Making Real Hip Hop
I was already a Lecrae fan, but I had never purchased either of his previous 6 albums. Over the years, I opted instead to cop T-bone or Grits CDs. More than just a style or coast preference, my choice boiled down to message and lyricism. Then, Lecrae did something brilliant and appealing. Rather than “mainstreaming” his message while still speaking to church members, he produced an album mainstreaming the track construction while speaking to real people. He took his lyricism out of the conscious effort to include “Jesus” or “Church” to make it palatable to Christian audiences, and opted to construct lyrics that are conscious–relevant to the struggles I face right now. I could write a series on the subtle differences in what I describe here. For now, suffice it to say that Anomaly succeeds because it is real hip-hop: dope beats with conscious, power-structure-challenging lyrics.
“Church” and “Jesus” as themes don’t fit hip-hop. Hip-hop is about a counter-culture experience. It is about standing out, fearless, unashamed, risking against the power structure. Encouraging me to come to church, to respond to an altar call, or accept Jesus as my personal savior are the realm of gospel music and hymns. Hip-hop must tell me how to innovate once I’m there. It must instruct me about passion, giftedness, and how to stand in the face of Christian icons. In essence, it must tell me how to be different–not just different from the world, but different from those who attend church as a cover for their ugly lives.
Defining the Outsider Within
With Anomaly, Lecrae gets it right. He uses his lyrics to define himself as part of a group of “Outsiders.” It has double meaning. He is both outside the dominant culture in and outside of the religious order. It resonates because he realizes that being an outsider and an outcast provides the freedom to be yourself. And, as he says, “I found out that I’m not alone ’cause it’s plenty people like me…all unashamed and all unafraid to live out what they’re supposed to be.”
In the title track, “Anomaly,” Lecrae further defines that difference and opportunity. He says, “…but inside he’s a leader. I didn’t know who was inside me either.” Again, a double meaning. He plays on the “Jesus inside” element, but also connects to individual responsibility and purpose in leadership–an anomaly in a culture that teaches and prizes conformity while rewarding leaders who blaze new trails.
“Say I Won’t” is acceptance of the dare to be different. It responds to those who want to put Christian hip-hop in a box. It challenges the structure that says you have to be stuffy to be holy–make sustainable choices consistently. This is my favorite track. It features Andy Mineo, a mean lyricist in his own right. Together, they ask the question, “Why you scared to be different?”
Music that Heals is an Anomaly
With “Good, Bad, Ugly” Lecrae offers some autobiographical insight that shook me from what I was doing when I first heard the song. It pulls back the curtain of pretended piety and chastity to reveal the real struggles of Christians and all of us. This device has been a staple of Lecrae tracks I’ve heard in the past. What makes this different is how Lecrae counsels to solve it. He does say, to my disappointment, that “only God can heal,” but the overall message of the song is that we must stop hiding, pretending that we are okay. It connects with the larger theme of the album, that being real, open, flawed is the first step toward healing. To be the person who connects honestly and authentically with others toward healing born of common struggle and a decision to make sustainable choices, that’s an anomaly today.
Assembling together to become the same in a place where you feel unwanted is not healing. Lecrae makes this point with the track, “Welcome to America.” Healing results from group support to be yourself, sustainably. It results from accessing your creativity, connecting with complementary skills in others, and teaching others to achieve based on their gifts.
Like Lecrae, I’m “calling all the messengers” because health and well-being, like hip-hop, is not about conforming. It’s about standing out. It’s about being an outsider. It’s about being an anomaly.