Biblically literate hip hop fans will immediately recognize that the title of Lecrae’s latest project, All Things Work Together, comes from Romans 8:28. Others might notice the significant number of collaborations with mainstream artists and assume that this is the “working together” he’s talking about. The record actually functions on both levels. It is a deeply theological, while still highly relatable, meditation on the bizarre way grace confounds us and delivers us.
Longtime fans of Lecrae might be surprised by the intensity of the social consciousness that comes through on these tracks. “Always Knew” jumps right into his feelings about being black in today’s America, police violence, and more. “Facts” keeps the momentum going with some of the most intense social-justice flow he has ever offered. The song, which functions in several movements, sees Lecrae tackling his own public persona and personal journey with amazing swagger.
Sustaining all of this is his consideration of Romans 8. In that passage, the Apostle Paul promises that all things—the bad and the good, the beautiful and the ugly, the failures and the victories—work together to accomplish good things in the lives of those who have offered themselves as living sacrifices to God. C.S. Lewis explored this in The Great Divorce: “Both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. …That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporary suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” All Things Work Together maintains that theme throughout its 14 tracks. Lecrae, in his most personal and transparent work yet, reflects on challenges, blessings, persecution, adulation, opportunity, and frustration—all with a sense that it’s part of a plan.
“Broke” suggests that the poverty Lecrae was born into worked for his good by establishing appreciation for the money that came later. “Being broke made me rich,” he says. By the end of the song, it’s clear that the richness he speaks of has nothing to do with cash. “Blessings” functions as a similar meditation on the ways his trials have turned to gold. “If I ever took a loss I learned a lesson,” sings guest Ty Dolla $ign on the track. “I won’t ever think I’m better than the next man.” The theme flows through the entire album. It’s a constant reflection on all of the ways God lived up to the promise he made through Paul.
Although explicitly Scriptural, Lecrae’s work has been able to avoid the dismissive tag of “Christian rap.” From the musicianship to the lyrics to his increasingly diverse vocal tone and style, Lecrae is right in step with everything happening in the mainstream rap game. Though not as experimental as Kendrick Lamar, Lecrae incorporates imaginative samples and innovative loops into tracks that are far more musical than many of the most popular rap artists of the last few years. There’s also the sheer volume of “mainstream” collaborations here, including joints with Aha Gazelle, 1K Phew, Tori Kelly, and others. While the inclusion of artists like these might be seen as an attempt to distance himself from the Christian market, it might also simply be an effort to keep his own work as cutting edge and excellent as possible by leaning into the best talent out there.
Beyond the musical excellence, the real secret to Lecrae’s continuing relevance in the mainstream scene is that his songs avoid cliches and refuse to function as one-dimensional statements of faith. His work tackles issues and ideas common to everyone, not just churchgoers. Lecrae doesn’t back away from the hard parts and has no time for preening. He confesses his shortcomings, rightly identifies the source and purpose of his blessings, and faithfully works through his failures. What’s more, the songs ask tough questions about the turmoil, trouble, and injustice running rampant in the world today, from our inner city-streets to the heights of governmental power. Even as it professes Romans 8:28, the album wonders: how in the world can all of this possibly lead to something good?
In this too Lecrae holds Scripture close. Notice that Paul doesn’t say that everything just “works out” for people who claim the name of God. He doesn’t promise that everything will turn out fine in this life. Rather, when people respond to God’s call, they can expect to experience challenges, pain, and injustice. At the same time, they can also expect God to use those things for a greater good. It’s one of the most commonly misunderstood verses in the Bible, but Lecrae handles it with depth, candor, and vision.
The album’s closer, “Worth It,” brings an undeniable and welcome gospel flavor to the proceedings. With guest vocals by progressive gospel mainstay Kierra Sheard and mainstream R&B artist Jawan Harris, as well as an opening piano track that comes straight outta church, the song is a balm for listeners stuck in a darker season of life, looking to the promise of Romans 8: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”