Marvin Sapp has been through a lot in the last few years. Gospel music fans know that MaLinda Sapp, the pastor and gospel artist’s wife of 18 years, died of cancer in 2010. That probably means that the Sapp family confronted the illness when Sapp was making records that spoke about God’s power to bring believers through all difficulties. Several of those songs such as “Never Would Have Made It,” and “The Best In Me” crossed over to get airplay on secular R&B radio stations and peaked in the top 20 on Billboard’s R&B chart. Some secular fans might have known about Sapp’s personal loss, but a lot were unaware. Few would be surprised that a man of deep faith could muster the strength sing a song like “The Best In Me” while dealing with his wife’s terminal illness.
However, the knowledge of Sapp’s personal loss definitely adds a level of poignancy to those numbers because the selections show that Sapp – like the biblical figure Job – reminds listeners that God gives and takes away, but we must still bless His name.
That public artistic display of Sapp’s personal statement of faith comes through loud and clear on I Win, Sapp’s first album since MaLinda Sapp’s passing. I Win is a live album, which is a platform for Sapp to “preach” and use his personal testimony to inspire others. This comes through best in “The Hymns Medley,” where Sapp performs parts of six classic gospel selections. Each selection covers what could be said to be an element of Sapp’s personal loss. “I Need Thee Every Hour,” for example, is a call to God made by those who realize that it will take more than human wisdom and strength to continue.
The original tunes send a similar message: The title track reminds listeners that Jesus provides believers with the tools to emerge victorious over their circumstances – regardless of how painful those circumstances might be. The praise and worship track “Teach My Hands to War” is a radio friendly call to use the weapon of praise to beat back doubt, depression, fear and grief.
The 10 minute plus “My Testimony” is I Win’s most personal and powerful number. Sapp never mentions the specific instance of his wife’s passing, yet the lyrics speak of personal loss how he was able to make it through all difficulties with God’s help. However, Sapp’s recognition that grief is a natural and key component of recovery is this track’s most important contribution. That comes through in the line “So if you see me cry/It’s just a sign that I’m alive.” It’s just one line in a 10-minute song, but it speaks to the things held by those standing behind the pulpit and the person sitting in the last pew. We need that reminder because sometimes people forget that preachers are people too. “My Testimony” calls us to remember the Bible’s shortest verse, “Jesus wept.” Sapp – both as pastor and gospel singer – uses I Win to remind listeners that Jesus also heals. Recommended.
By Howard Dukes