“If Wu-Tang can spit 5 Percent gems, I can rap about Him who died for my sins.” This line from “Co-Sign” summarizes everything I dig about Lecrae’s new mixtape Church Clothes conceptually.
The Houston native not only sticks true to his message of faith and divine intervention, but manages to break down that wretched “secular/sacred” barrier that people tend to place upon rappers in his lane by referencing one of the most openly mystic hip hop acts ever. In a more functional regard, he shows a clear change from his landmark LP, Rehab, not only lyrically but thematically as well.
Lecrae’s lyrical change is slightly hard to explain. He ostensibly raps about the Gospel and the work of Jesus Christ in his life with the same Southern rap standard, but the tact he takes allows the impact of the message to hit harder. Whereas on Rehab he would simply personify Death and perfunctorily name-check the Seven Deadly Sins, here he finally takes these vices head-on. This not only allows him to explain the spiritual and mental vapidity of physical attraction on “The Price of Life,” or the ill-conceived notion that simply being a Christian is enough on “Misconception,” but also gives him the soapbox to point out hypocrisies in the modern church on the title track. Its a brutally honest scathing of the conventional faith system, and due to how hungry and convicted he sounds on the track, its his most career-defining track.
And although he constantly reduces his career to a medium for a higher purpose, there’s no denying that the exposure from the BET cypher and the critical acclaim for his work has given him more production variety. In fact, this can be seen as a blessing and a curse: Lecrae and guest feature Thi’sl sound exceedingly hype on the show-stopping “APB” due to the beat’s thematic tone and the siren blaring in the distance; the use of a slurred beat on “Welcome to H-Town” and the pseudo-romantic production on “The Price of Life” make more than enough sense; the inclusion of not one, but two 9th Wonder beats on the project, adds a nice palette cleanser.
The catch, however, are the ultra-commercial influences, like the “I’m On One”-sounding beat on “No Regrets,” or the goon brigade beat on “Spazz” that sounds like a Baytl leftover. And my constant gripe with Lecrae’s hooks- the singing- still persists. At this point its more of a personal preference, but the tonal change from emphatic rapper to softcore singer is eternally cringeworthy. And, as an eternal bane for literally every modern mixtape, the album does taper off at the end. “Gimme a Second” would have proved a great way to end the mixtape, but it continues on for five more tracks.
Thankfully, those gripes do not cause a major indent on this project’s worth. Church Clothes marks a great effort for Lecrae’s mission and his music. Whether listeners take a step further into learning more about Christianity is entirely up to them, but he does his best to reveal a no-holds-barred depiction of redemption and a better life in a way that’s way less knowing or preachy than one might expect. And in terms of the topical sameness that he certainly receives flack for, this choice line from “Gimme a Second” sums it up quite nicely: “Cole talk that college talk/Wayne talk dames/Jay talkin’ money man, and ‘Ye talk fame/And people say I talk about the same ol’ thang/Reason that I sound the same ‘cuz truth don’t change.”