Breaking Barriers: Jonathan McReynolds Discusses ‘People’ & The Power Of Grace [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

We’ve all fallen victim to other people’s perception of us and we’ve all been the people who place our misconceptions on others. Jonathan McReynold’s got a song for that titled, “People.” 

“People,” which comes as more “life music” from McReynolds, is a song about the trauma that people cause people but it turns out, “‘People’ was never about the people,” he said on Instagram when he first released the song. “It was about the place we let people have in our minds.” 

The transparent track was recently followed up with a powerful new video (press play up top) McReynolds uses to draw attention to full circle moments that are easier to recognize from the outside looking in.

“As people watch the video, there’s a story happening [behind the performance]. I hope people can see that all the characters involved in the story were both victims of people and the perpetrators as well,” he told us over the phone. “If we can realize that as people, yeah, we do suffer at the hands of people, but people suffer at the hands of us too and the need for grace goes both ways.” 

We hoped to talk to Jonathan in person at this year’s Stellar Awards in which he was slated to host with Koryn Hawthorne this week, but cities around the nation are on lockdown due to COVID-19 so the show was postponed. Good news is: he’ll still be hosting it in August! And it comes in season with the next round of BET’s Sunday Best where he’ll return as a host.

In our interview below, the Chicago singer/songwriter shares his experience breaking barriers in the gospel industry, what inspired his new song “People,” and how he’s keeping busy during quarantine.

ALIYA FAUST: I was so excited to hear that you and Koryn Hawthorne would be hosting The Stellar Awards this year. The youngest in Stellars history. That says a lot. How’s it feel to keep breaking barriers in this industry?
JONATHAN MCREYNOLDS: I’m blessed. I feel quite honored and very often surprised by what God decided to do with my life. I never would’ve expected any aspects of this career. But since I’m here, I feel like God wants me to expand things and make a case for the church and for this generation. I’m really excited about it and thankful for His grace.

I was talking to Mali Music a few weeks ago and he mentioned how you two collaborated in Orlando. You have the new song PEOPLE out, can we expect another full album soon?
You’re going to have to wait on that, now. There will be some new music coming. We’re going to promote it in a different kind of way. The actual content is something we haven’t done before. I have my brother Mali working with me in some capacity but you guys are going to have to wait and see. I can tell you that you’re going to like it.

With the new song, PEOPLE, it seems people all over are really touched by it by the looks of your Instagram stories. Especially when you call out yourself for being one of those people you refer to throughout the song. What inspired it?
There’s a lot of things, it depends on how deep you want me to get.

Really deep!
Well, 2019 was just one of those years where I was forced to really reflect on myself, the short-comings of people around me, but even more so, the short-comings that I presented to relationships myself. I think sometimes we love grace when it’s given to us, but we don’t love it as much when it’s given to people we don’t like. I had to realize that there’s an element of humanity that we all share. It’s a brokenness. It’s a weakness that I think when we really start to understand the beauty of the equality of that weakness we have, we’ll really understand grace. I think the entire body of work that I’ll eventually release points to the grace that people need from God and from each other.

Well this song definitely sounds like more “life music.” You coined it that in your previous projects and you’re the king of it. What’s the process like of you writing your life’s story into music and knowing how it affects people?
I think the process is not processing it too much before you begin to put it into music. We do a lot of praying, crying, thinking. Then after it’s all over, we write a song about how great God is. That’s not a bad way of doing it, but I try to kind of also chronicle my process, chronicle those prayers, record those thoughts and questions and make sure they’re a part of the song as well so not only can people see the solution, but they see the problem, they see the person with the problem and maybe the music can help them walk through the full journey of dealing with pressure or limps or cycles or people, all the more clearly. I’m always trying to make sure the testimony reigns true, from the bad part, the ugly part, all the way ’til you get to the good part which always is Jesus. Growing up, the answer was always Jesus. I find that there’s a lot of beauty in some of the trouble or work that goes into really living this life out.

When I was young – you know that I’m a big nerd – I was a pretty smart kid. When they gave me a math problem, a lot of times I was able to do it in my head and I would just write down the answer. After a while, the teacher would get upset with me and mark it wrong, even if I had the right answer because I didn’t show my work. So in the way that I write, I try to show my work. Yes, we know that 12 + 24 is 36, but sometimes people really need to see how you added individual numbers.

I want to switch gears. You’ve been in L.A. a lot. What’s been going on over there?
L.A. is just a place where I feel like there’s a lot of opportunities out there and not in the way people think (a chance to be on movies or things like that). I think there’s a lot of need for Jesus out there. Not saying anything bad about L.A., but I think it’s a space where people are open and enthusiastic. They’re really looking for an answer and purpose — something real to hold on to, just like all of us. When I got out there, I realized how many of the guys I know who are incredible leaders were all told to set up camp there. I really think God has some plans for L.A. and I’m just glad to have been a part of some of those plans and to see what happens going forward. I think a revival or something like that is coming.

Yeah, when I first launched Gospel Goodies about five years ago, there wasn’t a lot going on over there as far as shows and artists. It has expanded so much. It’s awesome you’re a part of that now.
L.A. creates a lot of culture for the rest of the country so I think it’s important that we go straight to the source for some of the shows and some of the music and some of the models and some of the culture America feeds off — go straight to the source and see if we can add more Jesus to that pot.

So, how are you dealing with and keeping yourself busy during this whole coronavirus pandemic right now?
Well, I probably needed some rest anyway. Not even just rest, but a mental break. It’s been nonstop for the past 4-5 years. It’s always something big to look forward to, to plan out or stress about and overthink. At this point, so much as been moved to the end of the year and next year so I have the opportunity to do and create whatever is kind of in my heart to create or just not create anything and just chill out and wait on a fresh new concern or movement. I think “Make Room” worked because I really put all of myself into it. Everything was devoted to making room. There was a book, an album, a deluxe album, a TV special, screenings, everything. I was really excited and I had a fresh pursuit about it all. But of course, everybody’s human and we need to recover. I’m really blessed that I’m getting the opportunity to kind of recover; I’m starting to feel new messages and approaches that really compliment the next era. I’m really excited to go with ‘People’ and see what God has to say through me for the rest of the year and maybe the next couple years.

It’s definitely a good time to use this time to kind of center self. But a lot of people are kind of fearful of everything going on. What would you share with those people?
My encouragement might sound a little dark, but I was on the phone with my cousin trying to make sure he and my aunt had enough food in the house. I wanted to tell them go to the store, shop, make sure that everybody’s stocked up and ready just in case we have to be on lockdown. I don’t want you guys to have to deal with any chaos later. And while I was talking to him, I heard him scream, ‘get down, get down’ to everybody else in the house. Somebody right outside their door was shooting at each other and a couple people actually got shot.

I say all that to say: While I was worried about corona, I had to remember that there are a lot of things that can happen in life. I think we can do our best to kind of make ourselves immune or protected against this particular virus, but at the end of the day, life has a lot of places and things that can trip us up and take us out of here. What is the answer to all of those things? It’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty. It’s trusting God. This coronavirus is nothing special to Him. It is yet another thing that shows the frailty and weakness of humans. That’s why we aren’t here to trust in other people or our own preparations. We do wise things, but we have to remember that it’s all up to God in the first place. I am confident because there’s nothing new about the last two weeks. God is still in control. It’s all up to Him and the safest place is in His will.

To learn more about Jonathan McReynold’s, visit JonathanMcReynolds.com.

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