I wasn't sure if I wanted to blog about this but I just had to. You see for me personally being in GK Real changed the course of my life. The release of our debut album "it's all about you" is something that is so significant that I just have to talk about it. I can't let this day just go like that!
Ok so I have to give you some background and I can only speak from my point of view. Everyone's story is different! GK Real began when Emmanuel Edwards who was signed as a songwriter/producer to Universal Records decided he wanted to do a gospel project. He left Universal after a while because he wasn't happy and didn't have the creative freedom he wanted and set up "Rockhill Entertainment" and started asking folks if they wanted to be part of this gospel project. At the time there was no name GK Real or anything.
So Emmanuel approached Ayo-Dele, Remi, Gozi, Lanre and myself as well as many other singers to be part of it. He asked me to be at a meeting because I had become known as "the rapper" in church hahaha. When I got there all the others were there, Emmanuel played us some beats and we began writing. We already all knew each other because we all sang in Hill City which was the choir of House On The Rock the church we all went to back then (I dont go there anymore I think only a couple of us still do). I lived a funny life where I was a Hip Hop artist doing my thing but Sunday I would be singing in the choir because I could sing. Haha. I mean I could have rocked a club saturday night but I still sang in the choir because I loved it hahahaha
Back in those days I only saw myself as a Hip Hop artist (nothing much has changed there really if I am perfectly honest). I was already in the studio recording my own songs and trying to find out what lane I was gonna be in (shout out to Artcha, I will always remember those days recording at the hitroom of Northtown records). You see today folks talk about the contention between secular vs gospel etc well back then it wasn't any different. It was actually worse. I knew that I wasn't any gangsta rapper and back then I didn't like grime although I could rhyme double time like grime MCs if I wanted to. I also knew I wasn't any Kirk Franklin or like those rappers in The Cross Movement. The Hip Hop scene in the UK wasn't poppin' although guys like Ty, Roots Manuva, Blak Twang and many others were around doing their thing and a certain MC who was starting out called Sway really inspired me with the way he was all about being independent and doing things his way. In fact I used to go an event called "The Jump Off" at Scala and I saw him perform live. He did a track called "Flo Fashion" which was his debut single at the time and he killed it. He was the first rapper that I saw who was flaunting being African and British (ok big up TY as well but I discovered you after lol, in fact I met TY in Brixton when GK Real were performing on the street as part of some evangelical outreach. I cant lie now that I look back at that I feel like cringing because I find those things kind of corny and ineffective sometimes, shoot me if you like it is how I feel lol)
There were Christians doing hip hop in the UK like Green Jade, Royal Priesthood, Set Free, Dwayne Tryumf (then part of a duo called Dwayne n Wayne) and many others doing their thing but I wasn't part of that circle. So there I was wondering what do I do? who am I? Do I want to be stuck in the church/gospel circuit? is there a place for a Hip Hop artist in church? Will I be accepted? Ok if I went to "the world" how would I fit in? I am gonna be real, I am glad that someone like Kanye West came along. He showed me that you don't have be a gangsta or even "conscious" to be an MC. You can just be you and be great. So I wanted to develop that kind of lane. I just wanted to be myself. I remember around that time hearing Jahaziel on the radio. He was on all those Blacksmith remixes so I heard him on tracks with Lemar, Daniel Bedingfield. I am sure there were others. It was only a little later that I found out he was a Christian. I found out he was injecting his faith in his music. I have to say I did find him so similar to me like my lost twin at the time haha but all that came after GK Real was about to drop
As I was mulling over all this in my mind, Emmanuel Edwards comes along and offers me a chance to be part of this project. I had been doing gigs in clubs, bars, Universities, churches and youth clubs as a Hip Hop artist. I didn't preach at folks I just wrote songs about where I was at through my worldview and that was it. I was doing what Lecrae is doing now before it became the popular thing it has now become. So according to what I was being taught in church, I had to choose to either be a gospel artist or a so called "secular" artist. I never agreed with this dichotomy but I felt like I should go along with being part of this project. I think the main hook for me was the way it was set up I could still do my thing as an individual while being in the group. The blueprint of the group was it was like a Wu Tang Clan or So Solid Crew. This made it easy for me to be part of it.
I went along with it because I was young and didn't have enough confidence to follow my path. I felt I needed to be in a group and I don't regret it. I am happy to have been part of it and I am still part of the group today (even though we have been on a break since 2010). I had no idea what was about to unfold. Although looking back I do wish I was as knowledgeable and confident as I am today about what it means to be an artist I have to say that I am happy all the same. This whole experience was part of my path that helped me become who I am today even though I was already on my path before I joined.
We recorded and wrote the album all through 2003. At the time there were a lot of groups emerging. Raymond & Co were the leaders (they had already been around for a quite a bit but I only knew about them in like 2002), it was truly a golden age in the gospel music scene. I remember us going to their album launch for "Playing Games" while we were recording and leaving so fired up because we felt we were next! ha! (big up Raymond & Co they were so inspirational I remember it was around this time that they went on tour with Will Young and won a MOBO, we really looked up to them!) Other groups emerging at the time were Ekkelsia, Siani (I remember around this time Siani member, Simone Stewart was on "Fame Academy" in fact I remember seeing Siani sing at a gig with just 2 of them because she was on TV!), Four Kornerz, The Company, Blessed Voices, Seven and Re:newed (that had Gavin Holligan and Jaz Ellington in it) The dominant sound at the time in the mainstream was that urban/Hip Hop R&B sound, pop rap (the kind Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder & Tinie Tempah do now) hadn't ascended yet and we were just coming out of that sweet garage music era. So Solid crew had their number one ("21 Seconds" which was number One in 2001) and their run was beginning to die and get shut down. Craig David was having his run and so was Ms Dynamite. Jamelia was poppin' too. A group called Big Brovaz had some big hits. Grime was starting to hit thanks to Dizzee Rascal (artists like AFG Nexus, L Dubzy, G - Force, Commission, Sammy G and Triple O were starting to emerge around this time). A collective called Zion Noiz came together around that time too. All the christians involved in Hip Hop were in that and I found out about them afterwards. I really wanted to be part of that collective (everyone was in it, Green Jade, Royal Priesthood, Jahaziel, WariYah, Dwayne Tryumf, Shabbaz L Graham, Chenoa, Gamma, Bold etc etc)
Music was so different in the UK then. You actually felt you had a chance to break through hahaha. This was just before myspace hit and social networking switched the game up (that switch up totally helped me as a Hip Hop artist because I got in early from when myspace became hot and I have been riding that digital wave ever since trust me!! We all benefited from that and when I say we I mean us the MCs because that tilted the game in our direction and allowed us to ascend and dominate for a bit, it is when we took the mobo every year from 2007 - 2011 believe that!). I didn't even know how to get on iTunes in those days. My mindset was press up CDs and hustle 'em somehow. The scene was POPPIN' look there was an event almost every day! It was during all this time that the album was being created. Such GREAT TIMES OH GOSH! There was the studio part of album and the live recording part. Ok some trivia:
1. We started writing in Emmanuel's bedroom and moved to a studio he built in Peckham.
2. "when the road is rough" was already written by Emmanuel before we recorded the album and we used to sing it in church as part of the choir during the service. All the songs except "Blessed Jesus" and "when the road is rough" were written when we were all together writing.
3. Jaz Ellington who went on to do "The Voice" sang back up on the live part of the album. If you listen real close to the beginning of "Put my hands up" you actually hear his distinct voice adlibing in the beginning
4. A lot of vocals were lost and had to be re-recorded. for the live part of the album which was recorded live at House on The Rock (not with any audience though we just used to church hall for that live feel)
5. Remi did his lead vocals for "Blessed Jesus" in one take.
6. When I was recording the rap for "amazing love" everyone in the group was sitting in the recording booth with me and I can't lie I felt uncomfortable lol
7. Ayo recorded vocals for "From My Heart" lying down with the mic. I am serious that is how she felt she could get the notes out.
8. There is a video we shot for "amazing love" we used it for the launch and I used to have a copy but I don't have it now and I don't know who still has it. It wasn't amazing to me though (no pun intended)
9. We purposely didn't put our picture on the cover of the album because we wanted people to focus on the music
10. The album almost didn't come out on March 28th but Emmanuel Edwards is a soldier for how he had to go to the pressing plant (which if I remember correctly was in Wales you know!) to get the CDs which have all been sold except for like 5 which I have as collectors items.
11. The name GK Real came when we had almost finished recording the album. Remi put together our initials and he was like "Hey guys some of our initials speall Real but we have this GK over here" and I was like "God's Kingdom is Real and that is how the name stuck. GK Real. I had been trying to think of names but the names I came up with prior to that were so wack and I came up with a LOT of names lol
Ok those are just some random facts I can remember. There were overnight studio sessions and it was a lot of hard work but we got it done. I tell you the day we launched it at House on The Rock our home church at the time was fiyah! What a day! hahaha! We came on to the stage from different directions and had our video "amazing love" being played on a huge projector. No one had done something like that at that point.
That album being released led to us getting on Choice FM (shout out to Dave P his show was on Sunday morning at this time not at that graveyard shift he had later) and BBC 1xtra (shout out to DJ Fitz can you imagine there was a gospel show on BBC 1xtra on sunday mornings back then! Mad! it came to an end in 2007) as well as a lot of other radio stations all over the country and overseas. We also got to do a lot of TV appearances too. We toured everywhere from America to Europe to Africa and back. This was before Social Networking really kicked in and it was off the strength of the music and how we brought it when we went live. We became known for our live sets! It is all grace at the end of the day but we put our work in too. We rehearsed like ALL the time. We won the 2005 GEM Award for best newcomer presented by David and Carrie Grant.
So after touring 6 straight years it was decided that we go on a break and our last gig was at KT in January 2010. We reunited for a one off gig in October 2011 for Lanre's album launch but we haven't gigged since. I don't call the shots but if the call ever came to do a GK Real gig trust me I would be there.