Lecrae and Forsett on Christian rap

Art Streiber

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Feb. 2 Music Issue. Subscribe today!

RAP MUSIC HAS long been an NFL locker room staple. So have Bible study and pregame prayer circles. But the two cultures rarely intersect -- and that has always perplexed Ravens running back Justin Forsett. The son of a pastor, he likes rap but used to typically choose gospel music instead for pregame inspiration. "When you think about it, this is a game where you might lose your life on the field," Forsett says. "If there is somebody out there who can give me peace or rest, I need that."

Forsett now finds that peace -- as well as a friend and mentor -- in Lecrae, a Grammy-winning Houston-born rapper who has never shied away from writing songs about his faith. Many Christian athletes have embraced him as the next big thing (he counts Jeremy Lin and Bubba Watson as fans and friends), but Lecrae has also shown the ability to cross into mainstream culture. Two songs off his seventh studio album, Anomaly, were recently nominated for Grammys, and in January he performed on The Tonight Show for the second time in a year.

Forsett and Lecrae first met backstage at a concert in 2011, when the running back was playing for the Seahawks, and they bonded almost instantly. Both men are committed husbands and fathers who would rather chase their kids around the park than spend an evening in a club. "In music culture today, there are a lot of facades going on and not a lot of truth," Forsett says. "With Crae, he doesn't hide behind stages. If you're in trouble, he has wise words of advice."

Despite Lecrae's impressive numbers (1.4 million albums sold and 2.9 million song downloads), Christian rap won't replace less holy hip-hop inside NFL facilities any time soon. But if Forsett has another couple of seasons like 2014, he might win over some converts to his pregame music. After toiling as a backup for several years and getting cut multiple times, he emerged as one of the NFL's best running backs with 1,266 yards on 5.4 yards a carry.

"I'm so proud of this dude," Lecrae says. "Guys like Justin who are unique in their morals and beliefs and just want to be upstanding leaders, a lot of times they're outnumbered in their environments. Now he gets a chance to have music speak to where he's at and where he's going."