Gospel artist Marvin Sapp delivers inspirational messages that effortlessly touch the lives of people outside of his non-secular following. His 2010 album Here I Am peaked at Number Two on the Billboard 200, claiming the highest position for a gospel LP in the music chart’s 54-year history. The multiple Stellar Award winner’s 2007 single “Never Would Have Made It” topped the gospel charts for a record 47 weeks, the longest-running Number One single on any chart, across all genres.
Certified platinum, Sapp improvised the song in front of his congregation while mourning the loss of his father. “Never Would Have Made It” was lifted this year when DJ Khaled and Chance the Rapper sampled the chorus on “I Love You So Much” from Khaled’s latest chart-topping LP, Grateful. Sapp, a former member of the pioneering gospel meets New Jack Swing ensemble Commissioned, was enthusiastic when the hip-hoppers contacted him directly about reimagining the song.
“It makes me feel good,” says the Grand Rapids, Michigan native. “The reality that I still have that reach to be able to be relevant even though my message is clearly gospel is great. Even those individuals in the secular community are reaching out, saying I have a message that is life-changing. I’m appreciative that I’m still able to be who I am without adjusting who I am.”
“It doesn’t make a difference if you’re Muslim, Hindu or Christian, all of us have had ‘Never Would Have Made It’ moments, he adds. “The right music will touch you right where you are when you need it the most.”
“I Love You So Much,” Khaled’s and Chance’s tender ode to their infant children, filtered into the Sapp family. The infectious-voiced singer and pastor with raspy yelps and an encouraging delivery realized his 23-year-old son and two daughters, ages 18 and 20, found his crossover star power cool. “It’s more exciting for my kids than it is for me,” says Sapp. “They’re millennials. Their mentality is ‘It’s amazing that my pops is still hot. He’s still that thing.’”
Sapp’s music made its way onto the silver screen this year, too. The BMI Trailblazer of Gospel Music and BET Award honoree’s single “Perfect Peace,” from his 2005 effort Be Exalted, was featured in the final scene of the 2Pac biopic All Eyez on Me. Currently in the studio wrapping up his eleventh solo project entitled Close, which comes out on September 29th, Sapp, whose chart-topping singles include “The Best In Me,” “My Testimony,” “Praise Him in Advance” and “Yes You Can,” believes he’s evolving as an artist without compromising his musical integrity.
Close features appearances from fellow best-selling gospel acts Kirk Franklin and Erica Campbell. Like Sapp’s previous albums, Aaron Lindsey is handling the bulk of the production, and Myron Butler is arranging vocals. This time, Grammy-winning producer Rodney Jerkins contributed music. R. Kelly also wrote and produced a song for Sapp. “It’s giving me an opportunity to expand the musical brand,” confirms the 10-time Grammy nominee, who adds that he likes to keep his sound “churchy but funky.”
“I’m stretching a little bit and doing something a little bit different musically, but I’m absolutely staying true to my brand. We’re just updating the sound but keeping the lyrical content Christ-centered, as always. I think I got some really hot stuff on there that’s going to be a real blessing to people.”
Sapp, 50, is revising and editing his upcoming book, Recreation: Remodeling Your Life by God’s Design. It’s the first time in his 28-year career that he will having a major publisher to back him. Having authored and self-published his last seven binds, Sapp is accustomed to using his social media handles to market his published material. Mentioning that he’s still in negotiations without actually naming the publishing house, Sapp distinguishes between relaying his messages via print, the pulpit at his 13-year-old church, Lighthouse Full Life Center, and his recording career.
“You have to approach the message from a different standpoint,” declares Sapp, who opened a charter school in 2012 with the only performing arts and technology program in Western Michigan. “When I stand up preaching, of course, the goal is to declare the message of Jesus Christ, so that those who are lost would come into knowledge of who Christ is in their lives. It’s about sharing a message that hopefully brings about conviction. When it comes to the musical piece, it’s about sharing a message that can encourage.”
Sapp, who speaks passionately about his love of writing, continues: “Writing a book is about sharing a message that is going to empower. People don’t know that side of me. This book is absolutely motivational, about giving steps or methods to move from one level to the next. We have to make it a little more practical. Hopefully, we’ll do well.”
Being the subject of an episode of TV One’s Unsung this season never crossed Sapp’s mind. His profile—which premieres this Sunday, July 16th at 10/9c—traces a few rough patches in his life alongside success, including experimenting with drugs as a rebellious teen, being diagnosed with epilepsy without experiencing a seizure in 30 years, losing his wife and former manager MaLinda Price Sapp to colon cancer in 2010, and dealing with a stalker in 2014.
A modest Sapp thinks the title Unsung is nothing more than a brand that has different connotations per artist. “My career is still good,” he says. “I ain’t on crack or on my deathbed. My story is about an individual who’s gone through some major challenges in life, maintained his faith and still perseveres through it all. People need to see individuals who have some level of success but go through things. Now is a great time to tell my story.”
Sapp wants viewers and his longtime fans to be inspired to chase their dreams and overcome any adversities they might face. “Do not allow the circumstances in life to block you or stop you,” he encourages.
“That’s what Unsung is really about…at least mine is. If you keep fighting through, the rest of your days will be your best days.”
WATCH Marvin Sapp’s Unsung profile on TV One this Sunday, July 16th at 10/9C | Details