Hip Hop has always been good at answering the question, “Who’s the man?” The rappers at Christian Rap juggernaut Reach Records are asking the Hip Hop community a different question, “What’s a man?”

One of the biggest commercial stars in Christian Hip Hop history, LeCrae talked with HipHopDX about the label’s upcoming Man Up film and soundtrack, fatherhood, the re-release of Rehab, what being a man means and his own story about growing up without his dad.

HipHopDX: How did the idea for Man Up film come about?

LeCrae: Basically, it all popped off from years back in Memphis and just being in the hood in Memphis, and kind of seeing an epidemic. We did a “13 Letters” curriculum through ReachLife, my non-profit, and it, you know, it had a lot of film elements to it. We saw fatherlessness – and just young cats looking for guidance – as one of the epidemics.

It’s kind of like, if you get the men, you get the city type of thing. Ninety-five percent of most violent crimes are committed by men, so on and so forth with all these different things. It’s just a necessity to tackle the issue of what it means to be a man, and media seemed like the best way to do it.

“13 Letters” has done so well, just being kind of a video curriculum. We thought let’s try to do something a little more creative and make an actual film that tackled the issue of manhood.

DX: How did it go from an idea to actual production?

LeCrae: We’re fortunate that one of our artists who was on the label at the time, Sho Baraka, was gifted in film and production. That was just one of his areas of expertise and one of his passions.

He’d always had a desire to do film. He still wants to do film. He’s done a few videos. It was kind of like a perfect marriage. He was passionate about the issue, and he was gifted at film. It was really him pulling his resources together; his talents, his capabilities, his writing abilities, and just putting it down. It just turned out to be a very culturally relevant but very poignant project.

DX: I know you can’t give the whole movie away, but tell us what you can about the plot?

LeCrae: Essentially, it follows the life of a young man. He’s fresh out of high school. In our culture, we don’t have any rites of passage. You don’t really know when you’re a man or not. It’s like, maybe when you turn 18. It’s just no real sense of what that is.

So basically [the protagonist] just trying to figure out what his rite of passage is.

Is it the first time he sleeps with a girl? Is it when it leaves his mom’s house? Like, what does it look like to be a man? He’s got all these different ideas and things coming at him that are trying to display what masculinity is. He’s got to wrestle with that.

He thinks he has a grip on it, like most of us do, like “Man, I just slept with a chick,” or  “Nobody’s going to punk me. I‘ll beat ‘em down. That’s what a man does. A man’s about his respect,” or “I’m a get that paper by any means necessary. A man is somebody that has money.”

That’s really kind of his struggle. It’s like, man, what does that mean? He’s wrestling through that throughout the film.

DX: What do you hope to accomplish through the film?

LeCrae: I mean, candidly, I’m a Christian. I personally believe that Jesus is the ultimate man. He was sacrificial. He was selfless. He died for his woman, which is the church. He accepted responsibility. He rejected passivity, and He lived courageously. That’s essentially what being a man looks like. So when you want to know what a man is, you essentially have to look at Jesus.

Though we didn’t highlight Jesus in the film, we definitely highlighted the attributes and characteristics of Christ, and just Christian character. I’m hoping that people will walk away saying, “Man, this standard of manhood is way different than I have ever seen it, and it’s almost like I agree with it but it’s so hard to accomplish.”

Hopefully it will drive them to a point where they say, “Man, I need God in order to accomplish what it means to be a man.”

DX: Talk about the Man Up soundtrack

LeCrae: Ah yeah! Hip-hop is always a good medium to articulate truth. There’s no better place to articulate what it means to be a man than Hip Hop. Hip Hop caters to a male audience. Even the female rappers in many ways have to cater to a male audience in order to get their music out there.

The issue with it is that it paints these pictures of masculinity that are many times false or incomplete. It’s like an over-emphasized picture of masculinity. It’s like, yeah, men are supposed to be strong, but we don’t have to kill everybody and shoot up everything and stomp out everybody. I’m a firm believer that men should be with women, but not with every one of them.

We’re trying to turn the picture of masculinity on its head. What does it look like to take care of your children? What does it look like to be faithful to one woman? What does it look like to accept responsibility to bow to particular authorities? Just answering some of those questions. What about sexual temptation, and what does that look like? And that’s what the soundtrack addresses.

But the soundtrack again, it’s catered to a male audience. The beats are a lot harder. It’s grimy. It’s got some underground sound. It’s not a whole lot of pop tunes, but it’s big. It’s boisterous. You got seven emcees [including LeCrae, Trip Lee, Tedashii, KB, Pro, Andy Mineo and Sho Baraka] just going at it. And it’s almost like a competition between us in some sense. We’re trying to one up each other lyrically. I think it’s some of our best work yet.

DX: Your last video was “Just Like You,” which addresses the same topic. Talk about the problem of fatherlessness and masculinity in the urban community.

LeCrae: I think you know, naturally, fathers are respected by sons, even without doing anything. You are born with this natural propensity to know who dad is, and want to respect him. They’re given credit without even having to earn it.

And I think what fatherlessness does is it puts a void in a lot of men’s lives. It’s like “Man, where do I learn to fix an engine? Where do I learn how to treat a woman? Who tells me, ‘Hey buddy, good job. You’re doing great.’” Without a father encouraging us, we look for it in other places.

In the urban context, it’s found in the streets, the dudes on the block or corner who didn’t have dads themselves. They are passing along broken fragments of what it means to be a man to us, and we’re just accepting that as truth. It just perpetuates, and we’re just a bunch of hurting individuals who are longing for somebody to lead us.

You see it throughout Hip Hop. You see Game always giving shots to [Dr.] Dre … [mimics] “Dre, Dre, Dre… like a father to me.” You see Snoop [Dogg] with Bishop Don [Magic] Juan, Bow Wow and Jermaine Dupri, [Lil] Wayne and [Birdman], “That’s my father.” It’s a repeated theme in Hip Hop.

Fatherlessness is an issue. We all want that, and we’re going to gravitate to somebody. I think that if we don’t address what it means to be a man, and we don’t give a positive perspective, a Godly perspective, people are going to find the wrong one every time.

DX: How did that play out in your life?

LeCrae: I grew up not knowing my father. He was never in the picture. Between drugs and my mom getting pregnant and not being married, all these different factors just played in.

When you don’t know you’re dad, you’re just wondering, “Am I like him? What am I like?”  People say, “Aw, you doin’ just like your dad,” such and such, so on and so on.” You just wonder. There’s something in you that just wants to be embraced, and something in you that wants to be affirmed.

And so I found that in other men. I said it in my song, “They say I’m good at bad things but at least they’re proud of me.”

So it was like, “Ah yeah, that’s exactly how you pimp a female. That’s exactly how you hold a gun. That’s exactly how you take that drink to the head.” Those are the things I learned and those are the things I pursued, because that’s what I got patted on the back for. Until I learned different, that’s how it flushed itself out for me.

DX: When is the actual release date for the Man Up project?

LeCrae: The actual release date is September 27. You can cop that exclusively [Pauses, then laughs] everywhere. It’ll be out. I think it’s really going to be a powerful project. It’s a campaign more than anything. It’s a film. It’s an album. It’s a movement. Hopefully, it will really take root.

DX: And the Man Up release coincides with the re-release of your Rehab albums. Can you talk about that?

LeCrae: Yeah. Both projects come out on the same day, and there are a lot of different thoughts behind it. One, it’s just to cross-promote.  

There’s an exclusive deal where you can go to Target and get Man Up and the Rehab Deluxe project, so we just really believe in Man Up and want it to be part of people’s collections.

Basically, essentially, what you’re getting is two DVDs and three albums; Rehab, Rehab: The Overdose, Man Up [soundtrack], then Man Up the movie and plus kind of my story via DVD as well.  We just wanted to support our fans who have been supporting us for so long.

Man Up Official Movie Trailer from ReachLife Ministries on Vimeo.