Urban contemporary gospel king Kirk Franklin is his own best case study of music's ability to triumph over trauma. Born Kirk Mathis in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1970, he was abandoned by both parents and raised by an aunt who recycled cans to pay for her four-year-old nephew's music lessons. He led an adult Baptist church choir at age 11, then released his debut album, 1993’s high-energy live recording Kirk Franklin & The Family, with a local 17-piece choir. The album crossed over to hit No. 3 on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart, introducing Franklin’s preaching-MC persona and demonstrating his knack for introducing hip secular sounds into gospel music. The impeccably funky "Stomp," from 1997's God's Property from Kirk Franklin's Nu Nation, parlayed a sample from Funkadelic's "One Nation Under a Groove" into a party jam for all occasions; the next year, he balanced pop-adjacent accessibility with the anti-racist gospel-rap of tracks like "Revolution." Franklin's 2002 autobiographical masterpiece, Hero, personalized his crusade: Admissions of insecurity ignite the crescendoing "Imagine Me," while a Tears for Fears "Shout" sample accompanies lyrics about pornography addiction in "Let It Go." Franklin's rap-informed approach to gospel also made him an attractive collaborator for star MCs who were seeking a more spiritual path—in 2016, he appeared on Kanye’s Life of Pablo and Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book. After 2019’s Grammy-winning Long Live Love, Franklin focused on high-profile social-network activity around Black Lives Matter, and his Verzuz battle with friendly gospel rival Fred Hammond reaffirmed the Black church as a central institution in the civil rights movement.