Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly heard about Jay Z’s 13th album, 4:44. While the think pieces and reaction posts to the album were abundant, I was most intrigued by Bishop Marvin Sapp’s #TransparentMoment [as he called it]. Bishop Sapp begins by telling us he was asked for his thoughts on the success of the album and disclaims it all as his personal opinion. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the post in its entirety: Marvin Sapp on Jay Z 4:44 Album Reception.
“Jay-Z’s album went platinum and it hasn’t even been released to the masses yet! It went certified platinum just on Tidal!! Coming to Apple and all other outlets next week!!! What is that saying?” My response, “The world supports its own.”
As you can imagine, the comments are a clusterfuck of #DeepSaints and Unfit Christians locking horns on the matter. Sapp himself claims that the success is because “the world” gets that the message is bigger than the messenger, something that he says the believers have yet to understand.
If you ask me, it’s not that believers don’t understand that the message is bigger than the messenger, it’s that gospel messengers fail to understand their message isn’t sticking its landing.
Listen, I’ve got at least 5 reasons gospel music flops:
- Check the Messenger: Sapp says “Not one supporter of Jay-Z (Believer or Non Believer) questions his lifestyle, beliefs or commitment to his wife. They know that the messenger is flawed but they support his message.” The key difference? Jay Z has never presented himself as a perfect person. This is the number one mistake of Gospel artists. They don’t admit to being flawed until they’re FORCED to (i.e.: scandal). At that point, it’s incredibly difficult to look past the messenger to hear the message; especially when the message excluded others due to their “flaws.” But I also ain’t going to two-step to R. Kelly either, so the messenger can’t always be obscured by the message.
- Honor Different Forms of Gospel: Marvin Sapp of ALL people should recognize that the gospel comes in different forms. Everybody ain’t gon be reached by the hymns of the grand ol’ church nor the contemporary styles of today’s leading gospel acts. People find themselves ministered to in many forms beyond the traditional avenues. As such, they support what speaks to them. As I recall, “the world” wasn’t supporting “its own” when Sapp’s “Never Would Have Made It” was certified platinum by the RIAA. 4:44 includes a sample of Ha-ya (Eternal Life) by The Clark Sisters, riding beneath a track talking about leveling up in life. Sapp’s mega hit Never Would’ve Made It was sampled by DJ Khaled for his 2017 album Grateful.
If you claim that the blood reaches the highest mountains and lowest valleys, you’ve gotta respect the different messengers.
- People Go Where They’re Fed: While Marvin Sapp in his feelings about “worldly” artists going platinum and getting support from believers, I present this. Gucci has tweeted more life affirming words than some of your #SavedFaves all week. You can’t keep singing 17 versions of the same song, taking one word and modulating it, or remaking every CCM song and calling it the work of the Lord. People go where they are fed, period.
- Forgetting the BUSINESS of Gospel: Hell, maybe if Gospel Artists remembered that gospel is a business, they could act accordingly. Jay Z went platinum on a platform that he owns. How many gospel artists are on labels we own? Mmkay. Gospel is not Pop, never has been and likely never will be. It is a niche genre much like [my beloved] Soca, Salsa, or Jazz. As such, it should be well-marketed accordingly. We’re in a pull, not push, market which means the consumer is determining the product rather than the producer. For some reason, Gospel Artists think that as long as they throw in buzzwords like “worship,” “Jesus,” or “Father” over an acoustic version of When the Saints Go to Worship, the consumer will love it. When you don’t meet the demands of the consumer, you won’t be in business long — regardless of your message.
- Hypocrisy Doesn’t Sell: Listen, if I had a dollar every time a Faith Leader is caught in a life contrary to their message, I could pay off my student loans expeditiously. Tye Tribbett, Deitrick Haddon, Jamal Bryant, and James Fortune immediately come to mind. They all have had their fair share of flaw exposures. We love their music, though problematic it might be.
- Tye Tribbett was singing against fornication, homosexuality, and even being anti-secular music while getting caught sliding in someone who wasn’t his spouse and singing backing vocals for Justin Timberlake.
- James Fortune was singing about the deliverance of God before getting busted as an abuser.
- Jamal Bryant JUST had a restraining order taken out on him and his ho-exploits are well chronicled.
- People were doing the math when Damita Haddon accused her ex-husband Deitrick Haddon of cheating on her before he owned up to having their child out of wedlock.
I mean, we can accept your humanity. But you’re not gonna sing to me what you aren’t living while condemning me for doing what you are doing as well. No sirs and ma’ams.
I hear where Bishop Sapp is coming from, but it’s more to the why. Instead of looking externally, it would serve us well to take introspection of ourselves. In the words of Mr. Barnes from the Congregation:
“If Marvin [Sapp] wants downloads, views, or journalistic memorabilia, focus on centering the demographics that need to be updated if you want to maintain a digital fan base. You need to diversify your portfolio by affirming the musical legacy of queer culture, youth innovation, and women’s labor in sacred space. You can’t do that performing respectability politics by washing the feet of conservatism to underwrite your seat in the kingdom of megachurch glory. Especially while vilifying the artists, singers, composers, and publishers from our faith communities.”
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