If there’s one word to aptly describe both Group 1 Crew’s artistic ingenuity and personal growth since we last heard from the five-time Dove Award-winning troupe, it’s certainly Fearless as the title to their fourth studio CD so boldly proclaims. Besides pushing the musical envelope towards an endlessly infectious stream of hip-hop, rap, pop, rock and inspirational confections, it’s impossible not to notice the exponential personal growth for co-vocalists Manwell Reyes and Blanca Reyes Callahan.
“One of the main changes personally is balancing being married with going on the road, and professionally, that we went from a trio to a duo,” explains Blanca, citing long time collaborator Pablo Villatoro returning to full-time family life. “That was a very scary transition as we waited to see what God had in store for Group 1 Crew after, plus right around that time, I also lost my father. So there were certainly some big tribulations and hurdles we went through, but also some really great things like marriage, all of which really added to the record and gave Fearless a lot of heart.”
Continues Manwell: “Throughout all the soul searching, we found a sense of purpose, realizing the group wasn’t just a group of convenience, but of necessity. We’ve been on the road playing music and filling voids for a lot of people. We’ve had so many people tell us that they found us to be a breath of fresh air, which made us feel like we have a sense of duty to continue.”
After a mere spin of Fearless, it’s immediately apparent Group 1 Crew didn’t continue on cruise control, but turned in their most full-throttled disc to date that’s sure to signal their arrival to the world at large. In fact, the duo’s already being heralded as one of the most preeminent entertainers regardless of genre (as evidenced during 2012’s mostly sold out Winter Jam arena tour) with additional momentum coming from the new disc’s lead single “He Said” (Feat Chris August) already topping Billboard’s Christian CHR chart with equally impressive Top 10 status on both the Billboard Christian AC and Hot Christian Songs charts.
“One of the things I love about the group is our vast musical inspirations, which range from Manwell’s ’90s rock and hip-hop to my love for ballads, divas and old school funk,” notices Blanca in wake of the group becoming a core Christian radio act across literally all formats. “On this record, we’re able to incorporate all the different styles of music that we love and it’s a fun thing that a lot of bands don’t get to do. We’ll go from hip-hop to an inspirational ballad, but that’s just how we think, kind of like an iPod shuffle.”
While the ambitious sonic potpourri that could easily find a home alongside Rihanna, Drake, Katy Perry or Wiz Khalifa is certainly nothing short of Fearless, the project also exposes members’ hearts to such vulnerable degrees that fans from any walk of life can’t help but relate. Though Blanca’s married to the group’s drummer, Ben Callahan, which affords them the opportunity to be on the road together, she still can’t believe how fast the two years since tying the knot have flown amidst their feverish schedules. Manwell’s also learning that delicate balancing act, especially considering his wife, actress/comedienne Anjelah Johnson (MADtv), has her own work-related travel commitments.
“My wife is just as busy, which makes it harder for us initially, but it’s that much sweeter whenever we come home,” he admits. “I’ve been born and bred to be this road warrior, and though my wife feels a little different and it’s harder on her, she believes in us and is a complete supporter of Group 1 Crew. Not a lot of couples can say they’re smack dab in the middle of living their dream and it’s quite a miracle that we’re able to do what we love to do and honor God.” Besides the joys (and adjustments) that come with marriage, Fearless also addresses the heartbreak of Blanca losing her father. But rather than dwelling on the sorrow, she seeks to share his extraordinary journey towards faith and the healing of their previously fractured relationship as part of the group’s ministry.
“I can honestly say I never understood the pain of what people encounter losing someone close to them and going through this experience really opened my eyes in that area,” she empathetically offers. “My father is one of the biggest parts of my story because his complete 180 degree change is the reason I came to Christ. Growing up, he was a drug dealer who wasn’t around at all, but after he gave his life to the Lord, he became a pastor who even went back to the town where he was a dealer and showed people his new life. I could’ve lost my dad to drugs or gangs, but he stayed around long enough to restore his relationship with his daughter. Seeing God’s faithfulness in that really gets me through.”
Despite those growing pains, Group 1 Crew sounds absolutely reinvigorated throughout Fearless, while having an even greater grasp on how to use each other’s strengths to the benefit of the band. “When you think of people that are genuine, that would be Blanca,” notices Manwell before she continues. “I’m not much of a business woman and part of me loves to be a homebody where I’m hanging with my mom, my husband and my dog, but I’m definitely really passionate about Group 1 Crew and what we do on the road. I love seeing music inspire people and sharing my testimony. Just don’t let me miss eating or sleeping!”
As for Manwell, he’s responsible for making Group 1 Crew one of the most digitally innovative acts in all of Christian music, from clever social media campaigns, to unbeatable music/merchandise bundles and consistent fan interaction. Group 1 Crew has even partnered with a company called Q-ItUp™ to develop an app where fans can scan the Fearless album cover with their smartphone and their album cover will come to “life.” The app holds exclusive content, a free download that isn’t available elsewhere, tour dates and a preview of the entire album. “I will say Manwell is a huge dreamer and he’s always thinking of amazing ideas to keep surpassing what we’re doing,” observes Blanca before Manwell continues. “I just don’t stop…I’m a robot! It’s a good thing and a bad thing because I don’t know when to shut off, but I just love to write and create and work on anything related to the group for the sake of the call.”
While Fearless is certainly poised to take Group 1 Crew to the next stratosphere of success, it’s that calling that still serves as members’ primary priority. However, it goes beyond simply conveying their spiritually-centered message, but presenting it within a creative framework that assures the utmost of social relevance (further evidenced by appearances on “The Mo’Nique Show,” NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” FOX’s “The Simple Life,” Style Network’s “Kimora Lee Simmons: Life in the Fab Lane,” MTV’s “Run’s House and The CW’s “One Tree Hill”).
“This is music a Christian can play in front of their unchurched friends and we can be a bridge in the conversation,” sums up Manwell before Blanca reveals the group’s impact goals on believers. “Even in the face of craziness or the hurricane of emotions going on in your life, you need to always remain Fearless. When God’s called you to something great, don’t ever be afraid to step out in faith and don’t ever give up.”