“What if when you brag / It’s about Him who’s the first and the last?” On Rise, Texas Christian rapper seeks to praise God while also drawing in younger, more mainstream audiences. The rap album that lacks f-bombs and over excess is often a tough sale, but in Lee’s hands, the Christian rapper has plenty to offer. Rise doesn’t ‘change the game’ – Lecrae is definitely Christian rap’s hottest commodity – but it continues to urge even the most secular audiences to get on board the inspirational train.
“Rise” kicks off things energetically, finding Lee setting the tone for the effort as a whole. “We don’t need God, we may not say with our mouths but we do with her whole life”, Lee spits towards the end of the laudatory opener, “It’s a bold lie, he the most high no close by”. On “Lights On”, Lee asks the question, “Can I get a little light though / Is there something I can fight for”? Essentially, Lee portrays God as the sole light – the truth and director of everything. Interestingly, Lee delivers this message without referring to God that often – only a couple of instances.
On “Shweet”, Lee has one killer wordplay moment, when he spits, “Better get an umbrella – God reign”, a lyric with multiple meanings. Making “Shweet” even more notable is the fact it sounds like any other rap song, even though it glorifies ‘the Most High’. “Manolo” keeps things both swaggered up and spiritual, featuring Lecrae. Among the most brilliant moments from Rise, Manolo sounds like some kind of upscale drink, but actually is the Spanish translation of Emmanuel. Adding even more brilliance are lyrics like Lecrae’s “I keep my shooter close though, you know it’s fully automatic / Shoot you straight, man that trigga’ll do you plenty damage”.
“You Don’t Know” keeps things inspired, particularly on the high-flying hook: “The way you got me up so high, I don’t see me coming down / If you only know what I went through but I’m still standing now…I get higher, higher, higher”. One of Lee’s best lines manages to brilliantly mix pop culture (Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers) and the King James Bible. On the even more upstanding “All Rise Up”, Lee gives all honor to God, urging “That we should all rise up / And give a standing o for the king”. Never ashamed to praise, Lee states he’s “speaking for my Unashamed crew”, seemingly referencing not only a state of mind but also a previous song, “Young and Unashamed”.
“Beautiful Life 2” finds Lee speaking to his children, and the beauty and blessings of his children and his life. Arguably less directly ‘spiritual’ compared to previous cuts, Lee still gives thanks to God (“What a great gift from a great God”). “Beautiful Life 2” is followed by the edgier, minor-key “Insomniac” featuring Andy Mineo. Cleverly, “Insomniac” suggests the importance of living each and every day like it’s your last, but rather than playing up the cliché, shallow party sentiment conveyed by secular rappers, Lee takes the moral road.
Following interlude “Something New”, “Lazarus” brilliantly references the Biblical story, though the bigger message is the figurative idea of being raised from the dead (“From now you can call me Lazarus / From a dead man walking to the risen one”). This provides the assist on the second verse. “All My Love” ranks among the album’s most descriptive songs. With a storyline that screams soap opera (or Tyler Perry movie), ultimately Lee speaks of how corrupt sin is and how far away sin drives one away from God. While porn, infidelity, and generally lust comprise the sins, which Lee preaches against here, the bigger message is how important it is to find strength from above rather than indulge in demons that can destroy everything.
“I’m gone” piggybacks on “All My Love” in the sense it references finding strength in God and not evil, aka the Devil. Lee puts things all together exceptionally on closer “Sweet Victory”, which indeed sounds heroic and awe-inspired. Lee collaborates soundly with Dmitri McDowell and Leah Smith, whom both help to drive home the victory of which Lee ministers.
Ultimately, Rise proves to be a special album that masterfully ministers to a youthful audience. With so many preconceptions (and some misconceptions) about Christian rap, Lee does an exceptional job of selling this album to the nonbelievers – no pun intended. With prudent messaging, excellent delivery, and slick production, there are plenty of reasons to smile while listening to Rise.