Kirk Franklin is the Minister of Music for the hip-hop generation (and the best hype man across any genre with the exception of Spliff Star). His music was groundbreaking — and sometimes scandalous — and changed the relationship between gospel and secular music forever.
For Vibe, I wrote about how Kirk Franklin changed gospel music (and the gospel music business).
Music Sermon: How Kirk Franklin Remixed Gospel Music
In honor of Kirk Franklin's 49th birthday, #MusicSermon chronicles how the former VIBE cover star remixed gospel for a…
But I also want to go through some of his best bops.
The biggest reason Kirk was so revolutionary was his hip-hop approach to production. He sampled everything from ‘80s pop to ‘90s hip-hop hits in Jesus’ name, and floated over the tracks with ad libs on par with only one other combo producer/hype man/front man. He’s the gospel Puffy.
But before we get into all that, we’ll still start at the beginning.
Before Kirk was ad libbin’ all over tracks for the Holy Ghost, he was solidly in the contemporary gospel pocket. He made his name directing some of gospel’s prominant choir’s, like the Georgia Mass Choir.
Very very rare instance for Kirk singing lead.
“Why We Sing” was a traditional contemporary gospel song, but was still an update on a classic, making is accessible to a younger and broader audience. It was not only a massive gospel and contemporary Christian hit, it was an R&B hit.
When the Family dropped their Christmas album, we saw how real Kirk was gonna get with it. The new jack swing feel wasn’t a new thing; alot of contemporary gospel was playing with that sound. But flippin’ Biggie lyrics for Christ? 😳
Also, Kirk was dressed like a member of Jodeci
How live did you get when you got to sing “Melodies From Heaven” in the youth choir because you knew the “Anniversary” sample was coming and it made you feel like ya’ll were getting away with something?
And then, the remix.
I know you know your part. Go ‘head and sing.
WHOOOOO sits down and says “You know what would be really fire under this song about the Holy Spirit raining down on us? Junior Mafia”?
Somebody anointed, that’s who.
Lots of young music ministers in the ‘90s (and now, and I imagine always) struggled with balancing their love of secular music with their calling to gospel. Andraè Crouch opened a door to adding a contemporary R&B feel, but Kirk went further than that.
With God’s Property (and a production deal with Interscope), Kirk really leaned into breaking the gospel sonic barriers…to mixed reaction.
The song and album were unprecedented crossover hits. #1 at pop. First gospel song in MTV rotation. Triple platinum sales…
But for some folks, gospel with Funkadelic samples and rap features (even a saved rapper)…too much.
But Kirk said (warned?) at the beginning of the song, “For those of you who think gospel music has gone too far…you ain’t heard nothin’ yet. And if ya don’t know, now ya know”
Kirk’s argument has always been that gospel is not a sound, it’s a message. And he was delivering the good news in familiar packaging.
…Like a Jacksons sample
…Or collaborations with secular producers like Darkchild (who also happens to be a PK) and full Hype-Williams-esque videos.
Also, this is one of my favorite videos in life.
ALL MY REAL LIVE SAINTS PUT YOUR HANDS UP
PUT YOUR HANDS UP
PUT YOUR HANDS UP
Now, Kirk is also guilty of not so much sampling as just changing lyrics.
Like for “Gonna Be a Lovely Day”…
Which is just…”A Lovely Day”
And “September,” which I don’t even need to post a reference track for, cause I mean come on…
But some of his flips were unexpected.
Like some Angela Winbush…
… in “Whatcha Looking For”
Or Patrice Rushen…
… For “Looking for You”
(Which is why it’s a JAM)
Or even soulful ass white boys Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald…
…for “This is It”
Obviously though, Kirk is the biggest gospel artist of his generation bc he also does straight contemporary gospel so well. Crazy w/ pen game and arrangements (he was directing the adult choir at 11 years old).
Every former youth or YA choir member knows some Kirk. SANG TAMELA.
(Side note, Kirk also wrote and produced “Take Me to the King”)
Raise your hand if you know your part by heart for more than 3 Kirk Franklin songs. 🙋🏾♀️
(Another rare clip of Kirk actually singing lead)
Kirk be with you in the club (at a Holy Ghost party, of course) on Saturday night, and kickin’ it with your Nana on Bobby Jones Gospel on Sunday. And that’s not easy. At all.
But he can find inspiration in the most seemingly unlikely places…
Like this song…
…is 180 degrees from this song.
And it’s kinda sample inception, cause it all comes from this song.
…but I digress.
Here’s the rub, though — as much as Kirk deserves credit for making gospel music more accessible to a wider audience (and increasing the revenue threshold for gospel artists; he was the first gospel act to go platinum), he’s also part of gospel’s shift to a simpler praise-and-worship style.
That’s a whole other convo, though.
Kirk once said, “I wanna give you Jesus, but Jesus with an 808.”
Let’s thank him for making gospel fun, for letting us know worship can take many forms, and for giving us a new generation of gospel that felt like our own.
If you know it, sing along
BAM … Playlist!