The Christian Manifesto
Gracious Praise. Straightforward Critique.


September 6, 2013

EDITORIAL: Dear Mr. Gravity (or “Why Theological Journeys Need Companions”)


Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist Lecrae has responded to his biggest critic: himself. Arguably the most familiar name in the Christian hip-hop scene, the Reach Records artist has received no small amount of backlash from his seeming shift in methodology from his earlier days. Gone are the theologically saturated lyrics, replaced by lyrics that speak of hope, culture and on occasion Jesus. Having tasted a little bit of fame and influence, Lecrae seems to speak less and less of the Savior in his music and more and more about…well…himself.  So, who better to respond to Lecrae than Lecrae?

Recently, the rap artist released a “response” aimed squarely at his detractors. The tongue-in-cheek rejoinder was given in the form of a rap battle between the “old Lecrae”—the artist who gave us albums like Rebel, Don’t Waste Your Life, and After the Music Stops—and the “new Lecrae”—the artist who gave us albums like Church Clothes, Gravity, and the upcoming Church Clothes Vol. II. A clever back-and-forth takes place between the theologically committed Rebel version of the artist and the watered down Gravity version. With a few exceptions, the album has been accepted by most as an appropriate answer to the haters. After all, in rap, “haters gonna hate.” And while Lecrae certainly doesn’t call his detractors haters by name, painting Rebel Lecrae as legalistic—and tacitly not as missionally effective—certainly communicates what he thinks about them.

You can listen to the full track below:

According to the track, Lecrae has matured as a believer. This is the reason for his shift in methodology.[1]

He spits,

It’s not about the money and trust me I hate fame/Made some interesting moves while playing this chess game/And honestly did change but never for the change/Maturity’s given me freedoms I wouldn’t claim/Some of the very things I used to call “abomination” are things I couldn’t handle, but thank the LORD for his grace…

Again, this answer feels acceptable. Christians are called to grace-filled lives and if Rebel Lecrae was graceless and legalistic, then Gravity Lecrae is the clear winner in this rap battle. Lecrae has followed the words of Jesus, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”[2] The artist’s clever artistry and claims of following Jesus and being full of grace seems to be all that most people need to accept the shift as inspired by God.

Is it right to paint Rebel Lecrae as legalistic and lacking in grace, though? Most would ask the question, “Who knows Lecrae better than Lecrae?” And that is a valid question. I think a more reasonable question is, “Is legitimizing Gravity’s methodology by calling into question Rebel’s methodology the best way forward?”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I actually agree with the shift in methodology. Gravity Lecrae is in the presence of kings. Like the prophet Daniel, he is respected by the hip-hoppers in power, having worked with the likes of DJ Don Cannon and Big K.R.I.T., rubbed elbows with Kendrick Lamar and The Game, and having tracks produced by the likes of Boi 1-da. Gravity Lecrae has entered into their courts and impressed them with his interpretations of their sometimes-sordid world while Rebel Lecrae, by and large, influenced those who already believed the Gospel message. This was most publically put on display when Sho Baraka left Reach Records saying, “I was tired of playing to church youth groups.” And, if we’re being honest, his biggest influence still lies with youth group kids.[3] The problem, I believe, lies in the lack of access to Lecrae’s journey as a believer and an artist.

Having gone through both undergrad and seminary training, I know that any theological journey is a hard fought one, regardless of where one lands on the theological spectrum. All theologians, young and old, know this. One’s faith is generally taken to the brink of destruction and then pieced back together via the community of faith and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is an arduous process. For the most part, in-your-face theology rap does not require this process. Theology rap, while corrective for some, principally shores up and instructs the believer in how to think rightly about the God they are already serving. Obviously, there are some who are not believers who hear the Good News in theology rap and turn to Christ. But, this is not the fundamental effect of in-your-face theology rap. Essentially, preaching to the choir is the fundamental effect of Rebel Lecrae’s music. And, as much as anyone likes to have their statuses “liked” on Facebook, this is generally what Rebel Lecrae’s ministry amounts to.[4]

Recently, when asked what books he’s reading, Lecrae tweeted that he’s been reading Dr. Anthony Bradley and Dr. Timothy Keller. Having spoken privately with the artist a few years ago, I know the late Bob Briner is in the mix as well. When an artist like Lecrae becomes influenced by the writings of Briner (Roaring Lambs), Bradley (Liberating Black Theology and Black & Tired) and Keller (Center Church and The Prodigal God), growth is inevitable. As a person, as an artist, he will be unable to continue forward without changes to how he goes about things. Their words are stark, refusing to disregard or avoid the messy world in which the church is called to engage for the cause of the Gospel. As an artist in a medium that “explores a basic theology of life,”[5] Lecrae cannot have his understandings of the Christian’s place in the world expand and not seek to leverage the culture he is a part of in order to appropriately respond to it.

This is where I believe Gravity Lecrae gets his new methodology so right, but the outright questioning of Rebel Lecrae so wrong. Again Rebel Lecrae preached to the choir. When your lyrics are coming “straight outta Scripture,” enough people are on the same page. It’s easily discernable to the point it can be enjoyed by the majority of Christian listeners (debates about Reformed rappers vs. non-Reformed rappers notwithstanding). On the other hand, when you begin exploring the works and treatise of knowledgeable theologians who speak directly into your world, things become a bit more difficult. For the most part, a youth group kid isn’t reading Bob Briner, Dr. Anthony Bradley, or Dr. Timothy Keller. To be fair, most listeners of Christian hip-hop aren’t reading the works of Briner, Bradley, or Keller. It’s harder to stay on the same page. And then, when Gravity Lecrae turns around and paints Rebel Lecrae—again, a stand in for his detractors—as spiteful and legalistic, more harm is done than help.

To be sure, Lecrae’s detractors have been pretty harsh in their criticisms. It is part of why the words of my critique are so measured here, lest someone think I am saying something I am not…or that I am now a de facto part of the Illuminati because I agree with Lecrae’s methodology. Despite the often-ruthless disposition of the “corrective” language of people with concerns for Gravity Lecrae’s character, I think his response does Rebel Lecrae adherents a disservice by questioning the moral fiber of his theological outlook and approach to art, culture, and the Gospel. It feels dismissive and unfair to legions of young men and women who have not been invited into the theological journey of one of the most respected teachers in their generation. Mr. Gravity may not fancy himself a preacher. But, Mr. Rebel did and, for many, Mr. Gravity is speaking low of a hip-hop generation’s Billy Graham.

Gravity Lecrae is a man of the cloth, garbed in a tipped hat, t-shirts, and sagging jeans. To be sure, he’s a different kind of clergy than Rebel Lecrae was. He employs a different method to reach different people. He’s starting to see fruit and one cannot see fruit begin to bud and then leave it to wither on the branch. It must be cultivated. That is the mission of Gravity Lecrae. But, it should not come without a full-bodied clarification to those who have supported Rebel Lecrae’s ministry to this point. After all, the continuing theological journey of any man or woman requires the community of faith walking with you.

In the end, I write this:

Dear Mr. Gravity,

With one foot firmly planted in Rebel Lecrae’s world and one foot firmly planted in Gravity Lecrae’s world, now is the time to help Rebel respecters enter that world with you. Hope to see you at the corner of 106 & Park…and the ends of the earth.

[1] I say this is a shift in methodology rather than a shift in focus. The reason for my particular word choice is that that Lecrae still openly espouses a Christian worldview, still mentions Jesus quite often in his rhymes, still helps run Reach Records (with a roster of theologically charged artists), and conducts the Unashamed Conference in Atlanta, Georgia every year. He is still very much “ministry-minded.”

[2] Matthew 9:13

[3] If you don’t believe this is true, then attend the Unashamed Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Youth group kids. Youth pastors. “Unsaved friends” brought so they can hear the Gospel and hopefully be moved by the Holy Spirit to make a decision for Christ.

[4] This is not to say that the choir member is not in need of the Gospel as much as the non-believer. This is simply to say that the choir member and the non-believer have different standings before God.

[5] Hodge, Dr. Daniel White. The Soul of Hip Hop: Rims, Timbs, and a Cultural Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2010), 22.

About the Author

Calvin Moore


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One Comment

  1. eve

    Well-written. Thanks for scaffolding these ideas in a way few could.

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