GAWVI: The Heathen and Unifier (Thematic Breakdown)
Reach Records artist GAWVI has been on a journey to better navigate his place as a leader within the Christian music industry. His latest full-length album, Heathen, is the completion of that journey. The album boasts several incredible features, powerful production, and rich concepts.
Ultimately, the driving force of the project is best represented by its title. As the Florida native explained in a previous interview with Rapzilla, while “heathen” does indeed mean sinner, “[GAWVI is] not telling everyone, ‘Hey, let’s go sin.’ Let’s identify what’s a reality to us and not be scared of reality.”
The album is not meant to encourage sinful behavior, but reveal the prejudices within Christian culture to bring believers to realization, and eventually, repentance. In the name of being true to his complete identity, the Latino artist is more than willing to face the critics. If being a heathen means representing his culture, upbringing, and friends, by all means, feel free to call him a heathen.
GAWVI and the Shadow of Christian Culture
Heathen opens with “Difficult,” a vulnerable track explaining GAWVI’s fears of facing persecution if he truly opened up about his struggles, and desire to be different. Initially written by his Reach Records labelmate WHATUPRG, the song also uses vocals from GAWVI’s daughter, Giana. The track concludes with the Florida native’s concerns realized, as several voices call him a heathen and demand his stoning. The entire Heathen project revolves around this concept of being persecuted by humans (particularly Christians) for opening up, contrasted against the welcoming embrace of God.
The chorus of “JIT,” performed by Andy Mineo, imitates insults intended to make GAWVI feel small based on his youth. In response, the Dominican/Salvadorian creative reflects on the moment he came to faith, and God’s call to remain faithful no matter what comes his way. “Climate Change” further cements his divine focus as GAWVI raps, “[c]limate change, don’t need lanes, I need God/I make the sauce…glory to God.” In the promotional material for the song, the Latino identified the hypocrisy in ostracizing so-called “heathens,” reminding his audience, “…we’re all lost & in need of a savior.” As a song, “Climate Change” rallies against the oversimplification of Christian culture’s heathen label, using trap-influences to proclaim the glory of God.
On “SIN,” GAWVI acknowledges that both human and spiritual influences like the devil may challenge his faith through reminders of his sin, but no one is too far to return to the Creator.
The word #Heathen has been lost in translation. Christian culture has labeled Heathens as the people we stay away from, the people who r lost. But really, we’re all lost & in need of a savior. When did that get lost in translation? It’s time for a Climate Change. New song Friday pic.twitter.com/opy24oxVI7
— gawvi (@GAWVI) March 25, 2020
“Vanity” and “Criminal” continue to address the issues with Christian culture, using two different musical influences in their sound. “Vanity” follows in the lineage of boom-bap hip-hop, with GAWVI’s smooth bars taking precedent over the underlying beat. The song reflects on the Dove Award winner’s journey from being a child of divorce to one of the most prolific producers in Christian hip-hop, and a successful artist in his own right. Still, the fear of failure, not in his career, but in his marriage haunts the Florida native, and Christian culture provides little solace. The song concludes with a quick allusion to an incident at the 2019 Dove Awards, only so the creative can make the point, “I hope they see me as a brother, not the enemy.”
The following track, “Criminal,” picks up exactly where “Vanity” leaves off, as the Latino discusses the potential for his mislabeling by the aforementioned Christian culture. Although the Reach Records artist has no desire to face persecution, he humbly proclaims he will “…show mercy…even when they hurt me…” In reality, GAWVI has far more worth than his critics give him credit for, which he evidences through the application of two Scriptures.
While there are several possibilities as to the verses being referenced, based on the context of “Criminal,” the Flordia native seems to refer to Matthew 7:3 and John 1:34. The first of the verses is aimed at critical Christians as Jesus questions, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Meanwhile, the second verse, stating, “I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One,” (NIV) is for GAWVI. Put simply, the artist calls on his opponents to see their own failings first and recognizes that he was chosen by God for artistry.
The Support of God and Loved Ones
Lead single “Not Too Far” shifts from identifying the issues of Christian culture to addressing God Himself. GAWVI sings of how God transformed even his most trying circumstances, giving him “new sight.” While Christians often fall into the fear of their sins outweighing God’s grace, the Dominican creative knows no matter our wandering, God remains “so close” because of His unchanging nature. “All of Me” returns to the claims of “Difficult” as GAWVI parallels Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, wanting to flee from God rather than expose himself. Nonetheless, God sees through his attempts to hide just as He did the first humans, and loves GAWVI all the same.
“So Alive,” although placed before “All of Me” serves as an affirmation of God’s character, as He stands by the creative through both “…the mountain top on cloud nine” and “the valley,” an allusion to the many biblical images of highs and lows. “Jesus You Are” completes this battle between fear and reality, as GAWVI confesses the truth of God’s love and saving power. The song’s title seems to be a second-person rewording of Jesus’s “I AM” claims, a term He referenced to affirm His divine authority. By acknowledging that “Jesus is,” the Dove Award winner proclaims “[y]ou’re the one, God and Son.”
For GAWVI, Jesus is the one who frees the creative from his own anxieties and outward criticisms. GAWVI’s mission is to be a positive force for change in Christian music while remaining true to himself. Because he has God as his defense, nothing will stop him.
Heathen assembles artists from both rap and Latin subgenres, paralleling the GAWVI’s own cultural influences. On “Who You Gon’ Be,” the Dove Award winner enlists features from legendary Latino worship singer Israel Houghton, along with Reach Records veteran Trip Lee.
Each collaborator brings a new addition to the themes of Heathen with Houghton reminding listeners to “[r]ejoice in the Lord always,” while Trip adds, “[t]hey only got a hold on me long as I hold on.” Meanwhile, GAWVI himself proclaims, “I do this for Jesus and everyone with me.”
Combined, the three stars are proclaiming God, and in GAWVI’s case, his support system as the only opinions worth considering. As long as the Creator is pleased, there will always be a reason to rejoice.
“Feed Dah Gang” is the most outright regarding Heathen‘s collaborative theme, celebrating GAWVI and Wxlf’s homies. GAWVI has lines dedicated to the Reach Records team, and Wxlf makes mention of Aklesso’s “foolie” term. As Aklesso explained, “Being a Foolie is more than a cool nickname. It’s a family that joins people together who feel like they have no family.”
For the Panorama artist and Wxlf, the friends they hold dear have become a family of their own. The entire Heathen project is ripe with collaborative energy, between a huge number of writers, features, and an address of the efforts by the Reach Records star on the closing track, “Sinner’s Chaos.” Heathen was always GAWVI’s vision, but it would not have been the same without a team behind him.
Of course, God and friends are not the only two sources of love and support. GAWVI’s romance track “GIRL” would work just as well on Chance the Rapper’s The Big Day, as GAWVI sings a song of admiration for his wife and her unabashed worship. With classic imagery of raised hands, “GIRL” can be best boiled down to the line, “Girl, you know I love it when you praise the Lord that way.” The Reach star is constantly inspired by the passionate worship of his wife, mimicking her sheer boldness in his own music.
Heathen represents the latest stage in GAWVI’s artistic journey, as he has become more comfortable than ever in his role as an artist. While mainstream Christian culture may ostracize him for the complexity of his identity, such injustice is insignificant when weighed against the approval of God and the love of his friends and family. GAWVI’s drive may make him appear nothing more than a heathen, but he is one of the few pushing for unity in all of Christian culture. This unity can only come when there is first acknowledgment, and then repentance for past wrongs. It was the outcasted “heathens” who were the centerpiece of Jesus’s mission, and it is the modern heathens who will carry it on.