BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Since he released his first album and founded Reach Records in 2004, Lecrae’s life looks like this: seven albums, three mixtapes, seven Dove Awards, two Soul Train Awards, two Grammy Awards, one Billboard Award, one memoir and one honorary doctorate of music from Canada Christian College.
In the midst of racking up accolades and working relentlessly as one of the foremost Christian rappers in music, the Texas transplant has become a bit of a public mentor and spiritual adviser.
While his intelligent, thought-provoking music wins awards, sells hundreds of thousands of copies (2014’s “Anomaly” was recently certified gold, with sales of more than 500,000) and allows him mainstream spotlights such as a performance on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon,” Lecrae remains humble.
At the sleek, sprawling Northside Drive campus of Reach Records — home to half a dozen artists, including Lecrae, who also recently signed a partnership with Columbia Records — the musician-author-record executive plops his lanky, chiseled frame into a studio chair and lasers his focus.
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He’s an introvert by nature, but anyone who has experienced his live shows knows of the visceral power he unleashes onstage.
On this fall day, though, Lecrae is happy to talk — soft-spoken but always candid — about his upcoming album and new music, his faith and his struggles with the fame that continues to escalate.
Q: You’ve been in Atlanta about eight years now. What keeps you here?
A: Atlanta is an amazing city. But it’s full, so don’t move here! (Laughs) It’s rich in culture, in history. The music scene still thrives here. Within the South, it’s the major metropolitan city people want to be in. For me, it’s L.A., New York and Atlanta and I choose Atlanta. You can rest here, breathe and get into the mix of city culture if you want to.
Q: Earlier this year, you signed with Columbia Records. How does that work with your Reach Records label?
A: It’s a partnership with Reach. We haven’t given up any creative control, but we understood they had a broader reach, no pun intended. We wanted our music to be carried into the mainstream without our energy having to be focused on that. They can service a broader demo for us … they take care of tastemakers and they don’t just throw music out there. … They want a healthy relationship and don’t want to disturb what we’ve spent years establishing.
Q: And Reach is still rolling along with six artists on the label (Lecrae, Andy Mineo, KB, Gawvi, Tedashii and Trip Lee).
A: That was one of the primary reasons for the relationship with Columbia. It took the pressure off my staff to manage the massive thing that was becoming Lecrae and focus our energy on the other artists here. They can give directives when it pertains to me to give to Columbia to execute. Everyone (on Reach) is working on new music. I get excited about being a visionary; I’m always scouting for new artists.
Q: What can you tell us about your new album?
A: It will be out early 2017 (first quarter). There’s no name yet. I’m still processing. It’s definitely thematic. There’s a reoccurring theme of struggle, embracing the struggle, finding grace in the middle of it, and hopefulness through all of it. Whereas “Anomaly” was me saying I’m an outsider and I’m telling people that, this album is me just fleshing it out. I’m not going to convince you of it, I’m going to be it.
Q: You’ve worked with everyone from Big K.R.I.T. to For King and Country on your past albums. Who can we expect on this one?
A: I’ve been in studio with a lot of people — we recorded a lot of it here and some in L.A. — from Tori Kelly to Killer Mike to Tye Tribbett — but it had to be something that made sense and was authentic to the project. You’ll get to see every aspect of who I am.
Q: Who can you confirm will be on the album?
A: I can confirm Tori Kelly.
Q: How did you guys meet?
A: She’s a great friend. I look at her like a little sister. She was a fan of the music and we talked via social media and I came out to her concert and established a rapport. She’s very devout in her faith and an incredible artist. My wife (Darragh) and I kind of put our arms around her and said we’re here to help you in any way we can.
Q: You’ve released one song from the album, “Can’t Stop Me Now,” which is pretty intense. Tell me about it.
A: “Can’t Stop Me Now” is birthed out of a journal entry, a song that I did just needing to express what was going on in my life. Sometimes you make songs for an album, and sometimes you write songs because you need to express yourself. I felt the freedom to express. When I did “Can’t Stop,” it was the tail end of the album. The song articulates my pain, my struggle, my humanity, me being depressed over scrutiny, loss of life, being misunderstood in so many ways. It drove me to depression and to doubt faith as well, but the resolve is having to climb out of that hole and how faithful God was during that time.
Q: You recently went on tour for a few weeks, but there was no Atlanta date on there.
A: I want to make sure I come back to Atlanta after the album is done and give them the full experience. Not that all of those other cities aren’t special, but Atlanta is home. … I’m working out some new elements for the live show. I’ll turn right back around when the album comes out.
Q: Earlier this year, you released the memoir, “Unashamed.” Was it cathartic to write a book?
A: I loved the process. I enjoyed it probably more than working on an album.
A: There’s more room to express. I like to express things and the book lets you say, “I have a whole chapter to get this off my chest.”
Q: Do you think you have a second one in you?
A: I do. But what do we want to talk about (in volume two)? I haven’t seen enough life to have an autobiography yet. I was thinking maybe daddy issues or stuff like that.
Q: How old are your kids now?
A: They’re 9, 7 and 5. This is what we do — we wake up early (laughs).
Q: What do you and the family like to do when you’re in town?
A: We used to live closer to downtown. I’m a big city guy, so I go to all the festivals. I go to the Beltline all the time. But now, living further out (Lecrae lives about 10 minutes from the Northside Drive studio), it’s like, do I want to get on the highway? You have to plan what you want to do. I haven’t had time to do much because of work this year, but the kids like the children’s museum, Fernbank. I know all of the kids spots with the parks and jungle gyms. My wife is a homebody. You give her Netflix and she’s good. I’m the one who likes to go out and explore new places. I love exploring.
Q: Has the most difficult thing been adjusting to fame?
A: I’m not a fan of fame, I can’t lie to you. I’m glad I’m more selectively recognizable. If I were like …
Q: Justin Bieber?
A: Oh, wow, I would crumble up and die inside. I’m too introverted for that — and he is too! There’s no way. No. Way. You become not human (to people). Sports figures get it the worst probably, because every night they either fail or succeed and have to deal with that onslaught every night. With an artist, at least, it’s selective times.