Based on technicality alone, Gravity stands as an expertly crafted hip hop album, and arguably the best in Lecrae’s discography alone. Of course, due to his strictly Christian message, most people would either pass it by due to personal gripes or for fault that “there’s no real difference from song to song,” yet both arguments can be applied to any other artist’s lyrics and produce similar results.
I personally know this because I agree with Lecrae’s message, and have listened to more than enough hip hop regardless of subgenre to tell that artists like Odd Future rap within the same pocket for people who enjoy that sound, and the Houston-born native’s music follows the same agenda.
Sure, it does pain me to get accosted with the ever-morose “Death is imminent! REPENT! REPENT!!!” mantra from time to time, but he would look a fool if he deviated from the truth he believes in by creating easy, light Kuumbaayaa poems set to rhythm. He’s a overly qualified rapper who happens to rap about the same thing time and time again — his salvation through faith, just as the average gangsta wannabe on DatPiff constantly reminds listeners of his favorite sexual act or firearm.
And even if the message simply fails to mesh with a listener, then it may seem hypocritical to despise the vessel Lecrae constructs to push said topics. From the get-go on the “The Drop,” Lecrae displays his concise, puncturing flow, matter-of-fact lyricism and emphatic, southern-tinged delivery, simply showing off and preparing the way. Is he the best rapper? No, but he’s still pretty compelling.
The scene becomes increasingly heavy on the title track, as he attacks the track full throttle, as he dispenses his thesis via lingual gymnastics: “my job is depressive/i strive for my blessings/the pastor so corrupt, its hard to ride with his message/riches destroy their owners/the government think they own us/my onus is to keep the police from ridin’ all up on us.” Songs like “Power Trip,” “Violence,” “Fakin'” and “I Know” further highlight his mic skills, as well as his fairly impressive versatility. Lecrae’s guest features keep up with him as well, and Thi’sl, Big K.R.I.T. and Tedashii even manage to outperform him.
Lecrae can pass the MC test with relative ease, but the dystopian and thoroughly eclectic production of this project flies with technicolors. Gravity sounds clearly influenced by the “reduced by Rick Rubin” era of hip hop, only much angrier and more expensive. The title track alone exemplifies that sound: a woozy synth pummeled by crisp MPC percussion and a thick, teeming layer of bass. Others, such as “Violence” and “Power Trip” flesh this template out even more, and “Walk With Me” even interpolates a sample Kanye-style (“WHO GOTCHA WHO GOTCHA WHO GOTCHA”).
The crown jewels, however, give the lyrics a run for their money. “Mayday,” which features a solid verse by K.R.I.T., features solemnly succulent live instrumentation put together by Dj Khalil, and the cymbal-checked drumming, drizzle of minor-chord piano subtle electric guitar coupled with singer Ashthon Jones’ incendiary vocals may draw tears. But “I Know” even surpasses that; a “biblical banger” if there ever was one, it successfully emulates the jarring, spastic, post-modern production without a hint of carbon-copy construction. And it bangs.
The album’s fully enjoyable, but despite the numerous positives, the significant negatives — his Drake-biting flow on “Buttons” and nearly every hook — need criticism. The flow can pass solely due to that song’s topic of love, but it’s copied from a clear source. And the hooks in question fail simply due to their sugary format. I have never enjoyed the blatant divide between the from Eminem’s face-breaking aggression on “Lighters” and the high fructose corn syrup of music, Bruno Mars, slow-jamming the hook to appease those who would otherwise ignore the genre. The same applies here. It works when it makes sense a la “Mayday” or even to some extent “Gravity,” but more often than not the singer seems to be there only as a favor.
The hook problem has appeared on every Lecrae, most recently Church Clothes, and by some margin, it always ends up being the only main problem to mar his music aside from, perhaps, lyrical sameness. Yet as I stated above, and in the Church Clothes review, the message serves a purpose beyond genre and culture. The music, however, can suffer scrutiny by anyone, and for the most part it draws little. Lecrae gets his rap on just as well as any Top 40, and not realizing that seems like a problem in and of itself.