He has a debut single that’s burning up the radio airwaves, gospel music industry moguls like Marvin Sapp praise his musical talents and he’s toured with Kirk Franklin — arguably one of the greatest contemporary gospel icons in modern history. This incredibly talented gospel artist is Jason Nelson’s CD titled “Shifting the Atmosphere” drops May 22; it’s a must-have for lovers of gospel music.
“Shifting the Atmosphere” is Jason’s major label debut on Verity Records, the largest gospel music label in the U.S. Before this new CD release, Jason recorded several albums: Place of Worship (2008), Brand New Day (2006) and I Shall Live (2005).
Nelson, 38, was recently in Philadelphia at F.Y.E. music store (May 18) for a CD signing of his new release. Before his store signing, the Tribune caught up with Nelson for an exclusive one-on-one interview in the lobby of the very posh Hotel Palomar – Philadelphia on 16th Street. Commenting about the success of his single and the release of this new CD, Nelson shared, “It’s very humbling to know that God’s Hand is really on this song and that people are really embracing it … it’s helping people express themselves from a spiritual and worship perspective, so, that’s why it’s working.”
The New York Times hailed Nelson’s “Shifting the Atmosphere” as a “… religious quiet-storm ballad, with percussion chimes and rustles and traces of wah-wah guitar, about the effect of a powerful unseen force. For (Jason) the unseen force is prayer; for you it may be something else.”
“I think (“Shifting the Atmosphere”) is resonating because people are trying to find ways to express how they really feel about God … and this song really speaks to that,” shared Nelson. Nelson believes that his song, “Shifting the Atmosphere,” is one of those songs that can be recited to help usher people through their most difficult life moments.
Nelson recalls the epiphany he had to write this song, in 2010, “I was literally on a train, on my way to New York, and the words just dropped in my spirit … I stopped what I was doing, I picked up my phone, I didn’t have a pad with me at the time, I picked up my phone and I typed (the lyrics) into my phone … not knowing how significant those words were going to be … I’m very grateful.”
There’s no shortage of positive feedback from the gospel community regarding Nelson’s musical talents and performing skills: “Jason Nelson is an example of the new generation of incredible talent being birthed in gospel music. The voice, the character, the lifestyle speaks hope to those who are searching for authenticity,” shared Kirk Franklin.
“We’ve been fans since Jason’s first album. It was obvious then, as it is now, that he’s God’s man. This song is just another reminder. What a blessing,” shared the Grammy award-winning gospel duo of Mary Mary.
Before going solo, for several years, Nelson had sung and performed with Gospel great Donald Lawrence, and Donald had this to share about his protégé: “Jason Nelson is a former Donald Lawrence & Company member and is by far one of my favorite male singers. The ability, warmth and tone of his voice just (does) it for me! Get ready for Jason Nelson, a timeless gift and (an) amazing talent.”
Marvin Sapp offered this about his friend Nelson, “Jason Nelson is probably the most gifted and prolific singers of our time. I believe that everyone should have this CD as part of their collection. It will really minister to you in a powerful way.”
“These people don’t have to be nice, but for them to take the time to articulate how my ministry has impacted them, it’s amazing. Marvin (Sapp) is a really good friend of mine, we get compared a lot,” said Nelson. Nelson wrote “Thirsty” the title song of one of Sapp’s biggest chart topping CDs, in addition to other hit songs.
Nelson maintains a level head about receiving such praise from gospel music’s super elite, “It’s humbling, very humbling. Not only are they peers … they are people I look up to and some of them I have really good relationships with … you never know how artists view your music … and to know that they really appreciate what I do, it’s exciting and humbling at the same time,” said Nelson. Nelson is no stranger to the gospel community; he’s played bass guitar for some legendary gospel artists like Yolanda Adams, Karen Clark Sheard and BeBe Winans, to name a few.
Many artists have favorite songs that have greatly influenced them, for Nelson, there are many. But recently, he’s drawn inspiration from one song by the Gospel group Forever Jones that’s been a great encouragement to his spirit, “They have a song called, ‘Just The Way’ — it’s a song from God to us, it’s something about the way the lyrics play out … it’s something about how the lyrics speak to me and how that song is performed.”
Nelson and his wife Tonya are parents of a 12-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son. “My family is my first ministry,” declares Nelson. In addition to having a potential chart-topping CD, Nelson, a native of Maryland, is the senior pastor of the Tabernacle of Greater Bethlehem Temple Church in Baltimore.
Gospel singer Marvin Sapp has secured his place in music history.
His breakout chart topper, “Never Would Have Made It,” holds the record for the longest running No. 1 single on the radio and in the history of the Billboard charts — lasting more than 43 weeks at the top.
Sapp’s current CD, “I Win,” is the number one Gospel CD and the ninth-ranked album overall in America, according to Billboard charts.
His current single, “My Testimony,” is on the radio airwaves in heavy rotation on R&B and Gospel radio stations.
“Thank you, Jesus,” Sapp said. “I’m just appreciative that people have gravitated to my music.”
His CD “I Win” was highly anticipated. It’s his first project release since wife, MaLinda, succumbed to cancer in 2010. America, and fans worldwide, grieved the death of MaLinda. Prior to her death, the Sapps were happily married for 18 years.
Commenting about his grieving process, Sapp shared, “I’m a strong believer that the best way to honor the life of somebody that you love is to live.”
Sapp admitted that many people criticized him for not taking more time off to mourn. “Everybody has a process of mourning that they go through,” he shared, but staying busy immersed in his music and ministry was a process that worked best for him. “I challenge (grieving) people to live.”
Sapp is no stranger to the Philadelphia region.
Minister Bill Davis of Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills can recall when Sapp used to perform annually at a church in Maryland. Davis is very impressed with how Sapp’s music is resonating with youth.
Local TV news reporter Dray Clark of CBS 3 is also a personal friend of Sapp.
“Marvin and I have been friends since 2004 when we first met in Grand Rapids, Mich., where I used to work and where he lives now,” Clark said. “His music, quite frankly, is a reflection of his musical gift vocally, but more importantly, it's a reflection of God's hold on his life.”
Sapp has had a tremendously powerful impact on gospel music that transcends gospel's typical audience to music lovers all over the world, according to Kanita Davis, vocalist with the Stellar Award-winning Gospel group, Lonnie Hunter & Structure.
“Song after song, he has delivered the message that, ‘I, too, can overcome and be victorious no matter what I've gone through.’”
Native Philadelphian, Jillian Pirtle, the reigning Miss Pennsylvania Essence 2012, believes Sapp’s music resonates deeply because it’s anointed by God.
“It is the message and encouragement in Minister Sapp’s music that means more to me than anything else,” she said. “I appreciate and encourage him to continue to touch the masses with his music and his (Godly) message.”
Brian Carter, weekend radio personality at WBLS/107.5FM in New York, gave Sapp a huge compliment by comparing him to one of the greatest Gospel artists of all time, “(Marvin Sapp) is one of the new-school of gospel artists to come up in the last few years. He has certainly given us instant classics with ‘He Saw the Best in Me’ and ‘Never Would’ve Made It’ — he is this era’s James Cleveland.”
Waverly Alston, a Gospel music composer/choir director/sacred jazz artist and Philly resident is also a fan.
“I sense his sincerity in his delivery and the lyrics that he chooses to sing are Biblically based,” he said. “I recently listened to the title track of the ‘Never Would Have Made It’ album ‘Thirsty’ — what a wonderful album.”
And local radio celebrity Patty Jackson of WDAS summed the singer up by offering words about Sapp’s music ministry.
“He has great music that touches your soul!”
Sapp’s music transcends musical genres; his music has such wide appeal because of its heart-felt lyrics. His breakout hit, “Never Would Have Made It” was a song he wrote as an ode and eulogy for his father’s funeral.
“It was birthed out of my pain,” he said.
The song made Sapp a superstar within the music industry and with millions of adoring fans worldwide.
Being a widower, a father, a music mogul, an active member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and a full time senior pastor and founder of Lighthouse Full Life Center Church, in Grand Rapids, Mich., would be a daunting task for many men, but Sapp appears to remain focused.
“If you prioritize stuff, you won’t break it, you won’t drop it,” he said. “I make sure that I keep things in their proper place. I’m a father first, I’m a pastor, I’m a recording artist, I’m an entrepreneur, I do a whole lot of stuff, that’s how I keep things going.”
ATLANTA — Christian rapper Lecrae first came to Atlanta as a teenager for a youth conference in 1999, but what ultimately convinced him to lay down roots here was its thriving gospel music scene.
"Atlanta is just a musical hub," said the 32-year-old, who moved from Houston three years ago. "There are a slew of producers, engineers, artists and writers. There's a wealth of outlets here, and it's a community of artists who are here as well. That's a major reason why I came here."
Atlanta has become a key place of business for many of the heavyweights in gospel and Christian music, like Marvin Sapp, Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin and Jason Crabb. They flock to the city known to some as "gospel's Hollywood" because of its flourishing R&B and hip-hop scene, an evolving television market, a variety of Christian and gospel record labels, and a plethora of mega churches. Some of the industry's best, such as Francesca Battistelli, the group Casting Crowns, Chris Tomlin and Dottie Peoples, reside in the city or in the suburbs.
"Atlanta is becoming like the new Los Angeles," said Sapp, the chart-topping gospel singer.
"Everybody and their momma are shooting all types of films here," he added. "It's becoming a regular hotbed for the entertainment field. And because of that, gospel is coming here as well. People are connecting. It's becoming a very viable place for gospel artists to excel and be successful musically."
Recently, the 43rd annual Dove Awards took place at the popular Fox Theatre in Atlanta for the second straight year. The show, which celebrates Christian and gospel music, had all the glitz and glamour of a high-profile awards show, with more than 250 media outlets on the red carpet.
The rising support of the genre in Atlanta is what convinced Gospel Music Association organizers to move the Doves to the city in 2011. The ceremony started in Memphis and was held in Nashville, Tennessee, for more than four decades.
GMA board chairman Mitchell Solarek said organizers felt Atlanta has a larger media reach with more radio and television outlets to support the show. With GMC — formerly the Gospel Music Channel — based in Atlanta, Solarek called the move a "no brainer." The network aired the awards in April.
"Even though Nashville is touted as the music capital of the world, the media is not as broad there as it is in Atlanta," he said. "We wanted to take this (awards show) to a market that was broader than it was in Nashville, while still achieving our goal of musical diversity and still reach the bulk of our members. And Atlanta is just a drive away."
That sounds good to the ears of Georgia officials, who have worked hard to promote the state as an entertainment destination. They offer one of the highest tax credits in the United States — up to 30 percent to those looking to produce shows, music videos and commercials in the state.
"We are developing strategies to aggressively promote Georgia's strengths in the music industry including its wealth of talent, expanding digital media infrastructure, production facilities, live music scene and music education opportunities" said Lisa Love, the director of music marketing and development for the Georgia film, music and digital entertainment office.
"The gospel and contemporary Christian-oriented assets in all of those areas will continue to be invaluable in the positioning of Georgia as an entertainment industry destination," she continued.
Lecrae has made it his destination. Since he has lived in city, the rapper has become one of the most popular in Christian hip-hop. He also co-founded his own record label with Ben Washer, Reach Records, which is based in Atlanta. Other labels launched by artists based in Atlanta or in the state of Georgia include Christian rock group Third Day's Essential Records; singer/rapper Canton Jones' Cajo International; Dottie Peoples' DP Muzik Group; and televangelist Creflo Dollar's Arrow Records. Warner Music Group's Taseis Distribution is located in Atlanta as well.
"It's easy to come here because of all the industry people are already here," said Henry Panion III, whose record label, Audiostate 55 Entertainment is based out of Birmingham, Ala., and is distributed through Taseis. "Atlanta has become an entertainment draw, and gospel is following suit."
Atlanta is also host to BET television's "Sunday Best," a gospel talent competition that awards the winner with a recording contract. It's hosted by Franklin along with judges Mary Mary and Donnie McClurkin.
Tyler Perry's sprawling TV and film studio has also become a player in Christian music. Perry's inspirational-based stage plays and movies have provided an avenue for gospel singers to gain exposure. Tamela Mann, known as Cora in Perry's plays, movies and TV show "Meet the Browns," is also a gospel singer and won a Dove Award last year.
"If you look at the underlying story of his movies, there's always something that talks about the goodness of the Lord," said Crabb, who won artist of the year at the Doves in April. "When you have a state like Georgia that's spiritually deep-rooted, more are going to want to be a part of what he's doing."
Georgia has the most mega churches in the country behind California, Texas and Florida, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research's recent database. The number of mega churches in Georgia gives artists a chance to perform in front of congregations ranging from 2,000 to 20,000. Several high-profile pastors such as Andy Stanley, Creflo Dollar and Paul Morton normally offer live music without a traditional setting of a choir before a preacher's sermon.
Lecrae feels he's in Atlanta at the perfect time.
"It's been really good here," he said. "Just seeing people within the music industry from mainstream and even what others call secular music come together to use their talents for the Lord, it's great." -- (AP)