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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

Gravity: Lecrae

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?


Phil Mayers said...

Us Christians are a strange, polarised bunch! He gets nominated for best gospel album, we moan. If he got nominated for best hip-hop album, some of us would've moaned too!
Unfortunately, he's kinda in a no-win situation as far as Christians are concerned, so he's just gonna have to do what God has called him to do and run with that!
As for the rest us, let's allow artists the freedom to develop and grow even if they don't make the music we expect #rantover

Karl Nova said...

yes Phil! I feel that! haha!

Anonymous said...

congratulations to everyone nominated in this category. God's favor and your hard work has brought y'all this recognition. keep shining for His glory.


Karl Nova said...

Amen to that!

Anonymous said...

It is because people tend to get caught up in the label and think that as soon as you attach yourself that label then you are it. Removing that label will take them time to adjust their minds to the way they view his work and him. The challenge is for people to look at him without the label and still believe that he is the same person they knew sometime back, with the same values and principles at his core. Ofcourse he will lose some and gain some, it goes without saying.

Anonymous said...

And there are many great artists that have lived without grammy nominations, shocking as it may be. He can continue doing what he does best and doing the cyphers and collaborations etc etc, getting all the mismatched nominations, country music nominations, indie, rnb, hip hop, gospel, etc..., it doesn't make him less of an artist. I don't think much of these awards anymore like before. The buzz around them is not like before. They are watered down events, yes even the grammy awards are watered down these days.

Karl Nova said...

I totally agree with what you said when you said:

"It is because people tend to get caught up in the label and think that as soon as you attach yourself that label then you are it"

That is exactly it!

Anonymous said...

Another thing about the "Christian" genre label that I think is the main reason Lecrae and others want to separate from it is that it kind of infers a stigma that the music is specifically and only "for Christians." This mindset defeats part of their purpose as a ministry (and our purpose as Christians period) which is to reach those who are lost.

Karl Nova said...

I agree with your comment. I even mentioned it above. The thing is he can't separate himself from the genre label because by default he is in the Christian market. He is part of that genre by association and by the content of his music.

Congrats to lecrae for his Grammy win!

Anonymous said...

Whether an artist brands itself as gospel or not is of no relevance to me,I choose what I listen to. There are songs that are tagged as gospel that I can't put on my playlist bcos they don't portray what they call it and also I have muslim friends that listen and are fans of these so called gospel hiphop/rap artists that don't want to see themselves as gospel artists. As for me whether Lecrae is labeled a gospel artist or not he can still reach as many people as he wants to. Trust me even non-believers know good music whether branded gospel or not.

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