Lecrae paused four songs into his performance to greet the crowd.
“I’d like to welcome everybody to the Destination Tour,” he said at Concord Music Hall in Chicago on Thursday. “We wanted to create this intimate environment where we could talk to people and invite people in times like these to come together to have a destination, to have a place to come to just to breathe.
“See, no matter where you come from or what your background is, you are accepted here tonight. No matter your lifestyle or what you’ve been through or your ethnicity or your politics, you are accepted here tonight. This is a destination for you — real unity, not pretend unity.”
Lecrae wore a T-shirt that read “We Will Not Lose.”
As a brand, “lose” has not been in Lecrae’s vocabulary for years.
He’s won two Grammys and an abundance of other awards. His last studio album, Anomaly, topped Billboard and went Gold. His first book, Unashamed, debuted as a New York Times Best Seller. He also landed a deal for himself and his label, Reach Records, with Sony Music-owned Columbia Records.
As a human, however, Lecrae’s last three years have been littered with loss.
His cousin died. His close friend, DJ Official, died. And black men — Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile and more — died at the hands of police who had sworn to protect them.
Lecrae grieved publicly about the killings. Many members of the largest demographic of his supporters, evangelicals, disliked how he grieved.
“It felt like every time I turned on the television, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a nephew, a brother was being gunned down,” Lecrae said at last week’s concert. “It broke my heart, to be honest with you. And I guess I was under the impression that being vulnerable about that and articulating that pain would have some sort of collective, ‘We feel that,’ or, ‘We see where you’re coming from,’ or, ‘Don’t understand, but, man, I hate that for you.’
“But that wasn’t what I was met with. I had no problem ever, ever, ever in the history of my career being bold about what I believe in. Matter of fact, that’s why people liked me. But unusually this year, I was bold about something that people didn’t quite like. And it’s no secret. I’m talking about the racial division and disparity that exists in this country.”
“You are accepted here” is not the message that Lecrae heard from evangelicalism, and this response to his pain inflicted further pain.
When he wrote lines like “I was so depressed,” “I started to doubt God” and “I started to question my purpose” in his latest single, “Can’t Stop Me Now”, he did not exaggerate.
Here is an excerpt of Rapzilla.com’s interview with a transparent Lecrae before hisDestination Tour show. He shared just how low he fell, as well as how he came to the place where he was again able to say, “We will not lose.”
Rapzilla.com: How did you go from being depressed and doubting God to saying, “You can’t stop me now?”
Lecrae: Candidly, it was already a tough year — just loss, experienced a lot of stuff. I never anticipated that much pushback from the Christian community. I think I had a false perception of evangelicalism. This is going a couple years back.
I didn’t know what voices were trustworthy, so my faith, I had to start over [with it]. I went all the way back to the Council of Nicea because I didn’t want to start at anything that had to do with Westernized Christianity, so I wanted to go back as far as I could. And I saw it branched off — studied Greek Orthodoxy, and I learned a lot, but that didn’t solve my problems either.
Then having really good friends wrestling through me. I think what a lot of people don’t know is that a lot of Christians of color were depressed and frustrated. Many of them were leaving the faith. Many of them were saying, “I don’t want to have anything to do with these pastors who weren’t speaking on my behalf.” I had good friends that I could bounce all this stuff off of.
It was a gradual process. It wasn’t overnight. I think step one was mourning and grieving. Step two was having my friends tell me constantly truth because I didn’t want to hear truth. I didn’t want to read the Bible. The Bible to me was black ink on white pages. I wasn’t interested in reading the Bible because I didn’t trust … I was, “Who wrote it? ESV? I don’t like it. I don’t trust them.”
It was a long process. Then I think it was realizing that, like I said in the song, Jesus is not American. Jesus is not holding on to these patriotic perspectives that I think a lot of Americans mesh with their Christianity, so that gave me solace about him as a Savior, and that the Jews wanted him to be patriotic, and he wouldn’t be.
Then finally, I think it was, of course, my pastor sitting down and having good conversations with me, my friends like BJ [Thompson] and [Adam Thomason], Tedashii. Then finally, I think the breaking point was having some conversation with Eric Mason out in Philly. He just did a series Woke Church, which is really, really powerful. And another guy named Pastor Carl Ellis.
All of their voices collectively really helped me to see I don’t have to fit this box of mainline Christianity that I think everybody wanted me to fit in.
What were some of the key truths that you learned through your friends that brought you to where you are now?
One is the Bible was written from a marginalized person’s perspective. It’s not written from the Egyptian perspective. It’s written from these enslaved Hebrews. It’s not written from the Babylonian, Assyrian perspective. It’s not written from the Roman Caesar. It’s written from Paul, from a prison, from the perspective of the systemically oppressed and the socially oppressed.
It helped me to realize that I’m on the right side of history, even if mainline evangelicalism thinks I’m out of my mind. It helped me to say, “Man, you know what, liberals and conservatives killed Jesus.” I think I got more comfortable in the gray area of my faith than it being A or B.
Do you feel a certain burden to help other Christians follow the same path as you who are discontent with evangelicalism? Especially with Donald Trump being elected president, it feels like there are more cries than ever like, “I’m done with the title evangelicalism.”
I’m here for anybody who wants to process it. I don’t feel like that’s my mission. I feel like I’ve given so much of my time, effort and energy into pouring myself into entities that only wanted to use Lecrae and didn’t need Lecrae, and there were plenty of places, people and infrastructures thatneeded Lecrae’s voice.
No disrespect to any of the big CCM tours or whatever, but they don’t need me there. If I don’t show up, they’ll be fine with Matthew West. They’ll be fine with TobyMac.
But the West Side of Chicago needs the voices of Thi’sl’s and Lecrae’s. South Side of Houston needs the voices of the Thi’sl’s and Lecrae’s. The people who love hip hop and needed a voice within hip hop that articulated their faith. They need us. They don’t just want, like, “Aw, that’s cool!” It’s like, “No, we need this music.”
I say all that to say, if you want to learn, I’m more than willing to articulate it. But that’s not my mission.
Now, the thing you said about the ESV translation… You’ve been known as a champion of very robust theology, so how did you go from that to even disenchanted with a translation like that?
I don’t care how brilliant you are, when a person is grieving and you don’t comfort them, you do put yourself in a position to where your words fall on deaf ears.
Job’s friends — Job was going through it. His friends could’ve had the right perspective, but they didn’t come with compassion or empathy. They just came with, “Well, here’s what this says.”
To see people silent about the woes of our society, specifically as it pertains to people of color, but still want me to endorse their books and champion their conferences was very disheartening for me.
That made me say, “I don’t trust you, and I need some time to process all this. I need to grieve. I need to understand. And I need to just trust Jesus because these networks of Western Evangelicalism, American Evangelicalism, have caused me a huge sense of distrust. I thought you loved me, yet when I’m telling you I’m grieving, I’m met with silence, or I’m met with, ‘Stop being political.’”
No knock against the writers of the ESV, so to speak, but it’s just saying, I know too many of those voices and those faces. Those are the ones who told me that John Perkins had issues, that James Cone had issues, that Tom Skinner had issues, that Martin Luther King had issues. But they nevertold me that Martin Luther or John Calvin had issues. We can deal with their antisemitic hatred of Jewish people, but we can’t deal with the liberal theology of Martin Luther King.
I feel like if we’re gonna deal with these people’s issues, we gotta deal with these people’s issues as well.
How extensively were you studying, and what was the time frame of this nose-in-the-book studying?
There was a two-week period where I told my wife, “Honestly, I don’t know what I believe anymore … I don’t know where I stand because everything I’ve know about Christianity is falling flat right now.”
If it wasn’t for my friends, I wouldn’t believe anything any of these people had to say anymore. It was great people in my life who kept reminding me and, in my lowest moments, trying to wrestle with it.
I was almost re-evangelizing myself. And I realized I was trapped in grace. It was like, “Nah, you’re stuck in this, buddy. Sorry, you’re saved. There’s nothing you can do about it.” But I would say from 2014 to 2016, it was a wrestle. It was all wrestle, and there were very low points in 2016.
2014, that was after Mike Brown’s death, right?
Did anything in particular spark that two-week period?
Just the visceral hate. You feel like a show-pony. You feel like a circus act. People saying stuff like, “We made you,” “Just rap for us, and stop talking about this other stuff,” “Deleting all your music.” And I’m like, “So I was only here for your personal entertainment. You never cared about me the person.”
Then I think to see leaders that I respected and looked up say really harsh things and say really tough things that I just would never imagine them saying caused some frustration. I think kinda some of the final straws were … it was definitely the silence from the pastors and leaders in evangelicalism. The silence was painful.
Then losing my cousin was really, really tough. That was a compounded piece of it. Then … I mean, I’ve been called “porch monkey,” “nigger” by professing Christians. And so you’re like, “I know that these are just broken people, Lord, but these are supposed to be your people.”
I didn’t want to have anything to do with anybody. I just couldn’t hear it. I didn’t want to hear anything to pacify my pain that had to do with Scripture or anything for a good two-week period of time. I just needed to step back and process what was all going on.
Were all of those comments coming from social media?
Some were social media, some were hate mail, some stuff delivered to my house — all kinds of stuff. I quit posting a lot of personal pictures up, so you notice there’s a season where you don’t see my wife and kids anymore on social media because of how visceral and mean it got. When they were calling my daughter out on her name…
Social media’s one aspect of it, but when people mail stuff to you… And then the silence, too. It was kinda all-encompassing.
Was the silence after one particular death the loudest?
I think it was just … clearly there’s division. Clearly you’re seeing person of color after person of color who’s a believer expressing this. It’s not something that’s happening in a vacuum.
If you don’t really have real relationships — and that’s probably what part of the problem with the church is, most of us don’t have genuine relationships with people outside of our ethnicity or our background. We have proximity but not real unity. You may work with them or are around them, but you don’t know their real problems.
Which I’m really grateful for Ben Washer, really grateful for another one of my friends Josh Robinson because these are white guys who I can go through the tunnel of chaos with, and we can wrestle through these hard conversations.
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What would help Christians have empathy toward what you and other minorities experience?
Genuine relationships. If you don’t need a person of color in your life, then there’s probably a problem. If there’s not somebody you need, right? If there’s no minority voices of authority in your life, if you’re a Christian and you can’t name any theologians that you read that are people of color, it might be a problem.
I would say you don’t really have real, diverse relationships or diverse needs in your circle, and so people become more projects than they become friends and brothers and sisters. I noticed that my white friends who I had deep relationships were really processing this with me. I noticed that my white friends who adopted children of color were really having to process this.
But if you really don’t have to deal … for instance, everything that’s happening with immigration: I don’t have to deal with immigration. If I don’t have any friends who have to deal with that, I can just turn the television off. But one of my closest friends, Propaganda’s married to Mexican-American woman whose family has to deal with immigration, so those burdens are now my burdens, and I have to process them because I know people now.
I think that’s what relationship does for you, and that’s what I would tell Christians. Proximity doesn’t mean you have diversity. Just because you got black people, Mexican people, gay people, whatever — just because you have them in your church or in your neighborhood doesn’t mean you’re bonding with them and you need them in your life.
What made you question your purpose, and how’d you find it again?
What happens is, there’s a cycle, and I think this happens with everybody. The cycle starts with vulnerability. You’re vulnerable. You confess your issue.
Your vulnerability, in a healthy relationship, is met with empathy, love, sympathy, care. Unhealthily, because I’m a public figure, people don’t see me as a person. They see me as a thing, so vulnerability is met with critique.
When your vulnerability is met with critique, you get defensive. When you’re defensive for too long, you get tired. When you get tired, you get weary. Your weariness causes you to make mistakes, causes you to doubt, causes you to believe that maybe everyone’s right.
You can only hear people tell you things about yourself for so long before you start to believe them or even ask yourself, “Is it true?” There was a season when I first … probably 2011, 2012, when people told me I was not saved so many times, I had to ask, “Am I saved?” I’m talking about people I don’t even know!
If it wasn’t for having real friends like, “Bro, shut up. What are you talking about?” … But I think that’s why I have sympathy to the Kanye’s of this world because I understand the amount of pressure and the amount of scrutiny and the amount of weirdness.
You don’t know what it’s like to have to go to the grocery store and you’re a thing, you’re an it, not a person. There’s just a different level of having to navigate life that I think the average person just can’t comprehend — they’ll never comprehend.
All that to say, questioning my purpose came about because that cycle got me so weary that I was like, “Nah, I don’t even know what I’m here to do. I don’t know what I’m here for.”
But getting it back was seeing the overwhelming amount of people who came to me saying, “Thank you for being vulnerable. Thank you for being transparent. Thank you for talking about your depression. I felt all of this.” And beginning to see a new group of people come to the shows now. Unintentionally, people from all walks of life started coming to the shows not because they love Jesus, but for various other reasons that they heard in “Can’t Stop Me Now” or my posts or my tweets.
Has there been a most memorable testimonial about “Can’t Stop Me Now”?
I remember a girl came to my VIP. She paid to come to VIP, and she said, “I don’t know you. I don’t anything about your music. I didn’t know you had old music. I just heard this song, ‘Can’t Stop Me Now’, and it broke me down, and I needed to be here.”
That’s powerful. And countless other responses — you just get them over and over and over again from people who need to hear it.
The thing that it’s done most I think, especially for both people of color and people who resonate with the sentiment of it, it’s given credibility to authentic Christianity for people who thought all we did was sit in our ivory tower and point our finger. Now they’re seeing that we’re not just finger pointers, but we are the hands and feet. We do put our hands to the plow, and what hurts them hurts us.
Photo courtesy of Joe Gonzalez.
Resources: The “Woke Church” series by Pastor Eric Mason, which Lecrae said impacted him in this interview, is available for free from Epiphany Fellowship church oniTunes.
Another influential friend who Lecrae named in this interview, Adam Thomason, published a “booklist for objective and intelligent conversations with the hopes for kingdom solutions” earlier this year called Woke University, which is available for free download here: “#WOKE University seeks to further the kingdom by equipping image bearers of God to serve great-er humanity, by understanding a deeper narrative of American history, teachings of Jesus, historical trends, solutions toward solidarity through reading, and interactions with @redrev.”