By Bob Marovich, Editor-in-Chief
Christian rapper Lecrae has done what, to my knowledge, no gospel artist has ever accomplished: hit number one on the Billboard 200 – the list of the biggest-selling albums of the day.
This would be a noteworthy achievement at any time, but it is particularly striking today, when gospel music sales have been lukewarm, to say the least. It’s one thing to top the Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart, where you are competing with other similarly selling albums. It’s quite another when you are competing with uberpopular, well-marketed mainstream artists such as Maroon 5, Wiz Khalifa, and Ariana Grande.
How did Lecrae do it with his new album, Anomaly? By providing gritty honest messages wrapped in rhythmic rhymes that resonate across cultural and racial lines. In other words, his music transcends the gospel music genre and by appealing to a larger audience, has garnered greater sales.
Over the years, I have interviewed several Christian rap and hip hop artists, including Lecrae (check out my interview with Lecrae here). What struck me each time was that, unlike the prevailing stereotype of the money- and power-hungry secular rap artists, these male and female rappers are decent, grounded, committed, and fully genuine in what they do. Some came from troubled childhoods or young adulthoods, some didn’t, but they all embraced the Christian life and dedicated themselves to skillfully saving souls. Like the street corner guitar evangelists of the 1920s, of whom they are the modern manifestation, Christian rappers worry less about walking the red carpet than entering the pearly gates.
What can other gospel and inspirational artists learn from Lecrae’s achievement? Write songs that matter and deliver them in a way that crosses cultures without betraying the fundamental aspects of the African American music tradition. Make music that addresses the real problems of today—poverty, hunger, homelessness, loneliness, racism, war, ignorance, lack of love and the decline of civility—and work hard to sell that music to all people by living what you sing about.
Finally, dare to be different, to break out of the “me too” mold that plagues many singers and groups of all genres. How can your message be heard above the din if you sound just like the next guy? Lecrae broke out of the mold and now he rules the Billboard Top 200. So is Lecrae’s Billboard ascendancy an “Anomaly?” Hardly.