In the following interview, Lecrae — a self-professed “social anthropologist” — talks about transparency (“People don’t get healed unless they can see your scars”), working with everyone from Tori Kelly to Hit-Boy and fighting genre labels.
Why did you sign with Columbia?
Although my last album Anomaly went gold, we kind of felt like we’d capped out as an independent label in terms of our capabilities of reaching a broader audience internationally. We were looking for some strategic partnerships for more exposure. Columbia has proven to be a timeless label — one that would take care of our brand and still allow us to have creative control, a voice. They’ve taken care of huge brands like Adele, Beyoncé and Pharrell. So for us, it made sense to partner with them.
The new single is very raw yet uplifting. What’s the story behind its genesis?
It started with a journal entry that I then wanted to bring to fruition as a song. It wasn’t intended to be a single. But when people put their ears to it, they said man, people need to hear this perspective. It’s me being raw, real and as transparent as I can be. The loss of lives from Michael Brown and Eric Garner to Tamir Rice and Philando Castile … these men and boys represented people who could be my family: nephews, cousins, brothers. So it grieved me deeply. I found that when I spoke about this, there was a large contingent of people with whom I may have shared similar beliefs in terms of faith. But they were completely on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of sharing my grief for the loss of these lives.
So they lashed out and accused me of being political. That drove me to a place of deep despair and depression. What I also found is that a lot of us are wrestling with PTSD. You can’t be exposed to that much death and injustice and walk around unscathed. Layer that on top of losing my cousin to a tragic accident to my DJ passing away to close friends of the family betraying me. All of that culminated in a dark place where I said “God, I don’t know how I feel about any of this right now. And if you’re here, I don’t hear you, see you or feel you.” “Can’t Stop Me Now” was birthed out of that. I’m still obviously affected by it all. But the perspective I have now is, I’ve got to continue moving forward. I can’t let this doubt and despair stop me from speaking out; there’s a legacy to be kept up. People have sacrificed their lives for folks like me to continue pressing on.
And that’s the direction of your new album?
Yes, it is and I’m about 90% done. The album is definitely a journey of all of these emotions, of me being fully aware and embracing my identity. My last album was me saying “hey guys, I need to be free to be me.” It was like a statement. And this album is actually manifestation of that. It’s me making music as authentically as I possibly can.
People don’t get healed unless they can see your scars. People hide their wounds and won’t get help because they’re scared. But I’m saying “look man, I’m scarred up.” I’m going to show my scars so you all can look at them and say wow, healing is real. I’m grateful for the people who’ve come before me and have showed all of their mess and scars. Honestly, you appreciate people for that. You know. And I really want my listeners and supporters to get a taste of that. I’m not holding anything back. There’s everything from stuff that happened way back in the past. Then there’s some more current stuff that people will probably be shocked to hear. But it makes me human and relatable.
Who have you been collaborating with in the studio?
It’s a very diverse cast. I’ve been in the studio with everybody from Tori Kelly to Tye Tribbett. The [producer] gamut is just as wide, from Mike Will Made It’s team and Hit-Boy’s team to my own crew that helped me produce my earlier projects. I’m excited for people to put their ears to it.
Since Anomaly, are more people understanding that your scope is wider than just inspirational?
That’s definitely the story now. Prior to that, the story was about this inspirational artist. The story now is about the artist who is trying to show people he transcends genres. I’ve just come to realize this is a struggle that most artists go through. Prince was always fighting to not be labeled and restricted to a genre. Beyoncé is consistently labeled as an R&B artist when she’s clearly transcended R&B. It’s a pretty normal fight for any artist who’s bending genres to not be boxed in. You’ve just got to make your art and let people be exposed to it.
Speaking of exposure, what can fans expect on your upcoming tour?
This tour is kind of a warm-up: let’s get ready for a new year. I will be previewing new music, seeing what fans are tracking with and what they appreciate. These are definitely more intimate shows than we’ve done in the past. People will get the taste of new music as well as some of the new things we’re trying out like more live instrumentation. I’m going to be very, very transparent in sharing myself and my perspective. I just want people to be able to have a place to breathe. I’m calling this The Destination Tour because I feel like people need a destination to just rest. It’s a trying time: the election, the media going crazy. It’s like yeah, I just need a break. Can I get a break [laughs]?