Lecrae – “Church Clothes 2” (Mixtape Review)  DX Consensus: “EP-Worthy”

For those keeping count, it takes Lecrae exactly 66 seconds to address his distaste for the label of “Gospel Rapper” on his latest mixtape, “Church Clothes 2.” It’s a legitimate gripe, considering that Rakim and members of the Wu-Tang Clan are rarely called “Muslim” or “Five Percent Rappers.” Yet over the course of the 16-song, DJ Don Cannon-hosted project, it’s fair to wonder if the “Best Gospel Album” Grammy he received for his 2012 album, Gravity has become more of a hindrance than an accomplishment.

For the most part, “Church Clothes 2” plays out like a hybrid of Alt-Pop music with Hip Hop sensibilities. Those familiar with Lecrae won’t be surprised that his various cadences are formless enough to tackle a Blues-inspired track like the DJ Official-produced “Devil In Disguise” just as effectively as “The Fever,” which combines elements of both EDM and Dancehall. While the likes of DJ Burn One and fellow Grammy winners Boi-1da and Reach Records A&R and in-house producer Street Symphony all contribute on production, the project has a largely amorphous sound. This most likely serves as a positive for casual fans, looking for the ratchet-inspired tempo of “I’m Turnt” without the MDMA and debauchery that come to mind when most people hear the phrase, “Turn Up.” But when coupled with the broad strokes that Lecrae tends to favor, it adds up to a project that doesn’t particularly function on multiple levels.

Lecrae and his associated guests shine brightest when things turn introspective. In this case, introspection is not a pseudonym for being spiritual, a Christian or the dreaded G-word: gospel. Rather, there’s a natural tension created by “My Whole Life” with Lecrae rhyming, “I once popped a whole thing of pills in hopes that I’d drop / My cousin walked out a party, got shot / Some girl lied, and my partner’s locked in that box.” And regardless of your religious leanings (or lack thereof), on a pure narrative level, such offerings are more interesting than Lecrae saying, “Shout out to Kirk Franklin, but I ain’t him.” Thankfully, tracks like “Misconception,” “Round Of Applause” and “Was It Worth It” all fit this mold—offering both topical and conceptual depth.

In terms of creating both topical songs and commercial singles, Lecrae offers a balance of both on “Church Clothes 2.” At worst, songs like “I’m Turnt” come off just as stylistically unimaginative as anything on the radio or BET. But they’ll earn points for offering substance—even if it occasionally appears in the form of clichés, such as talk of “being high on the spirit, bro.” When coupled with the rare moments when the genre-hopping leads to a lack of cohesion, it still adds up to a net positive. This is magnified, given that the chosen format is a free mixtape. “Church Clothes 2” may lack the inherent complexity and confrontation of its predecessor, but holds appeal for saints and sinners alike.