Lecrae’s triumphant Anomaly

Much is being made of the commercial success of Lecrae’s Anomaly – as well it should. But beyond the thrill of seeing a thoughtful, artistically adventurous and Gospel-framed artist atop the Billboard charts, Lecrae’s eighth album offers a new generation of artists a fresh template for how they might simultaneously speak goodness, truth and beauty to both people of The Book and those not the slightest bit interested in things of faith. 

Lecrae and his crew have been at this for over 10 years without significant industry support or radio love. He has performed countless shows, released dozens of projects by himself and other artists and has cultivated a cooperative of visionary creative minds under his Reach Records banner. The excellence one hears in the grooves of Anomaly is the natural result of years of hard work and high standards. And by “hard work” I’m talking about a group of friends sharpening each other’s creative iron in marathon production sessions. I’m talking about countless beats, samples and riffs that are scrapped in the search for something better. I’m talking about a group of artists who are not satisfied with good, only great.

The tracks on Anomaly flow effortlessly and brim with sonic detail, irresistible hooks and production precision. The musical and lyrical personalities of partners such as Andy Mineo, Street Symphony and Derek Minor are woven into the DNA of all Lecrae/Reach projects, and this one is no exception. Anomaly may be released under Lecrae’s name, but it is clearly the fruit of a smart, fun and crazy-talented community. This is not simply the best Christian rap record of the year (or maybe ever). It is one of the best rap records period - and one of the best albums in any genre so far this year. Full stop. Mic drop.

On Anomaly, Lecrae's Biblical worldview permeates his songs in a more incarnational and less propositional way. The result is a truly organic presentation of the concept of “otherness” that is central to the Christian experience, delivered in a way that also makes sense to any casual listener. Every human being feels like a misfit at one time or another. The set opens with “Outsiders,” a warm welcome to all who feel out of place in the world. “There’s plenty people like me,” Lecrae spits. The theme continues, sometimes taking on darker topics, such as regret, abortion, sexual abuse and trauma, and sometimes taking a more lighthearted approach. On “Broken,” Lecrae confesses, “I’m just a broken instrument in the hands of the Greatest” and then encourages the listener that, in fact, we’re all outsiders in the most important way. The only question is what we do about it.

The entire album could be taken as a street-level meditation on 1 Peter 2: 11-12. Instead of tackling this mysterious otherness from the “other” side, Lecrae, through both personal accounts and the voices of characters he observes or creates, approaches it from this side of the divide. He reflects unflinchingly on the effects of evil and sin in his own personal world and strives unwaveringly to transcend it. This is the kind of incarnational theology that invites listeners along for the experience, instead of standing on the other side of the proverbial Jordan hollering back to the lost about how lost they are.

In contrast with the posturing of most rap artists, Lecrae steps forward with bold empathy and empowering transparency. He knows he’s good, but that knowledge seems to motivate him to dig even deeper and to lead his audience as their servant. Though most of his well-aimed barbs target his own personal failures and fears, on “Nuthin” he launches a full-frontal throwdown to other rap artists to stop fixating on bling and start offering their audiences songs with substance. “We were made for more than just telling stories about / How much money we can get by selling poison to people / It's time to talk about who we are and who we can be / And we need to build each other up and not put each other down.” Hard to argue with that.

I wish it wasn’t such an anomaly for faith-fueled music to be this effective, but it is. It’s invigorating to think that in bedroom studios around the world there are up-and-coming hip hop artists studying this album for inspiration and instruction. Unlike so much mainstream rap, there are actually answers here. Unlike too much “Christian” art, those answers aren’t delivered like fortunes in bad cookies. With Anomaly, Lecrae has accomplished what too few artists have.

“JJT” has been chasing the thread dangling between eternal truths and temporal creative experiences for nearly three decades. He is a writer, a businessman, a father, an artist and a seeker. Read more about him at 33andathird/ Image courtesy of Reach Records, with illustration by Jerod Clark.

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