BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
A few hours before he’ll rise above the stage on a platform, a quick spurt of pyro flanking him and confetti blanketing the Tabernacle crowd, Lecrae is relaxed.
There’s a lot of family and numerous friends hanging around backstage at the Atlanta venue, but Lecrae seamlessly moves from one assignment to another, always polite and thoughtful.
His eighth studio album, “All Things Work Together,” dropped in late September – his first collaboration with major label Columbia Records - and he’s about to perform the second date on a companion tour that will keep him on the road through much of 2017.
Some artists dread the road, but Lecrae admits he appreciates the routine that comes with tour bus life. He also manages to fold his muscular 6-foot-4 frame into those tiny bunks. “Fetal position,” he says with a smile.
This tour showcases Lecrae’s biggest production, an important escalation because, “I never want to go backward,” he said. “‘Anomaly’ was my last album-tour (in 2014-15) and production-wise, we did a great job. I wanted to make sure people felt that the experience is comparable to that.”
With a trio of musicians (drums, keyboards and a DJ), backup dancers and backup singers; a stage-wide video screen shining images such as neon pink X’s and O’s (during the relative slow jam “Lucked Up”) and footage of the American flag and military veterans (“Welcome to America”); and the aforementioned confetti and pyro (on the opening salvo, “Watchu Mean”), Lecrae has assembled an alluring visual complement to his visceral music.
He feels this new album deeply, and there is a lot of emotion to wade through.
There are also a lot of guests on the release, ranging from Tori Kelly to Ty Dolla Sign to New Orleans-turned-Atlanta transplant rapper Aha Gazelle (who opened the show).
In concert, Lecrae spotlights a dozen of the 14 songs on “All Things Work Together,” a name tied to Romans 8:28 (he also performs the song, “8:28,” about halfway through the set, the nearly sold-out crowd bobbing to its insistent bounce).
But aside from its biblical attachment, the title also has personal meaning to Lecrae, who has talked openly about his tough year – the death of a close friend (DJ Official), his own struggles with depression among them.
“It’s a simple title but so true to where I’m at in life. You feel like you’re drowning, but all of a sudden you get pulled out of the water and you’re better for that experience because you can swim now – all things work together. You don’t realize the strength and endurance being developed in you,” he said.
When Lecrae informs the Tabernacle crowd that the previous night’s audience in Memphis “was crazy…so you’ve got some competition!,” they dutifully cheer louder and sing along with the “Anomaly” favorite, “All I Need is You,” its liquid groove gently pushing the chorus.
Lecrae is such a magnetic stage presence that he can flip from pacing and gesticulating wildly, sweat flying as he nimbly unspools a lyric, or bring the audience under his command, as he did during “Can’t Stop Me Now (Destination),” the single released nearly a year ago that chronicles despair turning into hope.
He’s still navigating the gray area between being pegged as a Christian rapper and as an artist whose faith guides him, but doesn’t necessarily take the spotlight in every song, and it’s a balancing act that has had its stumbles.
But now, Lecrae lets out a sigh, smiles and says, “I found my tribe. People understand who I am a lot better. To have a faith-based audience and acquire some mainstream audience, there’s going to be some conflicts. But that purge comes before the surge comes, so now it’s a unique audience that resonates with me - and I want to inspire them and encourage them.”