Hundreds of Hip Hop anthems have been dedicated to the topic of cash. Reach Records recording artist LeCrae, the latest rapper to make a surprising climb up the Billboard charts, raps about change.
Already the most recognizable name in the Christian Hip Hop subgenre, LeCrae has experienced greater mainstream success with the release of his last two albums, Rehab and Rehab: The Overdose. Both peaked in the Top 5 of Billboard’s Hip Hop charts and in theTtop 20 of the Billboard 200. The author of the smash hit, “Don’t Waste Your Life,” was also recently nominated for a Grammy, but a large percentage of Hip Hop fans may be new to the name and the movement.
With the present fascination about Hip Hop success stories, particularly in the face of the Recession, HipHopDX wanted to speak with LeCrae. The Houston, Texas-based emcee speaks both about what makes him different than your usual rapper, but also what makes him the same. Joined by Reach Records' Ben Washer, the two also explain how they're got strength in numbers - right there on Wednesday morning's charts.
HipHopDX: With the success of the albums, what’s been your response?
LeCrae: You know, it’s been encouraging, because it shows that there’s a voice that’s been lacking, specifically in Hip Hop. It shows that people are hungry to hear it, hungry to hear something articulated, subject matter talked about, and truth being spoken.
Obviously, we’re Christians, so we give answers to questions from a Christian perspective. It’s been really good. It’s been really exciting to see people respond to that. One, people have appreciated the quality of it, but two, people appreciate it of the content. So it’s been good.
DX: Ben, with LeCrae’s success, does it mean that Christian Hip Hop finally has a lane to run in within the market? Being the head of Reach Records with a label full of talented artists, I am curious to see how you would answer that question.
Ben Washer: I think there’s a marketplace. I think there always has been, actually. There’s been Christian hip-hoppers that have done well sales-wise in the past. I think the Lord is doing something special with LeCrae right now, and the rest of the guys on our label.
We’re seeing Trip Lee, Tedashii, those guys, I think a lot of great things for them as far as exposure and in the marketplace. I think like there’s a need like LeCrae was saying, people are hungry for a different voice in Hip Hop. So we’re excited to point to Jesus with the platform we have, so success for us just means more stuff to steward and more opportunity to point people to Jesus.
DX: LeCrae, talk a little bit about the creative process. How did you come up with the idea for the Rehab album?
LeCrae: Every album I approach I want to approach with a sincerity and a sense of authenticity. You know a lot of people think Christians are just happy-go-lucky people who are always skipping and smiling and [using a nerdy voice] "We love everything, we love everybody." They think we don’t have any problems, that we’re not realists and we don’t see the real world.
Rehab was me painting a picture of, "I do have joy and I am happy, but it’s not based off my circumstances." If you want to be honest, my circumstances at the time sucked. I really didn’t like what life was handing me. I was very conscious of the fact this world was fractured, that it was messed up, and that not only did the world need help and rehabilitation, but so did I.
And I just wanted to be authentic and communicate from that place and saying, "You know man, there is hope." And even though I’m struggling and other people are struggling, there’s hope, and it’s not an ambiguous hope that, "Aww, things will get better," but a real hope people can hold on to.
And as a Christian, we believe that hope is found in Jesus. It sounds cliché, but that’s something we’ve realized and we want to share with the world. So that’s how Rehab came about. It had nothing do with other artists putting out albums that had similar concepts and titles, It’s just from a real place.
DX: What’s surprised you the most about how the albums have been received?
LeCrae: I think this go-round it’s been the mainstream Hip Hop community has embraced it. and given it a, "I appreciate what he’s doing," or "Dude can spit," just that recognition. That’s what we are. We’re products of Hip Hop culture. We’re just articulating things from a different worldview.
That’s just been the most encouraging and surprising thing, having conversations with people like Lupe Fiasco, somebody told me that he recommended they pick up my project. [Or] Malice from Clipse, just being able to build a relationship with him and him being appreciative of what I’m doing, to HipHopDX, and just the looks I’ve gotten from so many other places, it’s been encouraging and surprising.
DX: Ben, talk a little about Reach as a brand. How do you decide who you produce, how you produce and how you market those individuals?
Ben Washer: I think our perspective isn’t really industry first. It’s people first. Our heart has always been for the people listening to our stuff or coming to the concerts. We want to be able to change their worldview and open their eyes the way they see the world, the way they see themselves, the way they see God, we want that to be a Biblical lens that they see that through.
We see ourselves as the music of a movement. LeCrae’s success kinda came out of nowhere for a lot of people. We’ve been around for seven years. We’ve just always tried to connect with people. That’s resulted in success, not really what we sought in the first place, but I don’t think our focus on success from the outset, and it still isn’t. Our focus is on the hearts of the people we’re trying to reach.
There’s no formula to it for success for us. We’re obviously devoted to authentic hip-hop, quality and good music. And we want skill to be there, but our ultimate aim is that the heart would change, not simply that we just would get a plaque.
DX: Rebel was an incredible album, too, but I see as a Hip Hop fan a marked difference between the level of influence between Rebel and the two Rehab albums.
Ben Washer: As a label, we like to see artist develop. That’s just what your seeing with LeCrae‘s stuff. We started with [his first album] Real Talk and LeCrae produced half of the beats, and our budget was really small. We were able to expand as time went on and work with other producers that were great.
You’re just seeing growth from all our artists. We’re willing to stick with them through that growth. Hopefully, we’re always getting better and the artists are getting better at their craft. We take that seriously.
DX: LeCrae, I’ve heard you talk about stewarding your platform. As your influence continues to increase, what’s that thought process like for you?
LeCrae: At the end of the day, it’s making the most of what’s in front of you, but constantly seeking wisdom. Nothing is guaranteed. Anybody can tell you that. There’s no formula for guaranteed something. That’s what it comes down to for me is just a strong dependence, a strong sense of, "God, you’re going to have to give me wisdom."
And that the end of the day, it’s about not believing your own press clippings. Because what you become what everybody has deemed a celebrity, I think that’s when the monster comes out. That’s when you start thinking that you’re something that you’re not. You start thinking the world centers around you. And if everything gets focused on me, the mission gets very small. It’s no longer about changing the world and impacting the hearts of people. It becomes about how to get everybody to think I’m awesome.
DX: You just came out with two albums. For people who are LeCrae fans, what can they expect next?
LeCrae: What people can look forward to from me is just me being a representative of the crew, my whole crew the 1-1-6 [taken from Romans 1:16]. You got a compilation album called, Man Up, with all the artists from Reach Records. We’re a movement. I’m just one person in a movement. I think if people start checking out what I’m doing, they will get real excited about this whole movement that we’re presenting.
DX: I know there a lot of people checking the Top 10 Hip Hop albums on iTunes and saying, “Who is this dude LeCrae, and what is he doing on this list?” What would you want the DX audience to know?
LeCrae: Number one, I would want them to question why the music is up there and why people are reaching for it. I would want them to say, "Hmm, I wonder what this is?" And then just investigate. And then investigate it more from a musical perspective. Just say, "Man, is it good music? Can I listen to this?" And I say that to all the deejays, radio stations, so on and so forth, I say, "Is it good, regardless of the content?"
I think people say, "Oh, it’s religious. I’m not going to play it." Everything on the radio is religious, whether they’re preaching the gospel of money, sex or weed, you know you’re still saying this will satisfy you. All we’re saying is we found a different source of satisfaction.
Nobody complains with Lupe being Muslim or people being irreligious, but it’s just when someone is communicating and talking about God consistently, people raise their eyebrows. So one, I would just say, ‘Is it quality music?’
Then I would say, "If it is [quality music] and people are resonating with it, why is that?" I think that’s because people who hear it have to deal with real-life issues. And when you deal with real-life issues, you’re going to how to deal with your own life, your own heart and your own reality. Everybody’s not in the club poppin’ bottles smoking on the greenest of weed. It’s real-life issues going on, and people have to address and talk about. That’s what I hope people will do when they listen.
DX: Trip Lee had Between Two Worlds. DJ Official dropped Entermission. Sho Baraka had his Lions and Liars project and Tedashii had the Identity Crisis. Ben, talk about the success of the Reach artists as a whole lately.
Ben Washer: It’s been exciting. I think what you’re seeing is the outcome of guys that have lived it off the stage. There’s an authenticity with all these guys. Not only are they good at their craft, they’re the real deal away from the mic. They’re not a bunch of hypocrites. They’re all trying to love their families. They’re all trying to please the Lord with their life. They’re all in a community. I think you’re seeing a crew of guys that have a like-minded passion, and that’s to change people’s hearts. It’s a powerful thing that they’ve gotten together. I’ve always seen myself as a servant to their platform. It’s been exciting over the years to watch it grow and watch more and more people receive it.”
DX: Sonically, why do you Reach’s music is so appealing?
Ben Washer: They know good music. They love good music, too. They’re checking out all different genres of music. It comes out when they make music. Everybody has a little different flavor. They are passionate to making good art. They take their projects seriously. They want them to be excellent.
DX: Any final thoughts?
LeCrae: The only thing I would add is that we’re a movement. This isn’t some fly-by-night group of dudes rapping to sell records. We really are a literal movement. If we weren’t doing music, we’d still be trying to change communities and change people’s world by communicating who Jesus is.
And every artist on the label, none of them are my Sideshow Bobs. They’re all incredible artists in their own right. None of them live in my shadow. It just so happens I was the one that was able to jump out there in a bigger way thus far, but I think if people investigate they’ll see there’s a richness and an incredible artistry with each one of the artists on the label.