On May 10, 2012 hip hop artist and producer Lecrae Moore took a huge step for Christian rap MC’s. His first mixtape, Church Clothes, debuted that day, and not only achieved wild success, but moved Lecrae from the behind the walls of the “Christian rapper” box and into the eyes of mainstream hip hop. Church Clothes reached over 100,000 downloads in less than 48 hours and has recently eclipsed 500,000 downloads on DatPiff.com. The Houston native then followed by releasing his sixth studio album, Gravity, which debuted at no. 3 on the Billboard 200 and topped Christian, gospel, rap, and iTunes charts alike, further cementing Lecrae into the realm of the mainstream.
“What it’s done,” Lecrae said of Gravity in an interview on a Sway 45 radio show, “is make people take me serious as an artist, serious as an MC. The biggest thing is people return your phone calls.”
Now, over a year later, Lecrae has released volume two of his hugely successful mixtape series. Church Clothes 2 dropped on November 7th and reached #2 on the iTunes top albums chart despite a legal free version being released online. It surpassed 60,000 downloads in under 12 hours and there is no limit to how many more it could receive.
Many of the tracks on the mixtape – while maybe not quite being radio-friendly or easily accessible – exhibit a level of sound quality that Lecrae has never reached before. Each song is crisp and clear, especially for a mixtape. But the most noteworthy thing about Church Clothes 2 as a whole is its pace. The vast majority of the songs are filled with upbeat drum kicks and lightning quick snares. Lyrics are dealt at rapid fire (particularly Andy Mineo’s verse on “The Fever” and Lecrae’s on “Sell Out”) through much of the production, so much so that multiple listens are a must if one hopes to catch the meaning behind every verse. The presence of so many speedy tracks on Church Clothes 2 means that the more laid-back beats stand out above the rest and truly shine when the tape finally gives its listeners a chance to breathe. Tracks like “Was It Worth It,” and “Hang On” deliver some of the most powerful messages on the mixtape with the slowest hand claps and leisurely rhythms. “Was It Worth It” wrestles with the difficulties faced by children who grew up neglected by their father, while in “Hang On” Lecrae admits his own weaknesses and acknowledges his struggles through life’s many trials. Other noteworthy tracks include “The Fever,” which carries loose, Rastafarian-type echoes of earlier Lecrae songs like “Violence” and “Black Rose,” while “I’m Turnt” is certainly the banger of the tape and is guaranteed to have you rolling down your windows and turning up the bass.
Lecrae doesn’t do it all on his own, though. Hooks and verses from numerous Christian and secular rappers alike are sprinkled over Church Clothes 2, and each one is effective in its own way. Smooth vocals from Kevin Ross, Daniel Daley, Crystal Nicole, Christon Gray (of W.L.A.K.), and Novel mostly make up the choruses of the slower tracks. They give the listener time to bob their head and reflect on the powerful verses that preceded, or, in the case of Criston Gray, calm down a song whose beat is all over the place (in a good way). The Christian artist’s features on Church Clothes 2 make strong showings. Derek Minor and W.L.A.K. stand out in particular with some of the most thought-provoking lyrics, and their verses contribute to the message of each track, reinforcing and adding to the ideas of their particular song. But Lecrae doesn’t hesitate to mix it up with secular artists as well. B.o.B hops on “Round of Applause” and delivers a verse that probably won’t be earning him any standing ovations, but does the job well enough. Paul Wall’s deep voice and thick accent dovetail perfectly with the relaxed beat of “Let it Whip” and he manages what many secular rap artists fail at: to stay on topic.
As enthralling as each catchy hook and trippy base combination may sound, there’s more to Church Clothes 2 than just the melodies. The message behind the music is far more important and influential than any 808 drum. But be warned, the lyrics here may not exactly be 100% biblical doctrine like one might expect. Church Clothes 2 is a free mixtape released online. Its primary listeners will be the hardcore hip hop fans, the underground ones who prefer a clever metaphor over a catchy beat. Lecrae’s lyrics aren’t just worship and praise oriented here because his target audience wouldn’t be able to relate to that. A free mixtape release allows Lecrae to aim at a much more niched audience; an audience that hails from the hood, struggles on the streets, and listeners that need a new kind of message to consume in their hip hop. Therefore, the verses here focus more on lifestyle than the crucifixion. Lecrae’s 16s tell of how he lives his life, and intentionally take the time to point out how they oppose the generally accepted lifestyles of most secular rap artists. ‘Crae claims that we should “tell Mary (marijuana) and Molly (ecstasy) I don’t need ‘em to party,” and his entire third verse on “Round of Applause” is about a woman who stopped stripping, found God, and got her life back on track because of it. He’s offered an alternative to every model of behavior claimed by the secular, and he juxtaposes the accepted customs of his listeners with ideas and stories of a healthier lifestyle, one found through God. Lecrae deals with real life at every corner of Church Clothes 2 and those that live in the run-down cul-de-sacs will find the lyrics more relatable than those in the gated-neighborhoods.
“I think when you download Church Clothes 2 and you sit with it, I want you to be able to experience a soundtrack to life,” said Lecrae in an interview with MTV. “Not just about hearing the good, the bad, and the ugly, but hearing how all the good, the bad, and the ugly work together for the good.”
Church Clothes 2 carries a hugely positive message, and will surely be long-lasting in the minds of his listeners because of its themes and undertones. The beats may not land a spot on the Billboard charts, but they will reach the ears of the hip hop enthusiast. Lecrae’s lyrics are deep and inspired by the Spirit, and they have the potential to change lives and minds everywhere. And it’s all for free? How could you pass that up?