I'll confess that I didn't know much about Kirk Franklin. Still don't. I knew he was a big name in the gospel and Christian world, but that's simply not a world I've ever been a part of. Luckily, though, when I found myself face to face with him at last night's GRAMMY awards there was a new common language we could speak - Kanye West.
Incredibly, in the span of under 48 hours Franklin had performed with Kanye on Saturday Night Live and then flew cross country to collect his GRAMMY for Best Gospel Album, and so I asked him how those two events overlapped and separated. I had read that he's recieved a lot of criticism from the Christian community for working with Kanye, how did working on The Life of Pablo fit into his preaching of the gospel and gospel music?
“Music for me should be more like a mission. I don't work with an artist to try to blow up, but to see if the music can be medicine, if it can be therapeutic and serve a bigger purpose. Christian music, gospel music, sometimes you’ll fall asleep at church but music wakes you up, the song can speak to you in a way that’s puts a fire in you. So if I’m working with a mainstream artist I’m trying to find a bigger purpose. As a Christian I’m trying to shine the brighter light."
The debate between wading into the mainstream to bring the Christian message to a wider audience versus staying more exclusive and distancing yourself from the devils the mainstream can bring is a long-time debate in the gospel world and it's fascinating to see Kanye enter it. But don't think that Franklin is only an occasional dabbler in the hip-hop. When he was asked about "Jesus Walks" it quickly became apparent that he knew his rap music, and that he still maintains some good-natured jealousy over Kanye's breakthrough song.
"I was mad, why didn’t God give that to me? I love that record, I wanted it to be my record. But whether it’s Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole or Common there are a lot of artists, especially rappers, who come from a background with a faith based substance, and it’s time for that substance to be celebrated and appreciated.”
Maybe there isn't as big of a gap between gospel music and hip-hop as I had first assumed. It took meeting Kirk Franklin to teach me that, which I suppose is proof that his mission of spreading the word by working with Kanye is working. Prayers up.