In 2007 Marvin Sapp had a surprise hit with “Never Would Have Made It.” Now, with an evolving sound and a steadfast heart for ministry, the singer/pastor is back with a new album and a new determination to bring God’s people together in a lasting way.
Pastor Marvin Sapp is nervous, and on the eve of his new album’s release, the former Commissioned gospel singer has reason to be. Following the remarkable reception of his last album(2007), Sapp is now faced with the pressure to live up to his past success. Thirsty lived at the top of the gospel charts for 27 weeks, shocking Sapp who recorded the album while soaked in the pain of losing both his biological and spiritual fathers. The single “Never Would Have Made It” that spent nearly a year at number one on gospel radio and ultimately drove the album’s success was a sleeper hit, tucked away in a medley toward the end of the album. No one thought the last album would do as well as it did.
I assure him I think the new album,(arriving in stores today), will do well, especially since I can’t get the track “Praise You Forever” out of my head after listening to the album just once. Though the song is clearly a departure from what he usually does with its piano-heavy intro and gentle crescendo reminiscent of the song “Clocks,” I love it. I tell him, “It has a Coldplay vibe.” Sapp sounds relieved. “You got it,” he exclaims victoriously. “That’s what we went for!”
And while the rest of the album is much less adventurous, sticking to the Sapp style most fans of the artist will recognize and appreciate, it’s all progressive and inspirational. Whatever anxiety the singer may be battling, it certainly doesn’t come through in the music. Most of the songs on Here I Am sound triumphant like the title track where Sapp declares, “I survived every toil, every snare. I’m alive; I’m alive. Here I am.”
We spoke with the singer just before the release of Here I Am about the pressures of matching past success, the evolution of gospel music, and his take on the spiritual temperature of Michigan.
URBAN FAITH: How do you feel about releasing this latest album in the wake of Thirsty‘s success?
MARVIN SAPP: Extremely nervous. It’s hard to come behind a big record, and Thirsty was huge. So we’re just trying to stick to the same formula — use the same musicians, record in the same venue, use the same background singers, and hopefully produce the same anointing. You never really know until the record comes out, but the buzz of Here I Am right now is that people are going to enjoy it.
Thirsty seemed to come out of a bit of loss. You were in a heavy place and there was a lot of pain around the recording of that album. What is the drive for this latest project?
The album really speaks to challenging individuals to think differently about themselves and people they are connected to. And it’s also about challenging people to step out of their comfort zone. This record is more motivational. And when I say motivational, I don’t mean that it loses its essence of being a gospel record.
I think we can hear that with the single “The Best in Me.”
Yes. We really tried to keep the message of this record clear about how we as believers need to take responsibility and understand that we possess the ability to change our position and our condition. I’m excited about it. It’s kind of a departure from what I’m accustomed to doing but I do believe that it is just the next level of what Thirsty was.
With tracks such as “Praise You Forever,” Here I Am sounds like you’ve gone in a different direction musically. Are you feeling any pressure to stretch yourself creatively in terms of the production, beyond just the lyrical content?
Of course. When you come behind a successful record, you feel a ton of pressure. I’ve never been here before. This is brand new to me to have this type of success. I’m accustomed to selling 150,000 – 200,000 records. Thirsty has done 700,000-plus. “Never Would Have Made It” has done almost 2,000,000 ring tones. It was the number one song on the charts for 27 weeks or something crazy like that. So when you have to come behind something like that of course there is nervousness about it.
But on the same token, I don’t know if I could ever reach that again so I just wanted to put out something that I knew my listening base would enjoy and that wouldn’t be too much of a departure from what they enjoy me doing, but would be a blessing to them as well. And I think we’ve done that by using the same producers, the same background singers, by going to the same venue, by just trying to replicate that moment when we did the Thirsty project. I don’t think we’ve recreated it but we’ve definitely expounded on it.
How has gospel music shifted in the years since you’ve been in the industry?
I started in gospel music before ProTools when we were doing just regular tapes. When I started, we were doing LPs. The genre has changed. I thought gospel music would always be based solely on talent, but it’s shifted — even from a numbers standpoint. Twenty years ago no one was selling platinum. The Winans were the only ones going gold, and now you have a multiplicity of artists who are selling numbers through the roof. That’s because our genre has grown. The economic climate of our nation has really pushed people to want to listen to something that is going to encourage them and give them hope. I believe the only music out there that’s going to give them encouragement and hope in extremely dark times is gospel music.
You’re the pastor ofin Grand Rapids, Michigan. How does this need for hope translate to your congregation? What are some of the messages you’re sharing with your church?
Michigan is number one in the nation in unemployment. We are tipping the scales somewhere around 15-17 percent unemployment. The reason being the Big Three is here — Ford, GM, Chrysler. Detroit is somewhere around 20 percent unemployment. So we’re experiencing major layoffs. It’s a very difficult time in our state. What we’ve been preaching and teaching is the importance of getting connected one to another. The Bible talks about how in biblical times, they had all things in common. Simply put, if there was anyone who had a need, they had people that were connected to them in the body of Christ that would make sure that need was met. And that’s where we are in our state.
We just kicked off our get connected process campaign last week in our church making sure we remain connected to Christ, that we remain connected to one another, and that we remain connected to our church. It’s exciting. We had over a thousand people last Sunday who understood the principles.
Over the past few years, it’s been interesting to see a greater push for intimacy among believers. For many believers, it seems to be less about megachurches now and more about community. What do you think accounts for this?
We live in an age where friendship used to be somebody that you hung with, and now it’s somebody that’s on your Facebook page. The world has grown away from intimacy to having 5,000 friends on your Facebook page that you consider friends and that you contact via texting. There was a time when you used to talk on the telephone. When people text me now, I pick up the phone and call them. Why would you text me when we can talk? You may need to hear my voice, my intonation, and my inflection. I’m not hating on this new way, because honestly I’m using it in my church in order to remain connected to the young people of this day. But I guess because I’m closer to 50 than I am to 20, I still think that personal touch is better.
Will you be going on tour in support of Here I Am?
We’re doing a ton of spot dates. My calendar is almost booked for almost the entire year as we speak. But people can go to my Facebook page, which I consistently update personally, my personal website www.MarvinSapp.com, Twitter (@MarvinSapp), or they can always contact my office if they want a personal touch.