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Courtesy of Lecrae

October 10, 2017

TEST SPIN | Lecrae — All Things Work Together

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Lecrae has always been an artist who does not like boxes, and those who attempt to categorize him into one would be hard-pressed to try. Bringing the gospel to hip-hop long before Chance came to the scene, Lecrae’s ability to maneuver between disparate, non-interacting circles served as both his greatest strength and weakness. Being a two-time Grammy Award winner and having performed on Jimmy Fallon and Sway in the Morning, he has achieved a level of success unseen by Christian artists. His diverse catalogue defies categorization and yet for all these pioneering advancements, it seemed that what he gained came at the cost of personal piety. Beginning in 2012 with Church Clothes, its subsequent sequels and his chart-topping 2014 LP Anomaly, he introduced listeners to a more socially-minded Lecrae; the bona-fide rapper was still spitting fierce rhymes, but in his razor-sharp criticism of social injustice he seemed to have lost the vibrancy and passion of articulating his faith, which was a staple of his earlier works. When Lecrae announced All Things Work Together, his eighth studio album and his first under Columbia Records, the question, naturally, was not what the album would be about, but who it would be for: the sinner or the saint?

In true Lecrae fashion, the line falls somewhere in the middle. Across the album’s fourteen tracks, the self-proclaimed “righteous and ratchet” emcee delves into a variety of topics, as he addresses critics, touches on social justice issues, delves into personal trauma and reflects on his life journey, all with disarming honesty and fierce passion to match. The album is an insider’s look into Lecrae’s multi-faceted character, as one who loves “Jesus, Kanye and K-Dot” and “Martin, Malcolm, and Schaeffer, Mitsubishi, and Maybach” and how the sum of all his life experiences have worked together to form who he is. Sonically, it incorporates a variety of sounds, from clobbering trap beats to uplifting gospel melodies, further indicative of his layered complexity and versatility. If Anomaly was Lecrae’s bold manifesto describing his outsider status, All Things Work Together is its hard-hitting sequel that sees the Atlanta rapper comfortably embracing that identity and solidifying his stances. The album is a testament to idiosyncrasy and complexity, and begs for a nuanced and thought-provoking listen. Yet, as Lecrae balances these personalities, he never fails to acknowledge that the thing holding it together is God.

Lecrae is aware of the controversy surrounding him, which makes his first track, “Always Knew,” a humbling and sobering introduction. To a backdrop of multi-layered vocals and slow tempo, Lecrae gives thanks to his family and supporters who have been with him since day one. He sounds very much like a grizzled veteran of the rap game, reminiscing on his past challenges and doubts (“and I never saw me goin’ to college / Higher learning was a different world, I can acknowledge”), imparting music industry knowledge (“I learned that these girls easy like the morning of a Sunday / They don’t love you ’til you gone like Harambe”) and in the midst of all his success, still gives the glory to God (“listen, I know God did it, can’t take the credit / paid off all of my debts, but I still feel so indebted”). As a response to a confused fan base who were not sure of what he stands for, he states, “my life story oughta to give y’all hope,” but with a caveat: “understanding me ain’t for the simple and elementary.”

After giving thanks, Lecrae wastes no time in addressing controversies head-on, with the blunt, monosyllabic “Facts” serving as one of the project’s highlights. Over a pounding trap beat, completely drenched with fastidious hi hats, Lecrae comes out guns blazing, challenging preconceived notions. “You grew up thinkin’ that the Panthers was some terrorists / I grew up hearin’ how they fed my momma eggs and grits.” He scoffs at the criticism he’s received, “people wonder is he woke or just a new slave / old religion he just covered it with new chains,” stating “aw man now they acting like I’m suddenly political” with his frustrations and rapid-fire rebuttals complementing the fiery cadence. Commentary from theologian Ekemini Uwan is interspersed throughout the song, with her statements serving as a prelude to what Lecrae goes into in the next verse. Lecrae states that for Christians, faith and social justice are not antithetical, and that it is impossible to be silent about injustice: “my Messiah died for the world, not just USA.” In his view, the church should take responsibility for causing racial division in the past, “they say ‘Crae you so divisive, shouldn’t be a black church / I say ‘do the math, segregation started that first.’”

The next four tracks flow in cinematic fashion, all trap records, each with their unique sonic style. “Broke” sees Lecrae telling an inverse rags-to-riches story, bragging how being monetarily poor made him rich in character, stating how he had to eat free lunch and wear knock off shoes at school. Despite this, he raps, “Never would I trade that, nah, ’cause it made me better, it could have made me bitter / Can’t buy that struggle, can’t name no figure, but it made me richer.” Producer T-Minus does a stellar job wrapping the blaring 808s over spectral synths. The previously reviewed “Blessings” follows nicely, with Crae and Ty Dolla $ign reminding listeners to count blessings regardless of life situations. “Whatchu Mean,” featuring labelmate Aha Gazelle, is a bombastic and electrifying track — one of the best examples of Lecrae’s versatility, as his flow and delivery matches the eerie tempo set by producer Go Grizzly. Tinged with aggressive chimes and a layer of flutes, the rap duo speak on the freedom they have to pursue their dreams and the importance of blocking haters from their view. The Metro Boomin produced “Hammer Time” follows, with up and coming spitter 1K Phew articulating the importance of dedicating time to fully realize one’s dreams.

More soulful tracks make up the latter half of the album, evoking the same level of authenticity found in “Fear” and “Good Bad Ugly” off of Anomaly. Listeners are treated to much more Lecrae, whether he is shamelessly bragging about his wife in “Lucked Up” or apologizing to a former college girlfriend, asking for forgiveness in “Wish You the Best.” It is in these tracks where Lecrae is in his creative element, as he allows the consortium of vocalists he’s assembled to improvise and add small embellishments in the background. “Can’t Stop Me Now (Destination)” is perhaps the best example of Lecrae’s raw honesty matched with his disarming vulnerability, as he learns to doubt his own doubts, rather than doubting God.

In his tribulations, Lecrae still manages to rejoice, as this is reflected in the moodiness of the beat being offset by convivial lyrics (or vice-versa), which in turn help make his message more palatable and reinforce that this is the attitude one should have through the storms of life. Tori Kelly featured “I’ll Find You” feels like a pop song, and yet it is an anthem for those who have struggled or are struggling with cancer. Lecrae’s hopeful verses gel well with Kelly’s soaring and powerful vocals. Likewise, “8:28”, the title track of sorts, alludes to Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Despite the cards one is dealt in life, “the pain gon make you stronger / that hurt gon’ make you a leader” and, ultimately, God can use even the worst circumstances of one’s life for good, “the Master Artist makes your mess a masterpiece regardless.”

Many would like to think that Lecrae is the prodigal son who left home and needs to return, yet All Things Work Together is proof that Lecrae never left, that at the core he is the same Jesus-loving rebel, even if the way he expresses his faith may be different. He has not exhausted the usefulness of sharing his doubts; on the contrary, he expresses the hope found in Christ with just as much conviction, and encourages individuals to not be discouraged by life’s tragedies or to live fearfully, but to know God’s love, a love that casts out all fear. The album is a mature and sincere statement from an artist who has not only discovered who he is but is living in that identity joyfully and confidently.

Zachary Lee is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at zlee@cornellsun.com