The Lecrae You Don't Know
To call it a “unique platform” would be an understatement. There was Lecrae, a feature performer on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, with millions watching.
About four months earlier, the multi-Grammy winner made his network debut on Fallon after his album Anomaly hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart (only the fifth time a Christian artist has achieved that mark). Almost immediately, fans around the country got the hashtag #LecraeOnFallon trending. The show noticed and invited him on to sit in with Fallon’s house band, The Roots.
Lecrae was so impressive that first night, it ended with Fallon saying to him, “Whoa! You’re dope! We’ve got to have you back.” And so Lecrae came back on the show in January 2015, graduated from the sidestage to a feature spot.
His breakout Fallon performance that night still brings Lecrae attention—his neighbors love to talk about it—but of course, a lot has happened since then: other national TV performances, sold-out tours, parties at Jay-Z’s house and Grammy nominations competing with the likes of Drake, Eminem and Kendrick Lamar. It’s safe to say Lecrae is venturing where few Christian artists have before.
Lecrae’s music is known for being bold, even raw, and in some of the songs, he’s shared part of his story. But those songs, no matter how powerful, don’t compare to the unfiltered, real story.
Lecrae Devaughn Moore was born in a county hospital in Houston, Texas. Before his first birthday, Lecrae’s mother took him away from his drug-using, drunk, temperamental, abusive father. Well before he could even say, “daddy,” Lecrae was fatherless.
Mom and son landed in Denver, Colorado, where the rambunctious Lecrae got in all kinds of trouble—mostly the mischievous kid kind. Even then, Lecrae knew he was acting out to try to get the attention his father couldn’t give him. He would lay in bed fantasizing about his dad. He says he just knew his father could walk in and fix all of his problems. And yet, young Lecrae lived with the feeling that his dad wanted drugs more than a son.
“Underneath all of my pain and misbehavior was a sense of emptiness,” he says.
And so, even when he wasn’t rebelling or breaking down emotionally, “there was a dull, throbbing sense of rejection and abandonment.”
This set Lecrae searching for acceptance and belonging.
First, there were friendships with the other kids at the Boys and Girls Club Lecrae attended after school. There was also the acceptance his budding hip-hop talent brought him. Hip-hop, at least in those days, was often intrinsically connected to gang and drug culture. And this, the world of Ice Cube and Tupac, excited Lecrae. A gang looked a lot like a family to him. And family meant belonging.
He didn’t have to look far to find good examples of gang life. Growing up, Lecrae spent three to six months at a time with his grandmother in San Diego, California. But don’t think beaches and rollerblades. He was in Skyline Hills, a neighborhood that is more Compton than Mission Beach.
In Skyline Hills, shootings were regular. And even though Lecrae lost more than one family friend to random gun violence, it felt somewhat normal. One time, he says, he was playing around the neighborhood and found a dead body. None of the other kids seemed to think it was big enough news to tell anyone. So they kept playing.
His Denver home was tamer, but not entirely dissimilar. In fact, Lecrae would get slapped or punched so often, he assumed this kind of violence was just part of growing up. Even when his mother’s boyfriend beat him so badly that the police arrived and took the boyfriend to jail, it was just a matter of months before the same boyfriend was moving back into the house. He brought Lecrae a Sega Genesis for his penance.
This culture is where Lecrae first caught a vision of masculinity. Violence and the community-centric nature of gangs began to play the father-figure for him.
“I think every young man idolizes his dad up to a point,” he says. “If you don’t have one, you’re going to find someone. That’s why young guys join gangs. You know you’re going to find worth, matter, purpose, family, leadership. You’re going to gravitate to it. Somebody’s going to be that for you.”
Life in San Diego showed him women (whenever his uncle Chris would hook up with someone, he would encourage Lecrae to have sex with his date’s little sister or cousin), drugs (he would watch out for cops while his uncle was inside a drug house) and near-daily violence.
But as this life around a gang intensified, Lecrae began feeling like he didn’t belong. When he was 14, he faced a crossroad just standing on a street corner.
“We were issued the challenge to go after a rival gang,” he recalls. “They had come through and shot up the neighborhood, and we were told, ‘Y’all better be ready to ride.’”
This meant one thing, he says: they needed to be ready to kill or be killed repaying the shooting. “I remember thinking, like, ‘This is real. Like, kill, kill; like, die, die.’”
No matter how much Lecrae admired and wanted to be a part of gang culture, he just couldn’t pass this kind of initiation.
“Just being honest, I was scared,” he says. “This is life or death right here, and I chose to live.”
If you’re only mildly familiar with Lecrae, you probably think of him as “Christian rapper.” But he rejects that label. “I say I’m an artist,” he says without hesitation. But he knows the distinction.
“When you know the nuances and the depth of it and you have the robust understanding of faith and art, you can’t perpetuate something that’s not true.”
“When you know the nuances and the depth of it and you have the robust understanding of faith and art, you can’t perpetuate something that’s not true.”
What is true, he says, is that God is a “master artist,” and so all art talks about Him. The only question for the artist is, “What are you saying?”
Lecrae is visibly excited at this point, leaning forward on the couch. He’s adamant that art—his art—fits right in with a Kingdom view of the world.
“In music, misogyny rules,” he says. “Well, we know misogyny is unacceptable in the grand scheme of things—this woman was created with dignity, worth and value, and so to demean her is not stepping in line with God’s intention.
“So when I make music that is counter that, I am painting a picture of what the Kingdom really looks like.”
It’s clear from Lecrae’s tone that he’s speaking from experience—both as an artist and as a recovering misogynist.
“Son, it appears you’ve contracted a sexually transmitted disease,” a doctor said matter-of-factly.
Lecrae was in high school, and he had contracted Chlamydia from some girl at an amusement park in Texas.
About a decade earlier, when Lecrae was 6 years old, his 17-year-old babysitter called him into her bedroom and stripped him—physically of his clothes, and permanently of his innocence.
He was not altogether sure what happened, he says. But whatever it was, he found something he could do to evoke praise, affirmation and acceptance from someone. After the next few times, he was sure something was off with his babysitter’s new game. But even after his mom put a stop to it, the damage was already done.
His babysitter inadvertently but irrevocably taught Lecrae that women would affirm him if he touched them a certain way. And as a kid looking for affection, he’d take affirmation where he could get it. One time, even, after his teacher cheered him on in a race, 8-year-old Lecrae buried his face into her crotch. She assumed it was an accident, but Lecrae says he was just doing what he thought she expected. And this assumption followed him to Texas.
Lecrae and his mom moved back to the Lone Star State when his new stepdad took a job that led them away from Denver to Dallas—to a neighborhood more suburban and more white than anywhere he’d been.
Lecrae always wanted to get out of Colorado, he says, so he was excited. But when he actually arrived at his new home, he found himself in a place where no one looked like him. No one talked like he did or even dressed like him. And so when he did find a friend with similar interests, it wasn’t long before he fell back into the habits of Skyline Hills—weed, theft, alcohol.
In a Dallas suburb, far from the familiar and right in the middle of teenage angst, Lecrae found another new identity—a new father figure—in sex. He gave himself to just about any girl who would have him—occasionally with more than one person at the same time. They served the same purpose as pot or drinking—Lecrae just wanted to feel accepted.
He used women for pleasure, but they ended up bringing disease.
In the world of sexually transmitted diseases, Chlamydia is manageable. After a round of antibiotics, the symptoms went away—but the incident started opening Lecrae’s eyes to the real-world consequences of his lifestyle.
“Please forgive me, God. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. I’m so sorry,” Lecrae prayed.
He was 19 and in Atlanta, Georgia—a place he calls the “black Mecca”—at a Christian conference.
After he graduated high school, Lecrae enrolled in the University of North Texas on a full-ride drama scholarship. But like just about everywhere he had been, Lecrae didn’t feel like he fit in. In class and rehearsals, Lecrae liked the drama kids. But outside of class, he wouldn’t let anyone see him with them. And like before, he looked for comfort in women, drugs and alcohol.
One group on campus did accept him: a ministry of black Christian students called Move. For reasons he can’t really explain, Lecrae enjoyed them. He knew enough from his grandmother in San Diego to not cuss and avoid drinking around them.
One of the leaders of the group took an interest in Lecrae. He told Lecrae about an event coming up that would be perfect for him. It was called Impact Conference in Atlanta. Lecrae says he didn’t need to hear anything other than “Atlanta.”
Lecrae got there by raising money with the Christian kids—to his own then-shame, he even participated in the group carwash—and then he bussed over with them.
He liked the conference and the city. On the final night, though, everything changed.
James White, a pastor from Memphis, Tennessee, preached—and what he said was unlike anything Lecrae had ever heard. Looking back, Lecrae describes the preacher’s portrait of Jesus’ death as almost cinematic. Most of White’s sermon was entirely new information to Lecrae.
Sure, he knew Jesus was crucified, but he didn’t know the details. He didn’t know Jesus endured horror-film-worthy beatings or the unimaginable cat o’ nine tails. He’d heard the word “crucify” before, but he didn’t really know what it meant. He says it was like he got hit by a train.
“I got radically, radically saved,” he says. “You know, the truth of Jesus that I had been hearing really permeated my heart, and then it was a wrap.”
Everything changed for Lecrae that night. But life as a Christian wasn’t the fix-all he expected.
“I’m about to kill somebody or kill myself. Y’all better do something,” Lecrae shouted.
He was standing in an emergency room, shouting that his whole being was in a state of emergency. In one night, all of his father-replacers collided. He was at a party, drunk, high, flirting with girls. Things escalated, and before he knew it, Lecrae was flying down a highway to get the gun from his mom’s house, intent on settling a dispute about a girl out of court.
But he pulled into the county hospital for a reason he can’t quite explain. This landed him in rehab.
His newfound Christian life had started out great. For the most part, he arrived back from the conference in Atlanta too busy sharing his faith—which often meant bullying people into taking a tract from him—or attending “praise parties” even to think about his old life. Then he turned 21.
On his birthday, he remembers thinking, ‘So, I’m not supposed to drink? But I can legally drink? How does this work?!’”
That ended with, “Nah, I’m not doing it,” he says, talking about the Christian lifestyle. It wasn’t too long before he met other students who were willing to bend the church-crowd norms.
One of the girls reacquainted him with his old habits. And before he knew it, Lecrae was in bed with her—returning to the familiar fathers of sex and dope.
He continued attending church functions and trying to believe in God, but more and more, Lecrae was torn between his new life as a church kid and the way he lived before.
For all he had learned about life, one thing he hadn’t: he assumed that his mass consumption of weed made him sterile.
Needless to say, it didn’t, and before long, one of his girlfriends pulled him aside and told him she was pregnant.
It took some convincing, but eventually, he persuaded her to end the pregnancy. A few hours, some borrowed money and a silent car ride later, a nurse rolled her outside in a wheelchair.
And when this girl’s depression worsened, Lecrae went ahead and cut ties—he told her they should both work on getting right with God.
But no matter what he told her, he couldn’t cope with the abortion. He started using ecstasy and cocaine, diving into harder drugs to mask his own depression.
That night in the ER, Lecrae’s warning that he could kill himself was more than just words in the moment. He tried to commit suicide once before, back in high school, but after the abortion, he really hit rock bottom. His seemingly failed faith mixed with drugs and unbearable guilt and overwhelmed him. So he “drank all the alcohol I could hold and took all the pills in my cabinet.” He closed his eyes and hoped to die.
Now, he says he’s surprised he woke up. And this happened just weeks before his turn into the ER that led to his rehab stint.
For a week, other than a few group sessions and a visit or two from his mom, he basically sat in solitary confinement.
He says this time was far more than a detox from substances. In the hours by himself, he sat reading a Bible (mostly the book of Romans) and frantically taking notes. With no distractions around—no sex, no drugs, no music—Lecrae was discovering the Gospel he already believed. He was discovering that following Jesus isn’t a moment at a conference.
“It was like a blindfold fell off my eyes,” he says.
After graduating college, Lecrae ended up turning his music pastime into a side project. After a friend pushed him to record some of the raps he’d written, he went public with his first album attempt. One of the tracks, “Crossover,” attracted a lot of local attention and gave his friend Ben Washer an idea for something bigger. Together, they started Reach Records. Just like that, Lecrae’s side project turned into a career.
All of Lecrae—his addict father, the babysitter, Skyline Hills, the Atlanta conference, the clinic and rehab—finds expression in his music. He’s not afraid to be honest.
“You know, honestly, that’s the essence of my faith, like, ‘Yeah, I suck. And I need a savior. So let me tell you about how I suck, because I’m not scared,’”
“You know, honestly, that’s the essence of my faith, like, ‘Yeah, I suck. And I need a savior. So let me tell you about how I suck, because I’m not scared,’” he explains.
“Maybe some other people have done that or experienced something traumatic and this is helpful to them,” he continues. “And I’m healed from it, so I can talk about it. You know, healed people heal people; hurt people hurt people. So let me help heal some people.”
Lecrae finally found a present father. And, yes, he’s healed now. But his life isn’t one of those church service testimonies that ends with Jesus making everybody smile. The struggle of his life—the all-consuming desire for acceptance—still haunts him.
Tangibly, Lecrae is now a father who was never fathered. And every day, he says, he has to fight his inclination to parent like the men of inner-city Denver or Skyline Hills.
“I don’t know what I’m missing or what I’m leaving out,” he says. “On a good day, I’m just thankful that I get to be involved. On a bad day, I don’t know what I’m doing—all I know is what books say.”
The life of a high-profile artist doesn’t fix things either. He’s been on Fallon, Good Morning America, MTV, profiled in TIME magazine and so much more. But even with 10,000 adoring fans at a show, he says the two people who might have trashed him on Twitter that day will be what dominates his thoughts.
“Because of my background, success is a deadly viper that should be handled with care,” he says.
Despite achieving more than most artists could ever imagine, Lecrae still battles the desire for acceptance. “Sometimes every day.”
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