Diary of a Songwriter
The latest alumnus of the group to enter the solo realm is Marcus Cole. Cole released his debut solo effort, Write My Song, in August 2006 and spent some time with GOSPELflava.com discussing his days with Commissioned, his hiatus, and his new found solo career.
While most are familiar with Cole from his appearance on the much heralded Commissioned Reunion album, his affiliation with the group dates back nearly a decade.
“In 1995, my wife and I were living in Atlanta. We decided to move back to Michigan. After our move, we got a call from a guy that we were associated with and he managed to set up a gig with a Verity/Jive Records showcase in Flint, Michigan,” recalls Cole.
“At the time, a fellow by the name of Terrence Hurd and I were working together. We were writing partners and we had a duet, if you would, called S.W.I.N.G. (Songs With Inspiration for a New Generation). We’re in our early twenties, where he’s the musician and I’m the singer. It was something fresh and new. We had known Tara Griggs-Magee from Benson Music, and she was interested in us some years before. When she moved to Verity, that’s when the showcase was set up. So we did the showcase and [Mitchell Jones] was there with a couple of his artists. We just kind of got off to the side and started talking. The fact that [Marvin Sapp] was leaving and they needed someone to replace him never came up. That wasn’t his agenda. He was more interested in me. He said, ‘Man, you’re great. I’ve got to write something for you. I know [Verity] are going to sign you.’”
“Needless to say, I got the gig. My first engagement with them was New Year’s Eve ’96 at Radio City Music Hall. I walked on stage with some jeans, a pullover shirt, and a hat. Marvin Sapp just ran over and bear hugged me and embraced me. He said, ‘Man, I’m so glad you’re here.’ That was his last engagement with Commissioned and it was my first.”
“People always ask me how I feel about being a part of Commissioned. I always tell them that I’m a member and a fan. I’m STILL a fan,” admits Cole.
Cole’s time spent with Commissioned proved to be more than just a launching pad for his musical career.
“I always tell people that [Karl Reid] and Mitchell were more than just the stalwarts of this industry, or of Commissioned. They were big brothers to me. We had very real moments. They helped raise me, to be totally honest,” admits Cole. “I had probably a year of marriage under my belt at the time and they taught me life lessons about marriage. Both of them have very successful marriages, even now. They taught me a lot of lessons about marriage and just being a man of your word. That was more important to me than anything at the time. Then they taught me a lot about the business. They taught what to do and what not to do. I learned a lot from some mistakes that they’ve made and from the good moves that they made too. It was definitely a learning experience.”
“Commissioned was a blessing to me. Sometimes great blessings come packaged a little differently. Since Commissioned, I’ve gotten a lot of recognition. Basically any recognition from people or fans has been from the Commissioned Reunion album. I
Much like his Commissioned brothers, Cole is both an accomplished singer and minister of the Gospel.
“I’ve been bootlegging for a long time,” says Cole comically. “We all bootleg at least two or three years before we ever actually preach. My former pastor made it official about three years ago. So, I’ve been legitimately preaching for three years now.”
Cole cites a link between singers and preachers, which could explain why so many gospel artists are also preachers of the Gospel.
“God has never called artists but He’s always called Levites. What we are doing is in the Levitical order of priests and worship, which is to prepare the people for the next phase of their lives. When we came into this industry, some of us, not all of us, heard the clarion call of God. What we were actually hearing was ‘It’s time for you to spread my Word.’ We came into the industry as a conduit to do it. Some of us who came into this industry saying ‘Oh I just want to sing songs to change people’s lives’. Then God has also put a Word in our belly.”
“Two of my greatest young influences right now are a young man by the name of Jonathan Dunn and Tye Tribbett. These are incredible musicians but at the same time, incredible preachers. Tye and I just recently developed a relationship based off of the genuine spirit that he has and the Word that he has inside of him is incredible. I think that’s what it really is. The connection is that singing is just one of the ways to spread the Gospel. Behind the music is actually the Word. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. You can’t get away from the Word. The Word is going to be in the beginning and it’s going to be in the end. Some of us use music as a cushion. We use music as a way to get [the Word] out there. Then, on any given Sunday, we can be found in the pulpit preaching about it.”
“God has really moved me away from ‘the artist’,” acknowledges Cole. “I had a guy come to me in some city and he was like ‘Yeah man, I really appreciate what you do. You know, I’m an artist too.’ He had the little shades on and the hat. I said, ‘Oh, you’re an artist, huh?’ He was like, ‘Yeah’. I was like ‘Wow’. God has never called us to be artists. Sometimes, we might get it a little confused.”
While there are those who focus on being known as artists, Cole notes that there is one thing that will launch the transition from artists to ministers.
“Hunger,” declares Cole.
“It’s going to take a hunger for more of God. I think that when people start seeking His face and stop going after His hand, then people will start to understand what the real glory is. The Bible tells us to seek ye first the Kingdom. The Kingdom is where He is. It’s the place where God dwells. When we go after His face and a deeper relationship with Him, we’ll begin to walk away from the artistry of performing. Now don’t sleep on performance. Performance gets their attention. Jesus wrote down in the sand while He was setting the woman free. He didn’t have to write down in the sand but He did it to get their attention. My point is to make it make sense. If you’re going to do it for the love of God, make it make sense. So that when you get their attention, it draws them to Christ and not you. The people need to develop a hunger for more of God and get that relationship. Relationship is everything. You can’t have a child with a woman unless you have a relationship. Biblically, you’re supposed to be married. God is calling people to that third chamber, that bed chamber, the third dimension for marriage. We’ve got way too many artists who are just trying to date Him.”
“If my home, my family life… if that is failing but I am a wonder to the world, then what am I really doing and where is God sitting with me in this whole thing? If my son is growing up a mess and my wife is not happy with our relationship and our marriage… If my pastor does not know where I am and he cannot vouch for me…. If he can’t endorse me, then why do I have the license to stand on stage in a ministry setting and then attempt to sing people into a place that I’ve never been? As a worship pastor and a worship leader, if I’ve never been in the presence of God, then why am I taking this liberty to stand on stage and take these people to a place that I’ve never been? That’s why we will always linger around the outer court…because I’ve never been any further than that. That’s how serious I take this ministry, not just this industry.”
“That’s why I count it a phenomenal blessing to be a part of PureSprings Gospel. This is a label that’s very business savvy. I remember Demetrius Stewart, who runs the label, telling me it could be a good idea or it could be a God idea. And I said, ‘This is my label’. More than anything else, I really want to be set with God. I want Him to order my steps.”
With a previous working relationship with Verity Records to his credit, Cole had several options relative to selecting a label for his solo debut. The selection process, for Cole, was indeed divinely inspired.
“Years before, I had been praying about a label home,” states the worship pastor. “I was doing theater and out on the road for three to six months at a time. At the same time, I kept telling people that I would be the first gospel act on P. Diddy’s label. God was like, ‘No, you don’t understand. When you do get established, I’m going to do it but your mind isn’t right, right now.’”
There was this period of years where I was not signed to anyone and not doing anything. I was doing pre-production and demos at my house. Warryn Campbell had it and nothing was happening. That’s how I wrote ‘Bless My Soul’. I felt like I needed success. God said, ‘Ok, Cole. I’ll give you success. I’m your Father and I have all of this. But your integrity is in question. If I gave you this, would you embarrass me?’ That just shut me down. He gave me ‘Bless My Soul’.”
“Mano Hanes was one of the musicians for Fred [Hammond] at the time we were on the road doing the play,” continues Cole. “We became good friends. When we got off the road, he really expressed how much he believed in me. So I thought it would be cool for us to start working on something. Mano literally started putting his money where his mouth was. He called me up and said that he would be directing for CeCe Winans now. He said that he’d be a little busy but we’d keep writing together. I told him that it was great, just oblivious to anything that God is doing. So we’re writing and we’re doing songs. We weren’t really working on the album. We were just doing good songs. He said, ‘I want to sign you to my label which is Riverphlo.’ I said, ‘Cool. Let’s do it independently.’ So, I signed to Riverphlo and he let CeCe hear one song and she loved it. The next conversation with Mano was that CeCe and Alvin [Love] want to talk about merging. Then it just started to come together. I just saw this deal just materialize.”
Interestingly enough, this major deal materializes at a unique time in Cole’s life.
“At the same time, I am going through what I call ‘purification’. Being on the road had really started to kill me,” acknowledges Cole. “It really started to hurt my family. There was distance, time, and being in compromising situations. I really started falling off spiritually. God was giving me songs but He was giving me songs about myself. He was giving me songs about how to come back from that broken place. So, I’m going through situations with mending my family, becoming a better father, and dealing with issues and failures. Then, God is saying ‘I’m preparing you for a moment in life. I’m preparing you for something that’s going to take place.’ So, while I’m getting fixed, in the shop, and it’s a downtime, people are saying, ‘Where’s Cole?’. Sometimes, I’d show my face at a media event like GMWA or something like that. God never takes you to a place without preparing another place. So finally, we signed the deal with CeCe.”
“One of the questions CeCe asked Mano was ‘Is he saved?’”, recalls Cole. “She’s signing a gospel artist but she asked was he saved. She said ‘Mano, does he love God? I don’t want no drama.’ These are her words. This is how I know that this is the label. Not only are they concerned about will he sell albums. First and foremost, she doesn’t want to bring in anything that could bring reproach to this label. She wants people who are ministry minded to be associated with the label. That just sold it for me. This is the real deal and it’s been a blessing so far. It’s not individual things for me. It’s the whole thing.”
While his initial exposure to the industry was as a vocalist, Cole’s debut release highlights his writing ability in addition to his vocal prowess.
“I grew up with a very eclectic background,” states Cole. “My father exposed me to Sam Cooke, both R&B and gospel, as well as Johnnie Taylor. My mom’s side exposed me to Rance Allen, Andrae Crouch and The Winans. Then there was a period where we moved to Utica, New York when I was a youngster. They had no gospel radio station. All they had was a rock station. That began our education of Bruce Springsteen, Daryl Hall and John Oates, and James Taylor.”
“So now my love for music is very broad. Any given day, you can get in the car with me and hear Rascal Flatts, Shania Twain, Dixie Chicks, Sting, Harry Connick Jr., Pastor Winans, Tye, Rance. All of this music has one thing in common… beautiful melodies and incredible lyrics. That’s the type of songwriter I am. I don’t want to write anything that’s so surface. I want to write about how God made a way. I believe that the Bible is the map to the Christian life and you can find yourself within the pages of the Bible. I want my songs to be the road map to your life.”
With eleven songs on the album, Cole cites one song in particular that best describes his journey and this stage of his life.
“‘Bless My Soul’ is the closest to me because it’s the soundtrack to my life right now,” says the Commissioned alumnus. “It’s everything that I’m seeking God about right now. I don’t think we really planned it this way but ‘That’s Alright’ was the very first song that Mano and I got together to write and it’s the first song on the album. ‘Bless My Soul’ is the last song on the album and both really say the same thing. One is the urban version of the other. ‘Bless My Soul’ is the worshipper side of me. If I get passed up, don’t get the big gigs, and don’t have my name in lights, I’m really fine with it. ‘Bless My Soul’ just echoes that. It says that more than anything, if You bless my soul, then I’m actually all set. That means I can leave a legacy for my kids. It means that my family is fine and my marriage is great. Ultimately, I’m in good standing with God.”
In addition to the release of Cole’s debut effort “Write My Song”, Cole will be a part of the upcoming (Fall 2006) tour featuring CeCe Winans and Donnie McClurkin. Knowing that his primary exposure to most comes from his days with Commissioned, Cole is prepared to show audiences what he brings to the table.
“They will get to know the worshipper more so than the worship leader. This album is my journey from where I was when I first left off of the scene to where I am now. They will get a chance to tap into the soulful side of me and then follow me to the worshipper that I am now. Now when they come to see ministry engagements or shows, they’ll hear far more worship melodic structure. They will experience us dwelling in that place where God can really move.”
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