Recording artist Lecrae teams with Morris Brown students for inmate hip-hop contest

Atlanta-based rapper Lecrae performed at the Tabernacle on Oct. 5, 2017, as part of his "All Things Work Together" tour. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Atlanta-based rapper Lecrae performed at the Tabernacle on Oct. 5, 2017, as part of his "All Things Work Together" tour. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC

Morris Brown College music students will partner with Atlanta recording artist Lecrae in a hip-hop writing contest among competitors who are behind bars.

More than 500 inmates from around the country participated. Once the students winnow the entries down to 25, Christian hip-hop artist and two-time Grammy Award winner Lecrae will make the final selection, record the work at the facility where the winner is incarcerated and release the track both inside and outside the prison system. Inmates who have access to music services and tablets provided by Aventiv Technologies will have free access, according to contest organizers.

The winning song also will be available through streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music.

“There are very few opportunities that give those locked up a sense of hope, and even fewer that encourage and recognize the level of musical talent that sits in our prison system,” Lecrae said in a statement. “This contest does both, which is why I’m proud to be involved.”

Aventiv Technologies, the parent company of JPay, provides communications and financial services to correctional facilities, is one of the sponsors for the event. Record producer Zaytoven provided three tracks. Contestants chose one and supplied a song title and lyrics.

My commitment to the incarcerated community is no secret. It's why I'm working with & Morris Brown College to elevate the musically talented with a 1st of its kind hip-hop contest. Check out the official rules: & press release:

Posted by Lecrae on Tuesday, August 17, 2021

“Our brothers and sisters in the incarcerated community are often forgotten, but with this project, I believe that Aventiv is committed to amplifying their voices in a bold and innovative way,” Lecrae said.

The lyrics must be positive, without references to violence, weapons, alcohol, drugs or illegal activity, contest rules state. No profanity is allowed.

Contest entries were accepted from Aug. 16 through Sept. 15. Judging begins Monday on the Morris Brown campus. The winner will be announced Oct. 19 and the track will be released next month, according to event organizers.

The winner can decide whether Lecrae will be recorded on the music track or not, contest rules state. There is no prize money for the individual whose entry is selected. JPay will present a check at the event for $10,000 to help build the music lab at Morris Brown and proceeds from the recording will be donated to a charity helping the corrections community in the winner’s state.

“I know I’ll be amazed by the submissions and create an incredible moment for one individual with the production and mass distribution of the winning track,” Lecrae said.

Despite the contest’s ties to Atlanta, Georgia prisons aren’t participating.

Department of Corrections in the following states allowed inmates to participate: California (California Institute for Women, California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility at Corcoran, Central California Women’s Facility, High Desert State Prison and Kern Valley State Prison); Idaho; Minnesota; New Jersey; New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision; North Dakota and the Dakota Women’s Correctional Rehab Center; and Washington.

It’s not the first writing contest for those behind bars.

PEN America sponsors a yearly writing contest open to anyone incarcerated in a federal, state, or county prison. Cash prizes up to $250 are awarded for poetry, fiction, drama, nonfiction and memoir. This year’s winners have not yet been announced.

The Prisons Foundation, based in Washington D.C., also provides an outlet for writers and artists serving time behind bars.

For 41-year-old Lecrae, the hip-hop contest is the latest effort to give back. During the coronavirus pandemic, he has volunteered time to install sinks in areas used by the homeless in Atlanta. He has also worked with Live Free USA to help distribute 50,000 masks to jails and prisons in Georgia.

A Texas native who relocated to Atlanta from Memphis in 2009, Lecrae is a Christian artist whose music has crossed over to the mainstream. The married father of three released his ninth studio album titled “Restoration” in August 2020. In October, his second book, “I Am Restored: How I Lost My Religion But Gained My Faith,” was released. Both the album and book followed a period of depression, he told The AJC.

“Whatever you’re dealing with in life, I want people to recognize that this is not the end,” Lecrae said. “There is always the opportunity for restoration or hope. Even if you can’t change the situation you’re in, you can be changed by the situation.”