The Journey to Now
Montrel Darrett has taken a long journey to arrive at the present: the debut of his solo EMI Gospel release, Chronicles of the Soul. He took some time out to talk with GospelFlava about his trip – where he’s been and where he’s going next.
The chapters of Darrett’s Chronicles almost closed when, troubled with lack of direction, he tried to end his own life. Having just returned from military service in the Persian Gulf war, Darrett found himself wandering in search of his purpose.
“I used to walk in the rain. I’m serious. Sleeping in cars, hallways of apartment complexes. Just trying to hook up with somebody to get him or her to hear me. Not just to sing, but to hear what I had to say to my generation. Through all that I had to say to God, ‘That’s it. I’m not trusting in me no more. I don’t care if I sing; I don’t care if I work a nine-to-five. I just want to be Your man.’ That’s really when I really committed myself to God totally, outside of if I ever got to sing another note. That’s when God began to fulfill destiny and purpose within me.”
Darrett comes from a musical family and sang and performed all of his life. “My father played in an R&B band. My mother plays piano and is a crazy singer. I have four sisters and one brother and we all grew up singing. Just did it all my life, never really being interested in it...never knowing it would lead me here.”
His entry into gospel music was with some heavy hitters: Bobby Jones, John P. Kee and Commissioned. While many would be content to stay put, Darrett chose to step out further. Why would he leave what many would consider to be high places? “[At times] I was like, ‘Lord I know you’ve called me to do this, to move on, but my flesh is saying 'I’m comfortable right here.' Or ‘I don’t know if I can excel at the next level.’ I mean, I believe you’re calling me, but I’m still afraid to take that step.’ [When] you have expectations set over your life by other people, that can put a demand on you. You’ve got to look to a higher Source. That strength never comes from us. My confidence is that those were roads I had to travel and that through [those experiences], I know what to do and what not to do.”
The next thing to do was Chronicles of the Soul. A collection of tunes penned by Darrett, Chronicles is testament to his calling to step out on his own. “I have one song on my album called “When It Comes Back Around” and it’s talking about when jokers don’t recognize the call on your life. All they recognize is their calling or what they think you are called to do. They are not concerned with sowing into your life. It could be a couple of moments. It could be really brief; I mean just somewhere for you to transcend from, or to grow. It could be a closet or a hallway leading to where God wants you to go. But they don’t want to recognize because of what they think is going on. What many people don’t understand is that you can’t reap from something that you didn’t sow into. Which is so sad because God continually plants seeds into our lives. Whether it’s just encouragement, comfort through His word, prophecy - He constantly, consistently sows into our lives and we fail, with the compassion of Christ, to sow that into someone else’s life.”
‘Relative’ is the word he chooses to describe this project. “It’s for the times. It’s for right now. It’s really relative concerning what’s going on today. It’s not coated. It’s not washed down. It’s in your face. It has a soulish vibe, and I don’t mean soul like the old type of music they used to do, but it really connects with the man or the woman or the boy or the girl at the soul, [and] gets at the root, which is the spirit, and hopefully solves and answers all types of questions that are riddling through the minds of my generation.”
Chronicles deals with topics that are not so often discussed, even in contemporary Gospel. “Art is often looked at [as] an expression of oneself; not [as a means] to solve a problem. Secular [music], though, is different. They talk about it. But in the church we downplay it because I think the devil really has us blind concerning music and its purpose.”
Many would say, however, that there is no place for this in-your-face gospel. Numerous are the Christians that think the likes of Darrett, Kirk Franklin and Tonéx are too far out there, and that this new, radical gospel does not reconcile with a same-yesterday-today-and-forevermore God. Darrett says, “in humbleness and humility, I believe that [these people] really need to labor before Him to find out what the heart of God is for now-times. We are dealing with this thing on a whole other level. The time of his return is close, so the enemy is acting more crazy. We have to quit critiquing and find out the real heart of God. Yes, He is the same. [But in some cases] we never open up the book ourselves or get in the face of God. [There’s] no relationship. A lot of people in prominent positions need to be replenished. You know, ‘Lord I need you to speak to me again.’”
Darrett admits he feels like this project has been a long time coming. Having written and produced for Virtue, Commissioned, and Juno award-winning Sharon Riley and Faith Chorale, he’s in great demand. On the horizon for future projects is a collaboration project WWJD – Gospel. “What we anticipate is that it’s going to be like a play. I’m writing in the script of relative issues. There are things that I want to deal with that the church doesn’t want to confront like sexual activity, promiscuity, what would Jesus really do in certain situations and conditions. How would he handle himself?” Though he and EMI Gospel head Ken Pennell are still firming up the line-up, hopefuls on this project include Kim Burrell, Dawkins & Dawkins, Men of Standard, J. Moss, Virtue, CeCe Winans and Kelly Price.
Above all, Darrett intends to ride this journey to the next level. Having been where Darrett has been, one can’t help but wonder what the next level could possibly be. “Total ministry is my focus. I want to be a total man - the man of God, the lover of people. I want to be the total package as far as ministry is concerned. Bringing it across real and living it. I want that to be the production of my life.”
Chronicles is an outstanding display of Darrett’s renowned vocal gift and showcases his musical arranging ability, but the purpose and experience behind the delivery is the force that conveys what God has set for him to do. “There’s more to me than just singing a song, and I know a lot of people say that. But I mean, I could have done secular. I had million-dollar offers, but I’m convinced of one thing.... I have to carry out a mission. Once it is done, I’ll know my work has been done. I am totally confident in that purpose. And that [purpose] is to win the souls of jokers out there who just don’t want to hear it.”
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