Lecrae speaks of hip-hop's relevance

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Rap music, as hip-hop artist Lecrae Moore puts it, is a vocalized expression of hip-hop culture that permeates all ethnicities and racial boundaries. Christians should embrace being missionaries in today's culture, Lecrae said, rather than isolating and creating an alternative subculture.

The Grammy Award-winning artist, ministry leader, producer and actor -- who uses only his first name as his stage name -- spoke about his art and ministry calling on "The Exchange," a weekly LifeWay Christian Resources' webcast. Eric Geiger, LifeWay's vice president of church resources, interviewed Lecrae for the segment.

"The urban culture sees [hip hop] artists as modern-day philosophers -- people they take their cues from, learn different things from," Lecrae said.

Hip-hop is more influential today than ever and is "now the new pop music," he said. It's "in every commercial, sporting event. It has a special kind of residue to people who are really a part of hip-hop culture, [those] who are in that urban context. It really is the voice that is communicating their value system and their ideals. That makes it a powerful tool -- for good or for bad."

Lecrae, who lives in Atlanta with his wife and their three children, has released three studio albums and two remix albums as the leader of the rap group 116 Clique. He has received a Grammy Award and two Dove Awards. He also won 2010 Best Hip-Hop Music Video from the GMC Music Video Awards. In recent years he has appeared as an artist at Passion conferences led by Louie Giglio

Despite his popularity within Christian circles, producing music that reaches secular culture is Lecrae's aim.

"I'm a big fan of looking at Paul in Acts and in the marketplace, but in the synagogue as well, mixing it up in the culture, and knowing who their modern-day poets were and speakers and philosophers and then being able to integrate their ideals and values in his talks as he's trying to preach Christ to them," Lecrae told Geiger in the late-May interview.

"What we see a lot in the United States is the residue of what we call Christendom, where we know Christian culture but we really don't know the Christian Christ," he said, adding that Christians, instead of embracing culture, tend to "become separatists and say 'everything in the culture is bad.' So we create a subculture, a bubble.

"So if a lot of Christians could have it their way we'd have Christian Starbucks, Christian tennis shoes, Christian everything, instead of transforming the culture we're in," Lecrae said. "I'm not saying that from a utopian perspective of 'We're going to make the world heaven,' but we are fleshing out what God's Kingdom will ultimately look like. We are demonstrating what it looks like to end violence, crime in communities, for people to see and benefit from what redemption has done in our lives."

As an artist, Lecrae doesn't shirk his Christian label but says "Christian is my faith, not my genre, [which] goes against the grain of cultural Christianity. We have to be careful with terms like Christian and Gospel because those are bigger than genres of a book or CD. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation. If you limit that to a genre of music, you do a disservice to what the Gospel is.

"Christianity is an identifying mark," Lecrae said. "It says I associate myself with Christ. I'm a follower of Christ. To call my music Christian is really storefront Christianity. I'd rather not put the label of Christian on me because I say so; I'd rather it be tagged on me because my character demonstrates it because I've really been changed."

Additionally, "The world has come to see that things titled Christian or Gospel means 'they're excluding me,'" he said. "So to call it Christian rap must mean it's for Christians. That's a disservice to the missional work we are trying to do. I'm not mad at creating things that edify the church specifically, but as we're being missional, we need to be careful about giving certain terminology and jargon to things."

Lecrae became a Christian at 19 and says his influences have "been a series of people over the years," including Tommy Nelson, John MacArthur and John Piper.

After much study, "I said, 'Man, who is influencing these guys? Where are these guys getting this information?' So I started to dig back and got into my D.O.G.'s -- my dogs, my dead old guys. That's when I started getting into the Spurgeons, the Calvins, and my personal hero, Francis Schaeffer. I think he just got it. He totally got being immersed in culture, affecting it, transforming it, but not losing sight of his convictions of who Jesus was."

Through his music and ministry, Lecrae said he tries to encourage other artists, pastors and leaders to avoid the false dichotomy of secular versus sacred and to use their talents and craft to influence and impact culture.

"Part of the intentionality for pastors is to not train laymen to be elders," he said. "Stop training them to be 'you' instead of training them to be missionaries in culture. Of course there are those who need to be trained up to be elders; you want them to be competent in the Scriptures. You want to equip them biblically and spiritually for them to go out and affect the world that they exist in. [But] don't replicate your role -- help them wrestle with the tough questions they're having in their field -- actors, doctors."

Teach people "how to be effective in culture and see every opportunity for ministry," Lecrae said. "As Christians we have the unique ability to selflessly serve and push them to the Gospel."


Reported by the communications staff of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. The online interview with Lacrae can be accessed at LifeWay.com/TheExchange. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).