Lecrae Freestyles Good News for Black Lives
Anyone who has been following Lecrae on Twitter since the Ferguson riots, will notice that he has increasingly spotlighted racial injustice, particularly, in regards to the police shootings of African-American men, women and children.
Most recently, on September 19th, he tweeted about Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem protest: “Take a knee…people riot. Take a bullet…people quiet.” Tweets such as this and Lecrae’s July 4th tweet of a black slave family in a cotton field with the caption, “My family on July 4th 1776”, have angered some evangelicals, who think Lecrae’s public platform and music should be use to preach the gospel, and not rally behind social justices causes.
But it is because of Lecrae’s deep-rooted faith in the gospel that he is driven to speak against racial injustices ; his 2016 BET Hip Hop Awards spoken word performance is no exception. In that night’s performance, he engages with a complex web of systemic racism and hip hop materialism, but with a desire to proclaim a gospel hope.
Framing the song around Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again”, Lecrae asks, “When was America great?” When black families were separated, “’Cause we was taken from Africa/ Sold and treated like animals” or when there was silence after Philando Castille was killed? Was America great then? And lest the hip hop community thinks it is immune to this type of oppression, Lecrae speaks of the connection of the rap industry to systemic racism:
Look at us from sellin’ dope to our own kind
To a dope rhyme
Radio then played it more times
Paid in more dimes
To some industry exec
From a private prison
With the rap money he invest
This is both an indictment of the system that holds up the oppression of African-Americans and the types of unhelpful messages that hip hop delivers to that same community. Furthermore, Lecrae points out that “We’re too content with the gold and the cars” as cheap materialist replacements for real freedom, a freedom grounded in Jesus’ announcement in Nazareth proclaiming, “liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18).
Lecrae connects this proclamation to himself, “Now, I know you’re like is this rap or is this gospel/ Look, all you need to know is that I was blind/ Now I’m not though.” It is on this hope and desire to impart to a black community facing oppression, fear, and death, which leads him to say, “I pray to God he make you a better you.” And while Lecrae acknowledges the ongoing struggle for the dignity and worth of black bodies in America, he ends his freestyle by celebrating black resilience in the face of oppression, “But somehow we made it this far/ And stood firm/ With nappy hairs and perms/ And led for two terms.”
Lecrae, in performances like the hip hop awards, shows us that defending black lives is at the heart of the gospel. If the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry is a proclamation of good news for the oppressed, shouldn’t those of us who follow Christ view justice for black lives as an integral part of the gospel too? Lecrae, in speaking up for black lives, is brushing up against the type of Christianity that Howard Thurman indicted in Jesus and the Disinherited:
Too often, the price exacted by a society for security and respectability is that the Christian movement in its formal expression must be on the side of the strong against the weak. This is a matter of tremendous significance, for it reveals to what extent a religion that was born of a people acquainted with persecution and suffering has become the cornerstone of civilization and of nations whose very position in modern life has too often been secured by a ruthless use of power applied to weak and defenseless peoples.
Too often, American evangelicalism has positioned itself as a broker of power instead of the power which strengthens the weak, oppressed and marginalized. Like Lecrae, I hope as Christians we can all say, “Let me be quiet/ Nah/ ’Cause being silent is pitiful/ It’s something I never do,” — especially because of the good liberating news of Jesus, we must speak on behalf of the oppressed. When we don’t, our gospel witness suffers; and instead of proclaiming freedom for the oppressed now and eternally, our God appears unconcerned with the suffering of African-Americans and the hope of heaven becomes merely a hustle. May we instead announce a gospel that is good news and freedom for the poor, persecuted and powerless.