Over the past decade and a half, gospel crossover superstar Kirk Franklin has been an uplifting voice for a generation of listeners seeking strength beyond the struggles of this life. Yet five Grammy Awards, 11 Dove Awards, and a string of multi-platinum albums haven’t kept him immune from life’s daily spiritual battles. On his latest disc, he confronts his demons while fully relying on God to help him overcome The Fight Of My Life (on his Fo Yo Soul Entertainment label via Zomba Gospel). Leading up to the album’s release on December 18, its first single ‘Declaration (This Is It!)’ – which builds upon a melodic foundation based on the classic song by Kenny Loggins & Michael McDonald – is quickly rising on the gospel airplay charts.
The Fort Worth, Texas native has truly been revolutionizing gospel music for the masses since signing with GospoCentric Records in 1993. His platinum-selling debut Kirk Franklin & The Family spent nearly two years on the gospel charts – where it was #1 for over 40 weeks – while also crossing over to the R&B charts. After following up with a popular Christmas album, Franklin continued his reign in 1996 with Whatcha Lookin’ 4, which hit #1 on the Gospel and Christian charts and reached #2 R&B chart. This release also earned Franklin his first Grammy, for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album. Then in 1997, his God’s Property from Kirk Franklin’s Nu Nation album, featuring the #1 R&B single ‘Stomp’ – a collaboration with Salt-N-Pepa’s Cheryl James – topped the gospel and R&B charts and rose to #3 on Billboard’s pop chart.
Franklin’s Midas touch continued on his three subsequent, best’selling albums: The Nu Nation Project (1998), The Rebirth of Kirk Franklin (2002) and Hero (2005). Franklin’s all-star collaborations over the years have included working with R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, Bono, Stevie Wonder and fellow gospel star Yolanda Adams.
Despite Franklin’s success in several genres, he admits that in a mostly secular music industry, certain doors have closed in his face due to his unapologetic rep as ‘that Jesus dude.’ But asked about the source and inspiration for the music that has led him to this point, he won’t compromise in asserting, ‘The songs I’m writing are just kind of where God’s speaking from in my life these days. I’m just trying to be obedient so that I can be led to do the right thing and to be what He’s calling me to be. People talk about me sometimes like I’m trying to endorse religion through music, but nothing about what I’m doing is religious. In fact, I am not a religious person at all.’
‘I’m a child of God and a man who loves Jesus,’ Franklin adds, ‘and that wonderful love relationship doesn’t birth anything about the man made religious rules that keep people in a spiritual prison. I create music to try to reach people with the gospel message, but I have to be careful because I never want to compromise truth for entertainment’s sake. That’s where accountability comes in. I surround myself with people who can hold my actions accountable so that the message and the integrity of it is never lost. I am a firm believer that every song and gift is from above, and I just have to stay connected to the Giver. He promised he would speak through me. Everything in my life is about God’s timing and I have to be content with that.’
On The Fight Of My Life, Franklin mines familiar groove-intensive territory as he takes the listener on a spirit-filled journey full of bold expressions of faith that are balanced with many Psalms-like questions of doubt. ‘Help Me Believe,’ is a letter set to music that speaks for those who may be doubting their own faith but are looking to God for re-confirmation and strength. For those not struggling so much, there’s the more traditional, tambourine-shaking, Sunday morning joy song ‘He Will Supply.’ Franklin has always been simple and direct with his song titles; ‘Jesus’ is a hip and cheerful ode that simply celebrates his love of the Almighty.
In calling the project The Fight Of My Life, Franklin is not only chronicling his own struggles of life and faith, but those of friends, family and the world around him. Like all insightful artists, he makes the personal very universal and vice versa. “Carol and Michael are fighting for their marriage,’ he says. ‘Deborah is fighting to keep from losing her mind. Jeff is fighting to keep his home. David is fighting for his faith. Welcome to The Fight Of My Life.’
The concept for the album came from just watching a lot people around me and observing the climate of our culture,’ he adds. ‘People are engaged in the fight of their life, losing homes, facing unemployment, fighting for their marriages and dealing with family members on drugs. This past year, I read that the highest-prescribed medication in America is anti-depressants. A lot of faithful Christians are losing faith in the church. And I’ve got different issues in my own life where I feel like I’m fighting for air. It’s like one blow after another for so many folks. I feel privileged that through this album I can let people know that the battle I’m in is the same as theirs.
‘I’m saying that life is always gonna be a struggle, but what we have to remember is that we don’t have to fight the battle by ourselves,’ Franklin continues. ‘Ultimately, the battle is not ours. It’s going to be proven that Christ is going to give us the victory, so we don’t have to live in fear.’
The first single from the album, ‘Declaration (This Is It!),’ is an upbeat and encouraging song that re-interprets the classic pop hit, ‘This Is It,’ co-written by Kenny Loggins & Michael McDonald, by addressing survival through the everyday trials and tribulations through a positive declaration of one’s purpose in life. ‘This song is a statement that ‘serves notice’ on unnecessary frustrations, relationships and circumstances that continue to attack our life,’ says Franklin. ‘Unlike the children of Israel who wandered in the wilderness, when we totally surrender to God, what took 40 years, God ‘can’ fix in 40 minutes. I just wanted to declare that with His help, we won’t be going through the same junk over and over. We have to be committed to making changes so that we won’t allow ourselves to have the same messes in 2008 as we had this year! On a personal level, because of my relationship with Christ and who He is in me, I’m an ‘overcomer’. I don’t have to settle for the same old stuff.’
When asked what kind of advice he would give to a young performer who feels a calling from God to embark on the kind of music-based ministry that launched Franklin to stardom, the performer says, ‘The first thing you should do is decide, can you commit your life to this course, because the last thing we need is another half hearted soldier who’s going to give up the minute they face a struggle. I’ve had to count the cost of what I do, and it’s heavy sometimes. I know I’d have more mainstream success if I was a mainstream rapper like T-Pain, and certain opportunities are not open to me because I have chosen to base my musical life on Jesus. But I’m in it to win it, and I urge people to ask the question, ‘who do you love more, Him or yourself?’ That’s not to say I don’t have my moments where I holler at God for taking me through stuff I don’t want to deal with. But at the end of the day, I’m blessed to have a genuine Father-son relationship with God. I didn’t have a daddy of my own growing up, so this is really true freedom for me. We know Jesus is sensitive to everything we’re going through, because He went through it too. So we can go to him with any emotion, and He can help us get through it.’
Jonathan Widran is a free-lance music/entertainment journalist who contributes regularly to Music Connection, Jazziz and All Music Guide. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is also on Google+