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Intersection of Life and Faith

KIRK FRANKLIN

  • 1999 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
KIRK FRANKLIN
The following story is taken from Reuter's News Service

Watch for Kirk performing his hit song "Lean On Me" during this year's Grammy Awards February 24th -- with special guests Bono, Crystal Lewis, Mary J. Blige, and R. Kelly!

by Gary Graff

God has never been an easy sell in pop music. In fact, you're probably more likely to find the Lord's name taken in vain than praise. But when the multimillion-selling songwriter and musician {{Kirk Franklin}} delivers a Word up, the direction is heavenly.

During the past six years, Franklin and his retinue of singers, rappers, dancers and musicians have led gospel and spiritual music across the secular divide and firmly into the mainstream.

His Grammy-winning 1997 release, ==God's Property==, is the biggest gospel album ever, with 2.5 million copies sold, and launched the hip-hop-tinged smash "Stomp," which vaulted to No. 1 on the Billboard charts.

Its successor album, ==The Nu Nation Project==, debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard Top 200 last fall and has sold about 1.3 million copies. The 1998 release has been nominated for two Grammys, while the first single, "Lean on Me"-featuring R. Kelly, {{Crystal Lewis}}, U2 frontman Bono and Mary J. Blige-was nominated for three awards.

In Franklin's wake, gospel and Christian pop have become forces in the marketplace, carving out a $550 million sector that accounts for an estimated 4.5 percent of music sales overall. The genre is cropping up on radio stations and MTV, appearing in film soundtracks and playing to crowds of youths who might once have turned the other ear and run away from anything that invoked the teachings of Jesus and the Bible.

As Franklin sees it, the time is right-and so are the sounds.

"People's hopes and faith have been damaged so much, either by the political system or by the church building or the church elders. The music is pure, because the music stands on its own," explains Franklin, 29, who currently is embroiled in a lawsuit with the founder of the God's Property Choir.

"I wanted to make it enjoyable and entertaining, but at the same time let the entertainment be the preparation for people's minds and hearts, so when it's time to share, the songs are ministry, and they're able to receive it."

His method is somewhat subversive, of course. If gospel previously has been considered old-fashioned and rarely mainstream-friendly-Edwin Hawkins' 1969 hit "Oh Happy Day" is a notable exception-Franklin and his cohorts have turned the idea around.

His beats and rapping cadence are as fly as any gangsta acts. And his songs are vintage first-generation funk, delivered with the joyous ensemble sensibility of a Sly & the Family Stone or Parliament-Funkadelic.

All told, Franklin offers a praise fest that slams but also slides the Word between every groove.

"I believe that in order to play the game, you have to study the game," says Franklin, who also has published an autobiography, Church Boy: My Music and My Life.

"If I buy the new Method Man CD, I'm listening to find out what kind of beats and sounds are popular so I can use them in my style of music, so when it's time to reach those groups of kids, it can be just as effective. It's easy for me to look past the curse words, 'cause I don't listen to it for the same reason (as the kids)."

And is the message getting through?

"I pray it is, I honestly pray it is," he says. "Man, society right now is ... in a mess. Have you noticed that? It's almost like compassion, tolerance, respect, it's just out the door. It's like everybody's trying to make it to the top, and everybody's depending on science. What it seems like is society's lost its heart, y'know?"

SIN AND SALVATION

Franklin's message does not come solely from on high, however. As devout and committed as he is, he's also been in the place of temptation and sin. Born to a teenage mother in Riverside, Texas, Franklin was raised by an aunt and uncle who introduced him to music and to the church.

He was a prodigy, good enough to be offered a recording contract at age 7 (which his aunt and uncle turned down) and to direct his church choir at age 11.

But being a "church boy" was not easy. Franklin did his share of drinking and partying. He skipped classes and was eventually booted out of school due to behavioral problems. He got a girlfriend pregnant.

"Trust me, there were times when I could've been killed, I could've been shot, I could've been addicted to drugs or alcohol," says Franklin, who lives with his wife, Tammy, and their three children. "But I was raised in the Book. Even when I didn't want to hear nothing about the Book, those teachings kept me. There was something inside of me that never allowed me to go over the limit."

Franklin eventually returned to the church, co-founded a gospel group called the Humble Hearts and, at age 20, led the choir at the 1990 Gospel Music Workshop of America Convention.

He formed The Family in 1992 and signed with the Los Angeles-based Gospo Centric label, which in turn signed a deal with Interscope Records, a powerful secular label that also happened to be the home of self-dubbed "Antichrist" shock-rocker Marilyn Manson and gangsta rappers such as Dr. Dre and the late Eazy-E.

KEEPING THE FAITH

That association has netted Franklin a measure of criticism from some quarters of the church and the gospel community, where reservations also have been expressed about his modern approach to spiritual music.

"That's something that just normally comes along with it," Franklin explains. "I have a job to do ... to please people. If the people in the church get it, praise God. If the people don't get it, praise God. You lose so much time trying to get these people to see it. The bottom line is there's people out there that need to be reached, so that's what you focus on."

That said, he notes that he has to be careful as he exists in the mainstream, particularly with his musical collaborations.

"There's no way I can say I'm better than somebody like Puffy (Combs) because of my message," Franklin says. "At the same time, I can't collaborate with a Puffy or somebody like Puffy because of the message that's often in their music.

"So I have to be careful. There's the challenge also to make sure that my brother Puffy doesn't walk away from the table with me thinking I'm better than him, either."

But the greatest challenge, Franklin says, remains one of keeping his perspective amid the trappings of celebrity that surround his success.

And he says he lives in fear that one day God will say to him "I can't trust you anymore."

"There have been so many times, especially this year, where I wrestled with pride and arrogance and ego," {{Kirk Franklin}} acknowledges. "There are many days when the business sometimes overrides the purpose, and when that happens, God kicks my butt in his own way, and he reminds me, 'Look, boy, it's not about you. It's not about trying to be (a) star. It's about me. It's about touching hearts and saving people's lives and letting people know about me.'

"And, you know, the interviews and the press-related stuff and the award shows and TV stuff ... The media don't want to hear, 'Oh, it's not me. It's about Him, and about Jesus.' They're like, 'Yeah, but, come on, it's about you, too, buddy.' It's a major challenge for me."

(Gary Graff is a nationally syndicated journalist who covers the music scene from Detroit. He also is the supervising editor of the award-winning "MusicHound" album guide series.)

Copyright Reuters Limited 1999


Kirk Franklin Tour Dates
2/2/99
Ft. Wayne, IN
EXPO CENTER
2/3
Saginaw, MI
SAGINAW CIVIC CENTER
2/4
Columbus, OH
PATELLE HALL
2/5
Cleveland, OH
CLEVELAND STATE
2/6
Pittsburgh, PA
CIVIC ARENA
2/7
Cincinnati, OH
CROWN RIVERFRONT COLISEUM
2/15
Seattle, WA
KEY ARENA
2/16
Portland, OR
TBA
2/17
Sacramento, CA
ARCO ARENA
2/18
Oakland, CA
OAKLAND COLISEUM
2/19
Los Angeles, CA
UNIVERSAL AMPHITHEATRE
2/20
Los Angeles, CA
UNIVERSAL AMPHITHEATRE
2/21
San Diego, CA
SPORTS ARENA
2/24
Los Angeles, CA
SHINE AUDITORIUM
3/4
New York, NY
FELT FORUM
3/5
New York, NY
FELT FORUM
3/6
New York, NY
FELT FORUM
3/7
New York, NY
FELT FORUM
3/10
Wichita, KS
CENTURY II
3/11
Kansas City, MO
CONVENTION CENTER
3/12
Oklahoma City, OK
MYRIAD ARENA
3/13
Dallas, TX
CONVENTION CENTER
3/14
Houston, TX
COMPANY CENTER
3/16
Little Rock, AR
BARTON COLISEUM
3/17
Macon, GA
CENTROPLEX COLISEUM
3/18
Augusta, GA
CIVIC CENTER
3/19
Birmingham, AL
JEFFERSON CIVIC CENTER
3/20
Jackson, MS
MISSISSIPPI COLISEUM
3/21
Nashville, TN
MUNICIPAL AUDITORIUM
3/24
Nashville, TN
MUNICIPAL AUDITORIUM
3/25
Los Angeles, CA
SHINE AUDITORIUM
4/6
Atlanta, GA
FOX THEATRE
4/7
Atlanta, GA
FOX THEATRE
4/8
Atlanta, GA
FOX THEATRE
4/9
Asheville, NC
CIVIC CENTER
4/10
Indianapolis, IN
PEPSI COLISEUM
4/13
Montgomery, AL
ACADOME
4/14
Orlando, FL
CENTRAL FLORIDA ARENA
4/15
Tampa, FL
SUN DOME
4/16
Jacksonville, FL
VETERAN'S MEMORIAL COL.
4/17
Miami, FL
MIAMI CENTER
4/18
Tallahassee, FL
CIVIC CENTER
4/30
New York, NY
MADISON SQUARE GARDEN