Christian rapper Lecrae grew up in a household where music “was being constantly played around the clock.”
“There was never a moment when my mother wasn’t cleaning and listening to music or we weren’t driving listening to the radio,” says Lecrae in a recent phone interview.
The rapper had a secular hit with 2014’s Anomaly
, which debuted at the top of the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart and was recently certified gold. In the wake of that album’s success, the spiritual rapper signed a record deal with Columbia, which will release his forthcoming album that he says is “about 90 percent done.”
In the meantime, Lecrae has announced a fall tour he’s dubbed “The Destination Tour, You’re Accepted.” He performs at House of Blues on Nov. 4.
“Even as a kid, I had to wrestle between watching cartoons on Saturday morning and watching MTV on Saturday morning,” he recalls. “I would eat, sleep and breathe music. My cousins were big hip-hop heads and aspiring break dancers and DJs. They were older than me and they always made sure that I was inspired by old school hip-hop as well. They would always critique the latest and juxtapose that with classic hip-hop.”
When he was 11, he teamed up with some next-door neighbors who were in an aspiring R&B group. From that point forward, he considered hip-hop more than just a hobby.
When the rapper decided to release his first album, 2004’s Real Talk
, he couldn’t find a label willing to take a chance on him, so he formed his own record label “kind by default.”
“I was creating hip-hop, but at the same time I also embraced my newly found faith,” he says. “I wanted to know who wanted this music. The doors were closed on both sides. The faith-based world thought it was rap. It wasn’t the traditional style of articulating what you believe in. The mainstream side thought it was good rap, but there were lots of spiritual references and didn’t know what it is. I just wanted to bring it direct to the consumer. That was the route we took. We wanted to take it directly tot the people who could appreciate it.”
It wasn’t easy. At the time, Lecrae held down a day job installing cable TV.
“Every night, I was going home to produce this album on a beat machine that I had gotten from Sam Ash or something like that,” he says. “It was rejuvenating to work on it every night. To see the 9 to 5 job disappear was great.”
Lecrae has released several studio albums, and now that the climate has changed for spiritual hip-hop, he finds himself on the verge of becoming a household name.
“Kanye kicked some doors open with ‘Jesus Walks,’ and Chance the Rapper has all kinds of spiritual references,” he says. “Kendrick Lamar is the same way. Hip-hop used to have this tough edge and bravado to it. Now, Drake can come out and be himself. He’s not a gangster or a tough guy. I think that also opened the door for me to be myself.”
For his recent effort, Church Clothes 3
, he teamed up with a slew of producers, including S1 (Beyonce, Kanye and Jay-Z), who executive produced the album.
Album opener “Freedom” features rapid-fire raps and references to slavery over a soulful chorus and booming bass beats. The song sounds like a cross between Rage Against the Machine and Kanye West.
“It was really fun to make [the mixtape],” Lecrae says, adding that he considers S1 to be “one my great friends.” “S1 and I just have a similar vision and passion artistically.To put something out that was timeless was a passion project.”
Another album highlight, “Gangland,” combines dance music, spoken word and rapping.
“’Gangland’ is really an articulation of how African-American gangs, the Bloods and the Crips, had their origins,” says Lecrae, who spent a good portion of his youth in what he calls a “gang neighborhood” in Texas. “People don’t understand the gang’s origins. They were doing the best they could to protect their environments. It turned on them and imploded and became a volatile problem within the urban community. A lot of my family members have suffered the consequences of that lifestyle. I’ve lost friends and family. There’s a lot of condemnation that comes down on the current state and the current gang members without people understanding the origins and how it came to be. You’re a little more compassionate and empathetic when you see the origins of it.”
In 2013, Lecrae partnered with NBA player Dwyane Wade, filmmaker Art Hooker, and Joshua DuBois, the former head of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships under the Obama administration, to create “This Is Fatherhood” campaign.
“For us, we want to provide a tangible example of fatherhood,” he says. “It lives on in us in examples. D. Wade is a great visible father for his children and I’m trying to see tangible expressions of fatherhood too.”
For Lecrae, a rapper who’s particularly sensitive to political and social issues, the recent social unrest suggests latent problems with socio-economic conditions in the country
“I think [socio-economic and racial] issues never went away,” he says. “They were pacified and subdued. It’s similar to keeping the peace and making the peace. If it’s a married couple and nobody is fighting, you’re keeping the peace. Maybe there are some underlying issues that you need to resolve. To deal with them, you have to bring them up. I hope we bring up these things and make peace and will actually deal with them and resolve them collectively as a nation.”
Expect to hear that message on his current tour, which draws inspiration from the production-heavy tours of other spiritually minded artists.
“I love live production and bringing a show,” he says. “The music is only a portion of it. I’m a performer. I love for people to feel and taste and experience the show. Kanye, Beyonce, Kings of Leon and U2 put on these incredible shows I want to emulate that. It’s all preceding an album which I feel will be a timeless piece of work that articulates what we need to hear in this day and age.”
Lecrae - The Destination Tour, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $40, houseofblues.com.