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Lecrae at Skyway Theatre, 10/24/14

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Lecrae
with Andy Mineo and DJ Promote
Skyway Theatre, Minneapolis
Friday, October 24, 2014

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.

See also:
Slideshow: Lecrae Packs Skyway Theatre

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"I love the Mall of America, that's all I got to say," proclaimed DJ Promote amid the sounds of a genre foreign to me prior to Friday, Christian dubstep. In the vein of super-positive drop-heavy Molly music, the drug of choice here instead is Jesus.

"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.

Andy Mineo entered with a hybridized flow that kept pace with most quasi-trap. He was an impressive stage performer, aided of course by an exceptional video backdrop and a legion of fans in the audience. Generic but competent, the rapidfire chop-raps and 808s were exactly in place to compete with music that talks about drugs instead of the Eucharist.

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. 

Between sets, the crowd watched ads for Grand Canyon University, a private Christian school that had a booth in the bar area. Flashes of past presidents, the crack epidemic, and Lecrae's birth in Houston hit the screen shortly afterward, segueing into opener "Welcome to America," a political diatribe somewhat reminiscent of the political work of Killer Mike or Brother Ali -- albeit aimed more at cultural values than radical movement.

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.

Lecrae's backstory was unveiled via narration and video clips, detailing moving away from a sinful life by unveiling a dark past and presenting a hopeful future. Not unlike the average tales of overcoming struggle, the specter of death still lingered ominously in even the most optimistic songs. The repentant road to salvation is a topic dealt with in many forms of rap, but the specifically God-based moralizing took uncomplicated stances on topics like drugs, abortion, and personal responsibility that expected you to agree with Lecrae ahead of time.

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. 
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The final chapter of Lecrae's story unfolded within the crowd from a balcony platform that shot smoke on either side of the proselytizing rapper. The audience hung on his every word, and turnt up with him as he shouted his praises to the Lord.

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.

Personal Bias: I am a humanist who was raised Catholic.

The Crowd: The spokesman for Grand Canyon University got a lot cheers when he asked if there were any high school juniors and seniors in the audience, though it seemed quite an age range throughout. One of the more racially diverse hip-hop shows I'd seen in some time.  

Overheard in the Crowd: "It is getting turnt though, those girls in the front are going crazy!"

Random Notebook Dump: The visuals would've gone great with psychedelics. 

Setlist:

Welcome to America
Nuthin
Outsiders
Fear
Dirty Water
Good, Bad, Ugly
Wish
Just Like You
Give In
All I Need Is You
My Whole Life Changed
I'm Turnt
Tell The World

Encore: 
Jesus Musik
Say I Won't

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