The Nu Nation Project

Kirk Franklin

Gospo Centric Records, 1998

http://www.kirkfranklin.com

REVIEW BY: Michael Ehret

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/20/1999

I am not a fan of gospel music in general. Something about the choirs just doesn't resonate with me usually.

However, I do appreciate much of contemporary R&B music. Kirk Franklin, to his credit, has consistently been about the task of building a bridge between the gospel and contemporary Christian markets as well as the secular R&B and rap markets. His latest album, The Nu Nation Project, may well be the one that completes those bridges.

This album is a winner in every sense of the word, specifically judged the best contemporary soul gospel album recently by the Grammy Awards.

Over the years Franklin has been accused by some of "selling out" traditional gospel music by grafting on to it elements of R&B, rap, and rock and roll. He's been criticized for relationships he's cultivated with secular music artists who have been accused of having less than clean reputations.

This is all hoo-ha, in my opinion. But, it's "hoo-ha" that Franklin has attacked head on in this disc by crafting two interludes that show how ridiculous those accusations are and by inviting luminaries from nearly all genre's of music to participate.

R. Kelly and Mary J. Blige appear from R&B. U2's frontman, Bono, shows up from rock and roll. Contemporary Christian music's Crystal Lewis lends her pipes and gospel's reigning king, Fred Hammond, puts in a stunning appearance.

Kelly, Blige, Bono and Lewis all appear on the ballad "Lean On Me", which was spotlighted on the recent Grammy telecast. This is not a remake of the Bill Withers tune of the same name. This song, with the four principals trading lead vocal chores back and forth, is a call for believers to reach out to those who are suffering in an effort to lead them to the One who can give them what they really need, Jesus Christ.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Incidentally, Crystal Lewis and her record company Metro One, with Franklin's blessing and encouragement, recorded a solo version of this song that -- unbelievably -- outperforms the album version. Lewis' vocals are superb - among the best things she's ever done. Ironically, the solo version was recorded to give the song more exposure on contemporary Christian radio stations because it was feared program directors wouldn't play a song that features Kelly, Blige and Bono - all performers who've claimed to be Christian but don't perform within the accepted realm of CCM music and who's lives sometimes have presented a questionable Christian image.

Lewis' version of the song is only available on repackaged versions of her Gold project. Be sure to check the song listing to be certain you have the right version.

Throughout, Franklin is ably backed as usual by his choirs, The Family, Nu Nation and God's Property. On "Revolution" (not the Beatles' song) Franklin and Rodney Jerkins slam it home to men who are letting violence and lust rule their lives:

"Sick and tired of my brothas/Killing each other/Sick and tired of daddies leaving/Babies with their mothers/To every man who wants to lay around and play around/Listen potnah you should be man enough to stay around"

Franklin and Jerkins pull no punches in this song, telling these men that if they really want a revolution they need to turn their lives over to Jesus.

Just when you've settled into Franklin's comfortable R&B groove, along comes the song "Smile Again" which opens with screaming rock guitars. One of Franklin's strengths as the leader of the choir is picking just the right voices to sing his songs. On this song James Henderson and Donnie McClurkin share the vocal chores, with Henderson starting things off rough and McClurkin coming along and smoothing things out.

"My brother don't you worry/Storms don't last always/there's a man from glory/Full of mercy and grace/Keep your head up/Smile again"

Franklin, who wrote or co-wrote all of the songs, is not a preacher. He's an exhorter. His songs calls his listeners to their best. He provides his best and he wants the listeners to do the same. In the song "Hold Me Now", he shares about his own experiences with being depressed and enduring suffering:

"To every broken person that may hear this song/To every boy or girl who feels their smile is gone/I know exactly how it feels to lay in bed at night/And cry/And cry/Don't you worry God is faithful and He cares."

This is not a gospel album and yet it is a gospel album. This is not a contemporary Christian album, but it surely is. This is not a rock and roll album, but it certainly has elements of rock blended in.

Franklin has created an album that everyone can enjoy and be stretched - at least musically - by.

Rating: A

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© 1999 Michael Ehret and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Gospo Centric Records, and is used for informational purposes only.