Grammy Award Winning Gospel Rapper Lecrae: ‘I’m as Much a Hip-Hop Artist as Jay-Z’

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    It’s not rare for an artist to own and operate his own label. It’s almost common that an artist with his own label has a roster of talent to boast about. What is rare is an independent label owner with no major distribution winning a Grammy!

    Self-made is not the only title Lecrae associated with the rapper. Other titles associated with Lecrae include: Lyricist, CEO, label owner, community activist, non-profit owner, MC and now, Grammy Award winner.

    All are amazing, but what’s more impressive is that he is not the typical rapper. Yes, he flows like one, dresses like one, even has the background and ‘street cred’ like one. The difference being, he is rapping about the Gospel. Preaching and uplifting instead of slinging and corrupting. This man of God has taken his talent in a direction that people would have turned their backs on years ago.

    The combination of Hip-Hop and Gospel, not too long ago, was not acceptable in either genre, but, with the likes of an artist like Lecrae, it is no longer the exception, it can one day be the rule.

    BlackEnterprise.com: First off, congratulations on your Grammy! How does it feel to be the first rapper to win a Grammy in the Best Gospel Album category?

    Lecrae: It’s amazing. It’s barrier shattering. Elvis who was a Rock and Roll artist won his Grammy’s in Gospel and now years later a Hip-Hop artist has done it. It’s good for music, good for people of faith.

    As an artist, was winning a Grammy a goal for you? What was/is your ultimate goal as far as being an artist?

    I’d hope any music artist’s goal is to make great music, to display the gift of creativity for others. If it is recognized and appreciated at the Grammy’s, I am grateful. As a businessman obviously I realize the endorsement and validation prestigious awards give to products as well.

    Tell us how you use online marketing to get to the masses since you don’t have the large reach of a major label and how does it affect the way your music gets heard/bought?

    Fortunately, the consumers have the liberty to scour the Internet for their products and ask their online peers for recommendations so word travels fast without the marketing arm of a major label. We just make sure to connect with the people at that grassroots level.

    Go back 20 years when Gospel and Hip-Hop didn’t seem like a marketable mix, what do you think would have had to be done, to get it the type of publicity it may now receive today? Would it have been possible?

    I don’t think it would have been palatable on a large scale. Hip-Hop was younger and the church was slow to understand the Hip-Hop generation and all it entailed. There would have had to have been a lot of education in the marketplace to help people see the two worlds could meet.

    How difficult (or easy) is it running your own record label as a successful recording artist? Do you have a team, how do you strategize as an executive and how do you strategize as an artist?

    I look at my label and myself as two different brands. Two distinct missions, that deserve different amounts of my time and expertise. My partner Ben and I have led well enough over the years to not have to micromanage the team. I’m still involved in regular meetings and quarterly planning for the label while still being an artist.

    How often do you have to lean and/or depend on your partner, Ben Washer?

    Ben and I function in unique roles. I think a good business needs leadership elements that no one person can embody. Networking, vision casting, implementation, and protecting the brand are all functions that no one person will master. Teams win games. The best player on the team is the team itself.

    I’m sure you consider yourself an artist before an executive, would you have made the same moves as you have if you were strictly an executive? Do you feel you may be less or more successful if you didn’t have that role as an artist?

    Being an artist gives me the advantage of getting field research on how my label can best serve others. I know the type of songs people want to hear while maintaining artistic integrity. Also, starting off as a regional niche artist forced me to have to learn to do the executive work myself.

    Giving back seems to be good for the community as well as for the soul, what compels you to give back and how do you do so?

    I think giving back is indicative of a sober and balanced perspective of earthly success. It keeps us humble and reminds us our work is a journey not a destination. You will burn out if you are self-consumed. I love doing panels any chance I can. I also started a non-profit that provides resources for urban communities. We also host a conference biannually to serve the mind, body, and soul.

    There is always talk of an artist who does secular music branching over to do Gospel, would you consider doing ‘regular’ Hip-Hop or do you even separate your music from what the industry terms Hip-Hop?

    I don’t see a distinction in terms of what I’m doing artistically. I’m as much a Hip-Hop artist as Jay-Z, but my faith in Jesus is strong and evident in my music. I’m sure it seems a bit perplexing to some but Hip-Hop has always been about freedom of speech and I’m speaking freely. Gospel has always been about Jesus and that’s me too. I’m what happens when Hip-Hop embraces morality and non traditional Christianity.

    We do live in a world that utilizes labels and your music is labeled Gospel, would you like to see what you do be taken out of the Gospel category and placed in what is deemed just Hip Hop?

    I think I exist in both worlds. There was a time when we’d never see a rapper/actor/producer like Will Smith or rapper/businessman like Jay-Z. I’m similar. It’s new to some. Many of us are the product of Hip-Hop but followers of Jesus. We bridge the gap. Hip-Hop and R&B did it, now both merge with pop music. It’s a new world.

    If you could change a perception about Gospel music, what would it be and why?

    Some people look at gospel and think traditionalism, tribalism, and sadly hypocritical. I’d love for those caricatures to be eliminated from the inside and outside.

    What can we look forward to from you and your camp?

    Tours, albums, and cultural impacting moves. Make sure to follow @reachrecords on twitter and @lecrae. Also, my latest album, “Gravity,” is in stores now.

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