If even after Kelly Price and Faith, you still want to deny the centrality of gospel to R&B radio, check out Bishop T.D. Jakes Sr.’s new hit bound “The Lady, Her Lover, and the Lord.” Featuring vocals by Shirley Murdock—whose prior r&b hits have been about cybersex and breaking the seventh commandment—this fly bounce-ballad is gospel for the black romance-novel set, telling of a woman who got a new man and discovered the Lord, miraculously, at the same time. Or try the hollering preacher woman sampled on rapper Charli Baltimore’s new “Stand Up.” Gospel sensibility completely saturates Deborah Cox’s rapturous “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here,” a tale of rediscovering romantic love that can easily apply to finding faith, with Cox singing of searching all her life for a heaven-sent eternal love.
As r&b artists get a little spirit in them, gospel acts continue looking to r&b in order to preach beyond the choir: Kirk Franklin rocked Missy’s trademark “freaky freaky” on Soul Train‘s Christmas special; Trin-I-Tee 5:7 used one of R. Kelly’s slinky grooves to sing of “God’s Grace”; and in the Dirty South, LaShun Pace out-narrowcasted Outkast by ruling gospel airwaves with her holy take on Maxwell’s “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder).” On her stunning Just Because God Said It, 10-year gospel vet Pace rips Maxwell’s airy tune to shreds and makes it god-worthy with her soaring soprano runs. Unlike some of her contemporaries, Pace doesn’t pussyfoot her praise. She gives it up like a sacrifice, sometimes even lacing her heavenly vocals with Shirley Caesar–like testimony, on an album that both moves gospel forward and lovingly watches its back.