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Thoughts on Lecrae's Billboard success: Let's play the numbers game.

A lot has been said about Lecrae and his going number one on the Billboard album chart with his latest album "Anomaly" a lot positive things as well as negative things. The best things I've read about it was THIS and THIS . I have been thinking about it all.

First of all some facts. I am not surprised he went no 1 with his first week sales of 88,587 because on the week he dropped, the only one who could come close was Jehene Aiko (she came 2nd selling 71, 230) but she is new and not yet on that level where she can command over 100,000 first week sales, this is her debut and she is still a niche artist. Also Meek Mill was supposed to drop his new album on the same day but due to him being locked up, Rick Ross and his MMG imprint pulled the release. If he had dropped on the same day I think lecrae would have been no 2 (Meek Mill's last album did 165,000 in it's first week)

Now some folks are saying he sold more than Maroon 5. Well he did that week but that wasn't Maroon 5's opening week for their latest album "V". Their opening week was the one before and they did 164,000 to top the chart just like lecrae did the following week. In their 2nd week when lecrae dropped they sold 80,027 and were number 2. That is very impressive. Other folks were saying lecrae outsold Jeezy and they are correct for the week that lecrae dropped BUT Jeezy's opening week for his latest album "Seen It All" sold 154,539 and the week lecrae dropped he sold 33,074 which made him 6th. In Lecrae's 2nd week he has experienced a 65% drop in sales and sold 31,243 copies to drop the 8th position. This is still very impressive and actually amazing. I mean he doesn't even have regular rotation on mainstream radio. I hope this achievement leads to that because some of the songs on Anomaly can actually be hit singles in my opinion

I just put these numbers up to give some context because in the excitement of such an unprecedented achievement a lot of exaggeration can be thrown about haha. This does not make Lecrae's achievement less impressive by any means. In fact as an indie release (distributed by RED Distribution a division of Sony Entertainment by the way which helps a lot) coming from someone who emerged from the niche christian hip hop scene it is really something. Lecrae in that respect is an anomaly (pun fully intended)

I have seen criticism of lecrae saying how can he be an anomaly when the sounds he uses in his album mimics the rap music sounds of others, well lecrae being an anomaly in this case isn't necessarily about the sound he employs to create his songs, he is not ushering in a whole new sound in rap music. Him being referred to as an anomaly is that his music expresses a worldview that isn't popular in mainstream rap music. It is a faith informed viewpoint from someone who is a real christian that allows his faith colour all his verses and songs. Even though this is the case he is accessing platforms normally shut off to a rapper of his kind because he has commercial sales numbers that cannot be overlooked and skills that can't be denied as an emcee. Some might argue Lecrae isn't the most skillful christian rapper but no one else in recent times has had the consistent commercial numbers like him in the niche scene that he has emerged from. The mainstream music industry respects numbers. The bottom line is sales are the primary thing the mainstream music industry checks for first even before checking out the music. Even if the music is bangin' the first questions they will ask is "can it sell?" "is it marketable?" and "can it make profit?" this is just the truth.

Mali Music can be said to be an artist who is making similar moves that Lecrae is making. His first week sales of his brilliant album "Mali is.." released by RCA Records were only 18,000. One would ask how come he didn't do half as much as lecrae? I can only offer some speculation.

Lecrae didn't immediately make his leap to where he is now, he has consistently and gradually built and worked very hard over time to get here. He has also grown from the niche he came from and expanded his audience over time. Anomaly is his 7th album. Let me repeat that, this is his 7TH ALBUM, let that sink in. He has also released 2 brilliant, widely downloaded and high profile free mixtapes. He has grown with his audience, this is not an overnight thing. His marketing has been great and the risks he has taken have really been inspiring to watch. All these factors along with the grace of God have gotten him to where he is now.

Mali Music in my opinion created one of the best albums of the year (in any genre) but his audience wasn't ready for his sudden leap from the niche he was in to the mainstream outlet and platforms he is on now. Also the mainstream are only getting to know who he is. It was almost like a shock to the system of the niche audience he was emerging from, they just weren't ready, I think if he continues along the path he is on they will get used to his new direction and grow with him. I hope RCA Records recognises this and keeps backing him. He definitely has a market and he definitely can deliver commercially viable music that is credible. Mali Music is an amazing songwriter and performer and I highly recommend his new album "Mali Is..."

Rap music is a dominant genre in America right now so that benefits lecrae. It doesn't make it automatically easier for him in fact it could make it harder but I think in this case it helps in a way. Singers like Mali Music and Michelle Williams (who sold only 8,500 in her first week of her latest album "Journey to freedom" which features her huge hit single "Say Yes" as well as a Lecrae feature on a song with Tye Tribbett) are struggling to sell high numbers coming from the gospel genre/market right now. Even Erica Campbell of Mary Mary was only able to sell 23,000 in the first week of her latest release "Help" (which has a lecrae feature on the title track). Some will say but didn't Lecrae say he is not a Christian rapper but just a christian that raps? that is true but the track record of the releases of his music show he is coming from the gospel/christian music market. I mean he won a Grammy for best gospel album last year! It is a tough one because the music he does is rap music but the content of his music is based on his faith in the gospel of Christ so he can occupy different scenes/markets both gospel/christian music as well as rap due to this fact. Does he have to choose one over the other? If you can occupy both and not lose your artistic integrity what is wrong with that? Lecrae isn't a traditional gospel artist is he? He raps. He doesn't even do the speaking in front a choir thing that Kirk Franklin does and others have copied (no shots hehe). So I can understand why he wouldn't want to just be called a christian rapper or gospel artist. That already limits him to one market and could possibly block him from being given a chance to be a credible rap artist that has access to platforms beyond the gospel/christian music/Christian hip hop platforms and outlets.

I think the main thing people need to think about is how this will affect rappers who are from the same scene Lecrae emerged from. Will this be a door for more rappers to breakthrough? Maybe, maybe not. It definitely does open up a world of possibility though. Finally there is some kind of reference point for both artists and the wider audience to refer to concerning rap music of this kind in a mainstream context beyond the ghettoised niche most are in. Lecrae has made a scene that is for the most part underground and invisible to the mainstream more visible in a positive kind of way even though he might have been misunderstood as one who has shunned his roots due to him publicly learning how to negotiate this new uncharted territory.

I am not fooled into thinking this means "lecraes" will be poppin' into the charts every week because apart from lecrae who else has the sales numbers to be this visible in the mainstream? I however do believe this benefits everyone in terms of inspiration and aspiration. If some can get over their fear, insecurity, envy and jealously this event can actually be a boost of faith for them. I somehow wish Lecrae could communicate to the world that there are many more like him who are just as good if not better. I think with the Church Clothes Vol 1 & 2 mixtapes that he dropped he tried to do that with the featured artists on it but for now this commercial success appears to be a one off and until someone else does it this big in this way, Lecrae remains an anomaly, commercially speaking.

The bottom line for me is I have to guard against only measuring my value in commercial terms which is what the mainstream music industry does. Impact isn't only about the sales you are able to achieve on the other hand I won't let this make me not celebrate the amazing achievement of Lecrae and recognise that it sends a message to the mainstream that the demand for this kind of rap music exists and the music isn't to be sealed off from the rest of the world and trapped in some secular vs sacred prison and ghetto of the christian/gospel music industry. I mean at the end of the day this is rap music innit? What makes it different is the worldview being communicated.

So could this happen in the UK? I say it could happen. We have a smaller market and a different kind of climate here which makes it more difficult but who knows what can happen down the line? I think people should just make honest heartfelt music and not be boxed in by any kind of unnecessary limitation. I think people should be ready for the hard knocks. I think people should think out the box and persevere. Everyone should run in their lane and see where it goes. Anything is possible.

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Anonymous said...

Good commentary friend!!


Karl Nova said...

Thanks :)

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