Lecrae is what we call a Christian rapper. His album, Anomaly, reached the top spot on the Billboard charts. That's right, the same Billboard 200 chart that Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Rihanna eviscerate every time they release an album. And he did so by selling more copies, 88,000, in its first week than Big Sean's latest album, Hall of Fame, which only sold 72,000.
Oh, and the next surprise: He also has ties to Dallas. Lecrae Moore was born in Houston in 1979 and spent his childhood bouncing there, San Diego, Denver, Dallas and for two years Plano, because that's where the best schools just so happened to be.
"I hated it. It was a different environment for me. I had no friends. I was always getting in trouble; stealing and just rebelling. I was raised to admire dudes who were gangsters and I admired the thugs, because to me that was the essence of masculinity," Lecrae says.
During his adolescence Lecrae dabbled in some general mischief, of varying degrees of seriousness: Stealing, selling weed, and getting arrested.
"What Tupac represented to me was true masculinity and he was just a young 24 year old dude who was confused, but I didn't know that," he says. "To me it was about being tough, [misogyny], I lusted for guns. I wanted one badly. For what? I don't know. It was just about mischief."
Lecrae pauses, considering his words, and then adds a revealing caveat. "I was never a killer; never running into a party shooting at people trying to be a thug," he insists. "Faith was always the final frontier."
At 19, he made a commitment to following Jesus, but it wasn't for another four years, when he was 23, that he got serious about it.
As a young adult, Lecrae initially studied theater on a full ride scholarship at the University of North Texas. The Tupac influence runs deep. Since UNT is a lauded music school, the culture quickly took a toll on his motivation. He'd skip classes and go to the music lab and work on music, instead of classes, which prompted him to leave briefly to study at a college in Tennessee.
Upon his return to UNT, Lecrae earned a degree with a double minor in sociology and electronic media. Since he graduated from college in 2003, Lecrae has released seven studio albums and won a Grammy last year. He's never used that degree. It all comes back to music.
"Even when I was in high school I would drive down to Deep Ellum and I would run with this crew, Squad X, and we would just rap on the streets. That's the vibe I would enjoy when I wasn't getting into trouble and whatnot," he says. "It's a culture of great music. I went to school with guys like R.C. Williams, who is an amazing musician and a good friend to this day, and N'ambi who sings on the title track on Anomaly."
"I'm a Texas boy at heart," Lecrae admits. "That's the thing about it: Texas is just the place that feels like home and Dallas is definitely the place that feels like home as well."
Walk into a room -- no, no, no. Walk on stage at the BET Hip Hop Awards and ask the rappers in attendance if they consider themselves Christians. A staggering amount will undoubtedly raise their hands. Most will thank God when they win the award for that song that casually mentions committing a felony and delves into some blasé misogyny.
A great deal of rappers fancy themselves Christian, and still, though somebody like Kanye West, who has made it clear that he is in fact Christian, is not widely considered a Christian rapper. Lecrae gets the adjective plunked in front of his occupation, which can dwindle your audience, but he has somehow prospered. That's because his songs aren't pedantic, nor is the word of God being shoved down the listener's throat like a cyanide pill. The label "Christian rapper" really only means "friendly for the conservative or prudish."
Part of the reason why Lecrae has been able to become so successful is because his subject matter is not all "lilies and flowers, and everything is great," as he puts it. He talks about multiple facts of life, some of which are dark. A particular stand-out on Anomaly, is a song about coercing an old girlfriend into getting an abortion, called "Good, Bad, Ugly."
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"That's not worship that you hear on Sunday," he says. He has a song about how our perceptions of life differ in America called "Welcome To America." There's also a track about the black experience called "Muddy Water."
Lecrae doesn't want to be pigeonholed, typecast, put in a box, et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum. "That's not my ambition. I really don't want to be a poster boy for that. I'm unashamed of what I believe in, but at the same time, I just make music," he says.
"People see things as sacred or secular, I'm just creating music."
Lecrae will perform this Saturday, October 4, in Grand Prairie at the Verizon Theatre,1001 Performance Place, with Andy Mineo and DJ Promote at 8 p.m. Saturday, October 4. Tickets are between $20-$96. http://www.verizontheatre.com 972-854-5111