Natural Selection: Kirk Franklin

Kirk Franklin
Hero
Gospocentric/Fo Yo Soul Entertainment
2005

To be excellent at something, you can’t just be good in one area. You must completely master all facets of the craft. A great basketball player isn’t just a good shooter, he or she must be able to handle the ball and distribute the ball well. Excellent surgeons shouldn’t just be proficient with their scalpel, they also need to be able to communicate well with people and help them deal with the tensions or fears that may accompany a necessary surgical procedure.

For a work of contemporary gospel music to be excellent, it must achieve excellence in the three ways that correspond to the three words that define the genre — it must be contemporary, it must represent the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it must be musical. Kirk Franklin’s latest release, entitled Hero, is excellent. As a matter of fact, I was surprised — no, shocked — by how good it is. Being the biggest name in gospel music carries an unique burden of high expectations. And as much as I liked the highlight tracks from his previous release, The Rebirth of Kirk Franklin, I didn’t think it was a complete album. But this one… this one nails it.

First off, yes… it is contemporary. Which doesn’t just mean trendy, by the way. It’s contemporary in that the lyrical cadence and emotional subject matter can connect on a deep level with people of this time and era. These songs deal with stuff that real people are going through. Divorce. Self-esteem problems. Substance abuse. Hero captures the gestalt of what it means to be a follower of Christ in the fallen world that we inhabit.

And Kirk Franklin’s Hero is definitely gospel music. Not just in its style, but in its content. And that doesn’t mean it’s churchy. Far from it. Unlike a lot of contemporary gospel artists that always recycle the same well-worn clichés that have come to typify the genre, Kirk Franklin dug deep to find the language of his soul, the words that resonate with a generation of those like him. Aptly titled, this release is about humanity’s need for a hero, and the way in which God continues to step in and fill that void. As the title track says, Jesus comes in and saves the day.

And finally, it is extremely musical. It touches on many different elements indicative of the black music experience that gospel music draws upon, while staying firmly grounded in a contemporary musical framework. Kirk continues in the postmodern musical tradition of reinterpreting music of the past, judiciously sampling and interpolating works by Patrice Rushen, Earth Wind and Fire, Randy Crawford and Deniece Williams. The tracks make implicit nods to the past while still standing up well on their own.

So if you’re like me and you don’t like to ride the marketing hype machine that pushes the latest product from every prominent artist without equivocation or evaluation… then trust me. This one’ s got the goods. It is the model of contemporary gospel music — honest enough to make you reflect on your own life, broad enough in musical scope to please purists and groove fiends, and most importantly, it bears relevant testimony on the ability of God to be a 21st-century hero.

What else do you need? It’s worth shelling out for, and it’s worth listening to. Check it out.

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