By Conway Norwood
The need for a spiritual awakening in today’s generation calls for nothing less than innovation, ingenuity, God’s anointing, and the vision to apprehend the impossible. There are six soldiers of the holy hip-hop persuasion that have displayed that the mission is not impossible: God’s Army.
The members of God’s Army are built with qualities that you wouldn’t see in your typical rapper; humility, unity, holiness, and love make up the core of who these soldiers are. They talk a good game, live what they proclaim so radically in their album Mission Not Impossible, and know with certainty the God in whom they put their trust.
When I met God’s Army, it was apparent that each member is a unique individual that brings his/her own experiences and creativity to the group. Rahsaan Ivory, aka Godchild, is laidback and cool, but expressive nonetheless. If God’s Army were a church, Michael Bowdre, aka the Maestro of Peace, would be the powerhouse Minister of Music. Liyongo Tolin, aka the One-N-Only, aka Rhodes Scholar, stands out as the leader of the group. Taivia Jones, aka Body of Praize, aka T-Bop brings a “softness” to God’s Army that reveals how comfortable she is with being the only woman in the group. Her husband, Timashion Jones, aka the Visionaire, is urban in every sense of the word (see his website: http://timashion.canadianred.com/), and at the time of the interview, he was itching to get home to see the Detroit Pistons once again become world champions that evening.
I didn’t have the opportunity to meet the sixth member of God’s Army, Keedrick Gardner, aka Lo-Kee Manifest, whom his colleagues declare is truly low key offstage, but “Ben Wallace” on the mic. True to the form that his band-mates have presented, Keedrick is on a mission; at the time of the interview, he was in California in chiropractic school, a pursuit that hasn’t frustrated the progress of God’s Army. As Michael stated, “ain’t nothin’ wrong with havin’ a good education.”
After the interview, I was privileged to experience God’s Army for myself as they ministered unreleased material. Mission Not Impossible is already an impressive body of work, but to listen to the two tracks that God’s Army presented to me without hesitation was enough to realize that they’re definitely stepping up their game for bigger and better things. What I heard embodied everything that characterizes classic hip-hop. It was mind-blowing to see this group of soldiers that are more like your “boys” than ministers/performers flip the script from being spiritual, yet down-to-earth, comical personalities to in-your-face, no-nonsense lyricists.
Also present at the interview were Derrick “3D” Davis, president of Warfare Entertainment, and his Promotions Manager, Nicole Pennington. God’s Army gave me their thoughts about the complexities of their ministry, their effectiveness in today’s generation, and the God they glorify in their music.
Conway: Out of all of the holy hip-hop artists that are out there, what do you guys bring that makes you stand out?
Michael: I guess we have a wide-range audience. We’ve had grandmothers come to us and say “I can really get into this stuff.” It’s not so hard, and at the same time, it’s just hard enough that the young people can get into it.
Taivia: Yeah, because if you listen to our CD, we’ve got a little bit of everything on there. You hear some jazz music, you hear poetry, you hear rap, you hear singing…
Conway: I even heard a little bit of rock ‘n roll.
Taivia: There you go. You even hear some rock. So we can minister to everybody.
Derrick: And then it’s the Word. The metaphors and the lyrics are based on the Bible.
Taivia: Not everybody’s doing that now.
Derrick: We’ve seen some [so-called] holy hip-hop artists get up there and they [ain’t about nothin’].
Taivia: If you listen to some of our songs, we’re quoting right from the Bible.
Conway: How difficult is it for you to come up with a concept for a song?
Liyongo: I think it’s probably different for each individual. Personally, I have different seasons. I might have a season where God is sending me words or I might have a season where I say, “Maestro of Peace, I need some tracks.” “My 1st Love” is a perfect example. It’s probably the first song that I ever wrote just for that track. The track spoke to me and the words came out. There are times when we come together, and maybe Visionaire has a concept. The good thing about the group is that there are no egos. No one has any fear of letting someone know if they have something that’s wack, but we end up going back to the drawing board. I think everybody has a little bit to say.
Conway: It’s six of you guys. How do you all come to a consensus on what’s tight and what’s not?
Timashion: Actually, the final say-so is up to Liyongo.
Rahsaan: For a lot of songs, if everybody doesn’t think it’s tight, we save them for other projects. That doesn’t mean it’s not tight. That just means we all have different ears and we all have different flavors.
Timashion: There are a couple of songs that I didn’t quite feel, but when people come to me and say “that song really ministered to me,” I’m [amazed] because the diversity of the album touches people in different ways, and that’s what really helped me to stop calling songs wack because they have a purpose.
Taivia: And sometimes it takes a while. You have to sit back and listen to it. I’ve had to do that with a couple of songs and I said, “Man, that song is really gonna minister to somebody”, when at first, I didn’t get it, but it took a while.
Liyongo: We all do have different styles. I might go one way, Timashion might go another way. We have to come up with something we all like. It may be for a particular group of people. “Heads Turn” was one song where we were all like, “This is the wackest tune!” When it was actually released as a single, it was a song that most people liked. Sometimes when we go places, we look around and say “these people ain’t gon’ feel us” or “we need to do this song because this is the kind of song they’ll probably like,” but then we say, “No, we’ll do this.” And then when we’re done, we say “That was cool, that went great.”
Conway: Now that you mention that, I know Michael said that grandmothers were coming up to you saying they were feeling your music. How do you all respond to all of the controversy and the debate about holy hip-hop?
Liyongo: [We say] “listen.” Holy hip-hop artists get it a lot. I listen to some holy hip-hop stuff and I’m like “Man, the Word is not in there.” You can tell that this is a person who may have grown up in the church and they know a couple of scriptures and they get that in a couple of songs, then you listen to other stuff and it’s cool, but there’s a difference between being a hip-hop artist and a holy hip-hop artist. A holy hip-hop artist’s focus is truly on God. Not to sound [boastful] or arrogant, but no one can deny the fact that Mission Not Impossible is gospel because if you take yourself away from hating the style, hating the music, even hating God’s Army, and just listen, you cannot deny the fact that the Word of God is in every song. If you deny God’s Army and Mission Not Impossible, for me that’s like blasphemy. It’s like giving the devil credit for what God has done, and that’s impossible.
Timashion: We get tested a lot. I remember this one time, we went to this old Baptist-style church and they didn’t have any instruments, they were just sitting there [singing], and that was their worship and praise. Then they saw us and they saw that our shirts said “God’s Army,” and they said [suspiciously] “This should be interesting.” This lady said that she had a whole paradigm shift towards our music and ended up putting all of her [youth] on a bus and sending them to our concert that we did in December. They all went down there, and she invited us to other churches. So people are already confused about hip hop because of the kind of things that it’s done. They haven’t really seen God use hip-hop the way that we’re being used. So once they see it for themselves, they say “Oh, you are promoting the Word of God,” then they go and spread the word.
Rahsaan: I know one thing modeling our lifestyles after Christ. He simply quoted His parable and just put it out there, and He said, “He that hath an ear, let him ear.” He wasn’t spending time trying to make [people hear]. He said, “You have to [accept] and hear what I’m saying.” In due season, they developed an ear and they began to receive revelation about the things He spoke, and I think that’s the same thing as when people listen to God’s Army. They may not get it the first time. They may even think it’s carnal. They may think rap is for the streets and for the world, but eventually, as they hear it, like Liyongo said, you can’t deny that there’s something different about us.
Conway: Where do you see yourselves in five years?
Liyongo: When God’s Army was started, my vision was that one day, it would still be going and I would be in the background. The Grammy’s would come on, and God’s Army would be [there], and I’d say, “That’s beautiful.” In five years, even in two years, I wouldn’t have a problem if all I had to do was write. I don’t think God would stop using me to write songs, but as far as me being a frontline member five years from now, maybe, maybe not.
Derrick: They always say they’re not the only members of God’s Army. Everybody out there that are ministers are members of God’s Army and this ministry is going to continue to evolve as the years go by. Their sons and daughters [will step up]; [Michael’s] daughter is the next Maestro of Peace. There’s another generation of ministers that have been around them that are coming up [as well as] those who are out there that admire them. I see young kids, and I see the future God’s Army. Like Liyongo said, he may want to step back and be a writer. It’s an ongoing thing because it’s a ministry.
Timashion: We want to leave this generation something. Not just a couple of plaques to say “we’re this” or “we’re that.” When we pray, we pray for people. The charts and all that are cool, but we’ve been doing this as part of our ministry since before we even had a CD-when we were taping it on tapes and recording it ourselves, and passing it out to people witnessing. It so happens the CD came about due to our dedication and God having His favor on us, but our main focus is the people.
Taivia: Truthfully, in the beginning, we weren’t even paying any attention to it getting this big. We were all just having fun ministering the Word of God. Praise God that it has gotten this big and that it’s growing.
Special thanks to God’s Army, Derrick “3D” Davis, and Nicole Pennington for a great first interview for yours truly.
<a ” name=”Buy”>TO BUY: “Mission Not Impossible” is available at National and International Retailers (including Tower Records, BestBuy, SamGoody, K-Mart, Circuit City, and Musicland) and at God’s World in Detroit.
God’s Army website: missionnotimpossible.com
God’s Army uses cutting edge lyrics and off the chart musical composition to confront some of societies most controversial issues by bringing a biblical stance to the table
“Mission Not Impossible” Track List
(To listen to track Samples, go to the God’s Army website:
2. BloodWashed Souljahz
3. Feed My Sheep
4. God Is
5. Lord’s Prayer
7. Heads Turn
8. My 1st Love
10. Hate tha Game
11. Final Chapter
12. 4 Horesman
13. Free Boxx
15. Mission Remix-(Right Here)
16. Maestro Minute
17. Who R U With?
18. G.A. mazing Grace
19. Mission Not Impossible
20. Ephesians 6:12