Almost two decades ago, a guy named Kirk Franklin came on the gospel music scene and bust the doors wide open. He was the P. Diddy of the genre, and gave the sound the shot-in-the-arm it needed back in the '90s, and his top-selling music picked up where the Winans family left off.
Franklin’s music gave gospel a hip-hop bounce that praised the Lord. In 1992, he recorded his debut album, Kirk Franklin & the Family (it wasn’t released until 1993), and the album resonated with secular radio and remained at number one on the Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart for 42 weeks.
Franklin’s debut album was the first gospel music album to sell more than a million units, and the music that project produced held its own on mainstream radio right alongside some of hip-hop and R&B’s more riskier sounds. Franklin, now 42, was innovative, and the Texas-bred performer helped to soar the music to new heights.
And he’s about to do it again.
This week, Franklin announced that he will be teaming up with super concert producers Live Nation, to bring four of the most successful performers in gospel music history on a nationwide tour. The tour, All The King’s Men, kicks off in September—tickets go on sale Friday—and will feature Franklin, Marvin Sapp, Donnie McClurkin and Isreal Houghton.
EBONY.com catches up with Franklin who talks the tour, his career and what the next two decades might look like.
EBONY: This tour is a pretty big deal for gospel music …
Kirk Franklin: Oh yes! It shows that there is an audience there. We’ve done it on our own, out of our own pockets and we’ve done it at a very small level and we’ve been very successful at it, but now, Live Nation is bringing just a-whole-nother level of mass marketing to the table. This just gives people a chance to see what we’ve always believed was there for years: that there’s a big audience for this music and for this type of inspirational entertainment.
EBONY: And quite frankly for whenever reason even when there’s a slump in sales with the music industry as a whole, gospel music thrives or at least remains consistent. Why do you think that is?
KF: I believe that there’s nothing that can speak to the soul of a person like reminding them that there’s a purpose for their lives, and this music does that. Music speaks to the soul of people’s hunger for something bigger that science can’t answer, that politics can’t fix and that money can’t solve, you know? And as long as we’re gonna be human beings, we’re always gonna look for that.
EBONY: Next year, you’ll officially celebrate 20 years in gospel music. Does it feel like it’s been nearly two decades?
KF: Not at all. I’m really humbled and thankful for all I’ve been able to do.
EBONY: What’s been the key to your longevity?
KF: This is probably not going to sound all hype and all fancy, but it’s been God’s grace. There’s nothing special I’m doing, that I can promise you. I’m not doing anything special, man. I’m just striving to try to live what I sing, man, that’s what I’m striving to do. Far from perfect, but I’m not the craziest guy on the planet.
EBONY: That said, you’ve always been very forthcoming even when things have been very trying for you. (Franklin has talked very openly about recovering from porn addiction)…
KF: Oh, I heal as I reveal. That’s kind of like I like to say it. Whether it’s some things I got introduced to as a kid or being adopted, being abandoned and being hurt. Even in the church and by religion or whatever it may be, I heal as I reveal and I become a better man for it. It’s like I’m becoming a better father and, a better dad, and so it works for me. I’m quite sure it’s not always the most popular thing to do, but who cares? I mean it’s not a popularity contest, when you sign up and say that you’re Christian. You’re kind of signing up to be the guy at the back of the line and you identify with things that are not sexy and pop culture. If you find yourself in those platforms, then you’re there to try to make a difference. You’re not there to try to be the next celebrity, that’s never the agenda. And if that is an agenda for you, then you got your priorities wrong in the first place.
EBONY: That has to be a very vulnerable place for you as a gospel artist, right?
KF: I’m very comfortable there. I am. I think one of my problems is that I do talk too much. I talk a little too much. But I’m very at peace, because like I said, I heal as I reveal.
EBONY: That’s the title of your next book. So next month, you come back for the fifth season of BET’s "Sunday Best", as the host. What will we be seeing this season?
KF: First of all, I’m very blown away that the audience keeps growing for the show. Last year, "Sunday Best" was, like, the number three show for African Americans 18-49 and USA Today had us behind "Single Ladies" and "Basketball Wives", and I thought that was pretty cool. I mean, to look at USA Today, and see "Sunday Best" as the number three show behind "Basketball Wives" and "Single Ladies" for a few weeks, coming and going. It just showed me that people want to be inspired. It’s almost like, if you give the little kids in Africa just rice all the time, you know, they’re going to think rice is the best thing in the world until they get some chicken and some steak. And so if urban programming is always going to show our beautiful women fighting each other, and calling each other out of their names, and disrespecting each other, and that’s the only programming that the suits think that our people are going to want to watch, then that’s all they’re going to watch until you put something else on. You know?
EBONY: How does being a part of that show inspire or influence the music that you make?
KF: It’s not necessarily inspiring the music as much as it is just inspiring me. It’s inspiring me to see that people can be introduced to the thing that I love very dear to my heart. This music, this genre is very important to me and it’s very powerful and it’s something that I really, really, really believe in.
EBONY: You took some hits when you first arrived on the scene. Your music—although it was gospel—sounded like what we heard in the club. First time I heard "Why We Sing," it was at a party and was mixed in with R. Kelly’s “Bump ‘n’ Grind.” That also meant your message was getting out in unlikely places …
KF: Yeah, you know, you never get into it for that to happen, so when something like that happens you try to figure out how you feel. I think that the greatest demise to people is pride. You know? And I think that too much absorption of yourself is a very dangerous thing. I don’t think it’s nothing wrong with trying to make sure that your own game, and trying to make sure that you’re executing right and that you are staying current and that you’re making sure that whatever you’re presenting that it’s connecting with people, but after that…you know, I don’t do a lot of reading the billboards and reading the charts and trying to do all that just because I don’t wanna get absorbed with too much of being consumed with myself. I just wanna try to see what people are going through, trying to feel people’s pain. When I see something about somebody listening to my song before they go into heart surgery and, you know, I was playing your music by my mom’s bedside as she was dying or by my son’s bedside while he was dying and at a funeral they played…one more person…I saw on Twitter that somebody played "I Smile" at a funeral and it made everybody [smile]…that’s the kind of stuff that you connect with, but you don’t ever want to get too deep in it, just because you want to make sure that you stay in the position of the pen. You know what I mean? God’s the writer, you’re the pen and you know your role and you play it well.
EBONY: What would you love for the next two decades to look like?
KF: Well, hopefully with this tour and this new relationship with Live Nation, I can be able to usher in the genre at new levels of visual presentations. That’s what I want to be able to do is to be that guy, hopefully, God willing, that can be able to usher in how music looks, on the visual level.