This year, Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae Moore, 32, earned two Dove Awards-Rap/Hip-Hop Song of the Year and Album of the Year. Fifteen years ago, he was far more likely to earn prison sentences.
Raised in south Houston by a single mom, Moore never met his drug-addicted dad. By 16 he was on drugs, in street fights, and on a gang list. His friends nicknamed him "Crazy 'Crae" and his mom, despairing for her son, urged him to read the Bible—but he ripped out the pages and stomped them. Feeling empty, he turned to alcohol, sex, and dealing drugs.
When Moore was 17 a police officer pulled him over and, while cuffing him for drug possession, spotted on the back seat a Bible that Moore's grandma had given him. Moore, seeking a way out, promised to live by the Book. The officer released him, and Moore did go to church, then to a Bible study (where he met his future wife), then to a conference where he "saw former gang members, rappers, dancers who ... still embodied who they were culturally, but they were in love with Jesus." Moore, on his "I Am Second" video, says "I had never seen that before."
Moore at 19, still involved with drugs, prayed to God for rescue: "Get me out of this ... just don't kill me." God spared his life when Moore, not wearing a seatbelt, made too quick a turn and rolled his car. He returned to school at University of North Texas and began telling classmates about his new commitment to God. He volunteered at a juvenile detention hall where he used his rap skills to tell how he had changed. At 27 he released his premiere album, After the Music Stops.
Since then, he's released five more albums. One he released in May, Church Clothes, aimed at non-Christians, received over 319,000 downloads from DatPiff.com through the end of August. Church Clothes is a controversial mixtape with 18 songs tied to a basic core message: The gospel offers a more meaningful life than mainstream street culture.
Urban music often deals with developing an identity: "That's why you hear so many songs about money or how many women they've been with, because that's how they derive significance," Moore told me. With Church Clothes he wants to "deconstruct that false source of significance and reconstruct it from God's perspective."
The lyrics offer a redemptive alternative to the messages in mainstream hip-hop music. For example, "Special" is a love song that replaces sexual lyrics with a message of fidelity. "No Regrets" warns listeners to live for more than money and one-night stands: "Don't you want more than last night's bragging rights … scratch the surface money's worthless/when it comes to finding purpose."
The accompanying video shows Moore in a pulpit wearing a basketball jersey, rapping about churches that criticize the congregation for wearing the wrong Sunday attire instead of focusing on their deeper spiritual need: "Church Clothes is really me speaking from the perspective of a lot of spectators who have been abused by the church."
Ultimately, Church Clothes is Moore's attempt to make his audience "understand that God is a God of grace. It's not about cleaning yourself up. It's about Jesus coming and cleaning things up."
It's harvest time, and near the end of a half-year stretch of Saturdays that Neil Moseley spends at his fresh produce booth within the Lafayette (Ind.) Farmers Market. Customers meander through his tent, eying the local produce and making selections as Moseley refills and rearranges tomatoes in the wood bushel baskets turned on their sides.
That's a trick he's learned during his four years of selling at the market: He sells more vegetables if the baskets look full. For Moseley, the Saturday farmers market isn't a hobby or a leisurely weekend activity. Along with fewer than 2 percent of Americans, farming is his livelihood-and at age 29, Moseley is more than 25 years younger than the average farmer.
I talked with Moseley about how, growing up on an Indiana farm, he learned to love agriculture and embrace the agrarian lifestyle that has defined his family for five generations. His adult story started in 2005 when he purchased a home near his family's farm, graduated from Purdue University with a degree in agricultural systems management, and married his college sweetheart, Tashney.
Moseley began working for his brother in agricultural construction, waiting for a financially sound opportunity to pursue farming. Three years later, frustrated by his job, he started his vegetable farm with a 1-acre lot—while still working construction. Not until 2009 could he make farming his primary occupation.
Even then Moseley needed a secondary job caring for hogs belonging to a distant family member—but slowly his farm business grew. He attended farmers markets and sold shares of his crop as part of a community-supported agriculture program. He transformed one of the family's hog barns into an experimental, hydroponic greenhouse, a system that allows him to grow vegetables year round using water instead of soil.
This summer, Moseley tended fresh produce in greenhouses and on 25 acres of his family's farm. He cultivated relationships with local businesses and started supplying produce to the company that manages catering at Purdue University's athletic stadiums. Moseley says farming is a calling that comes with a moral obligation to produce food for others: "You feel bad when you don't produce, not only as a business, but people are relying on you to feed them."
Farming requires sacrifice. The Moseley family's schedule and income depend on the weather. His three kids go to bed without seeing their dad when conditions require Moseley to work late: "If you think farming is a 9-to-5 job you'll never succeed. You'll be broken in your first year because there's so much that's out of your hands."
Moseley believes the sacrifices are worth the costs. He sees his children gaining an appreciation for hard work and responsibility. He thinks a lot about how to create a food system sustainable for future generations, how to maintain his land for his children, and how to fulfill his calling to feed people: "We are challenged, I do believe by God, to be stewards of the land." —Abigail Maurer