So here’s the thing.
Astute readers of this blog know that I don’t do many reviews, and there are many reasons for that — lack of time, lack of interest, and reviewing other people’s junk takes away from time I could be investing in creating my own.
But every once in awhile I hear something that strikes my fancy, and I wanna tell people about it. And the sophomore release from Group 1 Crew, Ordinary Dreamers, falls into that category.
But first, a few disclaimers.
No matter what the marketing people may tell you, this is not a hip-hop album.
It is an album of urbanized pop music with rapped verses sprinkled liberally throughout. Fans of backpacker style, gritty, grimy boom-bip flavored hip-hop should probably run away in horror because this album is probably going to annoy them to no end.
But for those folks who like to dip their toes in the pool of urban culture from time to time, this album is right up their alley.
Also, while G1C does have a Christian message wrapped neatly into their hooks and chants, most of the lyrics aren’t particularly deep, meaningful, or profound. Lyrically speaking, they’re not saying anything you haven’t heard from other Christian pop artists tons of times before, even faux hip-pop artists (think tobyMac, Fresh Digress, or to a lesser extent, John Reuben). As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say that even though what they’re saying is generally good (as opposed to many of the morally dubious messages in much of today’s pop music) the lyrics are not really what this music is about.
I think the lyrics are, more or less, just an excuse to hang some vocals around the sound. But the sound… ohhhh, the sound.
Group 1 Crew debuted with a very polished sound to begin with (hence their award nominations). The second time around, they kept the urban base that was working for them before, but broadened their sound even more. The results are impressive. The whole project has the aural gloss that one would expect from a major label pop release likes this (pitch correction and all), but with a lot of surprises. Taking their foundation of hip-hop and R&B, G1C dabbles with euro-pop (“iContact”), alt-rapcore (“Keys to the Kingdom”), and even jazzy pop (“I See You”), all infused with heaping servings of funk (“Bring the Party to Life,” and “Gimme That Funk”).
People love to compare Group 1 Crew to all kinds of other groups, and most of those comparisons fail, in my opinion. I compared them to 4th Avenue Jones for awhile (probably because both of their debuts were called No Plan B), but that quickly wore off. 4th Avenue is much grittier, and lyrically much meatier. Lazy music critics will compare them either to the Black Eyed Peas (somewhat comparable) or the Fugees (not even close).
Frankly, I think G1C’s closest competitors are a group that started with a meteoric rise, like them, but now finds theirselves on the outside looking in.
I’m speaking of the Washington Projects, formerly known as Souljahz. The siblings in this group (they started with three, now down to two) are also Latino, started off young, and were quickly the darlings of the Christian pop scene, mixing sunny, sassy vocals with brash rap braggadocio.
Well, I’m hoping that Manwell, Blanca and Pablo can stay humble, hungry, and keep progressing as artists. If they’re smart, they’ll try to team up with the WP’s, or at least reach out with a few phone calls or emails. There is wisdom in speaking to those who have traveled the road before you.
Nevertheless, even if this is the height of Group 1 Crew’s success, it just goes to show you that creativity mixed with a relentless drive for success can take you a long way. If nothing else, Ordinary Dreamers can be a blueprint for such a journey.