Church Clothes 3
Reach Records

By Bob Marovich

Leave it to Lecrae to put out a mixtape as a place holder—or an appetite whetter—until his new album is released, and it soars to the top of the Billboard chart. That demonstrates his crossover appeal in a hip hop market that knows no subgenre boundaries: if it’s good, it’s good. If it’s relevant, even better.

Church Clothes 3 is good and relevant. It’s first three selections, in fact, are engaging kaleidoscopes of incisive rails against inequality and injustice in all of its forms. Lecrae points the finger at everyone and every institution that has contributed to the bewildering state of affairs that marks today’s Age of Anxiety.

The album’s opener, “Freedom,” reminds us that freedom isn’t free, so we must hang on to the promise that things will get better someday (the chief premise of gospel and spirituals).  “Gangland” is a short history lesson about how gangs were formed initially to protect the African American community from outside violence, but lost unity when their leaders were assassinated. Without leaders, without job opportunities, the gangs turned in on the community.  “Deja Vu” argues that if many things haven’t changed over time, there is one constant to hang one’s hat upon: “the Lord’s still right there.”

Not since Frontlynaz’ 2008 Game Over have I heard a Christian hip hop artist give such an unapologetic “what for” to the music industry as Lecrae does on Church Clothes 3. On “It Is What It Is,” he parodies the ambivalence of the industry to his style of music. “Misconceptions” also drops bombs on the short-term thinking of the biz.

Intertwined in the social messaging is Lecrae’s pledge to not give up. He’ll keep on working for change, he spits during “Sidelines,” “until I’m deaf, dumb, and blind,” because if there is one thing we can do, each of us, to make the world a better place, it’s to change ourselves.  He’s working on himself and is prepared to face the music when the last trumpet sounds.

The beats are appropriately minimal, fractured, and effective in creating an aura of confusion and ambiguity, like being caught in a maze during total darkness.

Had the entire project continued in the fashion of the first three tracks, this could have easily been Lecrae’s What’s Going On or Fear of a Black Planet. The concluding tracks are okay, but the lyrics lack the candid edginess that gives the first half of the mixtape its profound authority. No matter: let’s see what the new album holds in store.

Four of Five Stars

Picks: “Freedom,” “Gangland”

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Written by : Bob Marovich

Bob Marovich is a gospel music historian, author, and radio host. Founder of Journal of Gospel Music blog (formally The Black Gospel Blog) and producer of the Gospel Memories Radio Show.