Kirk Franklin Isn't Selling Out God, Even If He Did Work With Kanye West
Kirk Franklin, a real, live gospel singer and not a CGI animation.
It's been an exciting start to the year for Kirk Franklin — sometimes more exciting than he would've liked. In February alone, he won his 10th Grammy, was featured on Kanye West’s new album, The Life of Pablo, and performed with him on Saturday Night Live.
But many of the Dallas-based gospel singer's follwers were displeased with this non-secular collaboration, so much so that by the time he came back home for a gig at Majestic Theatre last week he was about ready to stop talking about it. “I’m not trying to be a spiritual leader to the stars,” Franklin says. “I think that title is very gross. What I want to say about the Kanye thing is that whoever wants me to be in their life — whether it’s a rapper, celebrity, janitor, banker, newsman, teacher — my job is to be a light for God and Christ.
“Whoever I’m with and whatever I’m doing, that’s my purpose,” he adds.
Instead, Franklin has been concentrating on his ferocious tour schedule. He's been on tour for five weeks, and his show Sunday at the Majestic came at the tail of a 25-show run. He has an incredible 15-piece choir band directed by an absolute monster, Shaun Martin. But with fans in several different countries, the contemporary gospel star has been keeping this pace for years.
“We’ve been grinding,” Franklin says. In fact, for the sake of his voice, he's only willing to spare a few minutes to talk. “I try not to make a living by just killing myself on the road. I try to diversify because you can’t just make a career on the road.”
But no one connects with a crowd like Franklin, who has the charisma of a great preacher. He turned the Majestic into a ministry on Sunday. A huge crowd stood dancing, clapping, singing and praising through two sets. Dancing, singing and playing piano, Franklin gives a high-energy performance. No less than six backup vocalists and the baddest church band you will ever see make this fusion of gospel, hip-hop and rock an incomparable live experience.
After wrapping up the tour, Franklin’s primary concern is opening an office and recording studio in Arlington this fall for his label, Fo Yo Soul. But in addition to recording his music, he wants to find ways to help young artists. “We’re really excited about trying to make a longer impression with the community,” Franklin says. “What saved me from the hood was Christian faith motivated by music.”
Franklin has no memories of a time before he made music; he was offered a record contract when he was 7. “Music was always a part of me,” Franklin says. “It’s very hard to grow up in the African American church and for music to not be in your veins. It’s just part of the fabric of who we are as people, especially black musicians. The music is always in the atmosphere, it’s always in the furniture, it’s always in the clothes, it’s always in the food.”
The music was always there, but Franklin tried to find his way spiritually when he was young and it’s something he would like to help others avoid. “I didn’t want to be looked at as the corny little church kid,” Franklin admits. “I kind of got into a lot of trouble, tried to be cool with the cool kids. But a friend of mine got killed and that changed the narrative of my whole life.”
Franklin is surprised when asked about the status of the long-planned film adaptation of his autobiography, Church Boy. “Funny you said that,” he says, and laughs. “That’s still on the table. We’ll see what happens.” He declined to comment on what stage the film is in, but hinted at a surprise coming.
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“I see trust declining and people not going to church as much as they used to,” Franklin says, when asked about the title of his latest album, Losing My Religion. He feels that sometimes the laws and rules of the world obscure people from the love of God. “It’s not about how bad we are," he adds. "The meaning of the title was, ‘Losing the religion and gaining the relationship.’ Rules without relationships lead to rebellion. We can make people fall more in love with God by showing them how much God loves them.”
Even with those societal obstacles, Franklin believes anyone can be saved — even, as he said at the end of one of his songs Sunday, Kanye West. “I never want to be the type of person with a narrative that becomes about who I walk in life with,” Franklin says. “I try to keep my relationships private so people can trust me. It’s nothing controversial or mystical."
While he tries to avoid bringing it up, he acknowledges that some of his fans did not approve of his collaboration with West. There are even videos on YouTube that accuse him of being Lucifer or part of the Illuminati; it makes him laugh.
“Sometimes I get flak,” Franklin says. “I get my feet dirty. But it’s cool; I try to continue to be who I am. Sometimes that won’t always be accepted; it may be rejected. But I try to be very committed to trying to be who I believe God is calling me to be in people’s lives.”
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