The meteoric success and rise of Lecrae Moore in both the hip-hop and Christian music worlds has surprised music critics and legends alike, who think the rapper could pull an upset win at the Grammy Awards this Sunday.
According to David Daniels of Rapzilla, Houston hip-hop legend Bun B thought that Lecrae and Mali Music, another Christian hip-hop artist, could leave with several Grammys in hand this weekend. The Recording Academy, which runs the Grammys, nominated Lecrae for three awards and Mali Music had two nominations.
"I'm sure that no matter the outcome, they're both very honored to be nominated," Bun B said. "It's great when hard work gets acknowledged. Even better when it's rewarded. I think they got it personally but I know they can handle it gracefully if they don't."
According to the nominees list on the Grammys website, Lecrae will battle it out for Best Rap Performance with Eminem, Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino, while Mali Music will take on Beyonce, Chris Brown, Pharrell Williams and Jhene Aiko for Best Urban Contemporary Album. Lecrae, who was nominated for the song "All I Need Is You," is also on the ballot for Best Gospel Performance/Song and Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song.
Lecrae's surprising number of Grammy nominations has changed the way Billboard ranks Christian music. Wade Jessen of Billboard reported that the Christian rap artist is "the No. 1 Gospel Artist for the year, the top Hot Gospel Songs Artist, the No. 1 Gospel Albums Artist, and the No. 1 Gospel Digital Songs Artist."
"2014 is the final year that most Christian rap/hip-hop songs and albums, like Lecrae's releases, will be broadly eligible for Billboard's Gospel charts," Jessen wrote. "After soliciting feedback from the industry throughout the year, Billboard has discontinued categorizing most Christian rap and hip-hop titles for our Gospel Albums, Gospel Digital Songs, Hot Gospel Songs and Gospel Streaming charts."
Jessen reported that the changes were made in response to feedback from the Christian music industry in the hopes of making "a more meaningful and accurate reflection of the respective markets and consumers they represent."
"The industry urged us to reconsider eligibility for those titles on our Gospel charts, and we agree that our Christian charts are the most appropriate place for these songs and albums to compete," Jessen wrote. "All Christian rap/hip-hop titles will continue to be categorized for Christian Albums, Christian Digital Songs, Christian Streaming Songs and the multi-metric Hot Christian Songs charts."
Lecrae, who is signed with Reach Records, managed to get nationwide attention after his album, "Anomaly," topped Billboard and sold 88,000 copies in week one. According to David Daniels of HipHopDX, "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" invited Lecrae to join its house band, The Roots, on Sept. 18; Schure Media Group (SMG) orchestrated that appearance.
"In the music industry, sometimes the wrong things are glorified," Lecrae's SMG publicist said. "Like [Lecrae] says himself, he's an anomaly. And that's what we were attracted to because we felt like his voice and what he stood for was missing in the industry."
Several industry experts told Daniels of how Lecrae's voice influenced hip hop culture.
"If you listen to some of the stuff that Kendrick [Lamar] is putting out, some of that is laden with Bible verses ... And I think Lecrae has given him the courage to do so," Reggie Hawkins, program director of the Sirius XM Radio channel Hip Hop Nation, said. "I just think that guys are trying to find an alternative for the monotonous type of music that we've been hearing for so long. How many people can you kill? How many girls can you have sex with? How many cars can you drive? It all feels empty."
As an independent artist, Lecrae can put out albums that spur dialogues about faith. According to Sway Calloway, a Sirius XM Morning Radio host, the success of Lecrae's label, Reach Records, has allowed others to counter the negative stereotypes associated with hip hop music.
"It's important for Lecrae to be able to put out No. 1 albums as an independent artist with that subject matter because all it's done is open doors for other creative people," Calloway said. "I think [Reach rappers] make it OK for artists to come out and not have to just rap about their cars, material items, women in a derogatory way or murder."
Lecrae's Christian influence started way before mainstream hip hop culture took notice. Daniels focused on the story of a juvenile delinquent named George, who was "changed" by the biblical message Lecrae shared in his hip hop music.
"You changed my life," George told Lecrae. "You did the 'Take Me as I Am' song, and my eyes just opened up. I need God. I want to be a different person."
"From sitting listening to this song?" Lecrae asked, taken aback by the song's influence.
Although word got out about the quality of Lecrae's music and its biblical messages, the rapper had to rely on the generosity of others in the early stages of his career.
"Lecrae will tell you about sharing a low-income apartment and living off of 'love offerings' from youth group concerts," Daniels wrote.
Lecrae elaborated on the difficulties mainstream record labels had in trying to figure out how to classify his music.
"Major labels just struggle to grasp what it is we're doing," Lecrae said. "In their mind, we're gospel, so they want to pair us up with the biggest gospel artists in the music industry. Or they say, 'Oh! I get it! You guys just want to be regarded as rap. C'mon, we've got this song called "Sippin' Lean and Smoking ...' Y'all don't get it. It's cool."
Daniels best summed up the rise and influence of Lecrae and Reach Records.
"Over a decade ago, Lecrae set out without a blueprint from a tiny Texas town you've probably never heard of to influence the hearts of people through Hip Hop," Daniels wrote. "Instead, he has arguably influenced Hip Hop itself, as well as the hearts of people - all while attracting avid listeners across historically contradictory genres."
[Images from The Ben Rollins]