So Lecrae got nominated for a grammy, why are some folks not happy with the category he was nominated in?
I am going to try to make this a short one and I
am probably going to fail but I will try.
Ok this has been a very interesting year for Lecrae. His journey has been very interesting and inspiring to watch.
If you are familiar with Lecrae and his moves in the music biz I don't have to repeat the story, all I will say is a shift has happened with Lecrae and personally I find the shift and growth encouraging, I know there are those who will not agree with that but to each their own.
So now for the 2nd time Lecrae is up for a Grammy, last time around he was in Best Rock Gospel Album (that was in 2011) and he didn't win it. The rock group Switchfoot took it (I like Switchfoot because I like how the lead singer Jon Foreman thinks, it is Jon who said "we are Christian by faith not by genre" but I digress), now the Grammys have discontinued that award category and now we have Best Contemporary Christian Album and Best Gospel Album.
Lecrae has been nominated in the gospel album award for his latest album "Gravity" which has been his most commercially successful album, as of September 23 it has sold 103,000 copies. For an independent Christian rap artist that is huge. So everything should be lovely and sweet. Well for some it isn't.
I saw a post on Rapzilla announcing lecrae's award nomination and when I got to the comments section I saw some fans expressing their dissatisfaction with him being nominated in this category (go and have a look at it HERE read the comments section) They said they would have preferred he was nominated in the best rap album category. Which has:
Drake: Take Care
Lupe Fiasco: Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Pt 1
Nas: Life is Good
The Roots: Undun
Rick Ross: God Forgives, I don't
2 Chainz: Based on a T.R.U. Story
Looking at the nominees for that category I can honestly say "Gravity" by Lecrae deserves to be there but unfortunately it isn't the case and until Lecrae is able to fully break out of the Christian/Gospel genre/market box of perception he is stuck in, it is not gonna happen. In this industry he is branded as a Christian/Gospel artist. This is how he came up as an independent Christian rapper from the sub-genre called Christian Hip Hop. He might personally be trying to change this branding and even to an extent be succeeding in shifting perception but the fact he got nominated in the gospel album category and not best rap album category shows that he is still in that box as far as the industry is concerned. Even if he was nominated in the rap album category I don't think he would win, I think that award is between "take care" by Drake and "life is good" by Nas.
This is just the problem with defining a genre primarily by it's lyrical content and not it's musical style. Lecrae has been working hard to break out of this box and be seen as a Hip Hop/Rap artist this year and not just relegated and stuck in the niche of the Christian/Gospel market but it has been a hard fight for him. Perception is everything. Let's look at this a bit closer.
Lecrae decided to drop defining himself as a "Christian rapper" as well as pushing the idea of "Christian Hip Hop" this year. He is not saying he is not a Christian anymore or even slighting the community of Christian Hip Hop Fans either but just saying that like Mos Def and Lupe Fiasco who are muslims but are regarded as Hip Hop artists and therefore have a place in the wider hip hop community/marketplace, he wants to be similar. One who is authenically a Hip Hop artist but one who is authentically a Christian reflecting a Christian worldview in his songs and lyrics to a wider audience. It is really simple but he has faced a severe backlash from some fans of Christian Hip Hop who think he is "selling out" and "watering down" Of course such comments are silly because listening to his "Church Clothes" mixtape and his album "Gravity" it is clear he isn't doing any of that. If he has changed at all it is for the better as far as I can see.
I think the main reason Lecrae got this backlash is because some christians are so invested in Christian rap/Hip Hop as a genre that they quite possibly define themselves by their attachment to it. Doing that is actually not the best because as a Christian your identity is defined by faith in Christ and not by your involvement in a genre even if it is labelled "Christian" like I say in a line "Don't get it twisted I'm defined by my faith not a genre/it's not a subculture that makes me more than conqueor"
The business of selling music in the niche market of Christian music depends on this labelling of music as "Christian" or "Gospel" so those who own "Christian" labels NEED to call what they sell Christian because it seems that is the fastest and easiest way to tap into the "Christian" market. It doesn't mean everyone who does it this way will be successful but it sure does help labeling things this way when it comes to the marketing side of things to a Christian audience and that cannot be denied. It's just the way it is, even if in some cases it makes things a bit weird. I guess the word Christian isn't always a good adjective (is it ever a good adjective?) and is a better noun.
So now we have Lecrae nominated in the best gospel album category. For most of us in the UK we would have no problem with that at all. Over here if you are a Christian and you are black and you talk about your faith in Christ in your music you are called a gospel artist period no matter what style of music you do. Even if you make the most amazing Hip Hop album or grime album or R&B album, there is no other option it seems unless you abandon calling yourself a gospel artist altogether but that might not even work, if you are "gospel by association" once you emerge from the "gospel scene" as it is called, it seems you are labelled as a gospel artist for life. In the UK we don't even use definitions like Christian Hip Hop or have a CHH community even though there are are Christians that rap. Sometimes it is hard for folks in the UK to understand how Christian Hip Hop/Rap isn't seen as part of the gospel genre by the fans in America.
The fact that some American Christian rap/hip hop fans are not happy with lecrae being nominated in the gospel category just highlights what I always tell UK folks, Christian Rap/Hip Hop isn't regarded as part of the gospel genre by the fans of the music in America but as far as industry definitions go, Gospel music is Christian music by black people and Christian rap/Hip Hop falls under that. It seems Lecrae even with his efforts to be regarded as an authentic hip hop artist will not be able to escape this. No matter how many BET Hip Hop cyphers he's in, no matter how many mainstream rap artists he features on his projects or how many mainstream hip hop co-signs he gets.
Ok I have gone on for too long, I knew it would be long one lol. What is the bottom line of all this? I dunno. I guess awareness of how genre definitions can be limiting is something I wanted to highlight. Sometimes an artist just wants to be free from all this but marketing depends on labeling and some fans seem to depend on this labeling of music genres for their identity which is not a healthy thing if you ask me. So congrats to Lecrae for being nominated for a Grammy maybe one day you might be able to be in the best rap album category and if you are a fan of Christian rap/Hip Hop or Gospel Music try to understand how industry/genre definitions work, it is hard to explain if you are not actually involved in the music industry and are just a fan. Anyway here are the full nominations for "best gospel music album" the category Lecrae is in:
Identity: James Fortune & FIYA
Jesus At The Centre Live: Israel & New Breed
I Win: Marvin Sapp
Worship Soul: Anita Wilson
Oh yeah I have to add this before somebody throws it out there, we know that it is not about awards and the accolades of men but God's reward. Yeah I know this BUT I only wrote this blog because of some comments I saw in the comments section of the Rapzilla Post about this. Hehehe
UPDATE: This blog entry was written way before the Grammy awards happened. I would like to say congratulations to Lecrae and Reach Records for his Grammy win. I have to say I was surprised but it was well deserved. This further makes me wonder how the Christian Hip Hop community will take this if some were not happy with his nomination in this category in the first place?