Kirk Franklin Proves Christians Can Reach the mainstream with Gospel
The name Kirk Franklin instantly brings to mind grandiose mega gospel hits, choirs, and his characteristic praise yell. However, one of the more overlooked but equally notable legacies for the artist appears in his reach toward mainstream hip-hop.
In a write up by the Fader, author Briana Younger cited Franklin’s influence in not only music but in black culture, as a reference point to show how his always crystal clear message of Jesus has impacted the mainstream.
She also stated that it is Franklin’s music that inspired the latest offerings of Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo and Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book. Now before any detractors say those are not gospel records because of their message, in this instance, the reference is purely sonically.
Kanye and Chance use a lot of the big church and choir feels on their newest tracks. Their rapping is aggressive, but at the same time assertive in a way where it sounds like they are exposing themselves. This is a trait Franklin often uses in his music. He digs deep into the soul and leaves a little heart on the track.
She summed it up perfectly with this line, “His music assumes the imperfections of its audience, and chooses to encourage rather than preach or, worse, condemn.”
Looking at Kanye and Chance’s latest projects, you can find seeds of that statement, more so with the younger emcee than West. Chance spends a lot of time talking to God in his songs and acknowledging his imperfections. The example of the song “Long Time” was used in which he raps, “I’m calling out to God/ Your little angel’s falling down/ Save me from my darkened cloud/ Reach your hands and arms around.”
West’s TLOP is sprinkled with Biblical references, but the majority of the record is not what Christian music would consider, “Christian music.” However, the song “Ultra Light Beams” is filled with the exuberance of a stadium blasting anthem. It is no surprise that Franklin and Chance were involved in creating that song.
This excerpt taken from the Fader tells you everything you need to know about Franklin’s influence on Chance. “I grew up in the church,” Chance told Chicago’s 107.5 WGCI in a 2014 interview. “Sunday Candy,” the lead single from last year’s Social Experiment album Surf, “is specifically is dedicated to my grandmother who kept me into church so that’s a big feel on a new thing.” He went on to describe Franklin as a “musical genius,” cite him as an influence, and express a desire to one day meet the gospel artist.”
A slew of artists has called Franklin a “genius” and an “influencer” in music. The mid-90s saw him and the God’s Property choir churn out hit after hit that wasn’t just part of the churches, but also a part of the mainstream culture, as songs reached MTV and radio stations.
Kirk Franklin’s 1997 “Stomp (Remix)” featured a Christ-centered-message and had help from Salt-N-Pepa. It hit No. 3 on the Billboard 200, and the top spot on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts.
“Lean on Me” had Mary J. Blige and R. Kelly and the music video for “Revolution” was looking like something Diddy, Mase, and Biggie would put out.
He saw black culture’s gravitation toward hip-hop and used that as a catalyst to transform gospel music and bring it to the young people. Franklin helped make it hip and cool, and he never once watered down Jesus.
Franklin was impacting mainstream culture in a meaningful way even before the litany of Christian emcees were able to now. Before Lecrae, NF, and Andy Mineo, there was Kirk Franklin. Before the whole Christian rapper vs rapper who is a Christian debate, Kirk was just being Kirk and was able to sit at whatever table he wanted – sinless, sinful, or sinning. He is proof that you don’t have to water down the gospel or separate yourself from a label. His musical prowess, passion for the Lord and the ability to speak to a culture made him respected in all circles that now even 25 years later, artists still want to make music with him.
Franklin may not have helped not helped Kanye and Chance make a “Christian album,” but he did help point them in the right direction. Who knows what’s next to come.
Read the full article on the Fader here.