The Season 9 winner of BET’s Sunday Best is using his testimony to remind us that God is in control.
Son of the great Melvin Crispell, Jr. and Tunesha Crispell, Melvin Crispell, III comes from a lineage of Gospel music greats. After losing his parents by age 18, he leaned heavily on his faith to make it through. Using his music to testify, he released his debut album, I’ve Got A Testimony, in 2020, featuring the Grammy-nominated “Wonderful Is Your Name.” Now, he is back with his sophomore album No Failure. The 11-track project pulls heavily from his Gospel roots, giving us refreshing interpretations of Gospel classics with tracks like “God Is,” as well as beautifully arranged originals with hymns like the title track “No Failure.” Through it all, Crispell, III has one desire - to give God the glory.
BET spoke with Melvin Crispell, III about his growth as an artist, reworking Gospel classics, the importance of legacy, and more. Read below.
BET: You are no stranger to BET. You won Season 9 of BET’s Sunday Best back in 2019. How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist from then to now?
I think I’ve grown substantially as an artist from then to now. Being in the industry before Sunday Best was a kick start and then when I got to Sunday Best, I was like “I’m really in there now.” I think it’s something you learn as you go along from different experiences. I do believe I’ve grown a lot. Learning how to handle situations, how to handle people, how to work on being an artist when it comes to being in rooms and networking. Those are some of the things I never would have thought about before Sunday Best.
BET: Your new album is called No Failure. In the title track, you say “There is no failure. What You started, You will complete.” This line is a declaration of God’s faithfulness. How did this story of God’s faithfulness inform the creation of this project and how have you seen it play out in your own life?
This song was written right before the pandemic in a writing session at my church. We had a writing session to try to plan for an album we were trying to release. It was kind of a testimony for all of us together in that moment and we were singing about there being no failure in God. Even though we were all from different walks of life, we all came together in that moment and there was such a sense of unity. We began to sing based off of our own history of our own situations. With me, I’ve been through so much as a young man. My mom and my dad passing, facing depression, anxiety, and different things like that. Writing these songs, we were saying, “There is no failure in God.” Even going into the pandemic, we had no clue that God would put us all through that. That was a great way to start off what seemed like a terrible situation. We went in there knowing that there is no failure in God. He has everything in control.
BET: The opening track on this album is called “Here.” In the song, you say, “We’re here for no other. Why would we gather if You’re not at the center?” I heard you speak in an interview about the importance of gathering/merging together as the body of Christ, despite genre and background, in order to win souls for Jesus. As executive producer of this project, how did that idea inform your decision when choosing the people you wanted to collaborate with to bring this album to fruition?
There was a lot of uncertainty with this album at first in terms of who I was going to work and collaborate with, but I believe there is a reason and timing for everything, and I feel like God really set everything up the way that He saw fit. There were options, but at the end of the day, I just wanted to be intentional with this album and seek God. I wanted to see what He wanted out of the album. The goal is for Him to get the glory out of everything I do. Even choosing the order of the songs for the album was something I wanted to be intentional about. I wanted to start with that song because it’s a song that brings your mind in and reminds us that we’re here to have a great time but for no other reason than to give God glory and see Him magnified and bring other people closer to Him. That’s why I chose that song to be the first song on the album because I think it was a great sendoff for what was going to take place.
BET: This project has many songs that draw on simple themes like “Always Be There,” “The Love He Shows,” “Defender,” to name a few. These songs discuss the unchanging nature of God, (God is always with us, God is love, God is our defender). While God has given us these simple promises about Himself, sometimes, we try to overcomplicate them when He never asked us to do that. What do you think is the power of meditating on these simple attributes of God through song?
Like you said, He’s so much simpler than we make Him out to be. Of course, there are many mysteries to who He is, but, at the same, the way He wants us to understand Him is that He just requires our trust and love for Him. Once we begin to remind people of the simple things of God, it’s almost like muscle memory. Once you get acquainted with the simple things of God, you begin to inquire more about the things you didn’t understand growing up as a kid. Things that your grandma and mom talked about that you never used to understand. They understood the simple things first and the other things came along. It’s all simple, it all comes from learning about who He is and inviting Him into your life and space and allowing Him to be who He is. I remember those moments where I just felt so overwhelmed by everything that was going on. Even trying to pray just felt so overwhelming. I was like “Okay Lord, I need You. But do I need to come to You like this?” He wants us to come as we are in the broken state that we’re in. Not only does He want the best parts of us, but He wants the worst parts of us as well. It’s a love that almost doesn’t make sense sometimes, but it’s so needed. Stuff like that. A love that’s just simple.
BET: Sonically, this album takes us back to our roots. A standout track is your rendition of the James Cleveland classic “God Is” written by Robert Fryson. In a time where Christian/Gospel music is continually evolving sonically, what has been your inspiration behind continuing to pull from that classic Gospel sound?
This track, “God Is,” was specifically arranged by a good friend of mine named Bettina Wilson out of South Carolina. Growing up listening to her, the first time I heard her do this arrangement was life changing. I never knew a classic song could be changed that way and brought into a new light in a way that made you want to dance, cry tears of joy, and feel closer to Jesus. I do think that our generation and the generation to come needs to be related to and needs things that are relatable to them. Yes, the old songs and classics still have the anointing, but the younger folks may not understand it fully. But I think that changing these songs and making them reborn in a new light helps reach them and makes them say, “I remember this song from when I was younger. I didn’t really like it, but I like this version.” It still has the same message and an even greater impact. I believe that doing modern spins on old classics is a very good tool to use.
BET: The title track “No Failure” is also a standout. It is a beautiful hymn. Take me through the process of making that track.
It was a writing session with my church, Life Center Fellowship. I believe there were about eight or nine of us in the room tossing around different ideas. In my head, I was like “This could really be a hymn.” Because why don’t we write hymns anymore? Who says we still can’t write hymns today that can be implemented as hymns for the future? I wanted to tackle this as a hymn because it just gives that feel. When you sing an old hymn, you just feel so at peace and you feel the power that was put into it. The spirituality that was placed into it. You can tell that whoever wrote it was intentional with the connection with God. I think this song is really that. I think it’s very intentional and it’s a message not only in adoration to God but a message of reminding ourselves that although everything is going on, there is no failure in God. He never puts more on us than we can bear. We have to remind ourselves who is in control and who is the head of our lives. I think this song is a declaration to remind people of that.
BET: You originally come from the background of using music as ministry, but said Kirk Franklin taught you the importance of merging ministry and artistry as a musician. What was your approach to merging the two for this album?
It’s very difficult. I think I’m still working on it to this day. It’s not an easy thing. Ministry is always first. Being a worship leader is first always. Having to be an artist and worrying about your appearance and vocal health, there are so many different aspects of it. I had to learn to be okay with worrying about those things as well as being a worship leader. I think doing your best to be an artist but keeping your focus on God is so important. Without the focus, without the anointing, without knowing that we’re here for no other reason than to give God glory, none of it matters. That’s why I always want to try to merge artistry and ministry because I want to be an artist to be able to have my music reach the world, but I don’t want to do that without what God’s doing. I think it’s still a learning process but I’m proud of myself. I’ve been through a lot. I could have been a person that just sat there and didn’t even try. I’m proud of myself for trying and making the effort to be better and grow. I think that’s important to really look at.
BET: You were nominated for a Grammy for your song “Wonderful Is Your Name” from your first project I’ve Got A Testimony. It was written by your late father Melvin Crispell, Jr. which honored your father’s legacy while building your own. How does this concept of legacy continue to motivate your work today?
My parents, their legacy was Gospel music and showing the love of Christ to people across the board. I really wanted to continue that. Even with the catalog of my father’s and my mother’s, I will have a song of theirs on each album that I do to carry on that legacy because it’s basically a Crispell sound. My dad was an incredible writer. He has so many songs. A lot of them were classics that I can remake. There is a new old classic that we put a spin on on this one. That’s just a piece of how I keep the legacy going, but it’s really just showing the love and really doing the best to minister to people and lead them closer to Jesus. I think that’s what my parents were really about.