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Winter Jam 2024: A Conversation With Influential Christian Rap Artist Lecrae

The nation’s largest annual Christian music tour — Winter Jam — is set to bring its heavenly night of song and worship to the stage at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines this Friday, Feb. 2. 

The 2024 version of the Jam will feature headliner and crowd favorite Crowder, as well as hip-hop artist Lecrae; rockers Seventh Day Slumber; Cain; Katy Nichole; and tour founders NewSong among others. 

ListenIowa sat down with Lecrae to get his take on the tour and his road to God, among other things.

Lecrae is no rookie in all of this. Far from it. Aa a matter of a fact, some consider him one of the most influential rap/hip-hop artists of not only his generation, but in the genre as a whole. Lecrae has a No. 1 album under his belt (“Anomaly”, 2014) and arguably one of the most influential Christian mix tapes ever, “Church Clothes,” in 2012. His latest, “Church Clothes 4,” was released in 2022.

You got off tour a couple of months ago in support of your latest Church Clothes release. How did that go?
It was phenomenal. It was just a great opportunity to show some love to the fans and let people know that God is still God. He’s using us and the music we make to encourage one another. It was great.

When you look out at the audiences that are going to your shows, what are you seeing out there?
It’s a mix. Some people are brought there not knowing what they’re getting into, but end up having a great time. I always see those kids in the crowd, and they’re the spectators for a bit, but after awhile, they’re just into it. And then there’s the kids who, this is the anthem to their lives, and they need this music to encourage them and push them forward to keep going. It’s a good  mix. It’s good to see the kids who are struggling to find themselves be around those can encourage them in the process.

What was your background, Lecrae? Where did you grow up?
I was bon in Houston, Texas and lived there most of my life. I didn’t grow up in church. My mom had some struggles with church early on and had some hurt, and my dad, he was battling his addiction. It was pretty rough. A lot of pain, a lot of struggle. But my mom always made sure there was food on the table, so we never had to worry about anything like that. In terms of my faith, I struggled quite a bit. It took some time for God to reach me in the dark places and pull me out and use me the way He needed to use me.

Was developing your faith something that took some time or did it happen quickly?
I remember it very well. When I was 17, I had a friend who said he was an atheist, and I said, “Yeah, I guess that’s what I am, too.” And he said, “Yeah, it’s just us out here having to figure things out.” And I remember that terrified me. I mean, I barely knew how to tie my shoes, and I have to control my own destiny? That scared me so I started thinking and wondering, “Maybe there is a God.” That’s when my investigation process started, about 17. At 19, I ended up at a Bible study and heard the Gospel, and it radically shook me and transformed my life. I gave my life to Jesus that night. I said, “Whatever you want me to do, I’m here for it.”

The Christian rap/hip-hop scene isn’t the largest right now, but it’s growing steadily. What is your take on it, from the “inside”?
There’s opportunities to use your gifts, whatever they are, and that’s what I love about being at Reach Records. There’s an opportunity for everybody. If you want to rap, if you want to sing, do EDM, there’s a space for you. I love giving the space to young people who want to be heard.

Was there anyone who influenced you at an earlier age that may have set you on the path to where you are now?
Of course I was heavily influenced by all the rap that came out when I was a kid like Tupac (Shakur) and everyone like that. As I got older, there were some groups like The Cross Movement or Gospel Gangstaz who helped me see that I could use this gift to honor God. That’s what led me to the pathway I decided to take.

Have you been a part of Winter Jam before?
I was in it years ago, and it was a great experience. It took me to places I never thought I’d go, and allowed me to see things I never thought I’d see. That was just a cool experience, just to be able to be used in that capacity and travel all over America.

Anything in particular that stands out in your mind on that first go-round?
Yeah, I just think being able to talk to artists and encouraging them. A lot of times you see these artists and you think they’re so strong and have it all together, but they’re human, too, and go through struggles like everyone else does. Creating that bond and being able to be there for people, those were some of the sweetest moments. When you’re encouraging your brothers and sisters out on the road it gives them the courage to get out there on stage.

What do you do with your down time on a big tour like this?
Sometimes there’s cities that we’ve never been to so you want to explore the city a little bit, and other times there are cities where there are family and friends, so that’s a good opportunity to catch up and hang out with them. Other times, it’s really about seeing how many games of Monopoly you can play before you have to get up on stage (laughs).

I’m guessing you’re a competitive-type guy?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. There’s ping-pong and other stuff on tour, too. I’m excited because there’s pickleball, and I want to try my hand at that. I want to see where I stand (laughs).

Before the tour started, were there any artists on the bill that you were especially excited about seeing?
Cain and Crowder. Sometimes you know people, but you don’t know what’s been going on in their lives lately, so it’s always cool to catch up with them and find out what’s happening.

Talk about what people can expect from you during your Winter Jam set, and also what the rest of the year looks like for you after the tour is over.
I’ve been working on some new music and have some things coming up. I’ve been working on some songs with For King & Country, and I’m excited about those. Winter Jam, it’s going to be a lot of high energy and celebration. God has given us a lot to celebrate. But on top of that, you’re going to get some moments of reflection where we can just worship God. I want to give people every ounce of it, and leave it all onstage.

What: Winter Jam 2024
When: Feb. 2, 2024
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines
Tickets: $15