PLANT CITY — Hip hop artist Lecrae wants fans to know he carries scars.
As a boy he experienced neglect and physical abuse. As a teen, he turned to drugs, guns and women. He once attempted suicide.
Then he found healing, through music and a belief in Jesus Christ.
Since releasing his first album, Real Talk, in 2004, Lecrae has managed to achieve success in mainstream hip-hop rapping about God and positivity.
In 2013, he joined the Rock the Bells tour featuring Common, Kendrick Lamar and Wu-Tang Clan. In 2014, his album Anomaly debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 charts.
In May, Lecrae will release his first book, Unashamed, detailing his early life struggles and rise through the ashes.
I spoke to the artist, who performs March 5 at the Strawberry Festival, about faith, music and steering clear of labels.
In the last couple years, you've managed to transcend the Christian hip-hop and Gospel genre? Why do you think that is? Do things such as landing the top spot on Billboard's 200 surprise you?
Music is music. Christianity is a faith not a genre. It's about musical expression. Accolades and things like that are always a surprise. Me, most of the time, I keep my nose down working in the studio. The only thing through that process I'm thinking about is making the best music possible.
How does your faith impact your work?
My faith impacts every aspect of what I do and who I am. There is that moral line. I never write music that contradicts it, at least not on purpose. My music is not about being degrading or misogynistic. It's glorifying.
Is it difficult keeping the music positive in an industry saturated with the opposite?
Honestly Kendrick, J Cole, in a lot of ways they are taking a similar path, going against the grain of what you see in hip hop a lot of times.
How does the crowd react when you tour with artists such as Kendrick Lamar?
Everyone loves it and wants to know why I'm not there more often. I come in as the underdog to a lot of people and then when I'm finishing, they're like man you need to keep going.
Have you experienced any backlash from within Christian hip-hop?
My fans support me and know what I'm about. I would never slander or put down another genre. Philosophically, that's just not where I see myself.
Why did you write Unashamed?
It chronicles my journey. I'm very candid about being physically abused and sexually molested, about the sexual exploitation I had to experience to make me the person I am today. The stories in the book are raw and real, and hopefully will be able to help people. Leaders lead in vulnerability. When you're vulnerable you heal people. You show people your scars and they see how deep the wounds are, but they see they've healed. Maybe it gives them some hope.
What do you enjoy about touring?
Being on the road with your friends and the bonds that you build. Aside from that, seeing the fans and how much they appreciate the music.
Will you get to spend time at the Strawberry Festival? Will you try the strawberry shortcake?
I hope so. I may get to experience the festival a little bit. We will have to see how my figure is looking for the shortcake.
You devote a lot of time mentoring to young people. What advice do you give?
Your past does not define you. Your mistakes do not define you. Delight in your purpose. Be who you were created to be.
Contact Sarah Whitman at email@example.com