Group 1 CrewL-R: Manwell Reyes, Blanca Callahan & Pablo Villatoro

With songs infused by hip hop beats, soaring vocals and spiritual lyrics – Group 1 Crew proves to be more than just three talented artist, but a movement of uplifting music.

We spoke with Manwell about his Crew-mates, what drives their musical inspiration, going to #1 on iTunes, their refusal of “No Plan B” and future plans. One dream. One chance. One crew. – Group 1 Crew that is.


Can you share with us the story of how Group 1 Crew came together?
Yeah, yeah as soon as I got out of Bible College in ’03; I came back home to Orlando and me and my friend Paul, who was in a prior group with me, started looking around our neighborhood and just people that we associated with and hung out with. Started seeing the amount of talent that surrounded us, in just our friends and so God has put it on us to start a group of all these mixed individuals and start doing music together.

So, we started this Bible study for everybody to get together, and you know we threw the vision out; we had everybody see if they wanted to get down with us. Through that Bible study there was like thirteen individuals who decided to jump on board and begin this thing that we call Group 1 Crew. From that, you know as the days went on, and the years went on, people went off to do their own thing and us three were the last that were remaining.

You guys come from very distinctive backgrounds, would you mind elaborating on that and how it influences the sound of your music?
Well, I think … I mean we’re so … when it comes to the music the music we listen, we’re diverse simply because of the way we were raised. Like Blanca was raised in a household that completely founded upon, like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. She loved listening to those types of women from the influence, the way she sings, the Lauren Hill. The Pablo, his family, he brought more flamenco type music and he likes more old school type stuff, weird stuff that he gets into. I’m more of a old schooler myself, I love 90’s rock and R&B … old school stuff like Frank Sinatra, Michael Bubla. Just the difference in all our taste kind of blends to how we love coming out. I think the one thing we listen to least is rap, not because we dislike it. But I guess we try to find inspiration from other places as appose to just listening to rap all the time and just regurgitating to something that’s already been out there, you know what I’m saying. So, it’s pretty crazy how we do it.

Group 1 CrewYour music is centered around your faith and we’ve noticed a lot of Christian artists and groups crossing over to the pop-charts lately – do you think Christian music is the future for mainstream radio?
Um, that’s a tough one to answer. I think good music is the future for radio, if it happens to be Christian, great. I would love to see that happen, I would love to see Christian music on the rise. But, I feel it’s more good music made by Christians, you know what I’m saying. We really make some quality stuff that people won’t be like ‘wow this Christian song is on the radio and here they are’, but it would just be accepted if ‘yeah this is a dope song that got on the radio’ and it just happen to be some Christians who did it. That’s what I hope for the future of Christian music.

When we were listening to your album… for like the 100th time because we really do love it. We kept going back to the track “A Lot In Common” because it’s one of our favorites. How would you best describe the message in that particular song?
That song is … I mean it’s one of the universal things that you hear on our record besides dreaming. It’s the fact that we like to put everybody on a common playing field; we hate separating or distancing ourselves from anyone else just because of our position. I feel like that song was intended for that, like the intent for it was to exactly let everyone know they were all on equal playing fields. It doesn’t matter … your pay grade, your social class, where you live. The only thing that matters is we’re all identical twins on the inside, everybody has a heart, veins, and muscles; infer structure that we all share commonality. Just not to focus on the exterior of this life, cause it’s so easy. That’s how people, you know statuses are created because of what’s going on, on the outside. We just really wanted to bring it all home, let everybody know that we are on equal playing fields. That we do have SO much in common, no matter where you come from or where you’re at and to embrace that. It helps to know that you’re not alone.

You generated a lot of buzz after “Forgive Me” was featured on One Tree Hill. What did you think of the response?
Oh that was insane. I honestly, I didn’t know how many people watched the show; cause I mean, I know I liked it. But, I’ve been traveling so much I haven’t been able to keep up with its popularity. Honestly everywhere we go it’s like … see we wake up, do a show, then we go to sleep, we jump on a plane and that’s just how it is all the time. So, when we watched the season premiere it made me remember how much I liked the show – I was like ‘man I love this show, I’ve got to catch it more often’. Then when we checked our MySpace the night after I was like ‘oh my Lord, this is insane’, and then on iTunes we went to number one on the Christian side of things. The album went to top five and I was just like ‘wow’, that was just insane to me. I honestly … we just didn’t think that would happen.

Yeah, I remember afterwards One Tree Hill fans we’re like ‘that song is incredible’, and adding it to their MySpace profiles. Why do you think so many of the fans felt very ‘connected’ to the song?
Honestly, that song is the number one song that fans do connect to, and I think it’s just because it was written from a very real, broken place, you know. When I wrote that song it was after a prayer time, after a time when I had messed up and made some dumb decisions. I just felt like, man … I wanted to scream at I don’t know who … at the world, at the walls. I just wanted to scream and I had no outlet, so I just sat down and wrote this song; I wrote the hook, I wrote my verse, and I recorded it at my house. Took it over to Pablo and was like ‘yo man this is what I got’, he started writing on it and it was a rap like an hour and a half later. It literally took no time, just something that came from a very real place and a moment in time that was captured on this song. I feel that it doesn’t matter if people are of the Faith, or are not of the Faith … it’s hearing the song to where they can identify with the struggles and with the pains that we’re expressing; the hope that there is something more. It’s just one of those songs that you didn’t even expect it, when it was written … literally did it in an hour and a half. Never thought that it would do what it does, and everywhere we go it just happens to be everyone’s favorite. It’s just crazy.

Group 1 CrewYou know when you first see the group and listen to your album it definitely is reminiscent of artist such as The Black Eyed Peas. But, one of the big differences is that you guys don’t use profanity and have a completely different message and approach. What do you think sets you apart? What do you hope people will take away from your lyrics?
Um, I think what sets us apart is the lack of trying to be like other people. I know on the initial yeah you look at us and of course they’re gonna say something like The Black Eyed Peas, because we have two rappers and a singer – you know the genetic makeup. But, if you actually listen to the record it’s really … it’s not like Black Eyed Peas. We do share common traits, yes of course, every artist is inspired by another artist. We didn’t sit down and listen to a Black Eyed Peas album and were like ‘ahh, this is what we’re gonna do, lets try to remake this’; we just did us.

I mean it was funny, because when Black Eyed Peas added Fergie, people don’t know they were just rappers from the beginning. They added Fergie like the same year that we were created as well, when I started the group back in the day. So, we both started at the same time, it wasn’t like they came out and we were like ‘hmm let’s do something like Black Eyed Peas’. It started all at the same time, they just happened to signed back then and doing it big. But, I think the difference between us is just; they’re a great band we’re a great band, it’s just we chose to speak on things that at the end of the day we really want you to take our record home and be able to use it through life. Like a Black Eyed Peas is a great record because you can dance to it, and you can have fun to it, and there are certain songs where they’ll make you think.

For us, we just wanted to make songs that you can dance to, that you can cry to, that you can laugh to, that you can rap your mind around and just be like ‘wow’. We just wanted to create more of a round record, not just get you all dancing; but at the same time give you something your mind can really chew on and your heart can really think on. I think that’s the difference between our record and a lot of other people records. We just have something to say and for some reason we were the people chosen to say it.

Well, does that add pressure to be role models to young kids looking for answers and finding faith in your music?
Not really, simply because it depends on how you view this industry and I guess our role in it. I don’t see us as the people carrying the true weight of role model. Because it’s not like I’ll get on stage and be like ‘hey everybody I want you to be like me’; we’re very obvious when we point to our God as the source of our creativity, the source of strength, the source of everything that we do. I’m quick to let people know, ‘look I will make as many mistakes as you will’, there’s nothing special or super amazing about me. Except the fact that I accept this call on my life and I’m doing it all by grace, I don’t feel pressure because I know my place. I’m thankful that I’m here, I’m thankful that I do what I do. But, we also know that it’s really not because of us per say, just Gods grace on us. He’s just been cool enough to let us do what we do; I try really hard to never get it twisted. Never to think that ‘oh because I’m this good’ or because I do what I do, you know what I’m saying – ‘oh, that’s why we are who we are’ … ‘that’s why you should look up to us’. There’s gonna be a day where we fail somebody or we’ll make a mistake, I don’t want anybody’s full Faith to be put in just us. Because we’re just people like everybody else, we just have Faith in something bigger. I don’t really take the stress of it all or anything like that.

Another stand out track on your record is “No Plan B”. Can you tell us – in your words – the meaning behind the track?
Yeah, “No Plan B” man, that was a song that links with “I Have A Dream”; it was just one of those songs that we really wanted to express to the youth. That when it comes to living a life called by God, everybody has a purpose, no matter who you are. Whether you’ve accepted God into your life or not, you have a purpose that God created you for on this earth. There should never be a time when you look at yourself and you have a back up plan, I remember my parents use to always tell me ‘you need a back up plan’, and I would say to them ‘I’m gonna be an artist, this is what I’m gonna do’. They were like ‘well you have to have something to fall back on’ and I’m just like ‘no’, because if I have something to fall back on I’m never going to do this thing I love to do with 100%. I’m always going to be 50/50 and say that if it doesn’t work, or if it does work; I have to be complete all go and no stop Plan A. There’s no such thing as a Plan B when it comes to what you were put on this earth to be, and we certainly believe that.

It seems throughout life, everywhere man you got people who dreamed to be something since they were little kids and they just overcome all these circumstances and they make it. For me it’s insane, I think anyone can do it now; with real heart and work, with real Faith in God and yourself. It’s such an accomplishable goal whatever your goal may be. So, we just like encouraging people to not have a Plan B. There’s a Plan A … find it. You may go through a couple of Plan B’s and C’s before you get to the A, but find that Plan A and do not detour because that is what you were made for.

Your Plan A is taking you guys out on tour right now! How’s it going?
Tour has been good man. It’s been fun, tiring but great at the same time. Like we were out this week … we just finished the WinterJam tour, and this month we’ve been out every weekend. In the next couple days we’ll be out to Kansas, then to Nashville, then to Michigan, North Carolina. Honestly, it’s just been a blast and everyday we wake up it’s just like … this is what we get to do for a living. It’s just humbling. Humbling and at the same time, I’m just incredibly grateful.

Group 1 CrewWe hear that you’ll be on the road into early next year with the Revolve All Access tour. Can you tell us more about that?
Yeah! That is a tour for all the young ladies out there. It’s all about building a nation of young ladies and understanding their role in society, understanding how God views them and we get to be apart of it. It’s partnered with the ministry called Women of Faith, they do conferences for older women; this is their youth conference for the young girls. Our role in it is just to try our best and help these young ladies understand exactly how God sees them and that’s what the whole conference is about. To empower them, and get them beyond what society says young women should be, how they should look, what they should do. Just empower them with understanding and a true, true depiction of what they are to God and how they’re viewed.

I’m crazy excited about this because I’ve always wanted to do like women’s ministry, I obviously can’t because I’m a boy who’s not married. But, I’ve always had a heart for women because I see so many of my friends that were girls and they just settle in so many areas of their life and it kills me. Because they just don’t know or they haven’t had the correct type of love shown to them or anything like that. I mean it just hurts my heart, so if there’s a chance where we can go down and really just encourage the women of this nation and of this world then I’m so up for it. This tour is going to be … I honestly can just not wait. It’s gonna be amazing.

What can fans expect when they attend a Group 1 show?
You can expect a lot of fun, a lot of high energy. We don’t take ourselves serious on stage, in the sense that we get up there and we just have fun. We smile, we laugh, we dance, we interact; we’ll just off stage in a second just to hug a fan or let them hold our microphone and sing the songs with us. We honestly do not care about look “cool” on stage, though we bring it; you know what I’m saying. We definitely take what we do serious, but we don’t take ourselves serious. Like we don’t mind cutting a joke and being exactly who we are off stage, on stage; there’s no difference. There’s not like a ‘stage on’ button that we push and all of a sudden we’re these you know mega cool people; just Blanca’s who she is, Pablo’s who he is, and I’m who I am. When we speak you know you’ll hear our message, you’ll hear our testimonies, our stories … we speak from the heart. It’s not something we make up, cause we think people like how it sounds; we don’t try to fickle peoples ears – it’s honestly our lives brought to you in the form of music. That’s it man, but it’s a crazy good time … you’ll get everything, it’s like a round show. You’ll dance, you’ll sing, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry; you’ll get a whole emotional rollercoaster. It’s good times.

Manwell, thank you so much for your time today. Again we love the album, and hopefully we’ll see you soon.
No problem. Thank you so much. The new one is coming out soon, so definitely be looking for it.

Oh definitely everyone I play Group 1 Crew for says how that’s a dope album.
That’s so dope man. Yeah, our new one comes out July 29th and it’s on another level so you have to be looking out for that one. Editor Note – Since our interview Group 1 Crew’s album has been pushed back to a September release date.

Of course … thanks again. You have a great day.
No problem, alright you too.


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