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"The party crowd." That's not a label most Christian teens—or parents—feel comfortable with, given today's wild, party-hearty pastimes. Hookups. Beer pong. Patio furniture in the pool. And more often than not, such reckless revelry is backed by music encouraging kids to shed their inhibitions. But as the Bible points out in John 2:1-11, not all parties are alike. It's possible to love God (indeed, to be God) and still have a blast. That's why the pop/hip-hop duo Group 1 Crew, strives to give partiers a positive new soundtrack. We sat down with Manuel Reyes and Blanca Callahan to discuss that, as well as the "tribal" influence of music on young fans.

You two like to party, and I mean that in the absolute best sense. Yet some parents might hear a song like "Night of My Life" out of context and wonder where Group 1 Crew is coming from.

Manuel: Sure. If you just jumped in your kids' mind for a second, the amount of music that's coming at them, the lifestyle issues are so great and coming from personalities that are highly influential. But it's coming from a different heart. That heart is, "Let's get drunk, let's get wasted and not care about anything." Our heart is, "Let's have a good time. Let's party, but trust us that the direction this is coming from is two people who love the Lord." We understand that Christian kids want to have fun, too. They want to be able to throw parties. We just got an email today that I was answering back, and this girl's like, "I was thinking that I would have my 21st birthday party and do nothing but blast Group 1 Crew." The fact that she has that option is why we do music.

That's a ministry in itself, isn't it?

Manuel: A lot of people don't understand that. They think [Christian music] needs to be this or that all the time. But if their unsaved friends come to this party and all they're hearing is worship music, it's going to be an uncomfortable setting. It's gonna be like, "We don't get this."

It's a foreign language.

Manuel: Very much so.

Blanca: We want to make music that can compete with those same beats, those same songs, but with a heart behind it that makes it clear where we're coming from. It's positive music. It's clean. It gives kids a positive alternative so they don't have to pop in another record.

What are some of the doors God has opened to you, maybe a chance to share light in a dark place as a result of your music being more accessible?

Blanca: We have a dance crew that comes out to some of our shows called Studio One Young Beast Society, and they made it onto America's Got Talent. Well, they decided they would do every routine to a Group 1 Crew track, and dance to it on the show. They got so much flak for it from the show's producers and choreographers. They're like, "Don't do it. You're not gonna make it. People aren't going to vote for you because they need a Rihanna or something that's gonna connect." But the group said, "This is what we believe, so this is what we want to dance to." They made it to the Top 10. They kept winning and winning. After that, the choreographer and some of the people on the show were asking, "Where can we find this music? I'm not a Christian, but I would love to hear the album and maybe take it around to some of the dance studios where I teach." It was so cool to see how they could use our music to take a stand and also be successful in what they were doing.

Former Talking Heads lead singer David Byrne has written a book titled How Music Works. He said something that I'd love to get your reaction to. He told Newsweek that music "makes you a member of a tribe. Your taste in music ties you all together. That need is almost more important than the music itself." What do you think of that?

Manuel: That's an accurate statement. Music just happens to be the common denominator in a lot of people's lives, whether you're black, white, Asian, from the East Coast, from the West Coast—if there's a band you both like, you'll find that common ground. Somehow, that music is speaking to you at the same level. I remember going to see Dashboard Confessional. They're an acoustic rock band whose demographic is pretty much college students. I've never seen so many people who knew the lyrics and would sing them at the top of their lungs, off key, didn't matter. They were all there because 98 percent of the music is breakup music, and they all [knew what it was like to be] broken up with. And it was so intense to see all those kids just screaming the lyrics…

Blanca: And crying together, and holding each other.

Manuel: Yeah, it just moves people. Music is that thing that transcends every type of barrier you can possibly think of. You'll find common ground in a hook, in a verse, in a beat. As soon as it drops, the entire crowd, no matter where you're at, there's an instant reaction and it's all in unison. It's powerful.

Some parents are wary of that tribal affiliation because certain musical genres—rap and hip-hop among them—tend to be a little scary when you look at what's being produced in the mainstream. You're almost afraid to have your child develop a taste for it. What would you tell a parent who may be totally onboard with your music, but a little nervous about the subculture as a whole?

Manuel: The best thing to do is train your kid to be able to decipher between good and bad, and that goes for any culture of music. We can be so afraid of what's blatant, but I would be more afraid of what's subversive—the in-the-middle artist that doesn't really go against Jesus, isn't really for Jesus, but is very plain Jane. It feels safe, because you don't see anything so scary. … Teach them to be discerning beyond the lyrics. It's the spirit behind the music. The Bible teaches us to test the spirits that we're being given. Rap is what it is. It's a more glamorous, flashy culture. And it is kind of scary, but at the same time it does affect what we're doing as a society. No other genre creates a new dialect where everyone is speaking in this way. It's something you have to be knowledgeable about.

Blanca: You do get kids sometimes who get caught up trying to figure out who they are, and they feel like the music is defining who they are. You change how you dress, you change your speech, you change what you believe and whatever it is because you're easily tossed around.

Manuel: I laugh when I hear girls who are super fans of a lot of the rappers, because of how those guys talk about girls. It's gotten to the point where they've heard it so much that they think it's OK to be called certain things. Or it's glamorous to be a "video girl."

Blanca: It affects us girls as well, because then you start feeling like, "Well, this is just how it is."

Manuel: There used to be anger in my heart towards that. When I first used to write raps, I used to speak against all the secular rappers, and I did it with a haughty attitude. Then I started realizing that these rappers are just talking about what they know. Just like we talk Jesus because we know Jesus, this is how they've been taught. It really is a bigger issue than the music. These kids have been robbed of that father or that mother and good character building. Man, I just want to love 'em and hug 'em and be like, "Dude, there's more to life and more to you. There's a deeper side of you." So my view of that musical genre has changed from anger to a desire to love these guys.

Artists preaching a message contrary to what we want our kids to internalize can feel like the enemy at times. But they're really not. They're prisoners in a spiritual battle. Like you said, they just express what they know, and need our prayers.

Manuel: Exactly. They have enough people speaking against them. Personally, I feel the Lord calling me to speak to the dead spirit within them. They need to know they can be great. We all do. I've seen what God has done with my life, taking this ex-thug who was headed to either death or jail. He found me, which just proves that none of these guys are out of reach. They just need somebody to love them.

Published June 2013