When it was announced last Sunday that Gospel rapper Lecrae was the Grammy winner for Best Gospel Album for his latest project, Gravity, it was a watershed moment for the industry. As a genre, Gospel rap has idled in a virtual no-man's land for years - not "hip" enough for the mainstream, yet too contemporary for Gospel's traditionalists.
Lecrae's win may be but a small step for Gospel as a whole, as he is certainly the most successful and visible rapper in the industry - with no clear runner-up. But it is still a giant leap for an underground collective of artists and producers who have been waiting for just a time as this.
Jojo Pada, the founder and President of Ignition PR, a premiere Gospel/faith-based PR and marketing company, believes that Lecrae's Best Gospel Album Grammy - the first ever awarded to a rapper - has put executives on alert as well.
"Lecrae's Grammy win, plus his exceptional sales success will really make labels, execs, radio and the industry at-large take notice of this genre," she says. "Lecrae's music is authentically hip hop, regardless of what his message is. It sounds and feels contemporary, and that leads to his success."
Lecrae is so committed to authenticity, in fact, that he recorded "Fakin" - a track from Gravity - to call out mainstream rappers' unrealistic representations of hip hop. In the first verse he raps: "I'm ridin' round and I'm gettin' it/ They ridin' round pretendin'/ I been had it, I been done it/ I promise that it's all empty."
It's a formula that Pada says other artists must employ in order to continue to propel the genre forward. "I think sometimes artists make music [that] sounds like what people think mainstream rap should sound like, or they are overly preachy. Instead I think it's better to just make music that's organically true to you and your experience."
Andre Griffith, host of the Stellar Award-nominated C1 Radio Show featuring "the hottest in Holy Hip Hop, Rhythm and Praise, Christian Rock and Contemporary Gospel music," feels the disconnect also lies with rappers who fail to put together the total package. "You have artists who have a good message but sub-par skills and/or production," says Griffith. "In the other corner you have artists that have on-point production, but all they talk about is "my blessings" and lose focus of the Gospel. Then there are the select few that know how to blend production, delivery and thought provoking messages designed to look and sound relevant to the urban populous."
With his record label, Reach Records, Lecrae is definitely poised to dominate contemporary Gospel with his unique brand of lyrical ministry - whether or not the industry is ready to receive all that he has to offer.
"I think Gospel rap is at the beginning stages of growth, very much like how the genre of hip hop itself began," says Pada. "No one anticipated where hip hop and rap would go, and Gospel rap has unlimited potential to become the "mainstream" Gospel music in a few years."
Ultimately, says Griffith, it will come down to all Christians - not just hip hop fans - supporting artists like Lecrae to ensure that he isn't the only one earning critical and commercial acclaim. "The talent is there; what is not there is the exposure that they need," Griffith explains. "We need more than a Sunday morning on FM Radio or on BET. Support is also needed from saints - not just from gospel rap fans, but from the traditional and contemporary lovers, too.
"It's either our treasure or their trash that our kids are going to listen to, so even if you're not a fan of gospel rap, I say support it and give it to a rap listener. One well-placed play can make that much of a difference."