I had a little conversation with my Wife one day while we were driving to Universal City walk. Now she is not a huge Christian Hip Hop fan. She likes it but she is not deep in it like I am. We were talking about Lecrae and the new album he was dropping when she asked me a question. “Why is Lecrae so popular? He is not the best Christian rapper. I’ve heard better rappers and better albums so why does everyone get excited when he puts an album out?” That conversation lead to the idea of me writing a dissertation where I breakdown the answer to that question. It actually took me a little longer to write this piece. Other websites have post articles on this same subject but I decided to still post mine.
Now I want to drop on principal truth on you, and this applies to music, books, movies, shoes, cars, phones, food, pretty much any consumer product. Having the best product does not mean you will be the most successful, just like selling the most does not mean you are the best. If the question, “Why is Lecrae so popular?” had a one word answer, that word would be marketing (or branding). If I could extend that answer, I would say he mastered the art of building a “cult-like following.” Is Nike the best shoe brand? Is Coca-Cola the best Cola? Is Apple the best electronics company? To certain people the answer is yes and those people are the core or cult followers for those particular brands. You see Lecrae and Reach records have built a core following unlike anything that has ever been seen before in Christian Hip Hop. I would even argue, the only other man to build a following like that in “Black” Christian entertainment is Tyler Perry (That is if you would call his product Christian). In fact, in a recent article for ESPN’s Grantland, Rembert Browne actually compares Lecrae to Tyler Perry because of how they both reach secular and Christian audiences.
“Because, in ‘Anomaly,’ like some of Perry’s films, the Christianity sneaks up on you,” Browne wrote, linking “Believe Me” to a string of other recent successful Christian-themed films. “It’s clear there is a market for Christian-themed pop culture.”
So back to the question. Why is this independent, Christian rapper able to move more units than artist with household names who are backed by machines like Def Jam?
Here are the ingredients I believe Lecrae used to build a following:
1. Lecrae is a master at making art for a universal audience
Lecrae understands people and how to connect to them. He knows who his core fans are and he targets them. He knows who gets the most excited about what he’s working on, and is always first to pre order his album on itunes. If he knows and understands his target, that knowledge is used when designing his product, packaging and marketing his brand. He also knows who his top evangelists are. In marketing an evangelist is a person or organization with great influence. When an evangelist speaks, people listen. Rapzilla.com gets more traffic than every other Christian Hip Hop site. For that reason, when something is going down with Reach Records, Rapzilla is always the first to break the news. Locking down just a few evangelist can lead to thousands if not millions of core followers for your brand. But the key to crossover success is to connect with more than one audience.
Now check this out. While Lecrae focuses on his target, he is not limited to one sound. If you look at his body of work, his sound is all over the place from pop to more down south trap muzik thus allowing him to reach a wider audience.
2. Lecrae’s fans and followers feel like they belong to an elite club.
Call it what you want. A Clique, crew, gang or family. It’s human nature to want to belong to something. One T.V. show with is strong following is ABC’s “Scandal.” This show is about a “fixer” named Olivia Pope. If you are a person of power and you get into trouble you want Ms. Pope and her team to “Handle it.” She calls her team “Gladiators.” Fans and followers of the show are also called Gladiators and they use that term with pride. Lecrae created a crew called “116 Clique.” Now crews are nothing new in Christian Hip Hop. Infact it seems like everyone is apart of some clique, crew or group. Tunnel Ratz, The Crossmovement, W.L.A.K, Humble Beast, SCMGWP…. But Lecrae did something different. He created a crew that anyone can be a member of.
3. Lecrae gave that elite club an interesting image.
Once he developed the image for 116 (for example, what 116 means) he communicated it to his inner circle first, then to the public. Your core must fully be on board and believe in your vision 100 percent. When your lieutenants are all in, your following will begin to grow organically.
Lecrae is clear about what he stands for, inside and outside his company and the 116 Clique. His personal priorities, values, and principles set the culture. The best way to be clear about them is to regularly engage crew members, the fans, and influencers. 116 is not a church. But it teaches younger people that you can be a Christian and be tatted up. You can rock a hat to the back, baggy jeans, and a white tee to church. Yes you can dress like that and still know the Word of Yah just as well as any preacher. 116 is not only the name of the crew, it’s also a rallying cry. The 116 Clique is named after the Bible verse Romans 1:16,
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.”
That means acknowledging the power of the Gospel and the divine calling to proclaim it in every area of your life. “We can lay our lives down to serve and glorify God in everything we do.” For younger Christians that are not feeling old time religion, 116 (though not a church) provides something new and fresh.
Tyran Johnson A.K.A Malachi Is the founder and CEO of The Oracle. theoraclemag.com is A valuable resource for Christian Hip-Hop on the internet featuring daily news, interviews, reviews, multimedia, free mixtapes, a fast growing community and other interesting content.