Beliefnet
Kirk Franklin's speaking voice sounds thick and kind of fuzzy, but let's not get any rumors started about throat problems.

Actually, the gospel triple threat -- performer, songwriter and producer says he just rolled out of bed and picked up the phone. This is his morning voice, his 9 a.m. voice, his haven't-brushed-my-teeth-yet voice.

Franklin, 36, promises that his vocal cords will be pushing out something quite different on his latest tour. "I'm fine," he says. "My voice is doing great."

Although Franklin's latest shows don't have the multimedia trappings of his previous Hopeville tours, which resembled Broadway theater, he emphasizes that the music and the message remain as powerful as ever.

"It still comes with the same kind of passion, the same kind of ministry," he says. "It still has the same focus and energy, even if you don't have 20 dancers on the stage."

Special effects may come and go, he says, but a church boy's focus on God?

Change that, and everything falls apart.

"It's a heart issue, not an external issue," Franklin says.

That's why he points to the integrity of the old-fashioned, shout-it-out choir, while maintaining that a street ministry may require other tools -- the use of hip-hop rhythms, for example, or a more contemporary brand of showmanship.

Franklin has become famous for his innovations in that regard. Evidence of rap, funk, soul and R&B can be heard on CDs such as "Hero," "The Rebirth of Kirk Franklin" and "The Nu Nation Project."

"The way I look at it, we're all connected, one body with many parts," Franklin says. "I can relate to the choir but also to the corner. A man who's a missionary to China can be doing the same work as a man on stage at Radio City."

Ask Franklin if he is 50 percent preacher and 50 percent musician, and he declines to divide the inspirational pie.

"I've never sat down and tried to break down the formula," he says.

"Self-evaluation is dangerous for me. Everything I do has a spiritual reference point. But I think that every Christian should be able to take his tie off and put his baseball cap on."

Millions agree, and have turned Franklin into a success story, with a string of No. 1 albums on the Billboard charts, three Grammy Awards and an entire pew full of Dove and Gospel Music Association awards.

For Franklin, all of this is evidence that "God can be cool, God can fit into our culture."

He admits to being as human as the rest of us, however, tempted by the material possessions money can provide and the hip-hop world's emphasis on bling.

"The flesh is always wanting to run to those things," Franklin says.

"But God's No. 1 priority is not platinum or ice. It's to develop character and for us to be people of integrity. God's primary motive is for us to be more beautiful inside."

Franklin has been vocal about his human flaws -- too vocal, some say -- admitting to a lifelong addiction to pornography during a 2005 interview on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

He and wife Tammy talked about the issue on television, Franklin said, because they were asked to do so and because he had overcome the addiction and wanted to help others who might be struggling with it.

"I had been open in Christian magazines, talking about it," Franklin says. "If I'm going to be honest about something, I'm going to be honest across the board. Once God gave me victory over it, I had a burn and a passion to tell people, 'Here's what God did for me."'

Franklin also is directing his energies at trying to heal the residents of hurricane-devastated New Orleans, where he will perform on June 9. He has participated in benefit concerts for Katrina relief, and says no committed evangelist could do otherwise.

"I expect to find lots of angry people, lots of skeptics, lots of people who are not ready to hear my message," Franklin says. "But you serve where God wants you to serve. We should be able to look back in history and see that black folk took the initiative to be connected with black folk. This American tragedy speaks volumes about being our brother's keeper."

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