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Rapper's Delight (serves two)

The slam poem that begins Kirk Franklin's Losing My Religion articulates the singer's attempt to go beyond denominational theology and to experience Jesus directly. It's a lot like Scott Wesley Brown's 39-year-old "I'm Not Religious, I Just Love the Lord" that way. The full-ensemble, irrepressibly enthusiastic R&B numbers that follow testify to the abundant fruits of Franklin's attempt. About that ensemble: It includes 22 vocalists, a reminder that one definition of 'religion' is "beliefs held in common by a group." About Franklin's first name: It's Scottish for "church."

It's amazing how much rappers can accomplish when they liberate their vocabularies by forgoing profanity. Including refrains, Lecrae and his featured singers and co-rappers cram over 6,000 words into 36½ minutes, and on Church Clothes every word counts. The theology is sound, the humor is witty, and the history and self-awareness aren't bad either. The Sugarhill Gang is one of the few relevant touchstones that doesn't get a shoutout, but extending and sanctifying the possibilities inherent in "Rapper's Delight" is what Lecrae is all about.

Franklin is a vet; Lecrae's the newbie by comparison -- one who happens to have just signed a contract with a mainstream label. Pray that he lives to match Franklin's track record of integrity.

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