Editors’ Notes “I went through this moment where I didn't really know if I could do gospel,” says Koryn Hawthorne, one of the genre's fastest-rising young stars. “Don't get me wrong, I was born and raised in church and loved God my whole life, but because I was so different, I didn't think that there was a place for me here. I did The Voice, and that kind of helped out with building my confidence.” The small-town Louisiana native—at least as influenced by sultry yet regal R&B legends including Etta James, Mary J. Blige, and Beyoncé as any gospel voices—was still in her teens when she moved on to the assured testimony of her 2018 full-length debut. She participated in the songwriting process on her follow-up, I AM, and helped shape some gutsy, R&B-steeped gospel tracks. “I definitely want to reach people outside of the four walls of the church,” she says. “I have played my music for people who don't go to church all the time and they’re like, ‘Oh, this gospel? I could get down to that.’” Here Hawthorne unspools the stories behind each of the album’s songs.

Speak to Me
“We definitely got the sample from Donnie McClurkin [‘Speak to My Heart’]. The idea was to put our own spin on it. I think being 22, I get a lot of questions from different young people asking me, ‘Hey, how do I pray?’ I think that this was definitely a moment to show my personal relationship with God, which is super laidback and ‘come as you are.’ Already people are like, ‘I'm going to play this at my wedding.’ And I'm like, ‘You go ahead and do that.’”

Joy
“I remember being in the studio and Makeba [Riddick, producer] being like, ‘Yo, I've got this idea. You know that Mary J. Blige song [“You Bring Me Joy”]?’ I feel like this just came out. I think this attests to the nostalgic sound that I grew up with, because I definitely grew up listening to Mary J. and different people like that. Everybody can relate to that moment where God has stepped in and given them joy. And I feel like that's what this song is supposed to feel like.”

Pray
“I didn't know BRELAND as a writer, I just heard him sing on Instagram. And I go to the studio with writer-producer Troy Taylor and he's like, ‘Yeah, I got my guy BRELAND coming in.’ So that was completely like a God moment, BRELAND working on ‘Pray.’ We wrote that song last year. We felt that it was going to be something serious and strong, and a message that needed to be heard, but we had no idea, of course, that the pandemic, and the racial issues, and the deaths—no idea of what was going to happen. BRELAND is definitely another person who is in the ‘I am’ moment of his life, getting his confidence and walking in that boldly.”

Start From Scratch
“When I heard the beat, I was like, ‘Yo, like this just feels like conviction.’ Sometimes we feel like we're at an unrecoverable place, but God is definitely a start-from-scratch God. It's a moment where it's like, ‘I know that you love me the same and your plans over my life haven't changed, but I need you to say it to me, because I don't feel like that.’ I took it from personal experience. So hopefully it helps people who might be dealing with condemnation and guilt, because it's not a good thing to have.”

Peace
“We were talking about relationships that I've been in—and not even just romantic relationships, but relationships with my family—where I kind of came to a place where I just was like, ‘I love you, but I'm going to have to love you from a distance, because it's just negative. It's not good for me.’ Any toxic relationship, you have to protect your peace. I heard Jonathan [McReynolds]'s voice over it. I felt like Jonathan would have wrote this record, because he has such like dope, lifelike music.”

Broken Pieces
“If you meet me, I am no-nonsense. But I have moments where I'm lonely, and I feel hurt by things that have happened to me in the past. I feel like I'm always having moments where he has to come and put me together again, because I'm not strong enough to continue. It's kind of humbling. As much as I want to be strong and fearless and unbreakable, I'm not. But he is.”

You
“This is me falling down and getting back up like I never fell. ‘You’ is the first song that we made going to the studio, which is when we knew this album about to be something special. ‘You’ is all that and more. It is confidence. It's gritty. It is courageous. I would just encourage people to listen to it with full-blown speakers and let it encourage you and lift you up, and make you go after whatever it is you haven't been going after, and get up from whatever situation that pushed you down. It's the ultimate victory song, and it makes me want to run for president.”

Know You
“Steffany [Gretzinger] is someone that I met after my journey on The Voice, who personally spoke into my life things that are coming to pass right now. And I just think that it was a full-circle moment for me to work with her. It's always a joy to be around her, and her spirit. We had a conversation about knowing God on a deeper level than just the norm. I really didn't want to live my life and never experience God in all the ways that I can experience him. That's like the most important thing to me.”

Sunday
“People set aside Sundays. We take that day to serve him. But for me it was Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, okay? We going throughout the whole week and looking for moments to experience him. And it just feels good. The beat is giving y'all New Orleans, that bounce music. I pay homage to the culture, and where I was brought up in Louisiana. I can't wait to play it at a barbecue.”

How Great
“The hymn ‘How Great Thou Art’ is such a foundational song for me. I did that one on The Voice, and it was my first No. 1 on Billboard. I was actually running late to this session, and when I walked in, Matt [Maher] was in there singing ‘How Great.’ And I was like, ‘What is that? I love it.’ Especially church kids can relate to that moment. It makes you feel like you're a child, the love that you had, or your idea of what God was as a child. It takes you back to that place, you seeing God, in the beauty and the glory of all that he is.”

1
2:46
 
2
3:21
 
3
3:48
 
4
3:24
 
5
3:16
 
6
3:48
 
7
2:59
 
8
4:49
 
9
3:02
 
10
3:43
 

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