By Gioia Patton
“It’s a tightrope. I’m just trying to continue to make God famous.”
—Nine-time Grammy Award winning gospel singer, Kirk Franklin, on the art of staying humble
Known as an incomparable artist, speaker, author, businessman, and humanitarian, Kirk Franklin has been a mainstay atop the Billboard music charts for more than 20 years with his fusion of the gospel message and hip-hop beats. Bridging the gap between the faith community and mainstream urban music culture, Franklin has 20 number one hit singles on gospel radio and eight crossover singles to mainstream urban and urban adult contemporary radio. One of his early albums was the first gospel album to sell more than 1 million units.
The 36-year-old and nine-time Grammy Award winner, whose 20 Years in One Night concert is at the Louisville Palace this month, was open and down-to-earth during his recent phone interview with Today’s Woman.
Today’s Woman: What’s the short story behind your idea of fusing the gospel message and hip-hop?
Kirk Franklin: Well, I was raised in hip-hop, so when I became a born-again Christian, I was just using what was natural, what was my influence. So it was just something that came from who I was.
TW: How do you keep your pulse on what’s relevant and upcoming in the music scene, and then incorporate that into your message without compromising your faith?
FRANKLIN: You know, to be honest with you, it’s very natural. It’s not something that is a major stretch for me. It’s not like having to listen to country music and trying to live in Nashville to try to figure out what that culture is. I’m from that (hip-hop and Christian music) culture. So you know, trying to stay plugged into what’s happening in the world of culture, fashion, or youths on the streets is…I don’t know, just a very natural ebb and flow for me.
TW: Tell me about your latest album Losing My Religion (RCA Records).
FRANKLIN: More than anything, it’s a reflection of growing, change, the community of faith…the decline of Christianity, the decline of the church. It was a natural thought to talk about religious participation and then crying. It’s religion that can be a barrier…a polarizing presentation.
TW: What propels you to expand creatively in so many directions?
FRANKLIN: You know, that’s a good question. I don’t know. I’m just very passionate about having a voice for God and the fabric of what people are…what moves people. And if God can’t flow into everyday lives of people, then we’re going to have a problem with this message that we preach. Because if this message is only limited to Sunday, and if people aren’t going to church anymore — the majority of people aren’t going as much as they used to — then we really have a problem. Because faith should be something that’s naturally woven into an activity that can come out every day of the week…come out in decisions like how to spend money, how to date, how to pick a spouse, how to vote, how to live. God shouldn’t be like an award that’s put on a mantel. It should be something that’s part of your DNA that just comes out.
TW: What’s your personal interpretation of the phrase, “attitude of gratitude”?
FRANKLIN: When I hear something like that, to me, the first thing I think is how that reflects in your character. Because you hear so many times about how ‘those Christians can have a bad attitude!’ and we have developed a reputation where people think we are mean-spirited. So there’s something wrong with that! Because if we are to be walking billboards and we’re known as mean and evil people, then there’s something wrong with that promotion, you know. So to me, an attitude of gratitude is very tangible. It’s when you see people’s character.
TW: When you are taking stock of your life both personally and professionally, whose opinion matters to you the most?
FRANKLIN: My wife, my kids, and the people who mentor me.
TW: When you finish a concert, how do you know if you were successful with the message and the overall experience you intended for your audience? Is there something tangible that comes over you?
FRANKLIN: Yeah! More than anything, there’s always a caution that I feel. Because glory can feel good, you know, and praise can feel good. There’s always the concern to be sure that that moment is not something to embrace for myself…that I begin to think of myself different, or think of myself in some way that gets me comfortable, or then I lose my focus on what’s more important: the reason why I’m there.
TW: I’m really looking forward to attending my first Kirk Franklin concert. What kind of evening am I in for?
FRANKLIN: You’re in for an evening that forces you to be prepared to have on comfortable shoes…and enough deodorant, because there’s going to be a lot of dancing and sweating (laughs). And be prepared to show a lot of love and celebrate decades of music that I pray transforms people’s lives.
Gioia Patton is an Arts & Entertainment celebrity profiler and concert photographer.