Chart topping hip hop artist Lecrae talks about his journey from finding Jesus, through wrestling with faith and His followers, to coming to peace.
Lecrae is a chart-topping rapper who came to fame with his 116 clique and unashamed rhymes. He was a darling of the young, restless reformed movement until he began to speak up about his experiences as a Black man in church.
Get a copy of Lecrae's book, "I Am Restored."
Lecrae has never been one to hold back, and his courage and clarity about race in America cost him dearly. His career suffered, his marriage nearly fell apart, and his faith was empty for a time. It was a trip to Africa that gave Lecrae the separation he needed to find the core of the Gospel and begin his journey to restoration and healing.
Visit Lecrae’s website for links to his albums and books.
You can catch Lecrae in the Spring of 2022 on the “We Are Unashamed” Tour with Andy Mineo, Tedashii, and WHATUPRG. Get your tickets before they sell out here.
Don’t forget to subscribe to Why I Stay and leave us a 5 star review. That’s one of the best ways to help our little show get discovered.
Visit whyistaypodcast.com for more info.
So I was just at the lowest point I just at that point in time, I was like, Well, I guess I'm done, you know, with with Christianity, I'm done with God. Because if this is what the people that I respect the most belief, then I don't know what to believe. I don't know what's true by anything they've said. It was just bad. I didn't know what I can keep at what I could throw away. You know, at that point in time, I just threw the baby out with the bathwater. I was like, I don't know if I believe any of this.
John Osburn 0:25
This is why I stay a show about faithfulness in the face of judgment, confusion and hurt. The Cray has been in the hip hop game for more than 15 years. He's won two Grammys and nine Dove Awards. He's had a lot of success within American evangelicalism. But when he started to talk about his experiences as a black man in America, the very people that had loved him began to hurl accusations and hatred in his direction. It was enough for him to doubt everything about his faith, nearly getting divorced. And he even had struggles with addiction. But the Kray has come through all of those experiences stronger, and he's even more dedicated to the gospel. Now, I sat down with the Cray to understand how he was able to overcome the judgment and lies of the Christian community. And in that process, how he discovered and even more meaningful faith.
So you are famous for being part of Christian hip hop, like you said, You've done a lot of other things. And we will talk about all of that. But also, I want to talk a lot about your experience within church. So I want to dive in a little bit deeper into what your life was like growing up, where did you go to church? Who did you know that was religious? All of those kinds of little background things?
Yes. So I didn't grow up in church. My grandmother was a devout Christian, she became a Christian in her 40s, mid 40s. So it wasn't as if my uncle's mom grew up in church, they grew up seeing her transition. So some took to it, some didn't. And my mom was a little bit adverse to it, just because kind of the denomination or the particular sect of church that she grew up in was very, very legalistic, meaning like, they couldn't wear pants that couldn't wear make. And so she, she took that as like, I don't want you growing up in this. So she raised me kind of like a free thinker. It was more about education and library and books and culture and thinking about the world in general. And that's how my mom, who was close to her mother Teresa, she was send me postcards from Tokyo and different places in Africa. I grew up thinking that Christianity was very closed minded church was a closed minded kind of place. What that was really rigid.
John Osburn 2:36
So I assume it was black church that your grandma was going to Yeah. Did you have any perception of white church? So like, was it just you know, the guys on TV asking for money? Or was it not even that?
No, that's That's funny. I grew up a pretty like culturally segregated. So even though there may be a white people around me, they weren't. It wasn't like the culture or context that I've existed in. So pretty much everything about my business was black up until like my last couple years of high school where we moved, and it was a way more diverse school situation. But But even in that school, I just hung out with the black kids. So as it pertained to church, my mom grew up in the civil rights era, she was raised about a Black Panther. So she was very pro black. And so the idea of like, a white man telling us what to do and how to understand our Bible would have been like, whoa, like, we grew up like this was not going to happen. So I didn't have any context for white church or white, anything. I mean, I wouldn't have explored that space. Had it not been for college and hearing a white pastors come teach at our black Bible study.
John Osburn 3:47
Alright, so your college? Why'd you go to Bible study? Was it a girl?
Well, yes, but But yes, it was, but not in the way you would think. So in high school, when I was a sophomore, I took a senior to her senior prom. So she went on to college. And when I got to college as a freshman, of course, she's already a junior at that point in time. And so she had been going to Bible study, she was a Christian, and she's like, Oh, my gosh, welcome to school. You gotta go to this Bible study is so good. And you know, me, I'm a free thinker. So I'm like, I'll try anything once. You know. So, you know, I knew her. She invited me wasn't like the data, but it was just a familiar face. I didn't know anybody on campus saw say, sure. I'll go and I wandered into that Bible study. And yeah, I just went in there. And, you know, I saw I knew a lot about the Bible because of my grandmother. But then when I got in there, I was like, I don't know any of it. And I think I was embarrassed a little bit and it's just like the desire to know and to like, be intelligent, and I hated you know, when they would ask questions, and I didn't have answers. I hated that feeling of embarrassment. So I was like, I'm gonna keep going with this so I can learn this stuff and be versed in this whole thing. stuff that they're talking about. Yeah. So
John Osburn 5:01
it wasn't you weren't driven by like, spirituality is more about knowledge in the beginning there.
Definitely knowledge. It was definitely knowledge. You know, just, I was a chameleon. So any kind of setting you put me in, I want to be great at it. If anybody, you know, does any grams, I noticed all kinds of different spooky stuff about it. But I'm 30. And you know, we want to be seen, we want to be the the one the Neo in the Matrix. So, you know, when we were in Bible study, they're talking about David, I'm like, Why does everybody know this? And I don't I feel stupid. You know what I mean? So like, I got to learn this
John Osburn 5:36
stuff. Yeah. When did it switch from knowledge to face?
Well, we went to a, they all were saying, Hey, we're going to this conference. The conference was in Atlanta, of course, I wanted to travel never, never been to Atlanta. So I was excited to go to Atlanta, you know, for African Americans, just like, you know, all the historically black colleges, Martin Luther King, oh, man, it's a great place. And then of course, there's the fun side of it with like, all the parties and the Freaknik was like this big picnic for African American college students. And of course, I go to the conference and just seeing all these African American college students, I'm just like, Yo, this is crazy. It was called The IMPACT Conference. And it was impacted like to wing of Campus Crusade for Christ as the black wing, African American Wing of Campus Crusade for Christ. So I didn't know that young people loved Jesus or went to church. I thought Christianity was grandma's religion. So but it was peppermints and rules and long skirts. And I'm seeing braids and dances and chairs and rap music and clothes and listen, fresh and people ain't no it was like, Cool. I had never seen people from different cities. So I never seen people from Philadelphia before. So it was like only on television. I never seen people from Miami or, you know, it was like, Wow, you guys are from Wisconsin, you guys. It was that was so amazing to me. I was just blown away by and they all love God. So I think that was like my introduction. It was as if God said I can meet you where you are. And you don't have to come to this like religious environment that was really probably impactful in that turns the wheels on my spiritual spidey senses. And of course, at that conference, I heard the gospel presentation. And that was one of my conversion experience.
John Osburn 7:28
During that time, what was going on with you, as far as contemplating race understanding race? You know, you said about that time, you know, a little bit earlier, you started coming out in contact with white culture more often? What, what kind of wrestling did that cause for you?
Yeah, I was pretty content and blackness in my black culture, my black world, I didn't venture out. I didn't listen to much music outside of black culture. I didn't watch movies outside of black culture. I didn't think any two ways about white people. I just was like, I don't know, they're in their world. I'm in my world, I don't really want to engage with you all. And yeah, and I'm fine. I'll say where I'm at, you stay where you're at. And we'll just be where we are. But I think that I felt like I was interested in like, being it's like the three minutes like, I don't want to miss out if there's something I'm missing. Let me know what I'm missing. And some of my, the people who were leading Bible Studies were quoting, authors and stuff. And I was like, Oh, who are these authors? I never heard of them before. So then I started reading their books, and or skimming through their books. And then I was like, oh, shoot, like, this is actually very intellectual. And that appealed to me. So I was very attracted by the intellectual side of Christianity, which was mostly white men.
John Osburn 8:47
Yeah. Did you know that at the time that it was mostly white men? Or was it just a name on a book?
It was just a name on a book, but I mean, it was like subconscious. Or, you know, you weren't really paying attention to the fact that that's like, Oh, you're just consuming a lot of white man's thoughts. You weren't thinking about that. You just were reading the books because they appeal to your intellect you were and I didn't realize that. I was also reading their culture into my face. I didn't catch that either. So I was just reading the book. And so their perspectives became my perspective. And, you know, little by little, you begin to frown on black pastors and theologians because they were more heart in hands. When I say heart and hands it means like emotion and service, and less head. And, and I was like, Man, why aren't y'all thinking about this? And that's wrong. Why are you saying it like that? That doesn't make sense. And so I began to have this disdain and kind of prejudice toward black teachers. So you know, you start thinking that the white man's ice is colder and their waters wetter, and you don't even realize it. So that attitude just starts to permeate everything that you you do. And so now you want to hear these pastors and you want to go to these conferences and go to these churches, and only people there are white people. So of course, you should just start assimilating, but I knew not Like, give up myself, it wasn't like I was wearing Dockers and bold shoes and button outs. I was still neat. But you know, because I just was raised that way. But I still wanted to understand that space.
John Osburn 10:11
What's going on with your identity? At that point? You kind of touched on it. You know, you talked about how he started looking down on black pastors a little bit. And what did that do to you internally that maybe you didn't know at the time, but you can look back and see it now.
I think it subconsciously made me feel like white people were smarter white people were they had more to offer. And it's best that I tune myself to them, versus like, I let me change the way I talk around them. And I'm not thinking like, well, they never change the way they talk when they around me Wow, which is worth helping them around. Or, you know, let's talk about the movies. And let's watch the stuff that they watch. I never watched the office before, but that's all they talk about. So let me start watching office, you know, you just little by little start adjusting yourself more toward them. And then they started to become my Hebrew, you know, and I just would embrace things that were probably less culturally black, but I didn't think about it like that, because I thought I thought I was just adopting Christian culture.
John Osburn 11:12
Were there questions you had about race that like, even if it was internally that weren't being answered, and weren't being even confronted? Oh, yeah.
I would always wonder, like, you know, while we were slaves for 400 years, and, you know, what is what was God's plans there? And, and, and the answers I would get was, like, you know, well, praise God, because now African Americans know Jesus, and had they not been enslaved, and they wouldn't know Jesus. And, you know, the curse of ham, you know, was that like, a real thing? And I really legitimately got answers, like, you know, that was God cursing, you know, African Americans or Africans at the time because of paganism. And now, you know, look at the times right now, now, African Americans know Jesus, and Africa knows Jesus. So I really bought into those ideologies and those things. And so I did have questions, but there was always those kinds of answers, you know, or God is sovereign, you know, it's kind of like, alright, well, if God's sovereign, he's in control, so let it be. And I never looked at the disparity, because I, cuz I was, I didn't expect I was doing well to me. You know, I was making a living off a rat. And I mean, I wasn't killing it, you know, I may have been making like, I don't know, maybe like, 40 grand a year, but I was like, shoot, that's better than, you know, going to college and having to get a real job. And so I was like, I wasn't complaining about the disparities as much because I didn't see them all. And I bought into these ideologies, you know, John Piper's, don't waste your life, you know, the whole idea of like, man, don't don't just stack up money. So you can retire, like, give it all away. And I saw I bought into these ideologies, not realizing like, Oh, this is y'all are coming from a place of having family, you know, wealth and having opportunities, and I don't get those. But I'm still adopting this. And I'm, I'm pushing this to my own community. So that was, that was some of the tough stuff that I don't think I wrestled with and process.
John Osburn 13:01
So when did When did all these things start coming out? If I was to guess I would say it was about 2013 2014. Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, you know, Ferguson, all that stuff publicly. That's when it started. Is that Is that an accurate assessment?
Yeah, I think I was. I was like, wanting to reach my community. And I was realizing that they weren't rockin with some of the leaders and teachers that that I rocked with. So I knew that there was a gap. But it wasn't like clear, like, how big of a gap it was. And then obviously, like, when Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin was murdered, that was an issue for us in my community. And I'm assuming this issue for everybody, you know, and then when you realize like, Wait, why are none of these people that? Why aren't other people I looked up to why are they talking about this? Or why don't they care about this? And so I was like, maybe they don't know. So let me just talk about it. And then I talked about it, and I was pushed back on vehemently. And I was like, yeah, what the heck. And that's when I realized, Oh, we're different. You know, we're really different.
John Osburn 14:04
Like how did you deal with that? At first again, we did you think it was to be ironic and anomaly? Or was it an apocalypse of revealing of the truth to you? What how did you first react to all that?
I was initially just hurt. You know, I thought, you know, you're the golden child. So you know, it's kind of I can do no wrong. I know, I'm not wrong. You know what I mean? Like, I'm, I'm a golden child, everybody loves me. The three energy on the Enneagram right. And so at first I was taken aback like, why, why? Why aren't y'all agreeing with me? Like, what are you talking about? I said it right. I wrote it, right. I know, my facts are right. What am I missing here? And so then I was just hurt like, wow, wait a minute, these people are really like meaning and hurtful and racist. Like, what the heck is going on here? You know, that just blew me away that like, I didn't know it's kind of like finding out you know, your parents are on drugs or something like what like what is going on here? You know, was like really hurtful. So I got really kind of hopeless. There was a lot of other things happening in my life at the time that helped push that forward. You know, I was very idealistic. And I thought that Christians were serious. And, you know, I went on a tour and everybody on this giant Christian tour was really, you know, conniving, and there was all kinds of like, dirty secrets going on. And I was like, This is crazy. So I was jaded, extremely jaded. I would listen to songs that I knew the Christian artists who wrote them, and I was like, their lifestyle doesn't match the song. And so this was only adding to that, you know, so I was really just like, Man, I'm done. You know, these, this is trash. I don't want anything to do with it.
John Osburn 15:45
So about 2017 is that rise at the low point for you? 2016? For sure. 2016 months? Yeah. So what happened in there? Again, you had this public persona that's getting trashed all the time. I've ever seen it on Instagram, you know, you'd like a July 4 post. But you know, that was an extreme version. But it almost every single thing you put up, you got traction, like you said, you're have relationships with these other Christian artists, you have relationship with these famous worldwide famous pastors, you know, Driscoll, and Piper you had some relationship with and all that starts crumbling around you, you know, where do you go? Where do you retreat to? What happens again, in your heart, in your personal life there?
Well, yeah, I think, in my mind, there was nowhere else to go. Because the world that I have built up, the ecosystem I have built around me was those individuals, and the pastors and the, the theologians, they were the pinnacle, you know, these were the high priests in my world, so to be let down by them, and there was nowhere to go. And so I was just at the lowest point, I just at that point in time, I was like, Well, I guess I'm done, you know, with with Christianity, I'm done with God. Because if this is what the people that I respect, the most belief, then I don't know what to believe. I don't know what's true about anything they've said. And so I really just kind of checked out and was like, God, I don't know if you're real, then help me. But I, it was so bad. I couldn't even read the Bible, because I would just hear their voices. It's like, I don't know, I don't trust my own brain. I don't know if I think this or this is what was embedded in my brain by these people who are so wrong about race and culture. You know, it was just so damaging. I don't think I had the wherewithal to process at all. And I didn't have the community to for a lot of my black friends. We're all in pain, because we're all feeling the same thing. But none of us have the answers like nobody's been here before. So we don't know what to do. You know, you're seeing African Americans drop like flies from, you know, evangelical churches, they're leaving, or they just abandon the faith all together, and you got like my friends, jemar tisby, and Tyler burns, they're starting a whole new movement, and all of us are just like, in disarray. So it was just bad. I didn't know what I can keep and what I could throw away. You know, at that point in time, I just threw the baby out with the bathwater. I was like, I don't know if I believe any of this.
John Osburn 18:23
I know you had you know, struggles with depression and addiction and all this other stuff in that same time. People wanna hear know more about that, go buy the book, but I want to know more about how there's nowhere else to appeal. You know, the best best pastors and preachers have failed you. Where'd you go? How are you? Where you are now, where you're still talking about Jesus?
Well, you know, I had to, I had to run, you know, and I ran from the idea of God, and all together and you know, that that's always a mixture, right? Like that. That's a mixture of hurt, pain, and then also like, well shoot, if there's no God, then there's no rules. So I'm gonna do what I want to do. And that type of, you know, licentious, wild mustang lifestyle is always it just comes with its own consequences. So I think dealing with the consequences of that type of stuff, you know, it's like, you can take Xanax for only so long before now you develop an addiction, and now you have withdrawals, and now you have panic attacks, and now it's ruining your mental health. And it's like, I mean, hey, man, those are some of the consequences of like, you know, jumping off the cliff like this. So, I didn't know what morality was because for me, I was like, well, where's morality created? I'm asking all these philosophical questions, you know, like, what's moral, what's not moral? What's good, what's not good? Why should I not rob a bank today? You know what, like, why what stops means it just the consequences, or is there a higher moral authority that keeps me from doing it and so that just kept rambling me down into a darker, darker place to where I was so low And so depressed, I was just like gasping for air. And I was like, I just need a voice outside of white men to hear from, and I don't want to hear from black men, because I feel like they're just quoting white men, you know, like an echo chamber in a lot of ways. And I don't even know what's good about the black man. I don't know what's good about anything. So I just had to get out of America. And I was blessed out of the resources to do that. So I just went to Egypt. And I think that's what God really meant me. I wasn't looking for God, I was just like, hey, let me go check out pyramids. And let me go hear voices I've never heard. And it's like, you hear you, Egyptians. Historians tell you about the Nile River. And you're like, Oh, this is a real thing. This place is real. And I think the breaking point for me was, my historian didn't know the Bible was not a believer was not a Christian, and was telling me about a pharaoh who let all the slaves go. And I was like, oh, like, like Moses, the Hebrew slaves got let go. And she's like, I don't I don't know your Moses. And I was like, Moses, the Bible. She's like, I don't know the Bible. But this Pharaoh let millions, hundreds 1000s of millions of slaves go and he's not revered or talked about. And I was like, Shut up, you know. So then it was kind of like, Wait, this stuff could be real. And that's when I think the wheels kicked back in to like, Alright, maybe some of your sadness, and depression is like conviction, and you need to realign yourself with God. And so that helped me but it was like, I was only listening to like the obscure voices from other countries about Jesus, I wasn't trying to listen any Western views. And that was very helpful.
John Osburn 21:42
So what would you say now, Jesus is for you,
man, Jesus is I mean, He's the Messiah. You know, I had to go back and understand everything in its original Hebraic context. And even the size and the size that everybody's been anticipating to change the state of the world through changing us. But he's not nationalist. He doesn't see America as the greatest center of, you know, the faith. You know, he's not blond hair, blue eyes. And he is the great unifier. He takes the Zealots, and he takes the Herodians. And just the he takes all these people and puts them together. And I think that's what I learned to do with Christians. So I can listen to all of these pastors, white, black, Hispanic, and I can just see what is good. And I can take out of it. Now I know the bigger landscape. And I don't have to just say, Well, if he's right about this, he must be right about everything. Or if he's wrong about this, he must be wrong about everything. I can just kind of realize, like some people have good thing that I can piece together, and I'm okay with it now.
John Osburn 22:48
What's the gospel now to you, you know, versus what it was 10 years ago? Oh, my
gosh, yeah, the Gospel 10 years ago was this military mandate, that if I didn't share, I was lesser than, and I would say today, the gospel is, is about bringing Shalom. It's about bringing peace, right. And that's what that's what Christ came to do. It came to bring peace. And so that's the good news. The good news is that the world is in chaos. And it's full of pain and sin and hatred and hurt. And Christ comes to bring peace and a picture of that. And so, you know, it's a message of good news, right. And the good news is that Christ has come to bring peace. And so if you will trust Him, then you can have peace, you can have peace in in multiple, different aspects. And so that's, to me, what's important, it's not just this mandate that I checklists that I got to like, share with somebody to feel better about myself. It's like, I care about this person, and I want them to know peace. And so there's implications of the gospel. And then there's, you know, it's implicit and explicit, right? There's implied aspects of it is, because my life has changed, I can bring peace to you, and I can love you and show you grace and mercy. And you can appreciate that and be like, Man, I want to, I love this person. And I want to know more about why this person is this way. And then there's the explicit like, Hey, let me tell you the story, this ancient story of Messiah who came to bring about this transformation in this piece. And so it's more of that to me than anything else. For someone
John Osburn 24:27
like me who grew up in white church, grew up in white spaces. How would you say that we start separating whiteness from Christianity in America, what would what would be a way for someone like me to start down that path?
Well, I would say, you know, as far as just understanding, the construct of white and black, right that we live in a great book to read is cast by Isabel Wilkerson, where you just kind of stand like this is a caste system that we live in. It's race is a construct But cast is real. And so there is a sense of how we see people based off of color, the color cast. And so one is understanding like the caste system that exists in America. But then two is understanding that as a person of European descent, you have a culture. America is more about the culture of white people than it is about America. Like some people say, Well, what's your culture? I'm American hotdogs, baseball, like, no, that's why you just don't realize that, you know what I'm saying? Because in your mind is just, it's just American, you don't see the culture associated with it. And so I think it's understanding that you have a culture and that when you when you want people to move in the way you move, you're telling them to assimilate to your culture, because you think it's right, you know what I mean? So it's kind of like, instead of trying to understand like, oh, there's sub cultures, and this is my culture. So when I wear a Atlanta Braves hat as a black man, it's probably not because I'm a fan of the matches my clothes. I'm from Atlanta, I probably don't watch the brace. But you have to be okay with understanding that that's that you're you culturally would only wear that hat because you're a fan. And that's okay. But just knowing like, that's my culture. And I think when you know, you have a culture that you can engage people differently. You can say, oh, good cars, and Hillsong is not worship. That's a cultural form of worship. And so when I play this, and people don't like it, it doesn't mean they don't like God, it means they don't like this cultural form. And so I think that's, that's really big for my white brothers and sisters, just as to understand that they exist in the culture.
John Osburn 26:43
What is the difference? And how do you tell between influencing and enabling your local church?
Well, I think if we're thinking of church as an institution, you're never going to influence it, because it's an institution, and it's got to run the way that needs to run, it's got money to make, it's got bills to pay. And so church as an institution, I don't believe really can be influenced, unless that influence helps with the bottom line. Because then they're never going to move in the direction of what the Bible calls Seneca or righteousness and generosity, if it interferes with the institutional goals, right? That's just the way we are in the West. So why would I be honest about race and ethnicity? If I know it's going to mess with my bottom line of my institution, now we're talking about church as the community of believers, right, you can influence a community of believers because their goal is shepherding and care and sharpening one another and loving people outside of the community and serving. And so you don't have an institutional goal, you have the goal of doing just what you're supposed to do as the church is shepherding, loving, caring, serving, building up people for the work of the Kingdom. And so I would say that if your community is not willing to sacrifice some of those institutional goals, they cares more about the Empire than the kingdom. But if they're willing to sacrifice those institutional goals for truth, then that's a healthy place. You know, I don't want to be in a place where it's about the Empire and the institution, I want to be in a place where it's about the kingdom. And that doesn't require buildings and life and guitars and doesn't require that it requires leadership, shepherds, people loving people in walking with people. And so there's a lot of ways that can be done. I mean, it could be done with buildings, lights, and guitars. But that in a lot of times becomes a hindrance and a wait for people to run in the way that they need to grow.
John Osburn 28:49
What kind of church you go into now.
So I do this kind of a hybrid. So I do what's called a Torah Club, which is where we get together, we study the Scriptures in the ancient Hebrew context in house. And then I also I go to what you would call it one of those Sunday institutions, where I know the pastor, and he's open to hearing those things, but I'm okay with it. As long as my family understands this Sunday situation is not our primary means of community and influence. This is It's, I mean, this is gonna sound trite, but it's almost like going to watch a movie that really helps inspire you to keep living for Christ. You know, like, Yeah, let's go watch this production. My kids, on the other hand, they get integrated with other kids and there's programs for them. So I love that but, but we know like, it's our tour club. It's our getting together with our local community. And it's a smaller group of people that where we do life with each other. And, you know, for us, it's like, ma'am, we're that. So, you know, group of my friends, you know, we function as the leaders in that specific context
John Osburn 29:59
where Where can people find you got stuff coming up? What's going on and professionally right now, what do people need to do what they need to know?