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Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae spits rhymes with a message

WANT TO GO?

Winter Jam 2014

With Newsboys, Lecrae, Tenth Avenue North and more

WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Charleston Civic Center

COST: $10

INFO: 304-345-7469

 CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hip-hop comes from a place where poverty, violence and oppression are still a way of life, but one of the recurring themes in hip-hop music is that it's possible to rise even when you're at the bottom. Despite some of the profanity, there's still a lot of hope in the music, hope for something better.

Gospel hip-hop artist Lecrae said, "Hip-hop is music from a disenfranchised community. The first time somebody gets a dollar, it may really be the first time they've ever had a dollar, and so they make a noise about it."

This might be why so many rappers spend so much time and energy dropping rhymes about their cars, the amount of money they have in the bank and what they own. Some of them didn't come from much.

Lecrae, who performs Saturday at Winter Jam, at the Civic Center, understands the roots of the hip-hop community. He's part of it. He grew up immersed in the culture, and his story reads like half of the rappers in America. He was the son of a single mother, grew up in an unstable home and around rough people.

The 34-year-old laughed about it.

"I was never really a gangsta myself," he said. "I was always the guy next to the guy who was the real thing. I aspired to it, I think, but, mostly, I was just confused."

And without a strong male role model, Lecrae said he looked up to hip-hop performers like Tupac Shakur. But he had to sneak around to see their videos; his grandmother didn't approve.

Still, as best he could, he emulated them and took to rapping himself.

Lecrae went to church, but he didn't relate to the people he saw there. They were his grandmother's generation, and he didn't pay much attention to what he saw there.

Instead, he got involved in drugs, got into fights, got arrested and dropped out of college, but then had an abrupt conversion after a Christian conference in Dallas when he was about 19. He went back to school and got involved in charities and different ministries. A few years later, he launched his first album.

During the past 10 years, he's been a rising star in Christian hip-hop, and 2013 was a good year.

"I crafted some music and broke down some barriers," he said.

However, Lecrae acknowledged, there haven't been the same barriers to his kind of Christian music as there might be with others. Christian rock, for example, typically is marketed to a young, white audience, had to struggle for acceptance and is still denounced by some conservative Christian church groups.

"I've been mostly embraced," Lecrae said, "but we're reaching out to a young and urban demographic, a disenfranchised demographic. That isn't to say there haven't been obstacles. There are always obstacles, but we're spreading out."

Some of it might have to do with the culture of hip-hop not really being at odds with the gospel message. Individual rappers might step outside of what is considered biblically moral or rap about topics often on the wrong end of a Sunday morning sermon, but it's only a part of what the music is about.

Hip-hop is about giving voice to people with little power, and Lecrae embraces that part of the culture. His raps focus more on personal responsibility and seeking grace and forgiveness than on boundless wealth -- although he's not against financial success.

He stands against violence and for compassion.

Lecrae doesn't miss the old days and is quick to say he's got a pretty blessed life. In 2014, he said, he hopes to continue what he has been doing, hopefully get another record released by the summer and reach out to more people.

But he does keep up with some of his old friends, he said, some of the people he knew before he became a star in Christian rap. Many of them have changed, too.

"Yeah, I see them on Facebook," he said and laughed. "They've all gained like 20 pounds."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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