Album Review: Lecrae – Restoration

Lecrae Devaughn Moore, once a thrill-seeking troublemaker known as “Crazy ‘Crae” in his adolescent years, where drug dealing and promiscuity ruled his so-called life as a “Zombie” (as stated in one of his recent singles), learned through hard and tough times his place in the world. The rapper from Houston, Texas, eventually raised out to become a role model instead, using his music as a public speaker where he openly shares his ups and downs in life, from the ugly parts to finding the light at the end of the tunnel, eventually. Moreover, it’s his faith that guides his vision, life, and music, which did not attract his attention in his teenage years but instead found it back like little pieces throughout adulthood.

His vision of Christian hip hop was early on fulfilled at Reach Records, his own established record label where he puts out music since his 2004 debut LP “Real Talk”. Since then establishing himself as an artist on his own imprint that also rolled out the red carpet for many other notable rap artists and producers, like Tedashii, GAWVI, Andy Mineo, Trip Lee, and Hulvey. Though often put into the Christian music category, for Lecrae, there are no boxes in what he creates, and followed a mix of pure rap, some pop, some gospel, some R&B – basically, whatever is served, is served. His early recognition in Billboard Charts and award ceremonies like the Dove Awards slowly but surely made Lecrae a standout name, especially when his second album, 2006s “After the Music Stops” made it on the 5th place, and his 2008 follow up “Rebel” on the top of the Gospel Charts. Then, when “Rehab” (2010) and “Rehab: The Overdose” (2011) eventually cracked the official Billboard Hot 200 into the top 20, it was just like magic when his top 3 LP “Gravity” (2012) won a Grammy for Best Gospel Album in 2013 and brought more light into his catalogue with well-received singles like “I Know” and “Tell the World”, featuring Mali Music.

While with “Gravity” he found mainstream appeal, his follow up acclaimed LP “Anomaly” from 2014 managed to even top his success in the charts, being the first album that both topped the official Hot 200 as well as the Gospel charts. His conscious content in songs like “Nuthin”, “Runners”, and “Say I Won’t” (feat. Andy Mineo) strengthened his place in the industry, with his For King & Country collaboration in the album closer “Messengers” – a Gospel and African inspired track with feels of wilderness and freedom – earning him another Grammy in 2015 for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song. Not forgetting his acclaim for his “Church Clothes” mixtapes, released in 2012, 2013, and 2016.

Then, when major label Columbia Records caught interest in Lecrae and released his 8th album “All Things Work Together” (2017) in a joint venture with Reach, he initially liked the major resources that helped shine a light to his singles “Blessings” (feat. Ty Dolla $ign), “Broke”, and his platinum record “I’ll Find You” with Tori Kelly. However, the restricted freedom in his music and projects got away from his “fluidity and the ability to move and when he wants to move” and decided to solely stay at his own label that he built up from scratch.

Now back under Reach Records, “Restoration” finally saw the light in 2020, three years after “All Things Work Together”, and two years after his last album release “Let the Trap Say Amen”, a trap project in collaboration with producer Zaytoven. Lyric-wise, it’s as if Lecrae figuratively rewinds a cassette tape from the beginning and re-introduces the listener about his past that shaped his mission, but also addresses the gap years between now and his last album, in addition speaking about recent world issues. In introduction “Restore Me”, Lecrae uses the opportunity for a quick flashback about his struggles in life, with Taylor Hill ending the song with a quick singing performance: “If that’s what it takes to know what I’m worth, restore me”. The album then goes back and forth with either faster or slower beats and change in content, with “Self Discovery” carrying the theme of “Restoration”. Mixed with recordings of relatives talking about Lecrae and his success as a rapper, it also discusses the missing pieces of his heritage/roots and where he comes from. It’s a moment where he seeks out his identity yet connects back to the theme of former tracks like “Nuthin” and “Timepiece” from his album “Anomaly”, discussing how money and material things (like houses and cars) should not be the goal in life. On a side note, the track also stands out for its rhythmic repeats of “big-big-big” and “did-did-did”. A typical trait by Lecrae, as he’s known for creative lines and structures in his rap, sometimes some singing on the side like in the chilled down track “Wheels Up”, featuring Marc E. Bassy.

“Wheels Up” Official Music Video (feat. Marc E. Bassy)

Furthermore, the theme of “Restoration” continues when Lecrae connects tracks with each other. Most notably “Saturday Night” and “Sunday Morning”, literally telling a story from one night to the next morning: on “Saturday Night” (featuring Jozzy), Lecrae’s thoughtful moments are shared, questioning guilty pleasures (“Here I am in the club again, yeah / Caged like wrestle mania”) and eventually ends with an alarm going off, hearing a woman speaking “Get yo’ church clothes and let’s go” – then straight to “Sunday Morning” as if you enter a church and found a chance to “wake up” as sung in the hook, ending with Kirk Franklin sharing words like in a seminar. Both elements then intertwine in “Zombie”. A feel-good sing-along, telling the story of Lecrae’s past where he describes himself as a zombie, the rebel from the streets getting his hands on drugs, sex, alcohol, and how he eventually was awakened (“…Always acting brazy but my heart feel like a chew toy”).

“Zombie” Official Music Video

The entire album is built upon survival when songs like alarming “Keep Going” addresses the struggle to move on from former lifestyles, getting “these shackles off his feet” as sung in lead single “Set Me Free”, with YK Osiris, that uses a prominent sample of “Shackles (Praise You)” by Mary Mary. What attracts attention as well is his shift towards current events, the Black Lives Matter movement and ongoing police brutality that directly gets addressed in “Deep End” (“The world gone mad, can’t ignore this noise”). Actually not supposed to be on the album, but due to the ongoing social and racial unrest in the US, Lecrae was inspired to write down his thoughts just one more extra time before the album was finished, and the dusky beat-filled track is not only a notable highlight but also connects very well with another standout: “Drown”. Released as the third single after “Set Me Free” and “Deep End”, it serves as a re-introduction before the album drop, featuring John Legend bringing in his vocals with hopelessness in his tone, suiting the song’s message of ‘drowning in darkness’. Similar to “Deep End”, but generalizes the topics, from wars to injustice to the COVID-19 epidemic packed with Lecrae’s sad but not-giving-up attitude in his rap supported with keyboard sounds and a hip hop beat.

“Drown” Official Music Video (feat. John Legend)

When his last solo LP “All Things Work Together” had “Broke”, and his 7th album “Anomaly” had “Nuthin” and “Dirty Water”, “Restoration” answers back with “Over The Top”. Serious and dark, in-your-face with a hard beat like the other mentioned songs from his previous albums, described by ‘Crae as being “tired of playing the empire’s game”. It’s the realization of ‘what is fame and is it really important?’ And one of Lecrae’s typical deep-thinking moments, seeing things from a different perspective which he is admired for – for his realness and honestly. In the music video, he actually smashes his platinum plaque for his single “I’ll Find You” (feat. Tori Kelly) – a song with a hopeful message having similar vibes to Wiz Khalifa’s and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” – released when still being on major label Columbia. Using a bat to smash it from the wall while serpents are around the building that, according to Lecrae, represent craftiness (“Billboard number 1, did that (Did it) / Independent label, I built that (Did it) / Illuminati rumors, I killed that (Did it) / Arena full of people, I filled that (Who cares?!)”

The heavy content then eases down towards the ending of the album, first with tropical R&B vibes in “Still” – a track ‘for the ladies’ as Lecrae likes to call it – where he delivers smooth chemistry with singer DaniLeigh that could pass for a Rihanna and Drake duet. He then pulls himself out with BJ The Chicago Kid with orchestra feels in “Only Human” and ends in collaboration with Gwen Bunn in “Nothing Left to Hide” that, as the title predicts, opens up in transparency, and similar like in other of his LPs likes to end in a high note, opening up, wrapping up, and staying positive after all.

“Over The Top” Official Music Video

As Lecrae is one of the rappers born into a certain lifestyle that connects with a so-called ‘gangster attitude’, he rather decided to not idolize a thug life and proofed by never using any forced ghetto content or hustler raps that hip hop does not necessarily need that kind of “package” to sonically sound the way it should be. Thoughtful lyrics, relatable content and slick beats make his songs connect very well with hip hop without a mouth full of swear words or bragging about that gold chain. But besides rap also brings in some gospel influences to tie in his Christian background. These values are known throughout his albums, and “Restoration” carries on these ethics. Sometimes balancing his content with a featured singer, that often takes in a bunch of a song, but is able to even it out in his 10th studio album.

Lecrae, though, always walks a line between underground rap and secular music. Known and respected, but still sometimes not in the limelight, partly as certain mainstream listeners do not give a chance to artists who are placed in the Christian/gospel category. His efforts in concluding John Legend in “Drown” and using the popular Mary Mary sample in “Set Me Free” feel like a try to turn things around, even though the sample, as well as the feature, do not necessarily make the album any better than it already is. At the end of the day, “Restoration” follows his streak with lyrical content he’s known for, almost as if former songs of his develop into the next level, like the racial issues from 2014s “Dirty Water” transform into current racial events in “Deep End”. In a whole, “Restoration” is another milestone where he’s able to pull out a continued collection of ‘Lecrae Classics’, though here and there some songs that fall in the middle. But what’s certain is that you will always get something new when a new Lecrae record comes along.

Highlight Tracks:

Drown (feat. John Legend)
Deep End
Over The Top
Self Discovery

Full Track List:

Restore Me
Set Me Free (feat. YK Osiris)
Wheels Up (feat. Marc E. Bassy)
Over The Top
Self Discovery
Deep End
Drown (feat. John Legend)
Saturday Night (feat. Jozzy)
Sunday Morning (feat. Kirk Franklin)
Keep Going
Still (feat. DaniLeigh)
Only Human (feat. BJ The Chicago Kid)
Nothing Left to Hide (feat. Gwen Bunn)

“Deep End” Official Music Video

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