Marvin Gaye has been called "the number-one purveyor of soul music". In his book Mercy Mercy Me: The Art, Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye, Michael Eric Dyson described Gaye as someone "...who transcended the boundaries of rhythm and blues as no other performer had done before." Following his death, The New York Times described Gaye as someone who "blended the soul music of the urban scene with the beat of the old-time gospel singer and became an influential force in pop music". Further in the article, Gaye was also credited with combining "the soulful directness of gospel music, the sweetness of soft-soul and pop, and the vocal musicianship of a jazz singer." His recordings for Motown in the 1960s and 1970s shaped that label's signature sound. His work with Motown gave him the titles Prince of Soul and Prince of Motown. Critics stated that Gaye's music "...signified the development of black music from raw rhythm and blues, through sophisticated soul to the political awareness of the 1970s and increased concentration on personal and sexual politics thereafter." As a Motown artist, Gaye was among the first to break from the reins of its production system, paving the way for Stevie Wonder. Gaye's late 1970s and early 1980s recordings influenced contemporary forms of R&B predating the subgenres quiet storm and neo-soul.
Many artists including Barry White, Stevie Wonder, Jermaine Jackson, Frankie Beverly, D'Angelo, Maxwell, Tupac Shakur, Todd Rundgren, Erykah Badu, Common, Nas, Joe, Teena Marie, Chico DeBarge, El DeBarge, Raheem DeVaughn and many others admitted to being heavily influenced by Gaye's musicianship. For his Oscar-nominated role as James "Thunder" Ealy in the film, Dreamgirls, Eddie Murphy appropriated Gaye's 1970s clothing style in the film.
According to David Ritz in a 1991 revision of his biography on Marvin, "since 1983, Marvin's name has been mentioned—in reverential tones—on no less than seven top-ten hit records." Gaye's name has been used as the title of several hits, including Big Sean's "Marvin Gaye & Chardonnay" and Charlie Puth's debut hit, "Marvin Gaye", a duet with Meghan Trainor.