“And now I’m on my third tape / and I just might drop it on a Thursday” -Lecrae, ‘It Is What It Is’.
In the middle of the night and completely unannounced, two-time Grammy award winning rapper Lecrae dropped the highly-anticipated final instalment of his 3-part Church Clothes mixtape series this Thursday night, (14/1/16). With origins in the often-cheesy Gospel rap movement of the ’00s, Lecrae – despite huge efforts to escape the term – has ushered in a new mature breed of ‘Christian hip-hop’. As with the previous parts of the Church Clothes trilogy, Lecrae has again made an effort to collaborate with as many mainstream hip-hop names as possible: including executive production from the man behind Yeezus’ ‘Power’, Symbolyc One (S1); and a surprising appearance from notably-misogynistic hip-hop veteran E-40.
In a departure from the structure of the Don Cannon-hosted Church Clothes and Church Clothes Vol. 2 which both began with tracks discussing Lecrae’s struggle for acceptance by the mainstream, Church Clothes 3 opens with a socially-conscious ‘Freedom (Ft. N’Dambi)’ drawing parallels between US hip-hop culture’s focus on money and the slave trade. “They say we slaves to the money/I guess we back on the field”. This is followed in a similar vein by ‘Gangland (Ft. Propaganda)’ which discusses and sympathises with the complexities of the gang culture both artists grew up in and ‘Déjà vu’ which reflects on the apparent Sisyphean tragedy of alleged social progress – arguing that despite ‘meaningful’ progressive achievements in recent history, many issues Lecrae grew up with still remain today.
Then the next track ‘Sidelines’ is thematically a return the admittedly tired topic of Lecrae’s aforementioned rejection by the Christian community despite his own faith. Particularly after releasing the full-length album ‘Anomaly’ (2014) on this issue it was a bit disappointing to hear that he’s still rapping on this topic. He addresses his critics yet again on the track ‘It Is What It Is’ but to his credit, Lecrae’s flows are consistently tight and the production (particularly S1’s in ‘It Is What It Is’) in these two tracks is brilliant. Perhaps one of the best beats of this mixtape though comes from the, at times uncharacteristically braggadocious, track ‘Cruisin’. The contrast of fast spitting against a slow tempo funk-influenced beat creates a quasi-half time feel to the track to aptly fit the chilled vibe Lecrae tries to convey here in his lyrics.
Up next is ‘Can’t Do You (Ft. E-40)’. For me this was the weakest track on the mixtape with E-40’s short verse coming across as very out of place and what seems like a mediocre-at-best attempt at a beat in line with current mainstream hip-hop detracting from anything of value that Lecrae has to say here. As is custom in each of Lecrae’s projects, Church Clothes 3 features a song about his wife Darragh. Here this takes the form of ‘Forever’. Though his writing skill is still at the same standard, again the beat lets this track down. S1’s production is still far better than Black Knight’s in the previous track but after the admittedly great chopping up of a sample in the intro the beat quickly reveals itself to be little much more than a loop of this with a remarkably underwhelming hook.
Despite features from lauded mainstream artists, the stand-out features of this record are by far the penultimate track ‘Misconceptions 3′. Each instalment in this mixtape series has had a follow up from the original Church Clothes’ ‘Misconception (Ft. Propaganda, Braille, & Odd Thomas) in which Lecrae returns to his roots and collaborates with key figures in Christian Hip-Hop culture at the time. The first one featuring artists on the then-up-and-coming label Humble Beast: spoken word artist/poet/battle rapper Propaganda and verses from two of hip-hop trio Beautiful Eulogy and production from the third. ‘Misconception Pt. 2 (Ft. W.L.A.K.)’ featured the then-new Gospel rap group We Live As Kings (W.L.A.K.) who were charting on numerous Billboard charts that year. Church Clothes 3’s addition to the Misconception canon is possibly the best of the three, featuring recent Humble Beast signings Jackie Hill-Perry and JGivens, and his cousin John Givez. All three are incredible writers in their own right and they truly show off their talents in this track, with a well-crafted fourth verse from Lecrae as well to end. S1’s production here is almost Kendrick Lemar-esque and is a perfect platform for the rappers to spit their complex schemes and unique flows over.
Church Clothes 3 finishes with a trap-style track featuring only labelmates from Lecrae’s own Reach Records. The newly signed rapper/producer GAWVI’s slow 12/8-feel beat allows Lecrae and fellow Reach rapper KB to spit in the contemporary triplet flows made popular by Migos’ ‘Versace’. A relatively weak track to end the mixtape on in terms of substance, but a clear look forward to both Lecrae’s next chapter and his label’s nevertheless.
In conclusion, Church Clothes 3 is somewhat hit-and-miss as is common with Lecrae’s projects. The strong open with heavy themes and tight beats is perhaps let down by a few unimpressive tracks which seem relatively lazily-written. With this in mind, one has to hope that Lecrae’s next artistic direction will reflect more of the former than the latter styles – a reasonable prediction considering hints at an upcoming Kendrick Lemar collaboration.
- Best track: Misconception 3
- Best bar: “Light saves like a time change / Hands up and down like a sine wave” -JGivens, Misconceptions 3
Hear it here: Lecrae – Church Clothes 3 – A Short Film
Written by: Tom Wijesinghe