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It’s true…Kirk Franklin is abandoning religion, the man-made rules that keep many from experiencing a true relationship with God, and with his 11th album he sonically paves the way for others to do the same.
In late September, Franklin Tweeted: “God is able to separate what you've done from who you are.” When asked the meaning, Franklin thoughtfully answered: “It's that God sees us as children, and a lot of times we take our mistakes or failures or our sins, and we use it as a blanket and we wrap ourselves in it,” he says. “God is able to separate us from that, to love us, while still addressing those areas we need to change. But we have a hard time doing that for ourselves.”
For nearly five years, Franklin had wrapped himself in a blanket of his fears, which blocked him from creating new music. Instead, he focused on entrepreneurial efforts—building his label Fo Yo Soul Recordings and nurturing his artists; executive producing and hosting BET’s top-rated musical competition series Sunday Best, while also re-branding Sirius XM’s Praise channel into Kirk Franklin’s Praise; and curating the House of Blues Gospel brunch. In 2013, Franklin headlined The King’s Men Tour alongside Donnie McClurkin, Marvin Sapp and Israel Houghton. All were worthy endeavors that kept the Grammy-award-winning artist connected to his audience. But not writing for himself was masking a bigger issue. “It was pride manifesting itself through fear,” says Franklin, reflecting over that period. “Fear is deeply rooted in a lot of self—The fear of failing, the fear of not being relevant, the fear of not being accepted. All of those things really consumed me, and I got a little lost in it.”
It’s hard to believe that an artist who sold over 10.5 million albums and who has won 9 Grammys, over 40 Stellar, and 16 Dove awards would have doubts. However, when God sent Franklin the song “Miracles,” he says writing it helped put aside his fear and opened the floodgates for his most comprehensive album yet. “I think that my job is to be the conduit [for] what God's calling me to do and then get out the way and let Him do His work.”
On November 13, Franklin will release LOSING MY RELIGION. Produced by Franklin and longtime musical partner Shaun Martin, the 13-track album features gospel and R&Bs most respected and rising voices: Sunday Best winner Tasha Page-Lockhart (season 6), Zacardi Cortez, Kim Burrell, Lalah Hathaway, Sarah Reeves, Tasha Cobbs, and Tamela Mann.
Eleven albums into his 22-year career, Losing My Religion offers fans classic Kirk Franklin—head-bumping anthems that awaken the spirit (“123 Victory” and “Over”), stirring testimonials (“True Story” and “My World Needs You” featuring Sarah Reeves, Tasha Cobbs and Tamela Mann), and soulful solos from gospel’s new stars (“It’s Time” featuring Tasha Page-Lockhart and Zacardi Cortez). But a Franklin album wouldn’t be complete without pushing the envelope and making audiences rethink what is gospel. After the album’s opening spoken-word piece, Franklin leans right into “Miracles”—an uplifting reminder of one’s self-worth and God’s unyielding power of change—until the outro fades and the next voices are a mother screaming for a child who’s been killed and a newscaster reporting from the scene. Franklin abruptly ends the song by proclaiming, “The revolution is now being televised.” For him, the message had to be direct. “Miracles” felt like this big movie idea, but feels very lofty with the strings and horns and this long outro. But then I wanted the news piece as a reminder of what is our reality now.”
The album’s title track is a nod to Franklin’s influences outside of gospel. A self-proclaimed 80s and 90s pop music head, R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” left a lasting impression since the days when he first heard it back in Fort Worth, Texas. “When you listen to it, it’s a song about somebody who really kind of feels done wrong with the buy-back institute of organized religion,” says Franklin. “I thought it would be a very cool play on words to be able to use that concept to create a spoken-word piece.” Inspired, Franklin wrote:
I’m losing my religion… THANK GOD.
I prayed about my decision… how odd…
For the man with the MIC, to be the man all his LIFE, rock CHRIST like STIPES did with R.E.M… Rev up the RPM’s, how do I BEGIN, to try and paint this SIN of RULES... that divides God’s people in 2.
But that’s not all. Franklin saw the song having a dual purpose: “As a gospel artist, you rarely have opportunities to be a part of the cultural fabric of pop culture—to say and do things that use references from people's everyday life. Jay-Z has the platform to do that. Kendrick Lamar has the platform to do it. You would be surprised how some people still feel we live in a bubble.”
Franklin’s shift in songwriting must be hitting a nerve. “Wanna Be Happy?,” the album’s lead single, broke records by becoming the best first-week digital single in gospel music history—besting his own chart success with 2011’s “I Smile.” However, he doesn’t let the numbers interfere with his mission. “I'm very cautious to not be too observant, or too consumed with what works and what doesn't work, because I think that's when you fail,” he says. To Franklin, “Wanna Be Happy?” resonates because “people don't realize that happiness takes work and that work can be, and sometimes needs to be, very painful.”
Taking the darkness of the world and turning it into the lightness of inspirational song has become Franklin’s greatest gift as an artist and as one of God’s messengers. It’s evident on the simple, yet powerful “Pray for Me.” The idea for the masterful “When,” which features Kim Burrell and Lalah Hathaway, came to Franklin while he was watching CNN. “As a Christian, it’s very disheartening and very discouraging what’s happening today,” he says. “I wrote ‘When’ as if nature could sing, that if all of God's creation could sing, that it would beg for the return of The Creator.”Until that glorious day, we’re thankful Franklin has been given a new ministry through song. “I just keep trying. Keep trying and failing and I will continue to keep trying to see what I can do to try to keep people engaged in the conversation about our Lord and Savior, man,” he says. “Really that's all I'm trying to do. Really, at the end of the day, if I want to keep God part of the conversation then I will do everything I can to make that happen.”