Almost a decade ago, one of my college students told me I should be checking out Lecrae’s music. A fan of rock, rap, hip-hop, and R&B, I finally got around to listening to the album I’d been referred to; within a month, I owned Lecrae’s back catalogue. His gritty realism and heartfelt exploration of faith were exactly what I needed; his music became the avenue by which I’d come to love Trip Lee, Tedashii, Andy Mineo, and others. But Lecrae has been the “godfather” of gospel-representing rap for me for over a decade, even as he proved the rare musician who could cross over from the “Christian market” to the mainstream.
Then, Lecrae showed up in the satire Believe Me, and at places like The Grammys and Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show. And then came the autobiography, Unashamed. Would it prove to cement all of the things I thought about this poet/theologian, or would it be another unfortunate speed bump that proved again how knowing more about a celebrity doesn’t mean you appreciate them more?
Unashamed shares with heartfelt abandon the struggles and successes of the main face of Reach Records and the 116 Clique. While Lecrae’s upbringing was certainly rough – his father abandoned their family and he grew up in a violent, gang-infused community, we can see the way that every pitfall and temptation has made Lecrae who he is today.
From the gang life, Lecrae learned about drugs and sex, further tainted by the abuse he experienced at the hands of others; from his college experience, his involvement in those vices further hardened. But in the background, the core beliefs of the Christian gospel of Jesus Christ kept whispering through loved ones and friends.
Lecrae’s cycle from good kid to gang member to college young adult all plays out here, told simply and without either “tough guy embellishment” or whitewashed sanitation. The impact of an absentee father, of sexual abuse, of drugs and violence all get their appropriate time here – but the gospel still shines brighter. While Lecrae majored in Pharisaism for a period, we can see how both Lecrae’s struggles in and out of church have made him the ambassador through music that he is.
While others may choose to emulate him – or even idolize him – Lecrae remains honest about his own struggles with fame and fortune. One passage toward the end of the book stuck out to me as a reminder that the stage comes with temptations, but Lecrae continues to filter it all through the gospel: “As a follower of Jesus, I have to remember that success is not what I’ve done compared with what others have done. Success is what I’ve done compared wit what God has called me to do.” Whether you dig his music or not, there is only one Lecrae, and Unashamed highlights how he chooses to remain loyal to his call.
Whatever may come, Lecrae’s staunch belief in Jesus shines through, and he speaks with the heart of Paul when he says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).