by Brad Cope
The not-so-secret life of Kirk
Franklin: Gospels hip-hop superstar.
When Kirk Franklin agreed to
lead music at Mount Rose Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, the 11-year-old felt up to
the challenge. He had started playing piano at age 4. Three years later, a
gospel-recording studio offered him a contract. By sixth grade, his job at Mount Rose put
another item on Kirks growing resume and $100 in his pocket each month. But the
church didnt know that their new music leader was living a double life: Kirk was
spending a portion of his paychecks on marijuana.
Today, gospel superstar Kirk Franklin is on the right track, but he
still moves through secular music circles like a double agent. His latest CD, The Nu
Nation Project, raced up gospel, R&B and pop chartsand drew flak from
conservative gospel fans for its funky style. He uses his wild past to speak out against
secular critics. At one time schoolmates in his neighborhood would beat him up and call
him "Church Boy." Now Billboard calls him the best-selling gospel artist in
history. And this month the unpopular kid from the wrong side of town will wrap up a
56-city tour and release a greatest hits video. But unlike double agents, who betray one
side to support the other, Franklin cares for both sacred and secular.
"My failures and my inability to resist the temptations I fell
into are the proof that Ive been there," the 29-year-old writes in his tell-all
autobiography, Church Boy (Word). "But, thank God, today Ive been set
If I can break peoples hearts and touch them with music and laughter and
love so that theyll know, Yeah, there is a better way, then Ive
accomplished what Im here for."
The Mission Is the Music
The first track on The Nu Nation Project plays up Franklins dual
appeal. On "Interlude: The Verdict," a mock prosecutor accuses him of
"making gospel music too secular." A bell tolls three times, cueing up the
CDs first song, "Revolution." From the first beat, Franklin stands guilty
Lucky for us. Like "Stomp," his woofer-busting No. 1 single
from his last CD, "Revolution" sounds more like the artist formerly known as
Prince than the group still known as the Edwin Hawkins Singers. With guest vocals by
Brandy producer Rodney Jerkins, the song slams deadbeat dads, religious hypocrites and
lying politicians en route to a rap duet on the Second Coming. U2s Bono, Mary J.
Blige, R. Kelly and Crystal Lewis also crank up the volume on Franklins anthem of
compassion, "Lean On Me." To put his money where his mouth is, Franklin donated
$250,000 from the albums proceeds to the Burned Churches Fund, set up to rebuild
sacred buildings torched in the past several years.
Nontraditionalism abounds. The guitar solo that kicks off "Smile
Again" would make Jimi Hendrix weep. "He Loves Me," adds a touch of smoky
jazz to the mix. "Praise Joint (Remix)" samples Parliament-Funkadelics
"Flashlight"and "One Nation Under a Groove." Throughout the disc,
Franklins staccato outbursts"yessuh!"energize his two choirs,
the Family and Gods Property. Upshot: This is not your mothers gospel music.
Some critics say thats just the problem. They point to suggestive
lyrics on CDs by Franklins guest vocalists. Cheryl James, who rapped on
"Stomp," makes up one-third of steamy Salt-N-Pepa. Several cuts on Bliges
"Share My World" promote premarital sex. And Kellys latest CD sports a
parental warning label. Why include carnal artists on gospel albums?
"Jesus came for the sick and not the well," Franklin said.
"Im just trying to do what He did."
Vetting Church Boy
Kirk Franklin was born in a low-income neighborhood in Fort Worth
called Riversideand he almost didnt make it that far. His unmarried mother
considered abortion, but her aunt Gertrude convinced her to keep the child. After three
years of baby-sitting while his mother went out at night, Gertrude adopted Kirk.
She made sure he knew his way around the church. The odd
coupleGertrude was 64 when she took in Kirkwent to church at least twice a
week. While this experience exposed him to the music that would shape his career, it also
led to beatings from kids in the neighborhood, who applied a twisted logic to these
matters. They reasoned that boys who went to church were homosexuals. Kirk Franklin went
to church. Ergo, Kirk Franklin must be a homosexual. The beatings continued for years.
It didnt help that Gertrude made Kirk wear little suits with
knickers and booties until he turned 10. It didnt help that he grew almost 65
inchesthen stopped. It also didnt help that he lacked male role models. One
day in fourth grade, he wrote a limerick to describe his life:
There once was a kid named Kirk;
The kids all called him a jerk.
When he went out to play.
It turned into a rainy day.
That goofy little kid named Kirk.
This downward spiral stretched beyond grade school. While his music
career started to take off, the insecure teenager turned to drugs and sex. One girlfriend
gave birth to their son, Kerrion. Kirk became a single-parent father at 18. He found
himself taking his infant son on job interviews at churches.
Tragedy cut short his walk on the wild side. During the summer between
ninth and tenth grades, one of his friends accidentally shot himself to death while
searching for a tape in a closet. Kirk was devastated. A few weeks later, he knelt in
Gertrudes den and asked God to forgive his sins and to come into his life. He quit
smoking weed immediately, but struggled with sex. When Franklin promotes sexual
abstinence, he knows the difficulty of the challenge.
"Because sex is such a powerful thing, when it doesnt have
any boundaries its very destructive," he says. "You carry luggage. Teen
pregnancy. Sexually transmitted diseases. Its hard to learn how to become committed
in marriage. And if youre doing it, its never gonna get better. Its only
gonna get worse."
Now married with three children, including Kerrion, Franklin hopes to
leave the past behind and realize some big dreams. Plans include the Nu Nation Convention,
a Christian youth conference scheduled for Dallas next summer. He also wants to launch
groups for young people called Nu Nation chapters in major U.S. cities.
While Franklin may play double agent in the church and the world, his
lyrics leave no doubt where his true allegiance lies. On "My Desire" he sings,
"My desire is to please You. To be more and more like You, Jesus. Each and every day,
I lift my hands and say, I want to be more like You."
And who can go wrong with that?
Breakaway Magazine, April, published by Focus on the Family. Copyright
1999. Focus on the Family. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Used by