Teen idols come and go. They have the looks, the hits, and the adoring fan base to propel them to superstardom, but it's all a man-made illusion: As soon as the music fades and the machine behind them ceases to operate, they quickly die out, their
lifespan reduced by the sinking sand on which they're built.
Then there's . Unlike the scores of teenage heartthrobs before them, the group is cut from an entirely different mold. Total Attention, their head-turning second album, proves that their rise to the top rungs of faith-based R&B wasn't manufactured, but a direct result of their rock-solid foundation and exponential growth as artists, performers, and ministers.
When first hit the urban gospel scene with its watershed debut, PAJAM Presents Twenty One O' Three, they were slowly finding their voice and place in an already cluttered marketplace. With Total Attention, the trio cements its identity, assuring the world they're not a flash in the pan. They're here to stay.
Things were rough at first. Handpicked by production supergroup PAJAM from hundreds of candidates during a casting call in their native Detroit, then-hopefuls Evin Martin, Torrence Greene, and Jor'el Quinn were three strangers chosen on the basis of their faith, as well as their singing and dancing abilities.
Sensing the young men had great potential, and acutely aware of the short shelf life of assembled, teen-based urban acts, the PAJAM team—Paul “pda” Allen, Walter Kearney, and J Moss—went to great lengths to groom into something more substantive: a trio that could really leave a long-lasting imprint for the Kingdom.
To that end, the production supergroup intentionally subjected their recruits to a six-month entertainment boot camp—a grueling period of artist development that harkened back to the glory years of Motown. After an intense season of vocal, physical, and spiritual formation, PAJAM finally cast the definitive vision for its protégés on January 21, 2003—the fateful day that inspired 's moniker.
As Evin, Torrence, and Jor'el matured in their faith and as performers, it wasn't long until they realized that three passages taken from the beginning, middle, and end of the Bible—Genesis, Psalms, and Revelation 21:3, respectively—provided a deeper look into their mission. The near-prophetic verses reinforced in them that their purpose wasn't to just sing, dance, or entertain, but to actually minister and impart truth to anyone with ears to hear.
“We've grown spiritually,” Evin says of the period between their first album and Total Attention. “We have a better sense of our ministry and our call. We know that there's a dying world that needs Jesus and they need to see him in music, in the media, in the church, and in us. We want to be those examples.”
To get to that point, faced its share of uphill battles, but none was bigger than the one Evin had to weather. Unexpectedly, the 21-year-old looked death straight in the eye when he confronted the back-to-back loss of both of his parents—his mother succumbed to multiple sclerosis right as the trio's debut released, and his father lost his bout with cancer in the months leading up to Total Attention.
“The loss of one parent can be crippling. But the loss of two is devastating,” Evin says. The singer was not left alone: His unwavering faith in Christ and the unending spiritual and emotional support of his and PAJAM brothers carried Evin through the storm, weeping with him and making sure he had a shoulder to lean on.
“That's something you have to be led by God to do,” Jor'el, 19, says. “We had to support him because we're accountable for each other. We're brothers. We're family. It was almost second nature.
”“People say your misery is your ministry,” Jor'el continues. “That's something that's been proven in this group. When Evin opens up his mouth now, you feel a little bit he has been through something. You know it's nothing but the Lord—that God is with him.
”Evin concurs: “I can say with all assurance and confidence that I know that I'm called. I know that I'm chosen. I'm now officially known as a living, breathing, walking testimony of the power of Christ. I can definitely say I have more fervency. I have more wherewithal to do what I'm doing.
”Fittingly, Total Attention is a testament to the new level of artistry and ministry has reached. Uninterested in following trends or stylistic conventions, the guys shatter any and all preconceived notions their first album may have created, for a well-rounded sound and consistent message that is bound to make listeners stand at full attention.
Take the progressive, buzzed-out digital single “You.” The song is unlike anything has recorded in the past—a daring, forward-thinking piece of danceable electro-pop that testifies where every good and perfect thing comes from. The rhythmic title track picks up where “You” leaves off, a blazing banger with steady beats-per-minute and a frenetic, Indian-like whistle that rouses the world to direct its mind and affections to that which truly matters.
The barricade of sound continues with addictive, radio-friendly fare like the contagious “Talkn Bout,” a N.E.R.D.-like composition that rides an addictive groove; and the rock-inflected “Time for a Change,” an urgent call to action for believers to stand up for Christ.
Total Attention shines even brighter as things get more reflective. Perhaps indicative of their maturation, knows how to handle the smoother material with poise and cool, like the soulful “U Got Me Through,” Torrence's favorite song and also a striking example of the synergy between the group and their producers, who spared no expense in this undisputed highlight.
Silky, worshipful numbers like “Power of Christ – LIVE” and “Free” find the group flexing its Christian pop side, while pensive balladry is displayed beautifully with “Everybody Can't Go” and the sumptuous “Now.”
Respectful of the gospel legacy upon which their music is built, take it to the old-school in “Riverside,” a contemporized remake of the traditional gem “Down by the Riverside” that recalls Take 6 and the Winans but with 's unique stamp. Total Attention's showstopper, though, is “Cover Me,” the debut radio single, a heartfelt prayer featuring three titans of gospel music: Fred Hammond, Smokie Norful, and J Moss.
Collectively, the 14 songs that make up Total Attention are intended as a wake-up call to younger generations—a call that the group says is directly inspired by Scriptures.“It's time to get our lives together,” Jor'el says after quoting the Gospel appeal found in Mark 1:15.
“It's time to stop playing. Let's get out of the mentality, ‘I'll get right tomorrow.' Tomorrow is never promised. We want to encourage the young and the young at heart that God is coming back. God is not playing with us. He wants our full heart.”
“It's not boring to be a Christian,” Torrence adds. “To be a Christian isn't whack. It's an exciting experience when you walk with Christ. We can get so easily distracted by things around us, but God wants your total attention. This is a time to stay focused.”