Your album really tackles the ills of our society, from people's self-image on "I Like Me," to the fatherless on "Whole Nation." What are your thoughts on how the church, black or otherwise, chooses to address these social ills?
I think that sometimes as Christians we live in a balloon and can be kind of closed-minded and not even be aware a lot of times of what's going on. I've always felt passionate about trying to speak about things from a Christian perspective that I think if anybody should be speaking about them, Christians should be. We're supposed to be the news reporters of the culture. We're supposed to weigh in on what's going on in society.
So you feel like the church could be doing more to address the problems in our society?
Not as much as we could, no. We need to be more informed and more aware. For the longest [time], we became this subculture because we were afraid to speak on the ills. We wrote everything off as the devil. When we did that, we disconnected ourselves, and that's unfortunate. So now we've got to show that we can be well-rounded in the marketplace and culturally relevant. That's something that we really need to start showing.
What are your thoughts on the division between sacred and secular music that some artists seem to ignore?
What makes the music sacred is the lyrical content. If a guy comes in with tattoos and body piercings, and his life is sold out for the Lord, versus the deacon who has the nice suit on and no piercings, but he's got some infidelity issues and he's got some money laundering issues… "To the pure," the Bible says, "All things are pure." If people don't like the music stylistically, that's cool. But don't take your preference in style and say that it's not sacred.
Do you ever feel like there's a time when it is appropriate to blur the lines between the sacred and the secular? For instance, if an opportunity presented itself for you to be on a record with Jay-Z would you do it for the sake of reaching out to a wider audience?
No, because when I do a song with an artist like Jay-Z, I'm not just collaborating in one song. I'm endorsing that individual. I'm endorsing everything that he does.
Is there a secular artist that you would love to work with on upcoming projects, like how you worked with Salt—from Salt n' Pepa—on "Stomp"?
There's nobody that I'm just burning to work with. I just try to make sure that I work with people who have the same mindset, same goals, same heart, and that their character is going to shine just a lot brighter than their music.
What are the limits in gospel music?
What the Holy Spirit reveals. I am an honest believer in grace, and the New Testament is full of it. When the Holy Spirit chooses to illuminate a scripture and to reveal what the passage says about something that we should or shouldn't do, that's what we respond to. But to roll out this list of dos and don'ts is a very legalistic approach, because God will reveal through scripture different ways to do things that may not be a certain person's taste or style, but if it still falls along just the lines of the text, then we are free to do it.
But then there may be some things that may fall along with the text that the Holy Spirit says "Don't do." That's why Paul says some things are lawful, but not all things are expedient. That's why you don't just make it legalistic. You need to make sure that you have a clear understanding of what the scripture says, and you have a very good connection to the Holy Spirit to be able to just illuminate to your heart what the scripture is saying.
Why do you use secular music samples in your music?
That's just something I enjoy doing. I've been doing this since I was a kid. The music that influenced me coming up as a kid was pop music, R&B, and hip-hop. I wasn't introduced to gospel music until I was 15 or 16. Even as a kid I was taking old Bennie & the Jets, Michael Jackson, and all the different songs and putting a gospel message on it. Sometimes mainstream music or big pop songs—especially songs from the '70s and '80s-- had a lot [more] musical flavor to them than songs do now.
The string arrangements were big, the horn arrangements were big, the bass lines were big, and the chord changes were huge. That's why I like doing it, because I think that the music was better produced back then. It just had so much more flavor and sauce.
Do you still listen to secular music now?
Oh, yes. I listen to all kinds of music, from Norah Jones to Yo-Yo Ma to U2 to even some clean versions of hip-hop. I listen to everything from Josh Groban to Carrie Underwood to Sting to some old Eric B. and Rakim, to some old LL Cool J, some Mos Def, Jay-Z.
I'll go to Wal-Mart and get the clean versions just to stay culturally relevant, to stay on top of what kids are talking about—to keep my swagger fresh. So when I get up and speak to kids, I'm not sounding antiquated.
The clean versions?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But, again, I listen to stay current. I want to know what's going on. I'm not driving around with the windows down, like, "Yo, this is the next song. This is what's hot, baby."
Often when your music makes the Billboard charts, it seems to fall into the "Hot R&B and Rap" category. How do you feel about that?
The biggest job is to never try to be there, not try to make it your goal in life. That's very dangerous, to try to make it your goal.
If that's a door that God wants you to walk through, then just allow Him to open [it], because, if not, it's just a very addictive door, and it can really become something that you're consumed with. When you do Christian music, there's not a lot of outlets for you. But sometimes doing gospel music, you don't have any other chances. When that happens, and when you see these mainstream shows and mainstream things, you want to be a part of that. You have to really fight very hard to always remember that this gift is not mine. I'm not here for my purpose, but for His.
And that's a daily battle.
What makes you continue to push the limits of what people would consider safe in gospel music?
You know what? I really don't know. I'm not trying to push envelopes. I'm just trying to do what I enjoy. It's got to be something that you love. It's got to be something that's organic and natural for you. It's got to be something that just flows out of you— that's not contrived. That's what happens for me. I'm just trying to do what God has put in my heart to do, and just trying to respond to those passions.
What's next for Kirk Franklin?
You know what? I don't know yet. I've just chosen to not be consumed with the plan, but just to keep my eyes focused on the purpose—to know Him and to be consumed with Him, and be transformed in Him. I know that it sounds very religious, but that's my ultimate goal. Everything else keeps you empty, and it always keeps you chasing—and I don't want to chase no more.