Kirk Franklin: Fight the Good Fight
- Wednesday, March 12, 2008
The mainstream spotlight and the accolades are nothing new to Franklin. He’s got the GRAMMYs, the platinum plaques, and countless No. 1 hits. He’s the best-selling gospel artist of the SoundScan era. He’s recorded with Bono, R. Kelly, and Mary J. Blige. Soul legend Stevie Wonder was a guest on his previous album. He was the only faith-based artist in a compilation celebrating the songs of Earth, Wind & Fire. And forget about Christian or gospel music: he can dial up anyone in the genres’ phonebook and get them to appear on his albums, whether it’s P.O.D.’s Sonny Sandoval, sister duo Mary Mary, or homeboy tobyMac.
And that’s just the music part of his curriculum vitae. When it comes to ventures in the small and big screens, Franklin’s almost done it all: he executive-produced the soundtrack to the movie Kingdom Come. He’s appeared on Oprah. Until December, he was the host of Sunday Best, his own reality-based talent search show. And soon Lionsgate—the same independent film studio that won a best-picture Oscar® for Crash—will bring Franklin’s dramatic rags-to-riches life story to the silver screen.
As Franklin is briefed before going live, everyone else is ushered to an unremarkable waiting area. One thing does stand out: the walls. They’re lined with huge portraits of countless hip-hop stars, both dead and alive: Tupac, Jay-Z, Snoop, Biggie, Aaliyah. Will Franklin’s mug be there some day? Judging from the 106 & Park appearance, maybe not.
The mini-interview and video premiere came and went with little fanfare. The chat was nothing revelatory: just a short talk about his Southern upbringing, doing God’s work, and his musical DNA. Premiere the new video … mention the release date … fin. The label people are satisfied; at least he got to plug the new disc. For Franklin, though, it was not enough. It all seemed a blur, and that bothers him.
“How was it?” he asks his manager, as if looking for affirmation. “The thing was rushed. Everything was rushed.”
No kidding, Kirk.
When I meet Franklin at the five-star Ritz-Carlton in downtown Manhattan the morning after, he’s back to normality. It’s 11 o’clock, and he gives the impression of having just woken up: He’s swathed in a plush robe and matching white slippers, courtesy of the house. He’s much more at ease now—nothing like the distressed Franklin post-106 & Park. I cut straight to the chase and I ask him what in the world happened to him the day before.
“Yesterday was just this really deep lesson for me,” Franklin says, “because getting there late and everything having to change really messed with my flesh. It really made me deal with some stuff that I’ve been praying about. And God … he answers prayers. He’ll sometimes get at the core of that stuff.”
Just as I’m about to ask him what “that” is, he continues: “Vanity and pride and celebrity and self-glory and how I look and image and all that matter too much to me. Yesterday God allowed it to not go the way I wanted it to go so he could deal with that issue. Things could’ve happened a lot different last night, but because I wanted to get dressed and change clothes and look the part and all that, I got stuck in traffic.”
An answered prayer, indeed, and suddenly everything comes into focus: the lateness, the moodiness, the massive boots, the quick glance in the mirror. “I could’ve gone with what I had on [before],” says Franklin with a smile. “I just didn’t think about it until I was too late. It really upset me that how I looked was so important to me that it made me show up late.
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