GAWVI has been a part of the Reach Records' family since 2008 when he began to produce albums and singles for the label's roster. In 2016, he officially signed on as a performing artist and released his first EP, Lost in Hue. In April 2020, GAWVI released Heathen, his third and latest full-length album.
I was blessed to snag an opportunity to talk with GAWVI about the new album and how Heathen is a gamechanger in shifting the Christian culture overall.
Thanks for joining me today, GAWVI! First, can you provide a quick recap sonically of where your music has progressed from 2016's Lost in Hue EP to the present day?
Lost in Hue was my first release (an EP) and it was very EDM of a sound. It was me as a producer. At that time, I really didn’t understand what I was becoming yet. All I understood was that Reach Records really believed in me, that I could take the platform instead of just being behind the scenes producing. For so many years, I was a producer for Reach and for lots of people in Christian Hip-Hop (CHH). Lecrae and the team saw something more in me. Creatively, I ended up laying down vocals for artists to give them an example and a lead way of how I envisioned the track would go while I was producing. So, the basis was present.
I started to test out things differently on We Belong. You start to hear my voice a little bit more. On songs like “Rock N Roll” and “Never Fail.” You hear it on a few songs off the album, but you still hear me and my main sound as a producer. To be honest, We Belong was my debut album and I was trying to make everyone happy. I thought this is the formula, this is what Christian radio is like. I was trying to find my own sound while making sure everyone was happy.
With Panorama, I was determined to make stuff that I liked and I was in sort of a state of rebellion. I wanted to share my heart, while being very vulnerable.
Now with Heathen, I’m at a point of full confidence in myself and I get the complete picture of who I am and what I want to do creatively. After four years, I’m seasoned and know who I am as an artist now. On this album, you will hear who I am quite clearly. Heathen is my true sound now. The word heathen is defined as a person who does not belong to a widely held religion. What decisions went into naming the album, Heathen? Was it more personal or generally speaking towards the Christian culture?
At first, I really loved the word “heathen” because it’s really bold. With this album, I didn’t have any limitations this time. Conversations were happening in the studio like, “what should we call this album?” A bunch of names was mentioned, but when “heathen” was thrown out, I remembered growing up in church and just feeling like a heathen.
For example, if I wore urban clothes and went to a church (not saying all churches are like this, but this was my personal experience), an elderly lady would approach me feeling compelled to spread the Gospel message to me as I looked like a target. Little things like that where the Christian culture was known for assigning labels.
The term seems lost in translation. I feel like that’s who we are as people–heathens. Heathen, if you go to the Greek translation, is ethnos–someone who is non-Jewish or from a different cultural background. When you look at it in the Bible, the term heathen is only in the King James translation. It’s seen there over 150 times (this is just me nerding out). I really wanted to know the background of it, right? Every time it’s mentioned, the context is rarely referring to a sinner. It’s usually referring to a non-Jewish individual–a Gentile. This album is for heathens. We all started out life at one point as a heathen. So, who am I to cast the first stone?
What concepts from the new album speak directly into sparking a shift in Christian culture?
The album starts off really dope showing me off as an imperfect human being. People got a taste of the album intro track “Different” on my promo video I put out. It sounds like a bunch of kids going, “If you know me, like I know me. You’ll regret me and disown me. I’m just trying to be different, for my wife and my children.” It’s like a beautiful chord playing in the background with all these kids singing it. That was my mentality, to think child-like throughout this album. So, that’s what I wanted to do. However, I’m so jacked up, about to be completely vulnerable on this album, and for me to speak on something that is so deep where we’re going to shift Christian culture, I need listeners to see that I’m far from perfect. At the same time, I’m a human being just like you guys. I’m not perfect, but I’m going to show you a bunch of hope. I’m going to be real with you.
The album is energetic. I’m showing off who I am. As it progresses towards the middle, there is more meat and content. The first single, “Not Too Far,” explains that we’re never too far from God even in the midst of being sinners. Heathen is really rebellious. I get to share about me and my love for the church. I really love the track titled, “I’m Fine.” I left the church so many times saying, “Yeah, I’m good” or “Yes, I’m fine, really!” When actually, I was dying inside at church. I was just so scared to show people I was struggling because I felt like everyone was going to judge me. Then, I’m going to become a label, a heathen. What’s really dope while I was doing all of this studying (the history behind the term heathen), I’ve noticed a genuine shift in Christian culture in churches overall. They’re some really dope pastors out there right now, being way more open, and showing they’re not supermen but human. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m “church hurt.” It’s more of, let’s wake up. Here is some of my testimony, situations I’ve been through, and let’s continue this movement of waking up and not seeing the Gospel through a fake lens. How was the single “Not Too Far” chosen as the lead single for the project which released at the end of March during the COVID-19 pandemic?
As I was listening to the whole album before I turned it in, I noticed everything was really aggressive. I listened to We Belong and Panorama and I discovered Heathen was missing that vibe that people really loved. Something like “Fight for Me,” “In the Water,” or “Cumbia.” Right before I turned in the album, I spoke to Reach and told them I was sorry if it would delay the album, but I needed to get back into the studio and create some more. I kept on creating and diving into the sonics of what I used to create before–very bright-colored stuff. Then, a “magic moment!” It’s very rare when it happens. I love it when it happens where something just clicks. It’s like game time, the ninth inning, I have to turn in the album the next day. Reach is on me to submit the album if I ever want it to come out. Then, the magic moment happens. All the chords start to come together, I’m making the beat, I’m singing these melodies, the words start coming together; Instantly, I felt the same emotion I felt while making “Fight for Me.” It felt good. Heathen, prodigal son, coming back home, I’m not too far from Him. That’s how the song “Not Too Far” came. It was literally the last song that I made for the album. It became the big single for Heathen.
We chose the particular release date for good reason. It was me just talking with the team (Reach, road manager, acting manager). We were all in the same conversation. The answer from all around was, music is what people need right now. Even I was listening to hours of music at home. Getting closer to God. Everyone else is going to be playing music, watching Netflix. You’re kind of bored when you’re on shutdown. So, let’s bring people some hope. Sadly, we’re going to have to cancel the tour, but people still need hope through these times. With “Not Too Far,” the title, what the song meant; felt like all the stars were aligning. That this was the moment when people really needed to hear that song. So, I just think it was bigger than me and promotion for the album. God orchestrated the release. It needed to happen. What track are you most excited for everybody to hear from the new album?
It always jumps around. However, I believe everybody is going to be interested in the one I have with Israel Houghton and Trip Lee called “Who You Gon’ Be.” Israel is one of my favorite worship leaders ever. Part of my story when my parents got divorced (which I shared on Panorama), I was 18 and Israel’s album Alive in South Africa came out and changed my life. I was addicted to the album. I’d play it non-stop, all the time. It was just life-changing. When we were creating this album, I was asked what feature do you want that we could make happen? I didn’t want to use so and so and have people think I was using him/her as a cool marketing scheme. I want to produce and make music with people that truly enjoy making music.
Big bro Lecrae made it happen. I told him the same story about how Israel Houghton changed my life. He connected us. We got to FaceTime which was one of the craziest things for me since I’m such a big fan. He’s a legend. We got to share a lot of time on the phone. This was right around the time Kobe Bryant passed away. Israel and I were talking about his passing and I wanted to let him know how much I valued him and his impact, that he meant the world to me, and told him all the stories of exactly what kind of major impact he’s made through the years. We’re both artists, we hear this sort of thing at meet-n-greets and whatnot, but I wanted to genuinely let you know how I felt before you ever passed away and I didn’t even get the chance. Oh man, I was getting watery eyes and he replied how much he needed to hear that. That sparked just a really cool song on the album. The thing is, I don’t even use Israel as the big hook on the track. I wanted to do something so different. I told Israel I just wanted him on a small section of the song and just make it very impactful. He was thrilled about the idea and we ended up doing it and including it on the album. How did Trip Lee end up as the other feature on “Who You Gon’ Be?”
I love connecting with people. I produced his album Rise along with every album he’s released. Rise was just a special album for us since I produced the entire project and built such a great relationship. He’s like a brother to me. I felt like he just added so much to the track. He’s never been on any of my previous songs, so I had to make it happen with this special Israel feature. It was so organic, felt really good.
As we discuss a direct shift in culture as a common theme today, let’s direct our focus to Christian Hip-Hop (CHH) as a whole. Have you noticed lately a shift in culture within CHH or are you trying to lead such a shift through the impact of Heathen?
CHH is probably at its been its ever been honestly. On one side, CHH was really dope and people loved the music, I could even show my friends how good it was. Then, there was the hard left, where I don’t know if it’s cool to rock with or talk about CHH. Now, it’s become so mainstream, Chance the Rapper and Kanye West. The doors Lecrae has broken for all of us to do now has really made CHH cool. There’s such a high percentage of artists making dope much now that aren’t scared to share it anymore. As far as the shift sonically, I feel everyone is doing great! Even content-wise, such a collection of artists doing quality CHH. Music that glorifies Christ.
Something you touched on earlier was a tour to correlate with the release of Heathen on April 10th. Given everything going on, what are tour plans at this point?
Honestly, I’m praying through all of that right now. I just do not know right now. It was supposed to kick off in April. With everything going on, the tour will definitely be pushed back. The details are unknown at this time. We’re in the planning stage. Praying through it. Seeing how everything else plays out.
Last question, what do you want to be the biggest takeaway listeners have when they listen to Heathen for the first time?
I want people to be the most confident they can be, especially with their identity given all of the current confusion. I’ve always loved confidence and confusion together. It clashes, but it’s so true related to how I’m feeling lately. I’m so confident of the person I am right now. This world is confusing on so many levels. If someone calls you a heathen, say thank you. I’m not normal, I am very different. Right now, when you hear the term heathen it’s out of fear. Not a nice term to refer to someone as. When someone says, “you’re not normal. That’s sort of a jab.” At the same time though, you’re thinking they’re right. I’m not normal. I’m set apart. ‘Heathen’ is not me championing sin, it’s me admitting we are sinners. It’s not our identity that Jesus gave us. It’s not the label we’re stuck with. All in all, I want others to find their true identity and true label in Christ.
Joshua Galla is an avid hip-hop head always hip to the latest releases while enjoying the classics. Music is his passion and escapes from the mundane.
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