Kirk Dewayne Franklin (born January 26, 1970) is an American gospel musician, widely regarded as the modern face of Gospel music. Born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, Franklin was abandoned by his mother and raised by his great aunt Gertrude, who helped him cultivate a talent for music at a young age. Raised in the church, in his teen years Kirk rebelled against his religious upbringing leading to a teen pregnancy and getting kicked out of school.
After a friend was shot to death, Kirk returned to Gospel music, and created his first gospel group, "The Humble Hearts". Milton Biggham, a gospel music legend heard of the aspiring artist and chose Kirk to be a choir leader for the DFW Mass Choir, one the largest and most well known in the country at the time, performing some of Kirk's music. Not long afterwards, Kirk founded a new group with friends and associates, "the Family", becoming "Kirk Franklin and the Family". They were signed to fledgling gospel record label Gospo Centric, and they released their self titled debut album in 1993, which launched Kirk into super stardom almost overnight, remaining on the Gospel charts for two years, going platinum, becoming the first gospel album to sell over a million units and introducing several songs which remain church staples to this day.
Kirk Franklin's career, much like Bob Dylan's, can be divided into periods: the "Kirk Franklin and the Family Period", the "Nu Nation Period", and the ongoing "Solo Period"
The first period started with his debut album, which saw Kirk and the Family become gospel stars overnight. Two years later, Kirk followed it up with...a Christmas album, Kirk Franklin & the Family Christmas. Despite the stigma generally attached to Christmas CDs and the general feeling that this was his weakest album, being the crummiest piece of gold in a pile of gold doesn't stop it from being golden. Still fondly remembered as the Christmas album among gospel fans, and possibly the only one they owned, if only because it isn't just a soulless rendition of Christmas Music. Kirk also did something that few artist do with Christmas albums: wrote original music. In particular, the song "Now Behold the Lamb" from that album has become so ubiquitous among gospel music lovers that most people tend to forget it was meant to be a Christmas song, as its performed year around. The album also featured his first experimentation with Hip Hop and Jazz. This album was followed up with Watcha Lookin' 4, which featured some songs with a more hip hop infused sound. Despite being a smashing success, reaching #23 on the Billboard 200, the album is not generally as well remembered now as his debut, but is still considered a strong album regardless.
The second period, the Nu Nation period, began with Kirk's next album. For this album, Kirk made some big changes. Instead of working with the Family, Kirk instead worked with a local Dallas choir called God's Property. Kirk also decided to move away from the "Churchy" sound of past albums, and embraced a more hip-hop and contemporary R&B infused sound. The result was God's Property from Kirk Franklin's Nu Nation, his fourth studio album. This album single handedly made Kirk a household name. It went triple platinum, becoming the best selling gospel album ever (which it still remains), topped the R&B/hip hop charts for five consecutive weeks and the lead single "Stomp", became one of the first gospel singles to get major airplay on MTV. "Stomp" was also performed by Kirk and God's Property everywhere, from All That to Soul Train. The album propelled him to super stardom, but also won him criticism from old school gospel fans for its move towards more modern "secular" music. They would really get angry with Kirk's next album. Nu Nation Project, released a year later in 1998, set people on fire. Kirk flexed his music muscles, swinging into Jazz, R&B, old style gospel, hip hop, rock ballads and everything in between, and remade two Bill Withers songs ("Lean on Me" and "Gonna Be A Lovely Day"). Kirk also, most controversially, worked alongside secular artists from outside the gospel music industry who guest stared on the album, including Rodney Jerkins (Darkchild), Mary J. Blige, Bono (from the band U2) and R. Kelly. The album also featured the Family, God's Property, and two new choirs One Nation Crew and the mysterious Nu Nation, as well as numerous gospel and Christian artists. This album was also a hit, but the more "street" feeling of the album split the gospel fanbase and made him a target of criticism. Then, it all came crashing down. That same year, God's Property sued Franklin over a contract dispute. Two years later in 2000, The Family would also sue Franklin. Franklin managed to release one more album with his group One Nation Crew (1NC) called Kirk Franklin Presents 1NC, but disbanded it after one tour.
The third period began after this, with Franklin going solo, with an unnamed group of dedicated singers singing his songs, releasing his aptly titled The Rebirth of Kirk Franklin. He has remained a solo artist since, but has retained a steady stream of albums, generally releasing one at two to four year intervals, and they continue to go platinum. Today, Kirk is the biggest gospel artist in the world, with seven Grammys under his belt, numerous other accolades and awards and millions sold and he shows no signs of slowing down. Kirk has over his career branched out, being involved in several film soundtracks, including The Prince of Egypt, and producing the soundtrack to the film Kingdom Come. He has also branched into acting,having guest stared on Sister, Sister and The Proud Family, and appearing in the film Something To Sing About. Interestingly, the man almost never appears as himself. This is especially egregious in Sister, Sister, where in an earlier episode, one of the twins is trying to get his autograph (he is never seen on screen) and he guest stars in a later episode as a completely different person!
- 1993: Kirk Franklin and Family
- 1995: Christmas
- 1996: Whatcha Lookin' 4
- 1997: God's Property
- 1998: The Nu Nation Project
- 2000: Kirk Franklin Presents 1NC
- 2002: The Rebirth of Kirk Franklin
- 2005: Hero
- 2007: The Fight of My Life
- 2011: Hello Fear
- 2002: A Season OF Remixes
- 2006: Songs For The Storm Vol. 1&2
And You Know These Tropes Man!
- Album Title Drop: The entirety of the song "Hero", for the album Hero.
- Album Filler: Well known for generally avoiding this like the plague, especially in his most recent albums. Earlier albums had some. God's Property in particular had had three tracks which could be called filler, but that was mainly because they were not written by Kirk. No, most egregious use of this was on The Nu Nation Project. Not only did Kirk have an extended intro and an interlude (both mainly aimed at people who criticized him for moving from traditional gospel) he had on two song snippets, not short songs, song snippets, one of which was less than a minute long, like they were some kind of teaser. If you wanted the full version of one of the songs, you would have had to buy a hard to find single (thankfully, "Love (Remix)" is now on Youtube), but no word on the other.
- The Cameo/ Special Guest: When appearing on TV shows and Movies, this is usually how he is portrayed, but he never plays himself. But guaranteed, he will play some type of choir leader, and the choir will (usually) perform one of his songs.
- Cover Version: Arguably "Lean On Me" can be considered this.
- Epic Instrumental Opener: Done on The Rebirth and Hero as interludes.
- Genre Roulette: The most defining aspect of Kirk's music is his ability to cross genre's at will. Just take a gander at the album The Fight of My Life: We have classic church, soft ballads with some big band influences, rock, and straight up jazz and swing.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: A constant mix of gospel with just about every musical genre under the sun.
- Song Style Shift: He also does this in his songs. For example, "Down By the Riverside, which pulls from classic church music and then switches to hard rock. He also did this in "Chains" (last song linked to above), starting with with light jazz and ending on swing. He generally just seems to go with whatever style he thinks fits his song the most.
- Genre-Busting: Clearly gospel, but his ability to mix and match genres at will makes it hard to pin down the man as anything else other than gospel.
- God-Is-Love Songs: Kirk Franklin's appropriately titled "Love" maybe the most triumphant example of this trope. Also does songs about the opposite (loving Jesus) as well.
- Gospel Music: Probably the most famous in the industry.
- Harsh Vocals/ Metal Scream: Weirdly for gospel music, Kirk has the tendency to engage in this, but since Kirk is less a singer and more a hype man, this makes sense.
- Hidden Track/ Bonus Material: Done on The Rebirth and God's Property with "Throw Yo Hands Up" (which is number 23 on the track listing) and "He Will Take the Pain Away".
- Loads and Loads of Characters: The Nu Nation Project alone had the Family, God's Property, One Nation Crew, Mary J. Blige, Rodney Jerkins, Bono, Crystal Lewis, R. Kelly, Rance Allen, Men of Standard, Donnie McClurkin, Fred Hammond, James Henderson, and DJ Ernie Green (Ernie G) as background and guest artists. He's had others work with him on other albums, including tobyMac, Myron Butler (who was a member of God's Property and 1NC), Jaci Velasquez, Shirley Caesar, Bishop T.D. Jakes, the late, Willie Neal Johnson, Salt from Salt-n-Peppa, Richard Smallwood, Yolanda Adams, Alvin Slaughter, Papa San, Sonny Sandoval (of P.O.D.), Dorinda Clarke-Cole, J.Moss, Tye Tribbett, Stevie Wonder, Marvin L. Winans, Isaac Carree, John P. Kee, Marvin Winans, Melvin and Doug Williams, gospel rapper Da T.R.U.T.H., Beverly Crawford and Mali Music (whew!).
- Long Runner: Has been active since at least 1992, putting him at over 20 years in the industry. He's built up quite an audience.
- Religion Rant Song: Of the Type 3 variety. While he usually doesn't spend whole songs calling out hypocrites and errant church folk, he isn't afraid to devote some verses to doing so. Case in point: "Revolution", "Little Boy", "Give Me".
- Sampling: Actually favors interpolation over direct sampling, but will indulge himself occasionally.
- Shout-Out: See the header for this section. Done in the original version of "Stomp" as a shout out to Friday.
- Another one to Shakespeare's "All the world's a stage" speech in the song "Without You".