Perception vs. reality. A core mental struggle since Adam and Eve’s perception of “becoming like God” betrayed the reality of death that awaited them (and mankind). Perception played a central role in the crucifying of our Lord Jesus, only to watch Reality ascend to the heavens. And, of course, the perception that an outfit is a strong determinant of how much you really are devoted to the Lord. Ultimately, Lecrae’s much anticipated, celebrated, and hated on project Church Clothes, is an audio study of perception vs. reality. Let’s take a closer look at what was both correctly and incorrectly percieved about this release.
Getting right into the 18 song tracklist, which was hosted by the DJ Don Cannon, Lecrae addresses his place in the world of music on “Co-Sign”. The most important bars come one after another on this song, as Crae speaks both on why he should be able to preach Jesus since others spit about their religions, and why he should not be considered a Gospel rapper. I am one who feels that the reality of the skill level of a large number of Christian/ Gospel rappers is much more favorable than years past, so to be perceived as one is not what it once was. I wasn’t sure it was necessary to make such a strong request, partially because Lecrae has been respectfully called “that Christian rapper” by many who saw him on the BET cypher. Either way, Lecrae's strong rebuke of the world's perception of pleasure being found anywhere other than the reality of Christ was admirable, even with the track being above average.
Moving forward, “APB” was solid (the Charlie Heat/ Sarah J beat was pretty decent) but the only thing spectacular about it was Thi’sl’s verse. Now for the title track, a true example of perception vs. reality from multiple angles. Produced by Wit, the intricate beat was one of the most technically impressive on the album and allowed for Lecrae to lay out the subtle hypocrisy of an unbeliever. "It better not be no real God, with real hope, that heals hearts// That shows me that I ain't livin' up// to all the things that He put me here for//" Although the tone and aim was obvious to a large number of listeners, there were a contingent of folks who were certain Lecrae was confirming their perception of him selling out in detailed fashion. It served as a commentary of just how impatient many ears have become over the years. Lecrae presents a socially conscious flow on standout song “Cold World”, featuring Tasha Catour- first singer I ever heard with a tag- on the hook, over a composition that might be Street Symphony’s most impressive (partially because of the crisp drums). The reawakening of the Tedashii we all know and love occurs on the “Welcome to H-Town”, which is a remix to the remix of the original versions on Dre Murray’s Hell’s Paradise 1, as well as 2 (episode 2). Even though Von Won didn't appear on the track list, he is a major reason this slightly aged song is a top tier part of this project.
Introspection and worship is the order for “Inspiration”, while inspiration is the order for “Rise” (produced by 9th Wonder), a nice song ordering that basically expresses Lecrae’s desire to be sent and encourage others to change their perception of life, with the reality of the Gospel. Now for a personal low point of the project, “Darkest Hour”, partially because the track was almost too slow and because I expected more from No Malice. He is a storied lyricist, not diminishing that, but the “fe fi fo fum” and “rock, paper, scissors” lines weren’t up to par. Lecrae did better but still, this song is a skipper for me. As it feels like I say every other review, there are not enough songs we can hear from a Biblical angle to make up for the years of degrading tracks aimed at women. But, Lecrae tried to put a dent in it with the block of songs “Black Rose” (produced by Tyshane), “The Price of Life” (Symblyc One/ S1), and “Special” (TheInnerCircle). “Black Rose” stands out because Lecrae’s flip to the rude boy flow he’s sprinkled on previous projects fits over the reggae infused track to cover, yep, perception versus reality. The hooks says it all: “She ain’t never seen Garden of Eden, only seen garden of bleeding// And some are gonna lie and hate and make her feel like she’s a heathen.//”. “The Price of Life” is a horn driven composition that features an excellent contribution from Co Campbell and good verse from Andy Mineo.These two tracks are confirmed Lecrae’s love note to his wife, “Special” (featuring the impressive Lester Shaw), an important address of biblical marriage.
Rebuttals can be subtle, while others are a bit more direct. “No Regrets” (featuring top notch singing from Suzy Rock) hits the latter, as Lecrae deconstructs YOLO, YMCMB and just about any other flawed entity that begins with a Y. The collaborative musical effort of Big Juice and Street Symphony provided a near perfect backdrop and helps this project continue to balance between the boom bap and more modern sounds, without going Euro. Between the nondescript beat (Boi-1da made) and mediocre singing by Lecrae (now we know he didn’t sing on Overdose “Strung Out”), “Gimme A Second” is far from memorable and is another skippable song. 9th Wonder provides another solid instrumental on “Long Time Coming”, allowing for a solid lyrical effort from Lecrae and a great one from Swoope. That said, this isn’t one of those songs you’ll be likely to have pop in your head randomly, like say “Misconception”. It’s hard to say whether or not incorrect perception comes before or after misconception but many related to being followers of Christ are textbook tackled on this track. Odd Thomas absolutely stole the show while Propaganda did his thing and Braille dropped wisdom, Lecrae held his own amongst the Humble Beasts (and he was pretty clear yet again with this line- "there is a God you should believe in, and His name is Jesus!". Courtland Urbano created a genius of a beat here and all four artists approached it with the proper care, making it clear that it’s Christ alone for them.
As the project comes to a close, Lecrae goes back to his crunk/ party lane with “Spazz” but it ends up being a song that is best for live performances. The Charlie Heat made beat is decent but, like the hook, it lacks depth and is not a heavy rotation offering. That being said, “Sacrifice” follows and is possibly the best overall song on the project when considering music and delivery. "If Jesus really lived, then He really died.// Sacrificed Himself and rose before their very eyes,// and if I ain't really changed then its all a lie!// Why put my life on the line, man this ain't worth my time//". When listening to this song, I couldn’t help but feel like I was listening to a full grown “Go Hard”, that matched passion with a level of conviction duplicated by few. The way that Red On The Beat chopped the (Ali) sample up and laced it with the tuba, matched with solid drums, created a great backdrop for part 1 of Lecrae’s mission statement. “Rejects” proves to be part 2 of that statement, as Lecrae makes clear that in the midst of his foray into mainstream hip hop, he will not cower from presenting the cross. The Kracken! aka Cheesebeats provides an epic piece for this song, and Christon Gray’s vocals prove to work well on a beat that doesn’t seem geared towards crooning.
As far as impact goes, this is an album that is built to influence change in perceptions about Christ, His followers, and their music. From the standpoint of seizing the opportunity to stand boldly for Christ's name, I commend Lecrae for not caving or backing down; he might have adjusted his approach, but didn't adjust the Truth. Musically, there were some tracks that could’ve been trimmed to keep the tracklist around 14 or so, but there were no horrible threads to this first phase of Church Clothes. A lot of the credit for the flow and polish goes to the A&R, Street Symphony, who provides a lot of experience with artistic direction. This project should cause non-Christians to look both forward and backwards at what we are/ have been doing and challenge a lot of Christians on their previous outcasting of artists like Corey Red, Tunnel Rats, Japhia Life, and many others. As far as the perception of Lecrae's purpose, going forward I pray people will think the best and seek understanding with the reality that was revealed on this project, which is Christ-centered, mission- minded, and of good musical quality.
Categorical Ratings Breakdown:
Beat Selection/Production: 4/5