Out Here

Bless this mess

The Nu Nation Project
Kirk Franklin
Gospo Centric/Interscope

Kirk Franklin is preacher as pop star, a Man of God who worships the shiniest coin and the shiniest song. He has brought Jesus into the mainstream like no one since The Artist Formerly Known as a Jewish Carpenter himself; that's what happens when you set scripture to a funky hip-hop beat, when you call for a revolution while gettin' down with the man upstairs. Franklin is a prophet for profit, spreading The Word while hawking a few thousand of his own; remove the disc from the Nu Nation Project jewel case, and there's an advertisement for Church Boy, Franklin's autobiography "now available at bookstores everywhere!" Not that his motives are disreputable--who among us dares question a Man of God?--but, hey, men of the (silken) cloth gotta eat and buy Armani too. (Then again, didn't Stryper attempt the same thing by preaching in Spandex--and then get crucified for it? Oh, well. Sin and be saved.)

Franklin--born in the tough Riverside section of Fort Worth, a gang-banger who did drugs and had his own child out of wedlock till he found God in the bullet planted in a dead friend--is actually the most complicated of all pop stars, offering salvation wrapped in a slick dope jam. With songs such as "Riverside" and "Something About the Name Jesus," Franklin and The Family are gospel by default only, so far removed from the Mighty Clouds of Joy and the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi they might as well be the Wu-Tang Clan. Franklin claims his mission is to educate and enlighten the children about the scriptures, which is a noble enough ambition--if, that is, you're willing to accept the aphorism that belief alone can feed a baby and pay the rent. Yet Franklin insists on portraying himself as the martyr caught up in his own holy war; it's problematic, at best, when a preacher makes himself the center of attention. Is this record about Jesus and living virtuously and doing the right thing, or is it about Kirk Franklin's obsession with himself?

The album begins with an almost laughable, totally self-righteous skit straight off a dozen Death Row releases: Reporters wait outside a Dallas courthouse to hear the verdict in the case of Kirk Franklin vs. The State of the World. He is charged with "making gospel music too secular [and] tearing down the walls of religion"; have you ever heard the sound of a man patting himself on the back? Then the disc charges into "Revolution," which sounds like an MC Hammer outtake. Never has a song been more misnamed. The clincher comes one song later, when R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, and Bono drop by the church (or, in Bono's case, make a collect call) for one of those we-are-the-world numbers that made each Kirk Franklin record go platinum. Never has anyone made the promise of being born again sound so unappealing. If heaven sounds like this, give me The Black Album and an express ticket to hell.

--Robert Wilonsky


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