Hey BP! Check out an excerpt of a new interview I just did for Elev8.com:
Q: As a father and a husband what do we tell do we tell our young men and women who are colored by the facets of reality television and are colored by our current world’s thinking?
Before the arrival of Kirk Franklin in 1993, contemporary gospel music leaned toward inspirational quiet storm – ‘positive’ messages alluding to Jesus and a righteous walk of faith set to lightly groovin’ tracks that appealed primarily to adults. Upon the arrival of Kirk Franklin, the music and the culture of contemporary Christianity got an energy boost that could give Red Bull a run for its money! Injecting a vigorous and youthful excitement to faith-walking, Kirk Franklin made it cool to be Christian, placing Godly messages in the same heavy rotation as other urban pop music. Over the last 14 years with hits such as “Stomp;” “Whatcha Lookin’ For;” “Looking for You;” “Revolution;” and “Lean on Me,” Kirk ascended to the upper echelons of gospel and pop. Beyond the music, he’s a highly exalted example of a man who achieved success without selling his soul (literally or figuratively) or his integrity. His messages now inhabit books, an upcoming movie, and he even hosts his own BET talent search program, “Sunday Best.”
Grammy-winning, multi-platinum, crossover gospel king Kirk Franklin is a man accustomed to firsts. For example, he was the first gospel artist to sell over a million copies of his first album, Kirk Franklin & The Family. However, it was the first of a different kind that led him to title his 11th and latest CD The Fight of My Life. It marked the first time that Kirk ever had so much trouble bringing his divinely inspired songs to life…for Kirk was facing an artistic drought the likes of which had never plagued him before.
The album was originally supposed to be the soundtrack for the motion picture “Church Boy,” a story loosely based on Franklin’s life story struggles and triumphs - of the Forth Worth, TX-born gospel star who, against all odds, made a way out of no way. But when shooting for the film was abruptly postponed, the rug was pulled out from under Franklin, affecting not only his life but that of his family and his ministry. “I titled this album The Fight of My Life because that's precisely what I was in,” he says, still shaken by the circumstance. “I had scheduled two months to devote to that movie. Now that schedule had a giant hole in it leaving me without a Plan B - no vision, no direction - which immediately meant financial challenges for me and my people.”
This uncharacteristic stress also upset the natural order of Franklin’s creative process. “When I do albums, I usually feel ‘pregnant’ with ideas. God would give me pieces of a concept - the theme of an album - then songs would be born from that. This time I felt empty. God was very silent at the genesis of this record... I had singers and musicians flying in ready to work and I wasn't, which was very costly…and it happened twice! The second time they came, I only had two songs completed: ‘How it Used to Be’ (a song about coming back to Jesus after having been absent awhile) and ‘Hide Me’ (a song of restored faith on which he states, ‘Your delay is not a denial / Your plan is perfect when I’m not’). I was discouraged and depressed. I began to question whether I should do another album, whether I had another one in me...whether I should call McDonald's to see if they were hiring?!”
Thankfully, brother Franklin’s righteously terrifying ‘Mac Tonight-mares’ finally came to a halt in what felt like his most desperate hour. The empathetic artist who was always ready with that perfect musical word to uplift others was now the one in need of inspiration. “One day walking the streets of my neighborhood,” Kirk continues, “I cried out to The Lord, ‘Help!’ And some way out of my darkness, God started giving me the idea for the song ‘Help Me Believe.’ And from there, the songs slowly started flowing down the tunnel to me again.”
Those songs which now make up The Fight of My Life (the second album from Kirk Franklin’s own Fo Yo Soul Entertainment company – a joint venture with the Zomba label group) are some of the most dynamic and stylistically varied of his storied career, moving from spirited choral passages and jazz-kissed pieces to his signature hip hop praise grooves and even one head-banging rocker! As with all of his past milestones, the thread that holds together The Fight of My Life (written, produced and arranged by Kirk Franklin) is its powerful spiritual messages.
The first single is a burst of affirmative energy titled “Declaration (This is It),” a thrilling gospel-soul take-off on the1979 hit "This is It" by pop-rock superstar Kenny Loggins (who co-wrote the original with Michael McDonald). “As a kid, I really enjoyed that song,” Kirk shares. “When I started recording it, one of the owners of the studio stopped by, heard what I was doing and told me, ‘You know Kenny Loggins wrote that song for his daddy when he was diagnosed with cancer.’ I was floored! I could see why it connected so strong to me. It was born from something powerful. What I'm saying in my version is because we are God's children and have His Son living inside of us, there's a lot of junk ‘in the world’ to which we allow ourselves to fall victim. But by the power of Christ we don't have to. The song empowers people in their faith.”
Another album highlight, “Little Boy,” finds Kirk calling in reinforcement from the great Rance Allen and Isaac Carree to kick a three-prong message to young men, young women and their parents that is graced with a simmering beat, tasty acoustic guitar and muted trumpet, plus a couple of witty topical lyrical ‘zingers.’ “I'm just challenging everybody to do better,” Kirk states. “Christians become a ‘subculture’ when we are no longer informed on current issues. It's imperative that God's people be effective and knowledgeable. If we're in a bubble, we come across as antiquated.” Regarding those lyrical bombs he drops, Kirk volleys, “I say what I feel and let it fall where it may. `Cuz when something falls that is God-ordained, it falls right!”
Several songs are targeted toward young people. The first, “I Like Me,” is a percussive pastiche. featuring Christian rapper Da’ T.R.U.T.H. “When you're trying to preach to kids, you've got to speak their language,” Kirk says. “Kids like beats…so I had to drop some like they was hot!" The second song is simply titled “Jesus.” Kirk tailor-made it for the BET crowd and hopes they’ll call radio stations to request it. Similarly, “Still in Love” is a weekend roller skatin’, top-down cruiser’s dream. “I’m always striving to make us look cool in the culture,” Kirk shrugs.
Perhaps most impressive is “A Whole Nation,” a song about young men growing up without fathers which introduces galvanizing 11 year-old newcomer Donovan Owens. “He just rolled up on me backstage at an Easter concert in Milwaukee,” Kirk confesses, “singing one of my songs! People come up to me all the time, but not like Donovan. This kid could sing! I had to have him on my album. Sometimes God gives me snapshots of a song and this snapshot was of Donovan being the voice of a little Kirk. But I had to test him first, so I called and asked him about his relationship with his father. I needed him to sing this song from a place of honesty. When I saw that he could do that, I said, ‘Here we go!’”
"I Am God" features Kirk’s frequent collaborator, Christian rocker TobyMac. “TobyMac is the one in that Contemporary Christian Music world that I have the closest relationship with,” Kirk states. “He's halfway black and I'm halfway white, so we've got that special thing goin' on…been friends for about 12 years now. This is my first rock song that I feel I got the closest to right because I used real rock players. I taught the song to TobyMac’s band.”
With all the contemporary amenities covered, Kirk still delivers some of his most awe-inspired songs of comfort and reassurance ever with “Still (In Control)” (featuring Melvin & Doug Williams, a.k.a. The Williams Brothers); “It Would Take All Day;” “Chains” (featuring singers Melonie Daniels, Sheri Jones-Moffett and gospel marvel Nikki Ross); “Hide Me” and “He Will Supply.” Most profound is the album closer “The Last Jesus” which - after all of the spiritual fortification and nurturing of the songs before it - turns the table and challenges the listener to strive to reflect God’s will and Jesus’ mission. Over a soothing acoustic music bed (including poignant whistling on the outro), the phenomenal chorus reads, “If I say I love Jesus / But you can’t see my Jesus / My words are empty / If they can’t see Jesus in me / No more excuses / I give myself away / Because I may be the only Jesus they see today…”
Reflecting on this exceptional collection, Kirk muses, “These are things that I feel every day. People need honest transparent leadership – leaders who are not afraid to admit, 'I'm jacked up' or 'I made a mistake, only follow me as I follow Christ.' So it's important to me that the culture sees that there is a large community of God's people in entertainment, political and sports arenas striving for a level of Godly excellence that makes The Father happy.”
The Lord has blessed Kirk Franklin to be not only a commercial success – the biggest selling gospel artist in Soundscan history with over12 million albums sold and over 20 #1 singles at Gospel radio, plus 5 Grammy Awards; an American Music Award; 34 Stellar Awards (gospel); 12 Dove Awards (CCM); 4 NAACP Awards; 2 BET Music Awards, and a Soul Train Award on his mantle – he is a hero and example to anyone who thinks their life is beyond redemption. To hear his testimony is to hear that of a man who’s risen from the bleakest streets to the highest heights. Deeper still, he understands that the literal fight of his life is a battle done daily.
“For me success is very personal,” Kirk concludes. “This January (2008), I will have been married 12 years. I have kids that know me and love me. I'm not only married I'm happily married (check the verse in "I Like Me" where he speaks on that)! I'm a Black man in my 30s still hungry for The Lord and still hungry for God to knock down the stuff I see in me that still ain't right. That's the thinking I choose to keep in close contact with in terms of how I define 'success.' I've been working on me - and there's a lot more work to be done.”
Spoken by a man as accomplished as Kirk Franklin, that statement challenged us all. And his latest masterwork, The Fight of My Life, will be the stirring soundtrack for winning the fights of our lives.
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