In October, I had the opportunity to see Jonathan McReynolds in Memphis during our annual Celebration of Hope Banquet at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Jonathan sang his new single, “Not Lucky, I’m Loved” and I fell in love with it.
It is lead single from Jonathan McReynolds’ forthcoming project, “Make Room” set to release March 9th 2018.I talked to Jonathan about the message behind is new single and what it was like to do a live recording in his home city of Chicago.
“It's one thing to be church. It's another thing to be Christian. I've dedicated my ministry, my life, my music to help people understand how Christianity meets regular life.”
For Jonathan McReynolds, his mission as an artist has always been clear. Now nearly four years since releasing his debut album, Life Music, his message has become stronger, bolder, braver. When asked what’s expected on Life Music: Stage Two, his sophomore album being released on September 18, 2015, McReynolds simply states: “I’m older. The first one I put out when I was 21. I was a college student. Now, I’m a college professor. I’m 26. I sing better, I write better, I play better. Life Music: Stage Two is very diverse. I have some very cool collaborations: India.Arie, Israel Houghton, PJ Morton—I wrote a song with him—Derek Minor, who’s a Holy hip hop artist. I’m very excited about all of it.”
On Stage Two, McReynolds’ excitement spills over into every song. But his joy isn’t from a man whose debut album peaked at the top of iTunes Christian chart and reached number 3 on Billboard’s Gospel charts in 2012. Nor is it from a man whose single “No Gray” was nominated for contemporary/song of the year at the 2014 Dove Awards, or a man who’d later garner two Stellar Awards nominations for songwriting and new artist of the year in 2014. No, this joy is from a man who’s reaffirmed his spiritual calling.
“The album is written from the perspective of a guy looking for God in a social media-distracting generation. A shallow generation,” he says. “I’m trying to insert a little more depth and focus into the life of a young Christian.” Fans should look no further than McReynolds’ current single, “Pressure,” to hear his renewed intention. He sings, “I can’t even turn on the phone without being reminded of the lie that I am alone, broke and unsuccessful… I can’t even talk to my friends ‘cause they have expectations that I may or may not be living up to… So Jesus, take away all the pressure to be someone else that the world has made… Take from me all the pressure to be someone that You did not create.”
Staying true to himself and his message, McReynolds has gone against the trend of most urban contemporary Christian artists and reached across the aisle without sacrificing his message or his musical style. “Sometimes we have the gift to articulate, but we don't know what exactly to articulate. I think that God really gave me wisdom. He gave me an observant eye. That’s the gift He's given me as a songwriter and as an artist.” Recognizing his gift is one thing, but understanding why he became a bona fide recording artist, well that sometimes leaves McReynolds bewildered.
“I have to owe that whole planning process to God because I wasn't writing these songs to ever sing live. I don't know why I was writing them, but it definitely was not to be on The Stellar Awards or on 106 and Park, or singing with India.Arie on BET’s Celebration of Gospel, or having my song play on Love and Hip Hop. That was never my dream.” Thankfully God’s dream was bigger and McReynolds’ testimonials on Stage Two are in sync with his core as a songwriter: transparency.
“On my first album, Life Music, I was transparent on accident. This one, I'm transparent on purpose,” he says about the clarity—and at times urgency—of his lyrics on Stage Two. “Now, I'm very intent on not letting any of my own emotions, my own revelations and lessons go un-shared.”
With this purpose on his heart, the eOne Music recording artist wrote “Limp,” which he feels serves as a continuation of “No Gray” from Life Music. Before the song starts, he confesses to the listener, “This is a little deep.” McReynolds explains: “On the first album, ‘No Gray’ was unintentionally a song that pushed people towards pursuing a certain level of perfection, of goodness. Realizing how whack they were. How whack we were. We are. How we need to do our part in pursuing the right things,” says McReynolds. “‘Limp’ accompanies ‘No Gray’ because it's kind of like no matter where we are, what you've done, please keep walking. We all have a limp. We all have a thorn in our flesh. We all have an issue. We all have a problem. Actually most of us have way more than one.”
“Limp” is just one example of McReynolds’ growth as a songwriter and his reach as a messenger for Christ. “People forget that Jesus is revealed in us. If God is revealed in Jesus, and he's revealed in us, then we have a really big responsibility because people aren't literally going to see Jesus walking down the street anymore. They're going to see us,” says McReynolds. “Half the Gospel is being saved and the other half is telling everybody else about it. That's what I'm working on. That's what I felt was missing in my lifetime or my life and my experiences. I'm just trying to help fill that void.”
Early praise for McReynolds lead single “Gotta Have You” lets us know McReynolds has struck a chord across diverse audiences; the song continues to garner wide attention, with airplay across Gospel, Urban, Urban AC and Rhythmic radio stations. Life Music: Stage Two will have similar reach. “I feel like we really got close to nailing a lot of different styles of music. It's still unified. I think it's a lot more versatile record.” He’s right. From the country-tinged “Got My Love” and Motown-inspired “Oh!” to stirringly simple “Maintain” and the heavenly “Stay High,” McReynolds’ musical ingenuity gels with every note, lyric and melody expressed on the album. Feature collaborations include India.Arie (“Whole”), Israel Houghton (“All Things Well”), Derek Minor (“Stay High”) and Chantae Cann (“Maintain”). McReynolds teams up again with Corey Barksdale with “Jesus,” a reworking of Shirley Caesar’s classic “His Blood.”
Although the accomplished musician played on a few songs this time around, he found stepping back on this project freeing. “I was literally on 90 percent of the first record. To be able to focus just on vocals was definitely a treat, and definitely helpful.”
Still, McReynolds committed to delivering God’s message. “I'm going to be awakening or reminding people on purging, and helping people think about some of the decisions that they made, and use the wisdom that comes with walking in spirit,” he says. “I just pray that this album, and all my music for the rest of my life and the rest of my career, always points people to living this whole Christian thing. Living it out every day.”