Lecrae (born Lecrae Devaughn Moore) is a two-time Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist, president of Reach Records, speaker, philanthropist, and New York Times bestselling author of Unashamed. Lecrae’s forthcoming album, “Restoration,” will be followed by the release of his new book, I Am Restored: How I Lost My Religion but Found My Faith, on October 13, 2020.
In the following Q&A, conducted by phone, Lecrae discusses his journey toward realism, finding faith, and the importance of social activism. The transcript below has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
By the end of 2020, you will have released your ninth studio album and your second book. It’s been 16 years since the release of Real Talk in 2004. I’d love to hear a bit about how you think your art has deepened or matured over these years. What has remained and what has changed? What would you say to the Lecrae of 2004 with what you know now?
I think the music has changed from kind of evolving from youthful idealism, where you’re just idealistic about what you can do and you really believe that you can change the world and be idealistic about it. And then it’s turned from youthful idealism to kind of, you know, life happens to you and you realize you’re not as powerful as you thought you were and that problems are always going to exist. Even Jesus said the poor will always be among us. And then you get a little cynical.
So I have a cynical phase. And now I kind of have arrived in a realistic phase. So when idealism meets cynicism, you get realism. And so, I was idealistic. I thought, you know, all I needed was the truth, and I’d scream it out loud and the whole world’s gonna change at the drop of a dime. And then it didn’t happen that way, and life was hard, and I was bitter. And then now I’m like, okay, so idealism is good, and you can make a difference in this world and you can make changes, but you also have to realize that you’ll die trying to see things change and it all won’t happen in your lifetime. And that’s okay. And so that’s kind of where I’m at now. And I would tell that young man, I’d say, “Hey, man, keep doing what you’re doing. And don’t be discouraged when it doesn’t work out quite the way you think it should.”
Do you think it’s helpful for people to go through that idealistic phase? Do you think God uses that or should we just jump straight to the realistic phase?
No, I think the idealism is good. I think it’s good and it’s helpful because you need that. You know, most of the major changes, societal changes happen at around the college age level, because that’s just that youthful idealism – that’s where movements start around those age levels because there’s a naivete and there’s just a belief that you know, anything can happen. And I think you need that to see the meter moved. As you get older, you can get comfortable and you can get stagnant and you need that kind of passion. I think I needed to be that way because now I can look back on that and say that me not knowing any better allowed me to jump across a lot of, you know, dangerous chasms in life and walk through some crazy valleys, because I didn’t know any better, and I wouldn’t be where I’m at if I was, you know, safe and stagnant. And so I had to do those things and I didn’t know it was gonna cost me what it did. But I think it’s necessary for us all to kind of have that mentality for a season in order to see how real life is and also to get us further than we would have gotten if we calculated everything.
Several years ago, you made the statement that “some people make music for the church, and some people make music from the church to the world,” and you considered yourself in the latter category. Can you talk more about that?
Right. Yeah, you know, what’s funny is, I still think that what I said there was true – making music from the church to the world. I think there’s three kinds of artists. There’s the artist that is making music explicitly about things that happen in the church for the church that primarily only the church will understand. And then there are artists who make music from the church to the world and the world knows that they’re from the church but they can understand some of the concepts, and it allows them to say, “Okay, this is palatable, I can grasp what’s happening here.” And then I think there’s the last kind of artist that is a believer but is not speaking church language but is speaking directly to the world and using, you know, concepts and parables that the world understands completely but would not readily identify this type of artist as “from the church.” And when I talk about people like this, I’m thinking of like a Tori Kelly, or Jon Bellion who, you know, these are Christians, but you would not know them for making distinctly Christian music. At the end of the day, I think that this is more of a millennial question and millennial issue – Gen-X, millennial. The Gen-Z’s, the newer kids, these delineations are not as important to them. They just want to be authentic and make music and whether it’s Christian or what category it is is not as big of an issue.
Both “Restoration” and I Am Restored touch on the topic of healing and restoration, including things like church wounds and conflicts. I think this fits in the context of hot button issues like spiritual abuse, faith deconstruction, #MeToo, etc., and there are so many stories of influential people who once claimed to be a Christian. Your book’s subtitle is, How I Lost My Religion but Found My Faith. Can you speak on whether these hot button issues were on your mind as you wrote your book and produced your album and if that’s a possible audience you’re trying to reach?
Absolutely. I love social commentary. I love it with my comedians. I love it with my music. I love sociology and just studying what’s happening in our society and in culture. And I think that oftentimes, we allow the culture to dictate our faith and not, you know, see the culture through the lens of faith. And so, what do you do with the #MeToo movement? What do you do when people are having a crisis of faith? You know, what do you do with those particular things? And does my faith have an answer for those things? Racism, political vantage points? Does my faith speak to those things? And I think oftentimes, there’s not been a marriage of the practical, the horizontal applications of faith. It’s always vertical, vertical, vertical – you and God and your prayer life and your, you know, all these similar things. And to me, those are necessary but I think we get caught up in religiosity and just the ritual of those things – Did I have in my quiet time? Did I pray? – and you neglect what’s happening in society and culture and you don’t have answers for those things. And that’s where faith is really found is when you have to navigate the real world, you know, through the lens of being a follower of Jesus. And so, that’s where you, you lose the rote tradition, and you start applying authentic faith.
A lot of people, even influential people, have come into this as a crisis-of-faith sort of issue. And there are really two results: either people have just completely rejected the faith that they once believed in, and then others, like yourself, have come through with a deeper faith in a sense. Would you make any sort of commentary on that? Is this the way that the Lord is kind of sifting and even strengthening faith of people, especially in the U.S.?
I would say so, I would definitely think that you know, when you are allowed to go through the fire, when you’re allowed to have an Elijah moment where you are, you know, in the wilderness ready to take your own life, God sends the birds to feed you. And you realize, oh my goodness! You cannot convince a person that God loves them. You can’t just tell somebody, “Hey, God loves you.” They have to experience that. And I think that’s what happens typically is that you experience God’s love in the midst of your doubt, your rejection, your failure. He shows you he loves you in the midst of it. And I think that’s when faith is strengthened. It’s when you punted, when you doubted and yet He was consistent and faithful, that your faith deepened because you realize you weren’t left to your own devices. I think that that’s a big piece of it.
Just last month, you teamed up with Love Beyond Walls to distribute hand washing stations and food to the homeless in Atlanta. This fits within a stream of social activism in your career that is informed by your faith. What inspired you to work out your faith in these tangible ways? What ways would you encourage younger Christians to make steps toward making their faith tangible in these sorts of ways?
Tonight, we are hosting an IG Live conversation between @imterencelester & @lecrae to discuss the ‘Love Sinks In’ campaign, what people experiencing homelessness are faced with, and how to remained encourage.
We’ll see you at 7pm!
.#lovebeyondwalls #LoveSinksIn pic.twitter.com/ZhrB9EBzCf
— lovebeyondwalls (@LoveBeyondWalls) April 17, 2020
I have a label with nine other artists and we have conversations all the time. We’ll say man, listen, as I’m listening to your music, it just feels empty. It feels like you’re struggling for something to talk about. And oftentimes the reason for that is because there’s nothing going on in their lives that would give them content. And what I’m reminding them is that if you claim to be a follower of Jesus, then you follow in His footsteps. He didn’t just sit around reading His Bible and going to church on Sundays. That was not the extent of His life. His love was expressed in tangible ways. So if you’re going to be a follower of Him, then your love for others should be expressed in tangible ways.
And it should be peculiar to the outside world. “Why would you sacrifice this much for these people?” “You’re at this place in life – why would you be over here doing these particular things?” And that’s a pure example of Jesus – Why would He leave heaven and come and deal with these dirty beings and be born in a manger around filthy animals? He’s just gives us these these examples that I think allow us to follow – the whole “first shall be last, and last will be first.” And so I think, for me, people like Martin Luther King (Jr.) fleshed that out and then seeing, you know, a lot of folks within the Civil Rights Movement flesh that out. and then what I would tell the younger believers is that you’re never going to experience God in a deep, profound way sitting in a room with a book. It’s not going to happen. You’re going to have to be stretched. You’re going to have to follow in His footsteps and sacrifice and love people who seem unlovable and do hard things. That’s going to be where you’re going to find a deep, rich relationship with God.
I want to circle back to the topic of an interview you had with “Truth’s Table” two years ago about your split from White Evangelicalism. What are you grateful to God for about what’s been shaping and forming you since your split? Some may see your journey as a part of a “Quiet, Black Exodus,” but how would you frame your journey?
…what I was trying to say was that there is a brand of faith that is more Western, more White, more nationalistic than it is biblical. And that is not the faith I want to subscribe to. Nor do I want to subscribe to a faith that is, you know, more anything than biblical…
Yeah, it’s so funny you mentioned that. The funny part about it is that I remember around that time, no one had even really heard or understood what “White Evangelicalism” was. People were like, “What is that?” And then I also remember when it was proposed to me: “So, would you say you’re leaving White Evangelicalism?” And I think I kind of laughed and said, “I guess so?” It wasn’t kind of this like, statement like, “I’m done with White Evangelicalism.” But it was more to say there is a such thing as White Evangelicalism. And it’s not as if what I’m trying to say is that I’m done with White people. But more than anything, what I was trying to say was that there is a brand of faith that is more Western, more White, more nationalistic than it is biblical. And that is not the faith I want to subscribe to. Nor do I want to subscribe to a faith that is, you know, more anything than biblical, more Black than biblical, more whatever.
But as I traveled the world, I realized that faith and being a follower of God is broader than what I was taught in the Western world. So there’s literature in Egypt and Ethiopia that I did not have access to… in Ghana and Nigeria that I did not have access to that is profound in how you experience the Bible and history. So I will just say that more than anything, I want us to look at the Scriptures without Western eyes, you know? To be able to realize that, first of all, it’s written by a Middle Eastern culture. So, you know, we’re coming at it with our perspective. And the whole “Black Exodus” I think is the reality that during the time period where Black people had societal woes, our White brothers and sisters could not or would not see them. For us, it was like, “Do you not see how now your Bible is shaped more by your cultural lenses than it is by the truth inside of it?” And so, people left and said that there’s got to be another place, another way. I don’t think division is the answer, but I do think empathy creates a healthier unity.
The coronavirus is continuing to be a devastating disruption to many lives in the U.S. As a husband and father of three children, how are you navigating through this time? Are there practices or habits that have shaped you and your family that you think may be helpful for others in this difficult time?
…I think God is saying, “Listen, I need you to be encouraged and create a new normal. I have got you in my hand. I’m not shocked by what’s happened. I need you to trust Me. And I didn’t say this was going to be a pretty situation – this chapter may be ugly. But the end of this book is going to be great, if you will trust Me.”
Yeah, that’s tough. My heart really goes out to those who are experiencing severe trauma in light of this and severe life change. I’m on the board of an organization that works with people being displaced due to gentrification and in this community, people’s lives are literally being torn apart, you know, just uprooted because of the coronavirus. Loss of jobs – they already were struggling to pay rent. And so their future is unforeseen. But what I would say is that this is not new. This is not new to God. This is not new in history. And so I think it serves us well to look historically at how people navigated these particular times of wars, of famines, of captivity. You go back to Jeremiah 29. We love 29:11: “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you.” But we can’t have that promise without the problem that precedes it. And the problem that precedes it is that Israel was in captivity. They were captive by Babylon. And it was not pretty. Not only when they captive, they were captive for 70 years. And God says, “Hey, listen, I know this looks crazy and this looks horrible. But I know the plans I have for you and they are good plans. So I have a promise for you. But what I need you to do in the midst of this is I need you to plant plants and build houses and raise families.”
So I think God is saying, “Listen, I need you to be encouraged and create a new normal. I have you got you in my hand. I’m not shocked by what’s happened. I need you to trust Me. And I didn’t say this was going to be a pretty situation – this chapter may be ugly. But the end of this book is going to be great, if you will trust Me.” I tell that to my kids all the time. They asked me for something and I say, “No,” and they flip out, like, “Oh my God, I’m gonna die!” And I say, “Do you trust me? Do I love you? Do I care for you? Okay, well, I’m denying you this thing for a good reason that you may not understand right now.” I think God is allowing us to go through some of these things for reasons that we don’t understand right now. But He is good. And all He does is good. He’s asking us to plant trees and grow. The last thing I would just say is that we may not be able to change the circumstance, but we can be changed through the circumstance. We can become better. We can become healthier. We can learn to trust more, to encourage more, and to love more than we have previously, and so I can go on and on. But that’s ultimately what I was saying.
This is an election year, and there’s no surprise that Christians will have an impact on who is and is not elected, especially given the results of the last election of our current president. You’ve spoken and written about police brutality, racism, oppression, etc., which are political matters that directly impact our neighbors and their communities. Can you help provide some thoughts about how a Christian should think about their engagement in the political sphere with these things in mind? How do you see your music as a vehicle for social and political change?
“…at the end of the day all the issues are important to God, right? Poverty, death, oppression, racism, all of those issues are important to God. And so, God would not choose one or the other. God wouldn’t say, “Well, you gotta choose this one over this one.” I think we can’t be single issue voters.”
Yeah, I think the biggest thing I would say, especially for Christians, is to not be single issue voters. I think oftentimes we get caught up in the reality of, well, if this person supports pro-life, then there’s no other way to consider things. But yet, the person who’s pro-life may be of ill character and may be racist or may be misogynistic, and now you’ve pitted this person’s character against, you know, this issue. It’s not to say it’s not an important issue. I’m just saying, at the end of the day all the issues are important to God, right? Poverty, death, oppression, racism, all of those issues are important to God. So God would not choose one or the other. God wouldn’t say, “Well, you gotta choose this one over this one.” I think we can’t be single issue voters.
I think we have to realize that the leadership of the nation is limited. You’re dealing with a person who is limited and does not have infinite power and is not all-knowing. And so, you have to think of it on that wavelength. So you pick someone who has the best character that you can see, from the best of your understanding. But at the end of the day, I think you ultimately realize that this political process and what we have in front of us is not going to be our ultimate rest, our ultimate hope. We’re going to be disappointed no matter who’s in office. So you do the best you can with the leadership that you’re appointing. I’m a big character person, and that’s how I would tell Christians to navigate things, is looking at character of leadership. You’re talking about somebody who’s leading the nation. Right. So that’s a big deal.
Music is the soundtrack. You know, music is the poet. It’s the voice of what’s happening in society. It’s a reflection of the world. It’s the voices that are typically unheard and that’s why people love their artists because their artists are the voices for what they’ve been wanting to say that’s on their heart. There are 7 billion people in this world and all of them feel as if their voice should be heard, but it isn’t always heard. So when music and art comes along, it becomes a voice for the things that are on their heart.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published April 17, 2020.