“Anomaly” is an apt title for Lecrae’s newest project. The Houston-based artist’s name has a stigma attached to it right out of the gate: His reputation as a “Christian” rapper immediately calls to mind thoughts of hackneyed rhymes dedicated entirely to praising God without making any compelling arguments to do so, all done over obvious soul samples looped ad nauseam (at least, that’s what high school talent shows taught me). However, in a delightfully pleasant surprise, Lecrae happily kicks down the door of that misconception and proves himself to be one of the most topically versatile rappers alive.
To toss at him the “Christian” label is to veil Lecrae’s legitimacy, a disservice to the expansive nature of his lyrics. He packs myriad messages into a single album without feeling scatterbrained in the slightest. He’s that uncommon breed of MC with a tight grasp of technical skill and conceptualism. Common topics (re: difficult childhoods, struggles with alcoholism and questions about religion) are all covered, but unconventional areas are also addressed. “Fear” finds Lecrae discussing his high school days, when peer pressure instilled in him a false facade of toughness that he couldn’t back up. Profoundly morbid metaphors that link gold chains to lynchings add another punch. The brutal honesty and relentless, explicitly detailed self-reflection is beyond refreshing in this genre of music; Lecrae isn’t just keeping it real, he’s spilling his guts all over these tracks.
This MC isn’t only sharing his own ugly truths, either: He also turns his magnifying glass outward and examines larger problems with the world he lives in. “Welcome To America” provides a shockingly well-thought-out collection of observations on U.S. life that details both the national givings we should be grateful for and the cultural flaws we must work to change. Finding a rapper willing to take a non-biased stance on such subjects, tackling both positives and negatives, is like stumbling on a hip-hop holy grail — something to be commended, even if the listener doesn’t agree with the message.
The album also avoids the pretentious pitfall of sacrificing fun tracks for poetic purism. Lecrae isn’t afraid to step down from the soapbox to get down on the club floor. “Runners” unabashedly admits its affection for the feminine form, giving the listener some variety to break up the heavy subjects on other songs. Even tracks with otherwise poignant content like “Broken” aren’t afraid to fill space with hooks tailor-made for pop sensibilities, an easy-on-the ear aesthetic decision that keeps the atmosphere from ever getting too heavy.
Anomaly occasionally trips over these radio-friendly hooks, however. Guest features that wouldn’t sound out of place in the background of a club have a tendency to kill the mood when they follow up a dark verse about substance abuse, and this kind of immersion-shattering dissonance occurs far too frequently on the album. “Broken,” “Give In,” “Good, Bad, Ugly,” “Nuthin,” and many other tracks have more than a hint of corniness when the verses fade into the autotune-y singing. Their inclusion is a disappointing decision considering Lecrae’s rapping skills are solid enough to hold these hooks on his own: “Dirty Water,” for example, relies on a hook that is spit rather than sung, and it ends up being one of the album’s catchiest moments. Still, even lukewarm singing can be patched up by fantastic production, as the gorgeous conclusion to “Fear” proves.
That fantastic production is another standout quality of Anomaly. Beats typically fall into the categories of soulful sojourns (“All I Need Is you”), straight bangers (“Dirty Water”) and feats of engineering that manage to blend the two (“Fear”). Heavy emphasis on rumbling bass slams and cascading female vocal samples provide a perfect platform for the kind of topics Lecrae enjoys discussing. The best cuts of the album even dive into experimental territory. “Broken” makes use of garbled synth-like sounds that seem to run in reverse, which sets the perfect backdrop for the bewildered rhymes addressing alcoholism. Not all is perfect and proper, though. Frequent repetitions of familiar bass rumbles and 808s begin to detract from each track’s personal identity.
Still, the album as a whole stands out from its many counterparts in the world of hip-hop. Lecrae defies all expectations set by his occasionally obvious production, generic hooks, and “Christian rap” label by packing this record with some of the most open-minded and substantial rhymes to infiltrate the brains of listeners this year. With an emphasis on delivering these tightly packaged morals and less of a dedication to so-so singing performances, Lecrae could end up going down in history for preaching some of the most significant messages in rap music’s adolescence. Don’t let the first sentence of his Wikipedia page fool you: Anomaly is about far more than God.
4 out of 5
You can purchase Anomaly here.