More than two decades after he revolutionized gospel music by mixing hip-hop backbeats and contemporary urban sounds into his songs of praise, Fort Worth native Kirk Franklin remains at the top of his genre. With “Love Theory,” the lead single from his new album “Long Live Love,” Franklin tied the record for most No. 1 hits on the Billboard Gospel Airplay chart. Last month, when the full album dropped, Franklin became the first artist to top all five of Billboard’s gospel charts simultaneously.
Franklin gave a jolt of the electrifying energy he brings to his live sets when he logged a stage-scorching performance at the BET Awards in late June. The 49-year-old gospel superstar says he always strives to present a dynamic stage show. “I want people to be energized when it’s done but also to feel like they left a great concert,” he says.
The “Long Live Love” tour kicks off in Austin with a July 11 show at the Paramount Theatre. We caught up with Franklin to talk about the new album, his Texas roots and the power of love.
American-Statesman: The new album is called “Long Live Love,” and “Love Theory,” which is this jubilant, optimistic song, is the hit single. Can you talk about why you feel it’s important to amplify the frequency of love right now in what many people might describe as an era of fear?
Kirk Franklin: In my humble opinion it is very difficult to have a conversation about love and not include the creator and curator of love, which is God himself, and I think that you know as we continue to push to be a postmodern society that lives on individual idealism, it is very easy for the less fortunate to be left out, the marginalized to be forgotten. And so when we are reminded that God loves us with our light skin and with our black skin, it’s easier to have the power to love people who are not always lovable, instead of just loving people within our own circle of influence or people who are like us. Because it’s a civil society, and it’s very difficult for us to continue if we don’t learn how to love people that are different than we are.
On the track “OK” you talk about seeing the light through the darkness. A lot of people are struggling to feel OK in a world that feels very mean-spirited right now. How do you negotiate that struggle within yourself?
I think what I try to do is, I try to keep my life in the front line. I try to talk about my mistakes. I try to talk about my deficiencies. I try to share my wounds so that I can be able to be a part of the human race, so that I’m broken like everybody else is broken. I think that if all of us realize that we’re all patients in the hospital and none of us are doctors, because I think there’s an elitism that can even come from people in my Christian community where when we talk, we’re talking as the doctors to the patient, instead of that we’re patients ourselves and all of us are in need of the same doctor.
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When you were working on this album, you returned home and spent some time reconnecting with your roots. What impact did growing up where you did, in Fort Worth, have on your sound?
There was a cloud of hopelessness that we were raised in. Some people ask me about my dreams. I tell people all the time that I never dreamed as a kid, because I couldn’t afford it. It was a luxury. I couldn’t afford to dream because there was always the constant reality of the socioeconomic challenges that we had, just the trials, you know, that happened in this country to black and brown people. That was what I lived with. But at the same time there was a great sense of faith that you were born in, that pushed you to believe that there was something bigger than what you can physically see. I was raised with that.
So going back to the old middle school where I had a moment, I remember praying the same prayer. And going back down to the river where my house was by and just remembering a time where, as a young man, I would sit there in the evening sun and I would have these interesting, amazing talks with God. Especially the God that I knew at that age. It was very pure. There was nothing religious about it. There was no dogma connected to it. And so being able to go back to those places before I worked on the new album, it really was very therapeutic, very healing, and it was a very powerful experience.
Can you talk about your new youth project, Camp Lotus in Arlington? What inspired you to create that program?
It was just a framework of my life. Of course, you know the lotus flower is the flower that blooms in very muddy, you know, murky situations, but it’s just beautiful. (It’s) the flower that has the capacity to grow in the most nonbeautiful environments. So that was my life, and it was the life of many young people like me. It was the music and the faith that really kind of got me through and kind of gave me life, so I want to give that to other kids. I did my first week of camp with about 37 kids last week, and it was an incredible experience. Incredible.
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How does working with young people affect your growth as an artist?
Oh, man, it gives me so much hope. It gives me so much hope. And it makes me see life through a different mirror. It makes me see life in a way that is very innocent and very pure because I think that when you start to make something for a living, it can sometimes go through the ins and outs of its purity.
What can people expect from your show in Austin?
Oh man, I’m so excited to come to Austin because it is the music capital of the world. So to be able to come and to be able to show people that the genre that I do can not only inspire but can also be entertaining. I want people to be able to come feel that level of entertainment. Because it’s very important for people to know that when it comes to performance, we put on a full show. And I want people to feel that and to be excited about that.