Kirk Franklin is singing "Jesus Walks," the Kanye West song that lampoons mainstream radio for shunning songs about Christianity.
"But if I talk about God, my record won't get played, huh?" Franklin, who performs at the Modell Center at the Lyric on Saturday, raps. "Well let this take away from my spins ... So freaking dope."
The veteran contemporary gospel singer can relate to the song's frustration, but it doesn't get him down. Franklin says part of his aim is to change the current perception that Christians are the overzealous televangelists and ultra-conservative talking heads on TV. He calls them "weirdos."
"If I don't change a person's image [of Christians], I need to be that voice for the millions of people that are part of the movement," says Franklin, a self-described "Christian moderate." "The ones that have swag, that know when the new Jordans are out. The ones that aren't standing outside abortion clinics, but they're still pro-life."
Franklin says "swag" a lot. It's important to him — from the way he talks to his physique and the way he dresses. It's hard to tell he's 41, and that's the point.
"What's funny is that in the '90s, growing up in the black church, everyone around you was older, so your swag became older," Franklin says.
So he changed his diet and became a gym rat. He shaved off his goatee. Even the clothes he performed in became more casual, all in an attempt to shed the preconceived notions of what a gospel singer has to look like.
"If I want to wear a V-neck T-shirt and some jeans with a little sag — not hood sag," he says with a laugh, "then I'm just being me. It looks like I'm younger, but I'm really just being who I am."
The image is refined but the music remains his passion. In March, Franklin released "Hello Fear," his 12th album. It debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200, a sign that 18 years since his first album ("Kirk Franklin and the Family"), there's still a place for the singer's positive messages on the pop charts.
Franklin is currently on the nationwide "Fearless" tour. Just as "Hello Fear" deals with living in times of economic strain and natural disasters, Franklin says the first thing he notices from stage is how desperately the crowd seems to want to overcome life's struggles.
"People are hungry for something to remind them that life is bigger than the hell they're going through," he says. "They want to be reminded that something's bigger than this."
The Fort Worth, Texas, native says he doesn't have family ties to Baltimore, but this city has been apart of some of his biggest moments. His first live DVD, "The Nu Nation Tour," was filmed at
, in front of 12,000 fans.
"It was [a] landmark for me," Franklin said.
Helping others triumph over life's fears continues to drive Franklin, and he's not doing it just through music. Last year, he published "The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life's Storms," which ended up on The New York Times' best-seller list.
Add the book to Franklin's long list of achievements. He's also won seven Grammys and an American Music Award, and he's the host and executive producer of BET's "Sunday Best," now entering its fourth season.
Even with all of his success, that nagging sense of fear remains prominent in his music and in his life. So what does Franklin fear today?
"The uncertainties of life — family, health, death," he says. "Nothing that is uncommon to man, dude. There's nothing as a Christian black man that I fear that the average white male wouldn't."
If you go
Kirk Franklin performs Saturday at the Modell Center at the Lyric, 140 W. Mt. Royal Ave. Doors open at 7 p.m. $25-$50. Go to