On Church Clothes 2 and why Lecrae is the most important rapper alive
by Chris Burton
Would that I could get Don Cannon to narrate the events of my life. Everything would sound so crucial. Trips to the supermarket would feel like an episode of 24, the mundane events of life recast into heroic epics.
For a long time I didn’t know the difference between DJ Drama/Don Cannon’s voices because they both were so full of hyperbole. My favorite moment of hyperbole from them would have to be on “Art of Storytelling Part 4” where I expected nothing less than a beam of light to shoot through the speaker and they would never be heard from again.
It’s probably not a good thing that I am reviewing Lecrae’s mixtape, Church Clothes 2, but paid way more attention to Cannon’s hype. It wasn’t until I listened to the non-DJ version, available on iTunes, that I was able to hear what Lecrae was saying.
He was sharp but had a much stronger opening on the original Church Clothes. It’s going to be hard to outdo that first effort, and the toughest thing in rap is the ghost chasing we subject our favorite artists to, but I’m hoping Lecrae can manage the challenge.
I’m a sucker for autobiographical raps (A Day in the Life of Benjamin, December 4th, Sky’s the limit, Nas’ whole catalogue) but this beat is swallowing his verses. It’s feeling more forgettable than it should be.
Lecrae is painting a powerful picture. He is an artist with no home. The pressure of living in the tension between sacred and secular. How you spose to make music for the streets and the youth groups?
Devil in Disguise
This track would have been at home on his 2010 release Rehab. I love how gritty this track feels. It sounds like the Memphis Grizzlies. Cannon was wise for letting the track breathe at the end.
This was one of those joints where you see the tracklisting and you get excited. Papa San and Andy Mineo on the track?! I’m ready to move!
On first listen I was hurt. What happened to Papa San?! It felt like the living legend had to turn down in order for the track to work. Not a good look.
I love the heavy bottom dancehall bass in this record. I love dancehall. I love bass (especially when it’s plus-sized). This riddim sounds like Jason Voorhees. It takes it’s time, you can run if you want but it’s still gonna catch you.
Andy Mineo rose to the occasion on this one! He and Lecrae just work on tracks together. The apex of their powers definitely is on “Uno Uno Seis” where they ran the fastbreak like the ’87 Lakers.
For some reason, by the last time we hear the Papa San hook it kicks in perfectly. I went from pouting, to shouting, to doing the gully creepa in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Don Cannon opens the strongest record on CC2 thus far with some philosophizing about the different kinds of people in the world.
I like the line where Lecrae says, “I ain’t smoking but my homie in here burned up…I’m working on him tho…” Lecrae has taken on the arduous task of making sobriety cool. Is it possible to be a turnt up teetotaler? Nevertheless this song makes me happy and I feel like I’m in a roller rink everytime I hear it.
Let It Whip
Fantastic production from David Banner. Recognizable sample from a well loved record but the genius lies in how at home Lecrae seems on this beat. I understand if he doesn’t want to sound too regional or whatever but I wouldn’t be mad if he spit on these kind of records 65% of the time.
This joint is so Texas that Paul Wall climbed out of 2005 to bless the track. It would’ve been dope to put the young homie Trip Lee on this joint too. Trip and Paul Wall on the same record? Might mess around and see BBQ sauce leaking out your speakers!
If Lecrae ever signs to a major, somebody will throw this record at him and cast aspersions on his hypocrisy. It frankly disgusts me to see the plethora of hits that come up when you search for lecrae that associate him with the illuminati, being fake or somehow compromising the gospel. What’s a brother to do?
Lecrae is so skilled at reassuring his core fans that he ain’t going nowhere…while he keeps making moves to broaden his audience. Even with the unreasonable hate thrown his way, you cannot deny that son is masterful.
Don Cannon punctuates the record perfectly, “I ain’t gotta hear that you love it! Cuz I know that you love it!” If I ever become a professional wrestler, Don Cannon is going to be my Jimmy Hart.
Lost My Way
I’m throwing some serious shade on the College Dropout era Kanye impression in the first verse but this is a well meaning track that addresses the fears of his core fans. If this experiment of CHH going into the conversation of mainstream hip-hop fails, we can lay the blame at the feet of every youth group member who kept saying that Crae changed.
I like the message but this record is pretty sleepy. Maybe it’s good to listen to while you are working on a spreadsheet or something where you need background noise. If that’s what you want? Cool. But if you were tryna say something and all I feel inspired to do is refresh Facebook and see if I got any notifications then we might have a problem.
Misconception Part 2
Dre Murray has been my favorite rapper for the past year. So having him lead off this posse cut was like Christmas arriving early for me. Punchlines galore!
Swoope is super talented. He had one of my favorite verses of 2011/2012 on “TGC” but sometimes he goes too far into the wormhole of a punchline. Shooting too high, gotta dumb it down young fella.
Alex Faith aka the Michael McDonald of rap is a good counterbalance to Swoope aiming over the listeners’ ears.
Christon Gray gets busy. He sings the hook and then crushed his verse. Singer AND emcee?! Somewhere Drake is nervously sipping moscato.
Lecrae’s verse on this reminds me of Jigga on Resevoir Dogs. Legendary posse cut but this is far from a compliment. When you’ve got that anchor verse, you spose to Usain Bolt it! He’s coasting a little too much on this one for me. Maybe he felt like it was a done deal, the homies WLAK won the race but with the right verse from Crae they could have broken some records. Don’t slow up.
Round of Applause
The most skippable joint the good brother Lecrae has made in this Church Clothes era of his career.
I wish I could trade this joint for his “I’m Rooted” track. It’s a nice message but nice messages don’t mean anything to me if the track is wack. And this joint right here is biodegradable.
Bobby Bandz did a serviceable job, and I liked Lecrae’s last verse on this record but if we’re going all out with secular artists why not get 2 Chainz or Juicy J? It already sounds like a correction to every song Mike Will Made It has ever produced, so why hold back? A bridge too far perhaps?
Was It Worth It
I like records like this that have a cold winter aesthetic. (The Roots’ How I Got Over is an example of this being done perfectly.) Volume 1 of Church Clothes did this well but I found myself thankful that he didn’t put J. Cole on this record. We might’ve messed around and been a part of a mass produced coma.
Lecrae adds another great verse talking about daddy issues in rap. Not as strong as his work on “Just Like You” but it was serviceable. The interlude where Bun B gives his advice was a nice touch.
Last time on Church Clothes’ “Welcome to H-Town“, Tedashii did an incredible Bun B impression. He switched the flow up on this one and stole the track.
This track felt like Lecrae finally looked at the scoreboard and was like ‘we need to go on a run.’ Without this joint, I think Crae would’ve lost by double digits, now we’re down by 7 with a few tracks to go.
Prop comes through and wakes this listening experience up. I lovingly call Propaganda and the good brothers from Humble Beast, purveyors of coffeehouse rap, but this track had an edge to it that I really, really needed.
My Whole Life Changed
Lecrae is most masterful in two modes, ALL THE WAY TURNT UP, or on those methodical syrupy joints that make us all dream of candy paint. This track is trying to be the former but something is missing.
Notable lines here tho: “I met the Lord and it wasn’t even a Sunday/Maybe one day, someday you’ll give your life up to Jesus/Instead of giving your life up to pieces/That’s gon’ rust and fade when you cease,”
If I Die Tonight
This joint fits into Lecrae’s oeuvre perfectly. This is a child of his magnum opus, “Don’t Waste Your Life“. It’s not as compelling as DWYL but impactful in conveying the message that this life is something precious and meant to be lived with purpose.
“I just dare to do what they scared to do” is the best way I could explain Lecrae to somebody. Son has to be the loneliest emcee in the world right now. As Jay is experiencing in the business realm, Kanye in the realm of culture and tastemaking, Lecrae is learning that not everybody is willing or able to come with you. One man’s innovation is another man’s baggage.
This is a pretty heavy way to end the record but it conveys the Gravity of the situation well. We all gotta endure. Bend, don’t break.
The grandmother on the end of the song sounds just like the lady who witnesses to Kendrick and his friends on good kid, m.a.a.d city. The message of seeking the kingdom of God first is definitely on time for everyone who is caught in this miasma of busyness that distracts us from handling our business.
I make no apologies for viewing Lecrae as the most important emcee of our times.
Oh the dark waters this brother treads without dread. The rap Jackie Robinson, the rap Neil Armstrong, the rap Howard Hughes, the rap Jeremiah.
I wonder how many times Crae gets curbed because he doesn’t smoke anymore. It’s gotta be hard to hangout when people assume you are judging them when you don’t do everything that they do. How many beers does he have to nurse? Does he ever go drink for drink with them just to show them he’s cool? Can he do this without losing his inhibitions?
He thrives in the uncharted territory that exists in the tension between secular and sacred. Of course he is not the first to sojourn here but in the medium of rap he is by far the most noteworthy. Whether his noteworthiness translates into success, which in hip-hop is more defined by authenticity than by accolades, is yet to be seen.
Church Clothes is an important project because Lecrae puts a lot of chips on the table. He could easily remain content performing for youth groups and collecting Dove and Stellar awards while remaining a complete unknown in most hip-hop circles. CC2 is an opportunity for him to really set up shop.
Will Christian artists be content with navel gazing or are they going to actually engage the culture? If we engage the culture, can we do so in a way that is not contrived and dismissable? Does the desire for authenticity make reverence and relevance enemies? Too many questions, Lecrae needs too many answers.