Gospel Meets R&B On Kirk Franklin's Kingdom Come

Jill Scott, Mary Mary, Shawn Stockman join gospel star's latest crossover project.

Gospel star Kirk Franklin said the all-star lineup he assembled for the "Kingdom Come" soundtrack — which includes Carl Thomas, Jill Scott and Deborah Cox — was a dream come true.

"I had a wish list of gospel and R&B performers, and it gave me the chance to match all these voices with the movie's visuals," Franklin said. With the soundtrack at #1 on the Billboard gospel albums chart and #26 on the magazine's R&B/hip-hop album chart after two weeks, it's clear audiences are loving the combination, too (the movie itself stars Whoopi Goldberg, Toni Braxton and LL Cool J).

The soundtrack finds R&B stars such as Thomas and Scott alongside contemporary gospel luminaries Mary Mary, Natalie Wilson and Franklin himself. And while the names are among the biggest he's worked with, it's just another in a long line of projects for which Franklin has assembled talented crews of singers and dancers to work his gospel-crossover magic.

Franklin's platinum-selling 1993 debut, Kirk Franklin and the Family, spent 100 weeks atop the Billboard gospel albums chart. His success has continued through 2000's Kirk Franklin Presents 1NC, which cracked the top 30 on both Billboard's gospel and R&B charts.

Kingdom Come's first single finds gravel-voiced Franklin teaming up with Mary Mary on the uptempo "Thank You," while Thomas joins Wilson on "Daddy," a yearning ballad about an errant father. Boyz II Men's Shawn Stockman, Tamar Braxton and Trin-I-Tee 5:7 also appear on the album.

Franklin said the best thing about working with R&B stars was discovering how many of them were deeply into gospel music. "Carl Thomas came into the studio and talked about gospel songs and producers from the 1970s I'd never even heard of," Franklin recalled. "It goes to show how much people who don't necessarily record gospel music know about gospel."

For all his crossover success, Franklin said it's important to maintain the distinction between the secular and the sacred. "Just because a song like R. Kelly's 'I Believe I Can Fly' is uplifting and spiritual doesn't make it a gospel song," Franklin said. "You can be a great motivational speaker but that doesn't make you a preacher."

Despite his popularity outside the gospel realm, Franklin said he remains frustrated that explicit gospel music still has a hard time finding radio and video play. "Let somebody talk about being a Christian, or about Jesus, and it's automatic exclusion," he said. "But this music is very contemporary, very on point with what's happening musically."