The first time I heard it was in the Wengatz Hall at Taylor University—and I couldn’t believe my ears.
Catchy beats and clever lyrics filled with Scriptural truths blared through the bathroom boom box, and it was music to my ears in more ways than one.
This was a time of great Spiritual growth in my life—I finally came to really understand the amazing truths I had taken for granted so long: that we could know God through Jesus Christ and that the Bible was His Holy Word. When good Christian rap entered my life, I did whatever I could to get my hands on as much of it as I could.
Lecrae’s first album Real Talk was my first Christian rap album because that was all that was available. Songs like Crossover, Represent, and The Line were the soundtrack of my life as a freshman in college trying to figure out who he was.
Soon after, After The Music Stops dropped and I added songs like Jesus Muzik, Send Me, and The King to my life, loving how they drove me to both set my mind on things above in worship and move my body. I even was able to see Lecrae rap at a youth center in Marion, Indiana.
For the next several years, I constantly listened to Lecrae and other rappers in his circles like Tedashii, Trip Lee, and Flame, going to concerts whenever I could and even being part of a Christian rap music video. (Technically as an extra in this video at 1:12-14 and 1:30-31. I’m the geeky white guy in the blue hat). Lecrae’s new albums Rebel and Rehab continued to fuel my faith post-college and into seminary, before my listening habits slowly shifted away from mainly listening to music to mainly listening to podcasts and audiobooks.
Lecrae is one of those artists about whom I can honestly say, “I liked him before he was big,” and continue to like him now, albeit for different reasons. At first, I enjoyed his music and example because they drew me to Christ. Over time through following his example and life, my appreciation for him has morphed from solely music to his boldness with the gospel, cultural engagement, compelling honesty, and growing platform. His growing and unique platform has opened opportunities to share ideas with Christian outlets like Q or Desiring God and secular sources like TIME and Jimmy Fallon.
That’s why I eagerly plowed through his new autobiography, Unashamed, to learn more about the man who has taught me so much.
5 Lessons Learned from Lecrae’s Biography Unashamed
Lesson #1: The importance of role models.
Lecrae never knew his father growing up and longed for good role models. With only gangster uncles or his mom’s abusive boyfriends around, Lecrae struggled with identity and direction, longing for someone to look up to. (Lecrae said it’s a problem when the only black role model he had was Theo Huxtable from The Cosby Show.) Reflecting on this struggle drove him to write the song Just Like You about his experience growing up.
One striking story Lecrae shared involved his step-father’s reaction to the cops bringing him home as a teenager for the umpteenth time. Instead of screaming and violence, he calmly spoke hard truth to Lecrae telling him he would go nowhere in life and never be able to own a house or provide for a family unless he changed his life. These words struck Lecrae’s heart and rang in his mind for years to come. This is the type of strong male voice he wanted growing up.
Lesson #2: The importance of discipleship for new believers.
Although he grew up going to Mexico on missions with his grandmother, Lecrae never put his trust in Christ until attending a conference during his college years. These years were a struggle for identity and acceptance, causing him to transfer schools and reinvent himself several times. Lecrae shares about the sin in his life pre-conversion and post-conversion; and the depth of his post-conversion sin (drugs, sex, abortion, throwing illegal parties) reminded me of the importance of discipleship for new believers.
When someone is born again, they are typically a baby spiritually. Just like you wouldn’t leave a new baby on his own for months or years after birth, new believers need to be ‘parented’ by more mature believers who can help establish them in the faith.
Lesson #3: The traumatic effects of sexual abuse.
This lesson may have been the most unexpected for me. Lecrae opens up about being abused by a babysitter as a child and sharing how the abuse’s destructive effects echoed through his life for years to come, affecting his view of women, his relationships, and his trust for others. This part of his past only takes up a handful of pages in the book, but it still helped me enter a new—and dark—situation I’ve never before experienced. This is the beauty of biography because it allows us to see the world through different eyes.
Lesson #4: The need for culture changers.
Lecrae started making music for Christians and filled each song with more theological truth than many churches speak of on Sunday mornings. Lecrae wanted to reach people for Christ. And, in the Lord’s grace, he did. People trusted Jesus, were encouraged in the faith, and finally came to realize that not all Christian music is cheesy.
After a few albums, new relationships, and Christian notoriety, Lecrae realized there were many people he wanted to reach who would never listen to rap about ‘going hard for the Lord.’ Through reading Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey and Culture Making by Andy Crouch, Lecrae realized a different approach to his music might allow him to reach more people. He was to become someone who influenced the broader culture through hip hop and not just reformed Christian circles. Why reach just believers when he can influence the entire rap industry for Christ?
Two examples of his newer philosophy are seen in Anomaly, Lecrae’s most recent album that reached #1 on Billboard Charts. Nuthin’ talks about how most rap is about, well, nuthin’ except guns, sex, and money. Lecrae confronts many in the rap industry with the lyrics:
And every song talking ’bout they selling work on every corner
Don’t talk about the laws, taking kids away from mommas
Don’t talk about your homie in the trauma cause he shot up
Or what about your young boy messing up the product
They don’t talk about the bond money that they ain’t have
And everybody snitch on everybody in the jam
They don’t talk about the pain, they don’t talk about the struggle
How they turn to the Lord when they ran into trouble
I’m a talk about it
This raw honesty and broadened approach to ministry has opened doors for Lecrae to appear on Jimmy Fallon, be featured on BET, and speak at TEDx event. It also has given him many opportunities to build friendships with influencers in the rap world, some of which have come to Christ.
This broadened approach has also struck some fans as selling out, causing Lecrae to view himself as an outsider.
Lesson #5: Faithfulness sometimes means being an outsider.
Unashamed opens with the story of Lecrae attending a Grammys party with A-listers and feeling like he didn’t fit in. This experience is a theme in Lecrae’s life.
I’ll admit, I was one of the ones disappointed when Lecrae’s music dropped a lot of the rich theology I was used to. But I didn’t know the whole story (I still don’t). Now I respect Lecrae’s devotion to the Lord and desire to broaden his reach for the Kingdom. I also realize many dangers facing him in the secular music world. But as the book shares, he has a team of godly people always surrounding him and keeping him grounded. And he has people like me praying for him.
I’m guessing there are many former fans he won’t win back and will never understand his heart. But I also guess that Lecrae’s ambassadorship to culture will bear unique fruit for the kingdom, as evidenced in Lecrae’s claim that for every fan he lost, he has gained ten more.
I recommend Unashamed to fans of Lecrae, Christians wanting to engage culture in innovative ways, and other outsiders. It’s short (about 200 pages) and quick read that will make you chew on weighty topics as you follow the compelling narrative of a life that has inspired many.
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