by Carlin Doyle
“What a lot of Christians need to understand is that gates are meant to keep people out.”
A few months ago, Lecrae spoke in an interview (below) about his goals with his music. He addressed a Biblical passage that he believes many Christians may not have understood. He spoke about Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18 that Jesus will build his church, “and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
“Gates are meant to keep people out,” he said. “He [Jesus] means the gates of hell will not keep us from storming through hell’s gates and establishing his kingdom in every area.” He continues, “And so that’s how I approach music and hip hop… We’re not supposed to stay behind our little gates, we’re supposed to go in there…”
Lecrae’s new mixtape, Church Clothes 3, which released on Friday without any notice to fans, continues Lecrae’s mission of reaching those outside of Christian circles and cliques with the message of Jesus.
The first Church Clothes mixtape in 2011 started Lecrae’s journey, of speaking as a Christian to unchurched, non-religious urban youth. The concept of “church clothes” is someone who feels the need to come “dressed up” to God – needing to be clean before you meet with Him. Speaking in the language of hip hop and in ways that will be most clear, Lecrae tries to show through his own life that you don’t need to come to God wearing church clothes.
With a strong focus on social justice in America, Church Clothes 3 is probably Lecrae’s darkest record yet. In the wake of the past year in America, with racial tension, police brutality, growing social unrest, as well as frequent criticism, Lecrae expresses a lot of anger, frustration and struggle.
The mixtape starts brutally quickly, addressing paedophilia in America from the very first line, in Freedom (feat. N’Dambi). The track is passionate and aggressive as Lecrae reflects on the brokenness in the world, and in America. “Freedom has a price nobody’s paying… I’m out here chasing my freedom, they’re out here chopping my feet off.” He mourns the fact that so many are content with slavery to the things of this world.
The second track, Gangland (feat. Propaganda), is quite central to the whole mixtape. Lecrae addresses the history of gangs in America, and why the urban community is so full of devastation. Propaganda shares, “It was a crooked system just like this that left the King of Kings bloodless.” Jesus was killed by corrupt officials in his day, and we who follow him should not be surprised by the same corruption in our day.
Lecrae is also angry at the harsh attacks his critics have been firing towards him over the last few years. If Facebook is anything to go off, Lecrae is harshly criticised by many so-called Christians who frequently condemn him to hell. It is a sad reality that most of the hatred he has received has been from people calling themselves Christians.
Each track is dark yet passionately driven. However, it isn’t all so negative – in Cruising, Lecrae shares a simple story of a day in his life, and recognising God’s goodness and peace in the simple things. He accepts the reality that many just won’t like him, in It Is What It Is, and Can’t Do You (feat. E-40).
In Misconceptions 3 (feat. John Givez, JGivens and Jackie Hill Perry), Lecrae continues the trend of having artists that he admires share what they think are big misconceptions about Christianity, and Christian Hip Hop. It is a powerful track that compels you to listen.
At the same time, I can’t help but feel that the record seems rushed. While this may sound harsh, after having Anomaly, Lecrae’s previous Grammy Award-winning album, on repeat, I’ve come to admire how much his music has grown in production quality over the years, as well as the other releases on Lecrae’s label, Reach Records. Many of the recent releases have phenomenal production and attention to detail, turning good records into great ones. However, the Church Clothes trilogy seems to feel quite rushed, and the finer details are left a little simplistic and repetitive.
That being said, Lecrae is one of my biggest musical heroes, and I think I would purchase and appreciate anything he released. He is also totally unique as a Christian in the secular media, and in the world of mainstream hip hop. He has earned great respect for his perspective as a Christian, and as a hip hop artist. Church Clothes 3 continues Lecrae’s exploration of new territory, where very, very few Christians have gone before, in an effort to love real and hurting lost people.
The Verdict: Church Clothes 3 is a dark and gritty record with a strong element of current social justice issues. It lacks creativity in production, yet remains a quality record. 3/5
Church Clothes 3 by Lecrae is available now on iTunes.