The Grammys do not give too much of a rip about the gospel category, as evidenced by the combination of "performance/song" that several other genres get split into two categories. But it is a blessing in disguise, because we get to judge these songs as the full package. There is star power in the 2015 nominees -- most notably Lecrae and Mali Music -- and plenty of talent -- Karen Clark-Sheard's singing performance will knock your socks off -- but who should win? And who will win?
Here are the nominees:
- "Help" written by Erica Campbell, Warryn Campbell, Hasben Jones, Harold Lilly, Lecrae Moore and Aaron Sledge (performed by Erica Campbell and Lecrae)
- "Sunday A.M. [Live]" written by Rudy Currence and Donald Lawrence (performed by Karen Clark-Sheard)
- "I Believe" written by Kortney J. Pollard (performed by Mali Music)
- "No Greater Love" written by Aaron W. Lindsey and Smokie Norful (performed by Smokie Norful)
- "Love on the Radio" written by Kirk Franklin (performed by The Walls Group)
WHAT SHOULD WIN: Mali Music is another budding star from the gospel community. He has an Akon-esque lilt to his vocal, but his delivery never really evolves into anything memorable.
Driven by a pulsing piano backdrop, Mali eases over the beat to profess his love for God. Electric guitars make the chorus burn a little bit, and the reverberating drums add an epic feel. Overall, this cut would have a shot at the pop charts if Mali felt like sacrificing some integrity -- which, you know, defeats the purpose of the music.
Smokie Norful, meanwhile, is smooth R&B to the death. He hops around a lounge piano performance to preach a love letter to his savior.
"His name is Jesus," Norful sings. "And he loves me / And I know this / 'Cause he died for me."
Think R. Kelly -- if the dude actually went to church.
But the most striking cut is Karen Clark-Sheard's "Sunday A.M. [Live]," a slow-burner that features some serious pipes and makes full use of the choir. Its pace is too easy for hand claps, but Clark-Sheard's final push toward heaven is absolutely unforgettable.
This woman tears a hole in the sky for you to spread some damn wings and rocket toward the Lord. If she can't convert you, no one can.
Clark-Sheard certainly has the "performance" aspect down, and "Sunday A.M. [Live]" is full of fun little twists that make it a must-listen for any singer out there. This is the most deserving song of the bunch:
WHAT WILL WIN: The Walls Group has the mainstream hip-hop formula down. Except for the lyrics, that is. "Love on the Radio" focuses on the fact that the radio is not very Bible-friendly.
"Say His name / Say His name," they sing, playing off Destiny's Child late 1990s hit. The whole thing is quite unlike the other nominees here, which indicates the Grammy voters did a nice job of diversifying the field.
Looking for some uplifting rap that your pastor can bump to? Check it out:
"Help" is your typical uplifting progression/wallowing lyrics gospel fare, but it is bookended by a couple short verses from budding star Lecrae. Sure, the Houston-born emcee is 35, but he finally seems to be catching on with the mainstream crowd after years of ripping up the Christian rap circuit.
His presence makes this song a favorite, but the track belongs to Erica Campbell, whose layered harmonies and one-syllable shouts put an odd twist on The Beatles's classic cry for help.
Essentially, Lecrae's star power is too much to overcome. Even a brief appearance on "Help" will be enough to snag Campbell the trophy.