Marvin Sapp - You Shall Live (2015)

Marvin Sapp
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It has been a trying few years for Marvin Sapp. He’s had professional and spiritual gains even as he has dealt with personal losses and was almost ensnared in a scandal not of his own making. Yet, in the midst of it all, Sapp continues to raise his children as a widower – his wife, co-pastor and help mate MaLinda Sapp died in 2010 – while serving as pastor of Lighthouse Full Life Center Church in his native Grand Rapids. He also continues to record albums, where he lends his assertive and emotive baritone to songs containing urban R&B and hip-hop elements, contemporary Christian and classic gospel, such as his latest You Shall Live.

It has been a trying few years for Marvin Sapp. He’s had professional and spiritual gains even as he has dealt with personal losses and was almost ensnared in a scandal not of his own making. Yet, in the midst of it all, Sapp continues to raise his children as a widower – his wife, co-pastor and help mate MaLinda Sapp died in 2010 – while serving as pastor of Lighthouse Full Life Center Church in his native Grand Rapids. He also continues to record albums, where he lends his assertive and emotive baritone to songs containing urban R&B and hip-hop elements, contemporary Christian and classic gospel, such as his latest You Shall Live.

Sapp has always been an artist who embodies the ongoing trend in gospel music to make albums that include songs destined to become part of the repertoire of praise and worship teams, cuts that are equal parts inspirational and affirmation of self-worth and those that contain traditional choral arrangements and aim to tell the good news of the gospel.

You Shall Live also includes a history lesson and a little something for those who like the old landmark type songs in the form of the classic “Old Rugged Cross.” This minimalist track finds Sapp being backed by a gospel piano as he proves that his baritone around George Bennard’s traditional hymn. Freed from his small backing choir keyboards and other instruments that support Sapp in creating contemporary arrangements, listeners hear how experienced Sapp is in his phrasing and drawing the visual and drama out of Bennard’s lyrics.

Still, Sapp spends the rest of this album in his contemporary comfort zone. “Greater” adopts that kind of upbeat funk bass line and blues licks on the guitar that has served Mark Ronson and other pop artists and producers so well, and combines it with catchy hooks that make the track ideally suited for praise and worship teams.

“Beloved,” with its gospel organ flourishes, hand claps and call and response initiating a conversation of praise between Sapp and his choir, puts some contemporary sheen on a traditional choral gospel number. “Beloved” also contains several vocal parts that might be extracted and used by praise and worship teams.

The mjd-tempo “Yes You Can” follows in the recent gospel music trend of crafting songs that encourage listeners to overcome self-doubt or the doubts of others. Songs of this type have become a gospel music staple because a generation of gospel artists see how popular culture sews seeds of self-hatred and insecurity. So a track such as “Yes You Can” is a statement by Dr. Marvin Sapp that spiritual healing is a needed component, especially among younger Christians. The track’s lyrics turn Sapp into a spiritual life coach who, while acknowledging the doubts of the naysayer, replies with a bible based three word retort rendered by the choir, “yes you can.”

The ballad “Your Love Wins” plays like Sapp recounting how God’s divine love served as the foundation that allowed him to overcome the challenges he faced over the years. “Sudden tragedy overwhelming me/Sometimes it’s hard to breathe/Shutting everyone out/Even the ones that love me/But what I didn’t realize is that I was shutting you out, too/But then your love came crashing in/Like the waves against the shore/Your love came/I surrender/I’m not running anymore.”

While You Shall Live contains all of the elements that modern gospel fans love to hear, the record stands as Sapp’s personal statement of spiritual survival. He experienced challenges that could have left him crippled with bitterness and cynicism. Yet Sapp’s optimism remains alive and well, and this project is an eloquent statement of the role that faith played in his survival and growth. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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