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Group 1 Crew Interview
Perhaps not since Gloria Estevan and The Miami Sound Machine has a group come out of Florida with so much promise, energy and the ability to affect an audience as Orlando’s Group 1 Crew. When you hear Manwell Reyes and Pablo Villatoro rapping the intro to “Love Is A Beautiful Thing,” and then the absolutely gorgeous hip vocals of Blanca Reyes (no relation to Manwell) break through with the lyric, “Love is a beautiful thing,” you are not only going to fall in love with Group 1 Crew but you will truly be wowed!
Group 1 Crew, a hip, good-looking Hispanic trio who are making waves in both the public school system and Christian circles with a sound that is polished and well produced released their self-titled album this spring.
While the dudes rap, often the R&B vocals of Blanca act as a counterpoint preventing the album from simply sliding into a series of tunes imbued with heavy beat. Track 12, “So High,” features the sweet ethereal vocals of Blanca in an R&B tune supported by a soft and quieter rap by Manwell.
Group 1 Crew been compared to Black-Eyed Peas--which they are not because Group 1 Crew’s sound is far superior—also to Out of Eden, and Mary, Mary whose music was good but not great. The later two girl groups lacked the showmanship possessed by Blanca, Manwell and Pablo. The only one that comes close is tobyMac and while tobyMac is one of my favorite artists, his sound is distinctly different from Group 1 Crew so they really cannot be compared. These cats have the unique ability to combine melody with beats. There are so many different layers and textures to the music of Group 1 Crew it is like being in your favorite chocolate store and wishing you could just start grabbing with both hands.
The trio works many choreographed dance moves into their stage performance, something that has captured the imagination of the students they speak to and perform for in public middle schools and high schools across America.
“In the future we are going to add all our dancing to our sets, similar to Usher or Sean Mac. It doesn’t have to be cheesy; we can have an all out breakdown during a song or a set. We want to take two dancers with us and add it as a regular part of our show,” said Manwell.
Continuing with the theme of dance Manwell said, “The only Christian that I know of that includes movement is tobyMac and I think it is phenomenal. I am actually producing tracks for that (more dance moves) now.”
Group 1 Crew is on a mission to be the best they can possibly be not for ego satisfaction but because they want to attract young people to their music so they have a chance to share the message of Christ.
Manwell said, “I praise God for our look, style and the fact we can genuinely sing and rap. That is why Paul always stresses to do your craft with excellence, and to be ready to give an account for everything that you do know. God will give you the initial talent but he can’t make you a better rapper or a better dancer. You have to go practice and that practice will get you before the King or in this case will help you to be good enough so you can be in the schools. The power of God in you is going to keep these people interested and change their lives. The talent is just so they will stop, listen and give us a chance.”
“When we come in we have our message of, ‘I have a dream.’ Don’t let any of these silly little things stop you from achieving your dream. We may not be allowed to preach God (in the schools) but we can preach purpose and through purpose you can find God, you feel me,” said Manwell.
“Everybody’s gotta’ song to sing / Won’t you come now and sing with me / It doesn’t really matter where you’re from or what you’ve done,” sings Blanca and these three have stories to tell that add authenticity to their lyrics. Their personal testimonies will reach right into the heart of the most calloused person. These are the stories of one man (Pablo) who grew up as a pastor’s kid and rebelled, the story of another homey who once packed a gun (Manwell) and a third (Blanca) who suffered abuse from her stepfather.
‘Each of our ministries is unique because of our backgrounds,” said Pablo.
Blanca talked about her commitment to Christ, which eventually influenced her mother to take the same step, “Because of how God has been working in my life and in our ministry, I see a big change in my mother. It’s an area where God is still working, but it has definitely been improving. It's amazing to see God's hand working in your life and transforming the lives of those you love, even when you feel the chance of that ever happening is impossible. I think what has impacted my mom the most is not what I say to her, but the fruits of my labor. She sees the blessings of what I’ve been standing for this whole time,” said Blanca.
Some Christians allow themselves to fall into the trap of drawing more attention to their behavior before their lives were transformed, and the focus seems to be on their past instead of the present. In a sense, it almost becomes sensational. It would be very easy for Manwell to dwell on his former life of crime, and the fact he was thrown out of three schools, however, he has taken care to steer away from that pitfall. “I try not to draw too much to my past. I never want to earn someone’s respect because of all the negative things that I did in the past. I would much rather earn their respect with being honest about who I am, and where I am now. I don’t want to (live by) some kind of stripe system and say, ‘Hey you should listen to me because I used to carry a gun, or I used to do this, and used to do that.’ I can do that when people question me if they followed along the same path as me. Real knows real, and real can recognize real. They will know exactly where I come from when we speak face to face. They will know that I am not faking a funk or whatever. I do feel it holds a lot of credibility, and I can speak confidently to that certain crowd, not being afraid to say what I feel. I don’t really lean on it, because I don’t want to be respected for all those things that I once did,” he said.
Along the way, Manwell’s faith has been challenged, like the time he was sharing his faith with a man he encountered on the street. “I was in Orlando witnessing to this cat and I was like, Yo’ man Jesus loves you whatever. The dude swung and just hit me. He knocked me in the face. The first thing that I did was to look at him and say, you know what? Jesus loves you bro’ and I kept screaming it while he was walking down the street until I didn’t see him anymore.”
Urban music has often come under heavy criticism from those in the mainstream of society because it often focuses on negative and sometimes turbulent themes. I wondered about the impact of beats that combine a more positive approach to life. “I think it is really up to the listener. I think that our job is to make the quality of the music just as good as anything that they have heard, so that at least it has a fair shot. I do not think that it is so dependent on our content and music, as it is on where that person is in his or her own life. I know that when I listened to music (in the past) it would feed into my emotional state at the time. If I were angry then angry music would make me even angrier,” said Manwell.
He said, “I think it (Group 1 Crew’s music) does offer a great alternative to any person who digs this genre of music. The only thing that we can do is create an amazing presentation. A lot of the time people are disqualified for lack of production and creativity. We have a solid project and that cannot be denied. This is a great record. I think that it can definitely be used as an alternative if someone wants to go that route.”
By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory
of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18.
All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.