it all. That position goes to God himself. There’s an attribute we give to Him called sovereignty. This means no matter what is happening, God is in control. He is superintending over world events and personal decisions.
Who knows, there might be a secret society out there, but I’ll take my chances with a faithful, loving, and compassionate God who not only has my best interests, but the entire world’s best interests in mind.
Lecrae wins a 2013 Grammy for “Best Gospel Album” (Photo courtesy of Newscom).
Two men. Both Black. Both Grammy award-winning hip-hop artists. Two completely different messages. Within one week both Lil’ Wayne and Lecrae made headlines for their music, but for very different reasons.
Last week, Christian hip-hop artist, Lecrae, won a Grammy for “Best Gospel Album” at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards. The prestige of music’s highest honor is noteworthy enough, but Lecrae’s achievement as a vocally Christian rapper is rare.
The part of the line that has caused so much controversy is the reference to Emmett Till. In 1955, Till, just 14 years old, was brutally murdered in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at a White woman. The tragedy sent ripples across the nation as graphic images of the boy’s mutilated face (his mother had insisted on an open casket to display the brutality) were splashed across newspapers and magazines. The two White men charged in the crime were both acquitted by an all-White jury.
Wayne’s lyric serves as painful reminder of the importance of Black History month. Many will miss the offense of Wayne’s reference if they fail to understand the identity and significance of Emmet Till. The maiming of Till’s memory, however, is just the start.
Wayne’s words speak of doing violence to a woman’s reproductive organs and reveal the misogyny that has become commonplace and even celebrated in much of hip-hop. His line also reveals the distorted and grotesque picture of manhood – one that defines masculinity in terms of sexual exploits and violence – that he and other hip-hop artists often portray.
In contrast, Lecrae uses his lyrical talents to pen lines like, “Ain’t dope dealin’, ain’t Po pimpin’, talkin’ ‘bout my own folk killin’/ We on that Jesus soul healin” (from the song “Fakin‘”). Lecrae talks openly about being a Christian and makes it clear his faith drives his art. An urban evangelist, he hopes to use his talent to penetrate mainstream hip-hop with an alternative message for the listeners.
Lil’ Wayne is not the anti-Christ and Lecrae is not sinless. Each of these men, like all of us, are sinners. We all have wicked hearts and no one has lived in perfect obedience to God as we were designed to do. But there is a difference between these two artists. Redemption.
The Redemption of Culture and All Creation
I can’t make any judgments about Lil’ Wayne’s or Lecrae’s salvation. I simply see the fruits of each man’s life and art. Lil’ Wayne’s lyrics seem to be essentially human-centered. Instead of looking up, his lyrics encourage listeners to look within. By focusing only on the self, life becomes defined by personal pleasure and material prosperity. Lecrae’s music encourages people find their identity in God first, and then act in harmony with their status as God’s children.
As believers we must begin working out redemption here and now. Christ calls His followers the light of the world, the salt of the earth, and a city on a hill (Mt. 5:13-15). So, culture-shaping cannot be left to an elite few. Whether a hip-hop artist, a hair stylist, or a health inspector, all Christians must strive to be agents of redemptive change wherever God has placed us. If we live this way then, in many respects, the contrast between the redeemed and unredeemed life should look as stark as the contrast between Lil’ Wayne’s and Lecrae’s lyrics.
REFORMED MIX: Rapper Lecrae inspires both praise and debate with his blend of solid beats and Reformed theology.
With the release of his new album, Gravity, earlier this month, Lecrae is growing in popularity as a hip-hop artist among audiences Christian and non-Christian, black and white. The Associated Press, among others, praised the album, saying, “Lecrae delivers a strong piece of work. He’s not afraid to rap about his past mistakes, supplying inspirational rhymes filled with Christian values backed by well-produced secular hip-hop beats.”
Lecrae (his full name is Lecrae Moore) stands at the intersection of two contrasting cultures: the urban vibe of historically black hip-hop and the theological leanings of the historically white Reformed tradition with its roots in Calvinism.
It’s a cultural mix common in Holy Hip-Hop, says author and “hip-hop theologian” Efrem Smith. Holy Hip-Hop artists often appear in front of white evangelical audiences and receive support from white Reformed pastors like John Piper and Mark Driscoll (who have bothinterviewed Lecrae). But the artists themselves tend to be young black men from inner-city backgrounds who ironically struggle to find an audience among urban youth.
The reason for that, Smith argues, is because the African American church has too often rejected hip-hop culture and because urban youth sometimes dismiss Holy Hip-Hop as inferior to secular hip-hop music.
“Lecrae and Reach Records are the main reason why Holy Hip-Hop is growing in popularity in urban American and African American communities,” Smith said in an interview with UrbanFaith. “Put the Christian stuff aside for a minute; Lecrae is more gifted and talented than many artists being pushed by secular companies today.”
Lecrae’s Scripture-packed music hits a variety of urban issues, like fatherlessness, drug addiction, and violence. Lecrae himself was raised by his mother in the inner city of Houston and was involved in gang activity before his conversion at age 19. He went to a black church when he first became a Christian, but later visited a white Reformed congregation and was attracted to their take on the Bible.
But as Lecrae said in a video produced by The Gospel Coalition, “To drop Calvin’s name (in the black community) is to drop a curse word.” The Reformed tradition has historical links to racism in the U.S., going back to Calvinists who used their theology to justify slavery.
For that reason, Smith cautioned Holy Hip-Hop artists against depending solely on Reformation theology (which he wrote about in a blog post). Rather, he said, they need to draw upon other theologies that address the concerns of the oppressed, like liberation theology, reconciliation theology and missional pietism, to speak a prophetic message. Smith suggests that’s one area where Lecrae could grow musically, although he likened this constructive critique to criticizing LeBron James’s basketball skills.
“He does a great job of talking about individual sin and individual responsibility and the importance of accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and living by the Holy Spirit,” Smith told UrbanFaith. “What I’d like to see him do more is raise the systemic issues — the corporate issues of sin and injustice in our country and the world — and point to kingdom justice and mercy to deal with these corporate sins.”
For Lecrae, the Reformed tradition describes how he interprets the Bible, and his adoption of that theology is a way to bridge the racial divide.
“I don’t feel like I’m under theological imperialism or whatever,” Lecrae said in a video produced by The Gospel Coalition. “I feel like I’m in search of truth, and I’m going to get it wherever I can find it. And I feel like I am in some senses a contextual ambassador, a cultural ambassador, and I do want to bridge those gaps and tear down those walls.” Check out the video below.
What do you think of Lecrae’s music and Holy Hip-Hop?