British Black Gospel, Part 4: One Nation under a Gospel Groove
Steve Alexander Smith is the writer of British Black Gospel, a book which traces the roots of Gospel in Britain. Exclusively for MOBO.com, Smith will be provding an overview of the world leading US Gospel market, and how it compares historically and economically to its British counterpart - taking us from the origins of British black gospel up to the present day. You can find out more about the British Black Gospel book on Amazon.
“For those of you who that think gospel music has gone too far. You think we got too radical with our message. Well I got news for you, you ain’t heard nothing yet”.
The above quotation is part of a rap intro from the groundbreaking 1996 single ‘Stomp’ by the American Urban Gospel group God’s Property. The voice behind these words is Kirk Franklin, one of the most successful and controversial gospel artists of all time.
To the older members of the gospel community Stomp was the musical equivalent of a grenade, a song that would lead to moral destruction and mayhem. To some of his peers Franklin had performed dangerous experiments in the recording studio and released a toxic cocktail and mutant virus amongst the people of the church.
There was however another side or another group of people who heard a different sound and saw things in a different light. Young kids from the hip hop era, both Christian and non-Christian tuned into a sound and saw a style that they could relate to. The response was huge, and a new market emerged. For the first time in the history of Gospel music, someone was releasing music that it seems had a mutual appeal to both the mainstream and gospel record buying public. Franklin had discovered the missing link.
The ingredients applied in the recording studio kitchen were simple, yet effective. Franklin used George Clinton's (Funkadelic) 1978 funk classic ‘One Nation Under a Groove’ as a driving back beat. He added Cheryl ‘Salt’ James of Salt-n-Pepa as guest vocalist. UK fans took the latter group's ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ to number two in the national charts.
The finished product which also featured a video was played on MTV and received regular airplay on many of the mainstream radio stations. After the production team had completed their job, strategic and shrewd marketing ensured that the release was put out through secular distribution channels. It can be clearly demonstrated that from this point on, sales of Black gospel music of all styles in the USA began to rise significantly.
Before Franklin's time, other high profile gospel artists pushed towards mainstream such as Sam Cooke, Andrae Crouch, The Clarke Sisters (You Bought the sunshine), Tramaine Hawkins (Fall Down), Edwin Hawkins (Oh Happy day) and the gospel output of the legendary Winans on Quincy Jones’ Qwest Records label.
In Britain the revolutionary spirit was exercised as far back as 1980 when Gospel band Paradise (One Mind Two Hearts) developed a Gospel-Funk fusion sound that bought them a controversial but wider fan-base. Another group, The Wades, addressed the issues of drugs on their 1993 single ‘Get Off That Poison’, which was a huge hit in clubs across the UK. Raymond and Co (Playing Games), an R&B-gospel outfit that along with Nu-Colors pioneered gospel's entry into R&B, both made UK gospel history when they became the first British outfits to win MOBO awards.
Kirk Franklin stood out from others because he squared up with the gospel community, looked them straight in the eye and said: "I am heading for the mainstream with my style of music whether you guys are coming with me or not".
The opening intro to 'Stomp' is a bold mission statement to gospel communities the world over and echoes back through the passage of time where the gospel verses secular debate, the blues and the spirituals began.
There is also an underlying message addressed to the gospel music industry. Perhaps it is time to be creative, as the creator intended.