Word Label Group
Release Date: July 29th 2016
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Download (feat. Anjelah Johnson & Glory)
- Wake Me Up (Amnesia)
- Bad Day (feat. Mr. Ree)
- Take It All In
- Burn (feat. Lauryn Taylor Bach of 1GN)
- Mona Lisa
- On Again, Off Again
- I Know (feat. Jor’dan Armstrong)
- Set Sail
- Inevitable (feat. Chris Cleveland of Stars Go Dim)
- People of a Second Chance
- Best is Yet to Come
- Hold Back the Rain (feat. Jason Walker & Bethany Cruz)
Group 1 Crew have had a ride since both Pablo and Blanca left the band in 2014. Well known for their hits like “Can’t Go On”, “Love is a Beautiful Thing”, “He Said”, “His Kind of Love”, “Movin’”, “Keys to the Kingdom” and “Walking on the Stars”, the band have had quite a personnel change, from a trio to a group of 1. Manwell decided to continue the ‘band’ after the exit of Pablo to church ministry and Blanca to a solo career, with their sound changing from a three part harmony and rap, to songs with much more rap… and a whole lot of guest vocalists. With Group 1 Crew releasing two EP’s #FASTER and #STRONGER in 2014 (#POWER was supposed to be another EP scheduled to release in 2015, but instead is now a full length album releasing next week), Group 1 Crew banded with a number of guest vocalists to make 10 songs full of encouragement and hope. While it may have sounded weird not to hear the vocals of Blanca or the rapping of Pablo in both these EP’s, we listeners didn’t fear, as we heard Manwell collaborate with artists like Moriah Peters, Jonathan Thulin, Rachael Lampa, Capital Kings, ex-Press Play singer Paige Bryan and singer/songwriter Josh Zegan, as #FASTER and #STRONGER became some of the band’s most unique and underrated songs I’ve heard from Manwell since songs from Outer Space Love in 2010. So what does this new album of 16 songs, #POWER, bring to us? With a culmination of rap, hip hop, pop, CCM and an element of praise, we see that there is something for everyone on the album. In fact, dare I say that #POWER continues to assert the fact that Manwell Reyes is one of today’s most underrated Christian hip-hop/rap artists of the modern era? #POWER drops next week, yet you can start to hear it on the band’s youtube playlist. What do we think of the album? Read on to find out!
‘…you know last year was one of those years where God spoke to me so much, and one of the things that He showed me was, I needed to remember who I was in Him. There were so many days that I would just wake up and feel like my hope is gone, that my future was so unstable. And the Lord was really reminding me, like, ‘who do you think that you are? Do you think that you’re an orphan, do you think that you’re someone that I don’t see?’ He showed me that He will never stop being my Father, and I will never stop being His son. And there would never be a day that I don’t wake up with purpose. So if you’re going through it right now, and feeling like identity is gone, just remember you are a son, you are a daughter of God, and there would never be a day where that won’t cease to exist…’ (extract of an audio segment of the story behind “Wake Me Up”, on a now defunct website). “Wake Me Up”, the first radio single from the album that released to iTunes in October 2015, is by far one of the band’s most transparent and heartfelt songs they’ve ever written and recorded since “He Said” way back in 2012. A song can challenges us to see if we need to wake up from our own perceptions of what we believe God is to us and what we believe He can do in our lives; new lead singer Sarah Sandoz and Manwell both harmonise quite well, as Sarah takes the lead and makes the song one of last year’s big hits. Though the song could be a little too CCM for long-time G1C enthusiasts, the song nevertheless sets us a challenge- to pray this humble prayer- ‘…won’t You wake me up when my faith is asleep, You never let me go, bring back my memory, You bring these bones to life when You breathe into me, remind me how much I need ya when I get amnesia, wake me up…’ Sometimes to wake up requires a little more than just will power. To wake up can be scary- what if we don’t like what we see in the mirror? What if we realise things about ourselves that we wanted to forget all these years? Songs like this are an encouragement; that who we were isn’t who we are now.
“Power”, “People of a Second Chance”, “I Know”, “Burn” and more recently “Mona Lisa” were all the promo singles prior to the album release date, and along with “Wake Me Up”, all these six tracks anchor the album musically and lyrically. “People of a Second Chance” was written to shed light on human trafficking, and as said by Manwell himself, it was a song ‘…I wrote for an anti-human sex trafficking organization called Unlikely Heroes. I wanted to write an anthem that would shed light on the issue and bring awareness to this amazing ministry that is doing real work! I want to use every resource I have to help raise money and bring attention to this horrible reality. I hope you all are inspired by this song and know that you are never too small to make a difference…’ Vocally reminiscent of Blanca herself in parts, Sarah Sandoz carries the song well, and along with Manwell, presents a song that alongside another in “27 Million”, becomes an anthem of many for the oppressed and down-trodden. It is a song that hopefully encourages us all to take a step, as small or large as we feel led, along the path between now and the eradication of slavery altogether.
“I Know”, a duet with fellow rapper Jor’dan Armstrong, is as rap as the album is going to get. A song about how ‘…there’s nothing more amazing than having the confidence to know that you are more than where you find yourself right now…’ and how ‘…if you could see yourself through God’s eyes you would know that there is a boldness in the person God is making you to be…’, this is a song that would thoroughly be enjoyed by anyone who loves fast rap…because that is what the song is. Manwell raps at a pace I’ve never heard from him before…which can take a little getting used to a times, yet “I Know” is still a track that reassures and inspires, as we are encouraged to see ourselves from the point of view of Christ. More recently, “Mona Lisa” (no not a song that is about the famous painting) released to iTunes, along with a youtube playlist of the whole album to stream on the same day. “Mona Lisa” is about how we as Christians need to wake up and see the beauty of life for what it is- a Mona Lisa, with all its unique moments, and all its flaws, triumphs and encouragements. What we can’t do is change people’s minds and their viewpoints on how they see life as well as their own- only God can do that. “Mona Lisa” is just that- we all have our own special Mona Lisa to give to the world, sometimes it may just take a little time for us to see it.
The title track, “Power” is one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard G1C ever produce. Yet looking at the song a little deeper, I was left wanting just a little more after hearing the song a few times. At first glance, the song is full of catchy beats, electronic sounds, a range of vocal distinctions and a party vibe and atmosphere…sort of like a “Live it Up” type of the song. Yet when I kept listening to the track and hearing the lyrics, it was a little disturbing to put it lightly. When you hear lyrics like ‘…I want that power, that power, give me that power, if you want it you can get it tonight…just give it to me…give me that power…’, what conjures up in your head? While we know as Christians that Manwell is singing about the power that we have when we are in Christ Jesus and the authority we obtain in Jesus’ name, we can also look at these lyrics in another less favourable light…if you know what I mean. I’m sure it wasn’t Manwell’s intention for creating and singing lyrics that have a double meaning like “Power”, but when I hear the song, I just can’t help it- “Power” alludes to the earthly power someone obtains over another rather than the power I’m sure Manwell wants us all to have when we submit ourselves to Christ. But then there’s another thing- in spite of the sincere intentions of Manwell, the song could come across as lacking humility and demanding the power from Christ…something that we know we should never do. We ought not to have power if all we want is just to get it, rather, He freely gives it to people that long for His will to be done, who are sincere in their daily undertakings. That’s not to say that Manwell’s heart isn’t pure, it’s just that if given another chance, “Power” should’ve been written with much more intentionality and a lot less double-meaning. I know this sounds like an attack…maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. But what I know is this- the song sadly fails to hit the mark of what a title track is supposed to do- draw people into hear the rest of the album. If I was just another person who didn’t know about Christ, and I heard this track, I may not have thought it was talking about Christ at all. Maybe the song will reach someone, yet, sadly, it isn’t me…yet.
And then there’s “Burn”, quite possibly my favourite song on the album. A duet with Lauryn Taylor Bach of 1GN; Manwell wrote the song about how we as Christians need to burn the things in our lives that stifle us from our potential we know we have in Christ. In his own words, ‘…there are things/people that have affected your life so much so that it’s left a scar that you feel will never go away. Hurts that are so deep that you feel it’s impossible to forget. I’ve been there, trust me. But there’s something beautiful in fanning the flames of forgiveness and letting every past transgression burn. The only person that gets hurt by unforgiveness is the person who can’t forgive. It’s toxic. This song is about letting those hurts burn in the fire of who God’s making you to be and letting the ashes remind you of how gracious our God is. Extend grace to those who hurt you cause I promise there will be a day that you will need that same grace…’ Both Manwell and Lauryn-Taylor have unique styles- rap and acoustically driven pop/rock respectively, and it was great to see how both these styles can marry together in the same song. Manwell raps with a great passion, and paints pictures of individuals in difficult situations in the verses, handing over the chorus to Lauryn-Taylor as the chorus is presented in a more acoustic framework. As a whole, we are reminded in “Burn” that God is our constant, and what we have been told from whomever else is what we need to rid ourselves of- and fix our eyes on who we know God says we are. While I reckon this song should’ve been a single before “Power” (and maybe “Power” not even a single at all); “Burn” shows us everything great about the band, and what I reckon is the strong suit of G1C- a more unique meshing of different musical styles. “Burn” stands out for all the right reasons in this 16 track list…maybe an official radio single in the future (not just a promotional one)?
Throughout the rest of the album, we see the band bring to us various different styles, all conveying the same truth- that God gives us the power we need for us to navigate this thing called life. “Phenomenal” features the trumpet in a Manwell rap section as the song brings to the fore a theme of how God’s love is phenomenal…yet with a chorus that repeats the phrase ‘your love’s phenomenal’ four times, this song sadly feels a little unimaginative to me (compared to other songs like “People of a Second Chance” and “Burn”), even if it wasn’t their intention. While “20/20” is indeed a step up as this potential single starts off with a keyboard riff and Manwell and Sarah giving us a theme and message for us to quietly ponder- that sometimes we need to be humble enough to declare that we don’t and can’t see 20/20- that all our judgements often get in the way. What Jesus sees and what we see in circumstances may be completely different, and the question is posed in the chorus- ‘…what if the broken thing is really a masterpiece and everything wrong I see, you made right, I know that your love redeems, you’ll finish the work in me, I am made perfectly in Your eyes, 20-20…’ As we become humble enough to ask God to see things from His perspective, we can hopefully delve deeper into our own lives as we look around us, seeing things from a more heavenly focus. A song can is a fervent encouragement, “20/20” (along with “People of a Second Chance”) allows lead singer Sarah Sandoz to shine with her vocals, and makes this song her own. Well done to both Manwell and Sarah for a song, that though is one of the most CCM on the album, is also a song that challenges, encourages and inspires!
“Download”, featuring the unique vocal treatment of Manwell Reyes’ wife, Anjelah Johnson, allows for a marrying of electronic dance and piano ballad as the song shows a persona aimless in life and asking the Lord for a download of His life and love into his life; while “Bad Day” features Mr. Ree in a relationship-style track as the chorus allows for us to soak in how ‘…you picked a bad day to break my heart…’ Maybe it’s sung from God’s point of view and how He feels when His creation stray away from Him, maybe it’s about an earthly relationship between two people. Nevertheless, the song lyrics and sung with such enthusiasm and passion- whatever way we listeners hear and understand the song to be, I’m sure God will speak through it nonetheless. “Take It All In”, another CCM-esque melody full of light keyboards and a looping percussion, unveils the theme of how we as Christians ought not to let little moments pass us by- that what we do and the busy lives we lead shouldn’t be an excuse for us not to miss out on the wonder and the amazement of life that God has chosen for us to lead; while the dubiously titled “On Again, Off Again”, lets us into a secret- that our relationship with God is never ‘on again, off again’, and the transient nature of our earthly relationships should not be the basis in which we view our relationship with Christ Himself. Both these two songs (“Take it All In”, “On Again, Off Again”), have the potential to be radio singles…maybe after “Burn”, “20/20” or “People of a Second Chance”?
“Set Sail” is by far the most different song musically, as the band draws parallels musically to artists like Out of Eden, Nicole C. Mullen and Rachel Lampa in this track, as the song presents to us what we need to do to be centred in life- set sail from God’s heart, and always stick by what we know is true- Himself. Once we have our centre in Christ, our sailing through life is nothing but an adventure, and God with us and for us. “Inevitable” features fellow Word Label Group artists Stars Go Dim, as lead singer of the band, Chris Cleveland, reminds us all of the sobering truth- that sooner or later, the work we place into our lives will reap the results (or lack thereof)- that what we value in our lives at this moment will come to fruition in the passing years, regardless of whether we want them to or not. Sure we can pray to the Lord and ask for Him to bless us, yet if we don’t excel at what we do and just rest on our laurels because “God will take care of it”, it’ll be inevitable that whatever we focus on now will lead to a certain outcome- good or bad.
The album then ends with songs like “Best is Yet to Come” and “Hold Back the Rain”, the former a dance-pop melody encouraging us that the best is always in our future as God holds it Himself, while the latter slows down the tempo and features singers Jason Walker and Bethany Cruz in a song that is a prayer to the Lord, asking Him to hold back the rain (metaphorical for the devil and his schemes), because if it were just us and us alone battling, we wouldn’t be able to do it. With both these songs being great ways to finish what I reckon is one of the most diverse and musically unique albums G1C have ever recorded, well done to Manwell and his team for these tracks, songs that I reckon will become anthems for many in years to come!
And even though the title track “Power” is a slight disappointment, overall the album as a whole proves to be one that fulfils its quota of catchy and energetic songs, coupled with melodies that are more CCM and reflective. Any fan of Group 1 Crew’s earlier material will still enjoy this album, even though Blanca and Pablo have moved on from the band to other interests. There is a wide variety of musical styles within these 16 tracks, and Manwell and the team have given their hard work to make Power a standout album within the latter half of 2016. Well done guys for such a long-awaited album, and one that certainly is worth the four year wait!
5 songs to listen to: 20/20, Burn, Wake Me Up, Set Sail, People of a Second Chance
RIYL: Capital Kings, TobyMac, Moriah Peters, Blanca, Beckah Shae