A truly multidimensional performer, Kirk Franklin has given contemporary gospel a visibility that even the music’s most optimistic adherents would have doubted was possible in the late ’90s. True, gospel has had crossover appeal for decades, and performers as diverse as the Edwin Hawkins Singers, Andrae Crouch, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, and various Winans family members have all enjoyed chart success. But none of these artists have matched Kirk Franklin’s multimedia and marketing clout.
Just in the last year, the producer/bandleader/keyboardist/vocalist/composer has been a national spokesperson for Quaker Oats and has appeared a number of television programs, among them The Tonight Show, Late Night With David Letterman, The Bobby Jones Show, and the premiere broadcast of Vibe. In addition, Universal recently announced plans to cast Franklin in a sitcom. Then, of course, there are Franklin’s albums. Kirk Franklin & the Family and the Grammy-winning Whatcha Lookin’ 4 have not only been gospel smashes, they’ve also done remarkably well on the pop charts. Both peaked in the R&B top 10 and cracked the pop 200. The single “Why We Sing” aired on gospel and R&B radio outlets nationwide, quickly helping to establish the young maverick as a superstar.
Franklin has been a major player on the gospel stage since age 11, when he astounded members of his Fort Worth, Texas, community by becoming the music minister and choir director of his church. Indeed, his own life has been as much of an inspiration for his followers as his songs. Raised by his great-aunt Gertrude, he endured childhood battles and vicious teasing because of his heavy church involvement. By his own admission, Franklin strayed from the path during his late teens, but he returned to gospel following the brutal shooting death of a close friend. He formed the Family in the early ’90s, releasing the group’s self-titled debut LP on the Gospo-Centric/Sparrow label in 1993.
Franklin’s immediate success hasn’t gone unnoticednor has it been universally hailed. He caused consternation in the gospel world for his use of electronics, funk beats, hip-hop production values, and extensive rap segments. Of course, controversy over form and content has raged in gospel music at least since the late ’20s, when barrelhouse and blues pianist Georgia Tom parted ways with legendary guitarist Tampa Red to apply his talents to inspirational music.
Whatever their complaints, gospel purists can’t criticize Franklin for lyrical waffling; never do his numbers lose sight of their devotional message. He has, however, occasionally been rapped for being a less than pure singer and pianist. While he won’t remind anyone of R.H. Harris or Claude Jeter, he is a compelling enough performer that he can hold a young audience at rapt attention during his performances.
Franklin has also gotten significant attention from the contemporary Christian (read: white) gospel camp, a feat that few African-American artists have achieved. But for all his past successes, nothing indicated the amazing response that his latest endeavor has received. God’s Property Featuring Kirk Franklin’s Nu Nation, a release that by strictest standards isn’t even a Franklin album, debuted on the pop charts at No. 3, the first gospel release to enter the charts in the Top 10. The 50-member Dallas choir, formed five years ago by Texas music teacher and choral director Linda Seabright, includes several former gang members and ex-drug dealers. Not only do these singers form a striking visual and vocal presence, they also contradict the frequently perpetuated stereotypes of African-American youth.
The group’s lead singleand perhaps the most influential gospel release since “Oh Happy Day”is the mega-hit “Stomp.” Fired by Franklin’s exultant spoken lead and the rising voices of the choir, the song challenges listeners to feel the spirit and show their exuberance. The song is also notable for its sampling of Parliament’s “One Nation Under a Groove”the sort of musical influence normally referenced by secular rap artists. While the other tracks on God’s Property Featuring Kirk Franklin’s Nu Nation stick to more conventional arrangements, “Stomp” is a magnificent blending of religious fervor and commercial acumen. Franklin unites the best aspects of gospel and soul here, weaving them into a compelling framework.
Franklin didn’t just take creative risks with this projecthe also took an enormous public-relations risk. First, he invited Cheryl James, a member of Salt-N-Pepa, to make a guest appearance on “Stomp.” Then he helped develop a publicity campaign for the release that involved working with the controversial label Interscope, which has been targeted by such figures as C. Deloris Tucker for its roster of gangsta-rap artists. Still, Franklin’s vision resulted in more publicity and exposure than anyone could have reasonably expected. And he continues to venture forth into territory where few gospel artists will tread. Currently, he’s on the cover of Vibe magazine’s October issue, and his songs have been included on two recent soundtracks, Don’t Be a Menace and Get on the Bus.
In interviews for religious publications such as Guideposts, Franklin says that every ordeal he has enduredincluding a life-threatening fall last year at Memphis’ Cook Convention Centerhas only helped strengthen him for his life’s ministry and work. Even though he has chalked up some incredible successes, he continues to ponder how he can move forward: His current goal is to apply gospel lyrics to the sounds of Generation X. Without a doubt, someone has to take gospel music into the futureotherwise, it loses its relevance. Kirk Franklin has shown that he’s just the man to do it.
It hardly seems news that the classic White Christmas is a corny show with contrivances,…
The shooting location for hard bodies gym was formerly the Paramus, NJ location of Tower…
This is like a flashback to the '80s, when Ted Turner was colorizing CASABLANCA and…
That clip is horrifying. It looks like postmortem makeup. Very uncanny valley.
AGGGHHHH that last picture!