Growing up in a “Blood neighborhood” in Denver, LeCrae wanted to emulate the gang members that roamed his streets and lived life on the edge of prison. Raised by a single mother, LeCrae looked to these gang members as role models.
Now, at age 30, the Christian hip-hop artist, who will be playing in Colorado Springs on Sunday at the World Arena ($10, doors 6 p.m.), is influencing mainstream urban musicians along with a generation of young men with a message of hope.
“I have a writer friend who writes for Alicia Keys and other big stars, who is having a hard time dealing with this (Houston’s death),” LeCrae said. “It’s been very painful for him. He was at a Grammy party in the same hotel, and the party just kept going even though people knew the police were upstairs. They were like, ‘Oh, she may be alive, she may be dead.’ But the party didn’t stop. ‘It’s the Grammys. The Grammys must go on. This is our time.’ He’s the main reason I came off the road to help him get through this.
“He’s wrestling with the fact people didn’t think she had significance or value. But she is significant and valuable. Everyone is made in God’s image with God-given talent and it’s up to us to live up to that potential. And he’s wrestling with that. … I try to paint a picture that God knows what he is doing.”
I thought Christians were this weird subculture. But these guys dressed like me and spoke like me. — LeCrae
The multiple Dove Award winner and Grammy nominated artist moved to Atlanta in the mid-2000s because of the large urban music industry and to “influence the influential.” And just by being called upon by big-name artists in the wake of Houston’s death is a testament to his acceptance in the mainstream community.
“We are all dealing with the same things, I just have a different outlook,” LeCrae said. “Definitely, I have been included and accepted in my time here. You know, there’s only one degree that separates me from guys like T.I. But I try not to get caught up in all the celebrity.
“I have a hopeful outlook on life and I try to articulate that to them. I have what is a unique transition cultural audience — gospel, CCM, hip-hop, urban music. I have been given the ability to interact with a lot of artists, and they have reached out to me. A lot of celebrities find significance in what they do, but it will let them down. ‘I’m not playing for the Falcons anymore, who am I?’ ‘My records aren’t selling, who am I?’ I try to give them some footing of who they are in Christ.”
But it wasn’t always that way with LeCrae, who attended Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and George Washington High School in Denver until moving to Texas when he was 15.
“I was always one foot in and not too far away from problems,” he said. “Then my mom moved to Texas to get out of that environment. It was probably a good thing, no it was a good thing. It was challenging, I embraced the gang affiliations but there was no tolerance for it in Texas.
“In Denver, there were the Bloods and Crips, and my family lived in a Blood neighborhood. I was encouraged not to get involved, but I idolized them and wanted to become one of them. In high school we had cliques, not really gangs, but I was with a group of guys that were stirring up trouble.”
It wasn’t until he was attending the University of North Texas on a full scholarship for performing arts that LeCrae began to turn his life over to the Lord.
“I went to school to party, to have a good time and to do some soul searching,” LeCrae said. “And someone suggested I go to this Bible study. I was like, ‘Let me try this out.’ And I was shocked to see people who talked like me and looked like me. I thought Christians were this weird subculture. But these guys dressed like me and spoke like me. And I kept going. It humbled me. It allowed me to say that I am loved and to see that I was on the wrong track.”
His songs and videos reflect that new track in life along with the path he took. The “Just Like You” video features a young man struggling with living in the hood, running drugs, running away from drugs and trying to stay on the right side of the law.
“I tell people that they are selling themselves short,” LeCrae said. “He created us and has incredible things waiting for you. It’s like taking a million dollars and putting it up on walls like wallpaper. You just wasted it. It’s like that — you wasted what you were given. Life is to live and if you don’t live up to that potential you wasted it.
“Most people receive (the message) well. How could they not? They’ve been told all their lives how terrible they are, that they are just like their dads. Nobody is telling them that they have worth.”
Well, now someone is, someone who has lived the street life, someone who has struggled to find significance in a neighborhood run over by gang members.