Wednesday, Lecrae Moore, the 34-year-old rapper who was born and raised in Houston but now resides in Atlanta, broke new ground. His latest album, the accurately titled Anomaly sold 88,000 copies and landed at the top of the Billboard 200.
88,000 copies for a rap album in 2014 isn't paltry, ranking fifth among American rappers this year for first-week sales. It was a shade under Wiz Khalifa's Blacc Hollywood, which sold 90,000 in late August, and a historic victory for Houston, Anomaly is the first album from a Houston rapper or group to top the Billboard 200 since UGK's Underground Kingz in 2007.
The closest act to come near that perch happens to be Bun B with his sophomore solo album, II Trill, which debuted at No. 2 in May 2008. If you want to raise the feat to even loftier claims, Lecrae's victory makes him the first male artist from Houston not named Beyoncé to have a No. 1 album in the last ten years, and first solo rapper to do so since Paul Wall's The People's Champ in 2005.
Anomaly takes into question plenty of different scenarios, such as what may be next for the rapper and why this album wins people over without truly attempting to proselytize anyone. He'll be affixed with the title of Christian rapper Lecrae for as long as he records music that rides the wave of what many consider "gospel rap," but that is a misnomer in itself. Rap has always been gospel, whether it's of a secular nature or not. If rappers like Scarface can rap about God and the wicked ways of man and not be classified as anything but a "rapper," why not Lecrae?
"When you're part of hip-hop culture but you're a Christian, people want you to be either-or," he told Billboard in a recent profile. "Or they'll create a category for you, like, 'Oh, gospel rap!' I'm just devout in my beliefs."
Those beliefs, coupled with the work of Vaughaligan Walwyn's Grace Still Abides, have given Houston's rap scene an added profile. One its always been deeply rooted in considering its Southern Christian beliefs but never truly fleshed out. Between Lecrae and Reach Records labelmate Andy Mineo, rappers who express their lyricism with a far more linear approach to uplift and belief have never had a higher profile.
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Where Anomaly may survive in the long run is in its running theme of social conversation. It appears on the heels of Ferguson and Lecrae's own message towards other rappers to no longer be inconsistent in their messages. From the beginning, Lecrae's own vision has been to combine his trials, stories of molestation, abortion and fears into relatable lyrics.
"Welcome To America," the album's most brooding track, is the highlight of what Lecrae can do. Authenticity in rap, regardless of religious affiliation, has always been in demand, and the 34-year-old has been there. He may not be the most technically proficient rapper, as shown by his repeated usage of "Jesus" to stiff-arm foes on "Fear," but he gets his point across a lot clearer than some of the lyrical miracles he may be compared to.
He's an "outsider," a "misfit," only in name and degree. Everything else on Anomaly may eventually be classified as a typical rap album. Lecrae's denouement here finds him once more looking back at his faults before understanding his calling as he prepares to step forward.
Will it ultimately change how he's placed in regards to Houston rappers or, in a wider sense, rappers in general? Probably not. It's far too easy to classify things without getting messy.
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