Humility, poverty, failure, struggle and gratitude are not subjects that turn up frequently in rap songs.
Then again, Lecrae's not your typical rapper.
Lecrae has largely been identified as a Christian hip-hop artist. But the No. 1 debut of his last album, 2014's Anomaly, has raised his profile. Lecrae's not merely a "really good Christian rapper" anymore. He's an artist whose verbal dexterity, unflinching authenticity and mastery of his craft is winning praise in the rap mainstream as well. The influential hip-hop magazine and website XXL, for instance, recently said of him, "Lecrae is one of the best rappers in the game right now."
And they're right.
On his latest single, Lecrae teams up with secular rapper Ty Dollar $ign to deliver a song that emphasizes the importance of staying grounded, working hard and choosing contentment, whether we're rich, poor or somewhere in between.
A Different Kind of Accounting
Rappers are often fond of counting: their money, their Bentleys, their bullet holes, their rivals. But Lecrae and Ty Dollar $ign encourage us to count our blessings instead.
Ty (real name: Tyrone William Griffin Jr.) launches the track with its chorus straight out of the gate. Singing instead of rapping, Ty emphasizes learning from failures ("If I ever took a loss, I learned a lesson"), thinking humbly of ourselves ("I won't ever think I'm better than the next man"), persevering through struggles ("I've been down before the come up, I ain't stressin'") and cultivating gratitude ("Baby, I'm too busy countin' all these blessings").
Then Lecrae takes the baton with his first rapped verse. Building on the thematic foundation Ty has laid, Lecrae says he's determined to keep his head up even during tough times ("Swear the sun shinin' on me in my huddle/No matter the trouble surroundin' us") and equally determined not to pilfer praise for his successes from God ("Won't take that credit, I know where we get it/Them blessings be comin' from God above").
Striking the Right Work/Family Balance
Lecrae and Ty both describe trying to provide for the ones they love. "I remember pushin' mama's little white Hyundai with no gas money," Lecrae recalls. And Ty raps about buying a house for the lady he sings about ("I put my mama in the crib, said, 'Stop stressin'").
But while that "mama" (Ty isn't officially married as of this writing, though tabloid rumors swirl that he may have recently, secretly tied the knot) does seem to appreciate his hard work on her behalf, she'd also like him to work equally hard on their relationship. "She said she need more of my love and affection/'Cause lately I've been workin' harder than ever." She also suggests that she's not sticking around because of the money, but because of love, which is the only thing that really matters: "'I've been down for you, boy, since when the money was low.'" No wonder Ty responds, "Anything for my bae, 'cause she a blessing."
In fact, Ty raps, "If you woke up this morning, it's a blessing/ … Count it up, count it up, count it up/Blessings."
Lecrae also recognizes that all good things come from God's providential care for our lives: "Everything that I got, all of my fam/Part of the plan." It echoes what he said in an interview with hiphopdx.com: "My thing is just like I always tell people before you complain, be grateful you got breath to complain with, just appreciate the little things. Just the small blessings that you just have. You woke up, you can walk and you're alive. We lost people last year, so just all those little things."
Which Direction Does the Influence Flow?
I sometimes hold my breath a bit when artists known for their faith partner with other artists who aren't obviously coming from a similar background. I worry that the association will backfire, perhaps diluting positive messages in an attempt to reach a broader mainstream audience.
But that doesn't seem to be the case here. If anything, Lecrae's partnership with Ty Dolla $ign here has elevated the secular rapper's game, at least as far as his lyrics are concerned. (Ty's work elsewhere has concerns worth noting, however, such as his recent collaboration with Fifth Harmony on the song "Work From Home".) At least in this instance, the flow of influence is a positive one, from Lecrae to Ty, not the other way around.
The result is a song that reminds us to nurture humility and gratitude, to work hard while still focusing on our families, and to remember that God's plan is the one that matters most, both in the midst of searing struggles and soaring successes.