Every now and then a musical genre needs to be rescued from eating itself to death.
Hard rock and heavy metal ruled most of the 80s. But by the end of the decade things began to wear thin. It started to look silly to see thirty-year old men in make-up and tights singing about what they are going to do at a party. The genre was eating itself.
So in came Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Their sound was different and they had something else to say. Their message seemed to be more from the heart. More prophetic. Where bands like Poison seemed to only sing about groupies, Pearl Jam sang about a troubled kid named Jeremy. And they didn’t look like they were wearing Halloween costumes while they were doing it. They looked like guys you would go to college with. Their message connected. And a movement was born.
The same thing happened in hip-hop. Only in this case, instead of eating itself, the genre was shooting itself to death. Gangsters and pretend gangsters were taking over and the lifestyle couldn’t be contained in a recording studio so it spilled out into the streets. It was like, musically speaking at least, our nation was having another civil war but this time it was east against west.
But something else was happening around this time. Two kids from Atlanta had something else to say. They weren’t interested in picking between Biggie and Tupac. They were content telling stories about fish and grits. Outkast finally set the Atlanta hip-hop scene apart and gave it a distinct sound from the Miami bass sound it seemed intent on copying. Andre and Big Boi gave us a reason to dance and smile again and another movement was born.
Christian music isn’t immune from eating itself. It’s just that there’s rarely someone who steps up to save it. With few exceptions that industry has been a victim of its own consumption for years. Lecrae Moore is one of those exceptions.
Lecrae didn’t invent Christian hip-hop. He just made it better. Much better. Before he came along most Christian rappers were talking about rapping rabbits, popping a cap in a demon or how they would be really, really popular if it weren’t for their record label.
There were a few artists who were different. Their message actually had theological depth to it. But, in most cases at least, the music wasn’t all that great. It’s like no artist could put it together and mix theological depth with a nice beat. The genre was eating itself.
That’s when Lecrae came to the rescue and a movement was born.
He was surprisingly well received by many in the church. Pastors and theologians who never gave hip-hop a second thought aside from the occasional sermon reference about something dumb Lil’ Wayne said suddenly seemed impressed that someone could make something rhyme with substitutionary atonement.
But along the way something was happening to Lecrae. He wasn’t content with impressing seminary professors and preaching to the choir. Choirs need to be preached to but Lecrae just wasn’t the one to do it. He wanted to be a missionary. And the thing about missionaries is that they’re always trying to go where the lost people are. So that’s just what Lecrae did.
Without abandoning the gospel he so firmly subscribed to, Lecrae started to make mainstream music. Instead of youth camps, he did cyphers for BET. Rather than saying rhymes about the gospel, Lecrae was allowing the gospel to shape his art form.
And another movement was born. The movement against Lecrae. And that movement wasn’t being led by Jay Z or Drake. No, some of his own brothers and sisters in the faith were coming out against him. It’s as if he got the Illuminati triangle tattooed on his forehead and started putting twerking girls in his videos.
The critics questioned Lecrae’s motives, saying that he only wanted to be famous.
They said that he was selling out the gospel to sell more records.
They said that every song a Christian artist produces has to contain a clear gospel message. Since Lecrae wasn’t doing that but only allowing the gospel to shape his message, he was abandoning the faith. For them, a song about loving your wife that does not contain the creation – fall – redemption storyline is unacceptable.
But what they forgot to tell us is that Lecrae is not a pastor. And neither is my friend Reggie. Reggie builds legs and arms for people who have lost limbs. He does excellent work and has a very good reputation in the community. You’re not going to find his creations on the fake leg aisle at CVS. His is custom work.
And Reggie loves Jesus. But should we question his devotion because every leg he makes doesn’t have a cross or Bible verse printed on it? If we’re thinking right, we would step back and see that Reggie is representing Christ well by doing his work with excellence and being ready to speak truth to others when the opportunity is there.
So why should Lecrae be any different?
Why should you?
Does every picture you take on Instagram have an explicit gospel message contained in it? Or do you simply allow the gospel to shape what you do and don’t take pictures of?
In our desire to be true to Scripture, some of us can be overzealous in critiquing the arts. Perhaps this is why so much Christian art is inferior to its mainstream counterparts. We settle for acting that would make the cast of Saved By The Bell turn away and music that sounds like it was produced in a shower using equipment from the clearance rack at Radio Shack. We think it’s okay for a Christian artist to steal a sound from a mainstream artist just as long as the message is solid. We even think that it’s a good idea to create our own gospel-centered breath mints. Testamints! Not making that one up.
Instead, we should be praying for Lecrae and the other artists on his label. For the past several years I’ve been praying that God would increase their abilities as well as their platform and keep them from compromising the gospel. It looks like that is beginning to happen. But we should also pray for protection from the Enemy who will bring an onslaught of temptations. And we should pray for encouragement as Lecrae endures the critics from his own circles.
Mainstream hip hop is at that point again when it needs to be rescued. This time from bombastic commercial-like songs about drugs and sex. None of the rappers on the radio really have anything to say. Just like it did in the late 90s, the genre needs someone with talent and a message to come and save it from eating itself to death.
Lecrae just might be that man.
If only he can keep from being eaten by his own brothers in the faith first.
For more information on how Christians can faithfully represent Christ through the arts like Lecrae is doing, check out these three books.