Last year Lecrae told an interviewer from Vice that he is “closer to you”—presumably the average Hip Hop listener—than he is to Kirk Franklin, a more traditionally and explicitly Gospel musician. The subtext was that he’d like not to be considered solely as a Christian rapper and the upshot that he can crossover in a way that Franklin shouldn’t expect to. And to be fair, the rapper already has. After debuting a decade ago, Lecrae’s first real foray into non-pigeonholed territory came as a mixtape collaboration with Don Cannon in 2012. Sure, it was called Church Clothes—and the point was partly that in his Hip Hop attire Lecrae was already dressed for Sunday—but it was a mixtape released through Datpiff that featured cameos from DJ Premier and Kendrick Lamar in its lead video. Since that strategic crossover-play ‘Crae has maintained a distance, measured in commercial appeal, from his Gospel musician counterparts. He’s not a Christian rapper insofar as his music doesn’t necessarily serve to proselytize or function solely as worship, yet he’s more than a rapper that happens to be devout as he consistently speaks directly to God, shares his Christian-sourced morality, and references the Bible.
What makes Lecrae accessible is that he’s rarely overtly preachy and a good rapper regardless. Many of the songs on Anomaly are about social justice, sometimes critical of the lack of meaningful commentary put forth by mainstream rappers. Still, he mostly transcends the eye-roll inducing habit of chastising listeners directly. More pressingly, Lecrae is self-critical, particularly about his pre-born-again slips. At least artistically, it’s more compelling to hear about his personal struggle than it is to hear him speak in and about religious generalities. Some of the most clever lines on the album notably inject Lecrae’s penchant for pop culture, like when he uses Michael Jordan’s swan song to touch on the generally human feeling of dread: “45 on the back of the jersey upon your soul / I’m scared of letting go.”
The production throughout is polished and diverse; a quick look at the credits affirms that the strings on the opening “Outsiders” are real and that the only sample you’ll hear throughout is lifted from Timex Social Club’s late 80’s R&B jam “Thinkin’ About ‘Ya.” “Outsiders” also achieves early what the best parts of the album have to offer. The beat rises and falls dramatically, violin runs and a drum tone that actually sounds distinct are peppered throughout as well. On top of it all, Lecrae is an obviously skilled rapper, charged up with passion but calculated enough to explain himself fully: “Time to go / Plus the line is long / I’ma color the outside, but lines are drawn / If you wanna exclude me for being the true me it’s Gucci, I already found my home.” Another piece is that Lecrae’s criticisms are often hard to deny: radio-bound Hip Hop is in a rut and most mainstream emcees seem to share the same directory for clothes/cars/chains while also claiming aggressive individuality.
A handful of other tracks—“Timepiece,” “Welcome To America,” and more—also bear out the rapper’s commitment and ability to stick to a concept. Still, Anomaly has its low points as well. Songs like “Give In” and “Messengers” are dramatic anthems that lack both the musical and lyrical details to make them pop. It’d be unfair and judgmental to knock Lecrae’s worship, but lyrically there’s a triteness to some of its expression. “They laugh at me and say I’m going too far / But it’s satisfying my soul to give you my all,” he raps on that first song, “The future is now / How will the people know if we don’t tell’em?” he asks on the second.
Perhaps Anomaly’s biggest triumph is also its quietest: it adds on to mounting evidence that Lecrae is the most impactful Christian rapper ever. It may not be a label he himself will flaunt, but he became the first Hip Hop artist to win a Grammy for Best Gospel Album last year and has assimilated into the mainstream more fully than any other emcee of his kind. At the same time, part of what makes Anomaly and its artist compelling musically is that he’s so bent on pushing against Hip Hop as he continues to become a bigger part of it. It’s a fitting practice because for every new piece of success he achieves he also appears more as himself. At its base, Anomaly is about being different, that Lecrae actually is makes it genuine.