Lecrae – Church Clothes 3


Title: Church Clothes 3

Artist: Lecrae

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Reach Records

Release date: January 15, 2016


Lecrae has never been one to shy away from controversy, from criticizing rappers who glorify violence on his Grammy-winning Gravity to his personal story about abortion on his last album Anomaly. His latest project, Church Clothes 3 (often abbreviated CC3) is no different. He dropped the ten-track album without warning on January 15, and it fully embraces racial politics in a new way for Lecrae while retaining his characteristic Christian messages.

The first two Church Clothes mixtapes were produced by Don Cannon (50 Cent, Ludacris), and CC3 was produced by S1 (Kanye West, Jay-Z). All three have excellent production with beats that sound typical of what one hears from mainstream hip hop. CC3 reached the number one slot on Billboard’s Rap/Hip-Hop Album charts within a week of being released, showcasing Lecrae’s tendency to cross genre boundaries despite being known as a gospel rapper.

Central to the album and its political messages is the short film that was released simultaneously, featuring the songs “It Is What It Is,” “Gangland,” “Déjà Vu,” and “Misconceptions 3.” The video follows a young gang member who gets shot:

The opening track, “Freedom,” frames the concept through two lenses: freedom as spiritual salvation and freedom from racial injustice. The hook, sung by Dallas vocalist N’dambi, is smooth soul and claims freedom as a mindset. The song samples a gospel chorus in the background, which is chopped up in the verses, creating holy syncopation. There are clear influences of Kendrick Lamar’s acclaimed To Pimp A Butterfly throughout the entitle album and video, but this song includes a direct reference to the Lamar’s “King Kunta.”

Gangland,” featuring Propaganda, is the most overtly political song on CC3. Referencing the New Jim Crow and the government’s role in allowing drugs to permeate African American communities, the track includes spoken narration in between verses that criticize the criminal justice system and explain the origins of gangs in the United States. Maybe most controversial to Lecrae’s white, Christian fan base may be the lyrics in Propaganda’s verse: “When American churches scuff they Toms on our brother’s dead bodies / As they march to stop gay marriage / We had issues with Planned Parenthood too / We just cared about black lives outside the womb just as much as in.”

The song “Can’t Do You,” featuring the rapper E-40, brushes off haters, encouraging the listener to “do you.” It’s backed by a standard hand-clapping beat and a R&B chorus sung by Drew Allen. Another standout track is “Misconceptions 3,” featuring John Givez, JGivens & Jackie Hill Perry. As the title indicates, it is the third in a series of tracks about misconceptions that appear on the first two Church Clothes albums. The beat is fast and hard, and indiscriminate chanting in the background helps moves the song forward. Lecrae lets these rappers shine on the track, with fast flows and witty lyrics such as “They shocked to see us like Donald Trump up in a taqueria.”

Lecrae, who marched with #BlackLivesMatter protestors in Atlanta last year, recently said on CNN that he wants to “educate and help” people who don’t see the reality of racism in the United States. Church Clothes 3 certainly makes a bold step in that direction, as Lecrae explains the complexities of racism, unashamedly continuing to change the way people view the world.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Turn Up My Life

Title: Turn Up My Life
Artist: Sho Baraka
Label: Reach Records
Catalog No.: 8 29569 80442 9
Date: 2007

Turn My Life Up is the first Reach Records release by Sho Baraka. Canadian-born and California-raised, Sho Baraka grew up during the peak of the gangsta rap era and began rapping, himself. After witnessing the troublesome effects gang life had on his close friends, Sho Baraka turned his life in a new direction and attended Tuskegee University where he became a Christian. There, he continued rapping but changed his lyrical content to mesh with his newfound spirituality.

In terms of lyrical content, the four albums reviewed in this issue (by Sho Baraka, FLAME, Phanatik and shai linne) are all laced with countless Biblical, theological, and ecclesial references. The rappers, in fact, cite many of these Biblical allusions verbally by noting the Biblical book, chapter, and verse. Along with using Biblical language in these citations, each artist conveys general Biblical themes in colloquial and vernacular language. Sho Baraka, while referencing many Biblical verses, has a particular aptitude for incorporating secular references to convey images of Christianity and seems to be the most invested in making his theological perspectives understandable to a general audience. Through a plethora of secular references (to movies, music, and current events), Baraka expresses ways for people to overcome personal trials and “exalt God to his proper place” (from “Slow it Down”) and ultimately, to revel in the goodness of God. In alluding to the death of Jesus, Baraka says that he “died harder than Bruce Willis” (from “100”).

One of the more soulful, R&B inspired tracks on the album is “Turn My Life Up” which features production techniques reminiscent of The Neptunes, and melodic singing by guest artists during the choruses. “Rebuild the City” employs a vocal production technique achieved through the manipulation vocal effects that has recently been popularized by artists such as T-Pain.

In “Overrated,” Sho Baraka raps, “The youngest quote 50 Cent but can’t count to fifty cents” and screams the chorus: “The money / the power / the fame / the lies and the game / it’s all / it’s all / it’s all / overrated.” This track can be compared to FLAME’s “It’s All Gon’ Pass,” where he attacks worldly materialism by rapping, “you can have it all / the cars and the cash / it ain’t gonna mean nothing when the Lord comes back.” This firm critique against materialism and references to hip-hop culture, in general, are consistent threads between each artist’s lyrics.

Posted by Mike Lee