At different moments, Lecrae's flow is akin to Kanye West's spiritual bombast, J. Cole's longform narrative storytelling, and Kendrick Lamar's innocent-in-Gomorrah mystique. With these tools and a Christian message, the Houston rapper who recently topped the Billboard charts with his latest, Anomaly, engaged a packed crowd Friday at Skyway Theatre.
Lecrae also sounded remarkably Houston, bending words and smoothing phrases to give richness to each line. Accompanied by a live band and a big-budget cinematic stage show, the message-heavy hip-hop played out verbally and visually, and won over the all-ages crowd.
Slideshow: Lecrae Packs Skyway Theatre
"Is there anyone in this building who knows not to fear death?" Promote said later to huge cheers. Precisely as anthemic and feel-good as traditional dubstep but with just enough explicit references to the existence of a God to discourage heathens, his set felt like a standard Friday night rap show, save the sobriety. Sonically run-of-the-mill, lyrical allusions to Christianity continually appeared and intentionally drew a line in the sand regarding audience. No one here was a non-believer, and they all knew all the words.
Positive, inspirational, and corny in all the ways clean rap can be, Mineo's songs were also hard in all the ways street rap can be. He hit his stride when the necessary Christian content was either embedded more subtly (the blood of Christ reference "Red wine on everything" from "Paisano's Wylin" might as well be a Rick Ross line) or masked by the quickness of his rapping, as the one-note topicality felt thin at moments, but his sense of elevated purpose underneath everything did make for unique stage energy.
Lecrae then decried modern music as vapid with his lead single "Nuthin," aping the bass lilt of "I Got 5 On It" and riding the groove effectively. It proved a decent party song, touting that Lecrae's saved versions of club records go off similarly even with the explicit messaging.
The recurring Christian themes were the underpinning that gave certain songs depth but detracted from others.
The need to return to religious rhetoric hurt what could have been more universally understood songs of personal growth, as the songs themselves had the aesthetic qualities to exist outside a confined moral stance. Lines from Lecrae's duet with singer J. Paul "Just Like You" get at something profound about the human condition sent through a Christian lens ("Gotta a little son now and he do whatever I do/ But it's something deep inside you that tell it's gotta be more than doing what other guys do"). But then the climactic belt of "...AND IN STEPPED JESUS!!!" during the third verse was more than a little heavy-handed.
And yet, these were the biggest moments for people, who glommed onto the gigantic ovations because they shared that feeling with the man onstage. The reaction depended on one's own personal relationship with mortality, a headspace far heavier than I typically engage with while trying to dance.
He returned to the stage for "I'm Turnt," the party song about not partying, which features the only time I've heard a rapper spit lines about politely turning down offers to get twerked on. He later brought Andy Mineo back onstage for an encore of "Say I Won't" and the piously dripped out "Jesus Musik."
For how often Christian themes bleed subtly into rap music, Lecrae deserves some real credit for pushing it front and center while maintaining a credibly mainstream sound. I half-expected poorly written songs that used Christ as a writing crutch, but Lecrae delivered a standout performance. The music wasn't really for me (it was spelled out in the music who the expected listeners are) but it really grabbed the rest of the audience in a visibly meaningful way.
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