Release Date: July 22nd 2016
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Not Backing Down (feat. Tedashii)
- Not Backing Down (feat. KB) [Cobra Remix]
- If You Say Go (Grapishsoda Remix)
- Today (JSapp and DJ Sean Patrick Remix)
Originally part of Group 1 Crew, Blanca has made a successful name for herself outside of the rap/hip-hop/pop group. Not that Group 1 Crew wasn’t successful at all, there are quite the number of reasons why any group member would leave a band- to pursue a solo career, move on to a different area and calling in life, or maybe even leaving because of a tussle with a band mate. Yet here in the CCM industry, we hope that band members leave on amicable terms. Blanca left Group 1 Crew (famous for songs like “Let’s Go”, “Please Don’t Let Me Go”, “Forgive Me”, “Can’t Go On”, “He Said”, “His Kind of Love”…etc.) at the end of 2013. Rather than fold and hang up the boots, sole remaining member Manwell Reyes decided to soldier on, and release a further 2 EPs and now Group 1 Crew has a new album releasing next week. But this is not a review about Group 1 Crew (a review of Power is coming next week), but rather, a review of Blanca’s newest EP, Not Backing Down EP. Since releasing her solo album self-titled debut in May 2015, Blanca has spawned the hits of “Who I Am” (a worthy inclusion in WOW Hits 2016), “Greater is He”, “Different Drum”, and more recently, “Not Backing Down”. Featuring rap/hip hop star Tedashii, Blanca reminded us all to never back down from what we believe, and has become a song that has had much radio rotation in the last year or so. And while many listeners of Group 1 Crew, CCM and the like may have criticised Blanca for even moving on to be a solo artist, or even blasting Manny for even continuing Group 1 Crew when there is only a group of 1; what I see is this- lead singer changes are nothing new. Artists like Newsboys, Hawk Nelson and Audio Adrenaline have all had makeovers in the past, and Group 1 Crew, though it may still take a few moments getting used to not having Blanca or Pablo in the band, is still thriving. Blanca also is having much success. Maybe not so much as Group 1 Crew, but nevertheless- this new EP releasing showcases some of her most unique and powerful songs remixed, as well as the new radio single “Not Backing Down”. On her debut album, she blended together a myriad of genres, from pop and CCM, to hip hop, rap and gospel. Now on this new EP, while it may not necessarily be anything ‘new’, it does remind us of the poignancy and encouragement of “Not Backing Down”, and poises the question- can a song still be enjoyed even when it is remixed, and even if the remix sounds stranger and weirder compared to the original?
A song that has gained such a following over the last year, I never really expected “Not Backing Down” to be as big as it currently is. Sure, I knew that the song was special when I heard it last year, yet to correctly predict that the song would be A) a single, and B) be as popular as it currently is, I’d say ‘no way!’. Different and unique, Blanca and guest rapper Tedashii create a 3 minute pop-rap song about us as Christians not backing down from our belief in Christ. Well, I guess the song can also be applicable for anything we believe in, not just in Christ. Whatever we believe, we have to believe it fully, be headstrong, and know in our hearts that no matter what, we shouldn’t back down from what we know is true. Tedashii’s rap is very surprising, in a good way, as he gives us a timely reminder, how ‘…I’ve been there, did that, afraid to be me so I hid that, gripped with fear till I disappear and then drop to the ground like a missed catch, but I, I’m done with that, you can tell ’em all I’m done with that, no more backing down into the background, that’s now, ‘cause I put them old habits down…’ Once we’ve accepted Christ, our habits of our old life ought to fade as we realise the gravity and the enormity of what Jesus did for us, knowing full well that whatever we do and say is a reflection of what we internally believe about ourselves, and ultimately God Himself. The remix of the song sadly omits Tedashii’s contribution and instead places fellow Christian rapper KB into the song, and while I know KB fervently raps his heart out, the rap feels out of place on the remix. In fact, in some points, I don’t really understand what KB is saying. Something to do with the kingdom coming…I may have to read the lyrics when they become available. Needless to say, the remix is sadly disjointed, even if there was no intention for that to happen. Still a great song…but the original is better.
The two other remixes on the EP are that for songs “If You Say Go” and “Today”, tracks that haven’t really been as popular from her debut as songs like “Greater is He”, “Who I Am” and “Not Backing Down”. With “If You Say Go” in particular never really much straying from the original recording of the song, we hear Blanca present a theme of obedience in a pop track, and reminds me very much of the story of Jonah and Joshua, both of whom were told by God to undertake certain tasks, Jonah to testify of the Lord to Ninevah, and Joshua to travel to Jericho and walk around the city 7 times, and then to blow trumpets and then the city will collapse. While I myself can hopefully want to be like a Joshua and follow God’s lead, there is a part of me that truthfully may be like a Jonah, even if I know I don’t want to. To sing the lyrics ‘…if You say go, I’m not gonna wait, if You say move, I won’t hesitate, wherever it is that You’re taking me to, I’m gonna trust in You…’ can be very daunting, and often, requires much faith, guts and determination. Driven by synths and a bit of vocal distortion, Blanca reminds us all that obedience and stepping out into the unknown, while scary, is the greatest form of trust, as we step one foot in front of the other, knowing that He is leading into areas that we can’t possibly dream or imagine. “Today”, remixed by two DJs (JSAPP and DJ Sean Patrick), paints a song about taking chances, as we are encouraged to let our past hurts go and use the day which is today to start pursuing what we believe God has placed on our hearts to accomplish. Fusing together the musical styles of dance and some sort of Middle Eastern music; this remix, while the intention is there, feels sadly forced. As if layers upon layers of effects were placed on top of each other and the end product was a track not really knowing what it wants to be- dance, pop, CCM, a song with Middle Eastern influences…and it doesn’t really help if two DJ’s remix the track instead of one. Maybe the two had different styles, maybe they didn’t. Sadly, I preferred “If You Say Go” ahead of the other two remixes. That’s not to say the remix of “Not Backing Down” and “Today” were terrible, in another moment it time, these tracks may grow on me.
Nevertheless, Blanca still has the passion. And we still know that remixes can be a hit and miss. Yet with these four songs, we are reminded that even within the remix ‘genre’, there are some cliché sounds and some unique and experimental ones. Despite all my grievances, these songs are great in and of themselves. Sadly, the remix EP as a whole leaves a little to be desired. Maybe a longer track list next time? Maybe an acoustic album or a full-fledged Christmas album in the future. Whatever the case, Not Backing Down EP ought to do what it is supposed to do- tie us over until the next Blanca album release. Which could be soon, or it may not be. Nevertheless, Blanca still proves to be a force to be reckoned with within the CCM industry. Since breaking out of the mould of Group 1 Crew, Blanca’s voice has reached new heights. While I am still somewhat sad that she is not a part of quite possibly one of the most underrated groups of the modern era; what Blanca has done with her debut album and her remix EP is nothing short of something unique and encouraging. This EP is especially for Blanca (and Group 1 Crew) enthusiasts. Well done Blanca for singing which such heart and soul, can’t wait till album #2 whenever it comes!
3 songs to listen to: Not Backing Down (feat. Tedashii), If You Say Go (Grapishsoda Remix), Today (JSapp and DJ Sean Patrick Remix)
RIYL: Group 1 Crew, KB, Tedashii, 1GN