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Commercial success for talented gospel singer Kirk Franklin almost didn't happen. Fortunately, however, his praise tune "Why We Sing" became a much-requested single on several Virginia radio stations—gospel and secular—in 1994. Attention increased. Popularity soared. I spoke with Kirk in mid-'96, just as his third album, Whatcha Lookin' 4, was hitting the streets:

Tell me, what's music all about for you, Kirk? How does it drive and motivate you?
It is just a way to say thank you—first and foremost, thank you to the Creator for not giving up on me. And second, it is a way to show people that regardless of your past or circumstance, He won't give up on you either.

How do you manage to balance lifting up Jesus Christ in the marketplace and being a witness to your musical peers?
I deal with these people straight up and forward. When they see me, they know what I stand for. I don't go partying with them. When these people see me, they see me as a gospel artist. I like to consider myself a minister to the lost. I won't dog them, but I will sit there and tell them what's right and what's wrong. But I don't tell them in a way where they feel condemned. I tell them in a way they can open up their heart.

You backed up R. Kelly on his self-titled album on the positive cut "Trade in My Life." But the rest of the CD is quite raunchy. How do you handle those who say you helped Kelly sell albums to teens and, because of that, are part of the problem rather than the solution?
The Lord knew where my heart was when I did it. The Lord knew I didn't do it to make a lot of money. I knew that it would be an avenue for a brother who has reached millions more people than I have to show him [my] love of God.

R. Kelly offers a disturbing mix of spirituality and sexuality. You saw that recently when you attended one of his concerts. Tell me about that.
I felt very uncomfortable. But he's my friend. I don't want him to give up the fight. They had to pull him off stage. He was crying like a baby so hard, and he had his hands lifted. He was going into this praise thing. You know what it is—and you can quote me—money makes a man do things that he doesn't want to do. I got backstage and Kelly took me in the bathroom and said, "Kirk, I'm just going through so much that I just don't know how to deal with this. In my heart, I know it's wrong, but right now I'm just struggling with this stuff."

Struggling with compromise?
Wouldn't you hate being in the shoes of somebody that is selling 4 or 5 million units, and you've got all this money, and you know if you change that you're not going to sell this many units? You know that's a hard place to be at, and I just thank God that I have enough God in me that, even if I don't sell another CD, He comes first.

I'm so glad you're there for him.
Thank you, and that's my point. What would happen if I would treat him like the church? He would say just like all the other people, "Well the church is cutting me out so I might as well do as I'm doing." But as long as I'm there the conviction stays. Thank God for the conviction.

I closed our conversation by praying for Kirk and his music ministry. I promised to keep interceding for him. And I have. Please join me by including Kirk—and R. Kelly—in your prayers. It's a tough business!

Published July 1996