With a unique blend of hallelujahs and hip-hop, five-time Grammy award winner Kirk Franklin can find his music being played everywhere from Saturday night parties to Sunday morning pulpits. Though he prefers to hear his songs in the latter, he’s happy to lend a dose of his bass-heavy Bible music to the clubs, where people may need it most. “I don’t think everyone understands where I really come from,” says Franklin, who’s gained a few critics for what some would call his too-contemporary gospel sounds. “People think I’m trying to be urban, but they don’t know that I was influenced more by hip-hop and R&B than I was gospel. The church I was raised in was not very musical.”
After taking time off from recording to oversee his in-the-works autobiographical feature film, Church Boy, Franklin recently returned to the musical landscape with his eleventh disc, The Fight of My Life. The self-described “Jesus dude” talks exclusively to Essence.com about his struggle to complete his latest album, how confession is good for the soul, and why the African-American church needs a makeover.
Essence.com: You recently released your eleventh album, The Fight of My Life. What are you fighting?
Kirk Franklin: The same thing everybody’s fighting for, mama. I’m fighting to survive. I think everybody is trying to hold on to everything that they have right now. Fighting to believe, fighting for family, fighting faith. Fighting to give up your will for God’s will.
Essence.com: I’m looking at the album cover right now and you look cut up. You’ve been in the gym, haven’t you?
K.F.: (Laughs) Well, I try to do a little something, something. Maybe some push ups here and there.
Essence.com: So talk to me about some of the messages on this album. What do you want people to take away from this one?
K.F.: Really it’s the same message. My message is, Jesus and His power are sufficient for any situation in life. I talk about Him and marriage and life and childhood. Him and our struggles and our fears. Him and our anger, our depressions, our worries. It’s me wanting to take Him and apply Him to every area of life.
Essence.com: I was listening to “A Whole Nation,” the song about fatherless sons, and I wondered what your relationship was like with your own family since you were raised by your aunt. Is there a relationship now?
K.F.: No, there’s no relationship with my mother and father. Just watching my mother’s personality, and her swagger and how she dealt with stuff… she’s just a woman I choose not to be around. I’m not going to say that I don’t have some anger or frustration about that, because I do. The older I get the more I have.
Essence.com: I read where you said this album was very much a struggle to create. You felt like the songs just weren’t coming to you?
K.F.: This was one of the hardest albums I’ve ever done. I was down and discouraged because I was getting ready to work on the movie, Church Boy, and I’m a young buck to the film industry. I didn’t realize it was a whole lot of hurry up and wait. The script didn’t come in good and we had to start all over again and wait for three months while it was re-written. I had scheduled time off to work on the movie, so I had three months and no work. I’d cancelled some dates, I was supposed to be overseas and a lot that I wanted just didn’t happen for me. It was just a very dark time, a rough time.
Essence.com: What is the status of the movie?
K.F.: It’s waiting for the writer’s strike to be over.
Essence.com: I know that the movie is based on your book where you talk about your issues with pornography addiction, with your parents abandoning you, and becoming a young father. You just lay it all out there…
K.F.: I’ve been very promiscuous, smoking weed, drinking and clubbing, acting a fool. Just all of that.
Essence.com: Has there been any backlash by you putting so much out there?
K.F.: I believe our culture is more comfortable with people getting busted for their wrongs than they are for people telling their wrongs. I think that people confessing their wrongs makes people uncomfortable, makes them have to question telling their own wrongs. When you see someone on Access Hollywood and the cameras are watching them with a jacket over their head and handcuffs on, for some reason in our culture that is easier to accept than somebody getting on TV saying, ‘hey ya’ll, this is something I’ve done wrong in my life, let me check my wrongs.’ That makes everybody else go, ‘well, am I supposed to be doing that too?’ It makes people have to face their own skeletons.
Essence.com: Was there any negative feedback from the community of faith after you appeared on Oprah to discuss your addiction to pornography?
K.F.: No, there were a lot of people who applauded me. People in my community had already heard the story. I was 29, almost 30 when I was struggling with that. It had been a testimony in the church for years before the Oprah show. That is a seven-year-old testimony for me.
Essence.com: I like that you make your struggles to be a Christian so public. You really let people know it’s not always easy.
K.F.: What people don’t understand is that when you become a Christian, there are some things that have to be worked out. It’s not ‘Boom! Magic. Everything’s gone.’ There is a process of maturing in certain areas. And that process is based on the community you have around you. If you get good teaching and a real good community of people that love you and walk through the process with you, then your process is going to be a lot better.
Essence.com: There’s been a lot of hoopla lately about well-paid, very influential ministers and how they make their money. What do you think of those Senate investigations? Should a preacher’s congregation have the same amount of wealth he does?
K.F.: My thoughts are that men and women that are doing good jobs for God’s kingdom will be exonerated. And those who have not been doing the right thing will be brought to light. I just hope that the message of Christ doesn’t get lost in any political moves by anyone’s hidden agenda to tear down Christian people.
Essence.com: What about the Juanita Bynum and Bishop Weeks scandal? That’s very public and very messy.
K.F.: I don’t have an opinion on what went down. I just pray for Juanita and her estranged husband, and I pray that they get the healing that I know they both need in these tough times.
Essence.com: One thing Bynum mentioned in our January cover story is that there are certain issues that are swept under he rug in the church, and domestic violence was one of them. Do you think that’s an issue that is overlooked?
K.F.: I’m quite sure that issue, like so many other issues in the African-American church, has been swept under the rug. The African-American church could use a spiritual makeover to bring the focus back on Jesus. If we were trying to be like Jesus, then you wouldn’t have to tell us to be involved in AIDS awareness, economic development, spousal abuse hotlines and programs. If we were trying to be more like Jesus, then we wouldn’t be beating on our wives and we wouldn’t be trying to take the dollar and live Big Willie-style. We would take the dollar and help build a community.
Photo Credit: Sarah A. Friedman