On Sunday night, Atlanta-based MC Lecrae won a Grammy for Best Gospel Album with his 2012 album Gravity. The term gospel rap automatically conjures up images of Kirk Franklin and while Lecrae is crystal clear about where his faith lies, he has done well to exist within hip-hop’s secular sphere collaborating with DJ Don Cannon, Big K.R.I.T. and participating in BET’s Hip-Hop Awards Cypher in 2011.
For folks who’d like to put Lecrae in a box, he aims to break the stigma of faith-driven music. “The Lecrae fans are like everyday people. Some of them are hip-hop fans, some of them are fans of responsibility and honesty,” he told MTV News back in October. “Obviously some of them are people who embrace their faith. And that’s really who resonates with my music. It’s just honest, real hip-hop.”
After Gravity was released in September, it shot to #3 on the Billboard 200 with over 72,000 units sold, proving that not only can Lecrae spit bars, he is also quite popular. “I don’t know if the sales surprised me as much as they encouraged me to keep going,” he said. “I know that my people rock with me. It’s more than just good music. It’s good music, but it’s honest music. It’s music that’s transparent and people relate to that, so it encouraged me to keep going.”
Many rappers make records about faith, the famous example being Kanye West’s 2004 single “Jesus Walks,” but hip-hop’s relationship with God doesn’t stop there. In 2002 Houston rap vet Scarface dropped The Fix, a highly touted LP with a number of religious raps (“Heaven,” “Someday” and “What Can I Do”). Then there is DMX, who often begins his album with a prayer, and Ma$e, who once left the business to dedicate his life to God.
Given hip-hop’s history, the idea of a gospel rap star shouldn’t be so far-fetched. “Historically I’ve been more adamant and have created songs that were unadulteratedly explicit in terms of the message and so I think that’s where a lot of the stigma comes from,” he said. “But people mature and they learn their sound and they learn their lane and that’s really what I’ve done, I’ve learned my sound and my lane. What you’ve gotten with my mixtape Church Clothes, what you’ve gotten with my album Gravity is who I am.”