For a genre whose lyrics are typically built off of braggadocio and pride, hip-hop has been taking a humbler stance recently. Maybe “humble” is not the right word, but amidst the bombastic bangers and club hits, a few artists have put out introspective tracks acknowledging where they were in the past and thanking those who have helped them achieve success. Big Sean’s third single “Blessings” from 2015’s Dark Sky Paradise was an eerie and spectral track which saw him shout out his grandma and mom for their support. Likewise, the infectious, gospel-inspired “Blessings” off of Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book though much more light-hearted, continued this same theme, with Chano expressing gratitude to God. So in 2017 when Lecrae releases a new single of the same name, does he offer anything new? Is it a worthy entry to the solidly established canon of “Blessings,” or is it merely a rehash of what’s been said before?
A lot has happened since Lecrae’s 2014 LP Anomaly, which skyrocketed him to mainstream stardom. Since then, the Texas-born rapper performed several times at Jimmy Fallon and at the BET Hip-Hop Awards, while Anomaly debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Charts (eventually being certified Gold) and two tracks received Grammy Nominations. Just this past year, he signed to Columbia Records, joining labelmates Beyoncé, Adele, and Pharell Williams. That’s a lot to be thankful for, but rather than turning his “Blessings” into an anthem of egoism, ‘Crae transforms the track into a chant of thanksgiving.
Lecrae’s cognizance is apparent throughout the song. Even before releasing the track he knew that the single’s title would make it prone to comparison to Big Sean and Chance’s tracks. But he skillfully plays with expectation, respectfully mimicking styles of his contemporaries before plunging headfirst into his own sound. He playfully adopts Migos’ signature triplet flow in the single’s opening lines, while ecstatically asking “Where the choir at?!” with Chance-like glee.
You can appreciate his homages, but then the track moves on at breakneck speed, supported by the slapping bass. Unless you’re listening carefully, you can miss his thesis: “Won’t take that credit / I know where we get it / Them blessings be comin’ from God above.” The delivery is effortless, and Lecrae rides the radio-friendly beat with mastery, fluctuating his flow between fastidious and lackadaisical. Lecrae’s contemplative lyrics as he looks backs on his past contrasts nicely with the track’s modern and expeditious pace, almost as if to say that before he goes forward, he wants to pay tribute to his upbringing. He celebrates the small blessings of life but acknowledges that in the grand scheme of things, God is in control.
But the most indispensable aspect of the track is, without a doubt, Ty Dolla $ign, who offers a mellifluous hook that latches itself onto the beat. His almost lazily wars with the bass and snares, often trying to get his lines in before the beat drops. In contrast to Lecrae’s somewhat frenzied flow, Ty’s delivery is relaxed and composed, lightly stating “I’m too busy counting all these blessings.” You can imagine him recording his verse sitting in the shade of a tree, the sun hitting his face and breezily auto-tuning the chorus. His verse, while short, nicely compliments Lecrae’s spiritual elements as he raps “If you woke up in the morning it’s a blessing.”
“Blessings” proves that Lecrae has still got the juice and that his tracks can stand next to hip-hop’s elite. Yet at the same time, many points do feel uninspired. From Lecrae’s prior catalogue, it seemed as though he championed faith over form. While the form is undeniably a huge step of up from prior releases, aspects of faith seem somewhat diminished. Compared to Chance’s “Blessings” which featured more overt biblical references, for an artist who was labeled as a “Christian rapper” for most of his career, Lecrae’s “Blessings” feels like somewhat of a missed opportunity to incorporate even more theology. At a time when spirituality and hip-hop seem to be playing more and more in each other’s ball parks, I hope that Lecrae’s next studio album (expected to be released at the top of 2017) will have the same chutzpah and boldness of Anomaly.
Zachary Lee is a freshman in the college of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org