Maverick City Music & Kirk Franklin Aiming To Raise Awareness Of Plight Of Mass Incarceration With ‘Kingdom Book 1’
GRAMMY award-winning music group Maverick City Music and 16-time GRAMMY winner Kirk Franklin are bringing the injustices around mass incarceration – and the voices of 1,300 inmates – to center stage with the release of ‘KINGDOM Book One,’ available everywhere via Tribl Records and Fo Yo Soul Entertainment/RCA Inspiration.
Taking the idea of “prison performance” to another level, the genre-transcending, 11-track project made entirely from the grounds of a Florida prison, features Maverick City Music and Franklin recording the experience alongside more than ninety-percent of those who remain incarcerated at the location.
Maverick City Music’s Tony Brown and JJ (Jonathan Jay) share about the recording of the record below.
What was a significant moment recording this record?
TONY: We had placed flier all around the prison yard, not sure who’s going to show up, and then wound up having to postpone the recording because 1500 out of the 1700 people in the entire facility decided that they wanted to meet us on the yard, and watching them walk, single-file and every single one of them had to be checked into that prison yard with their prison ID to get into the concert.
They all came single-file, one by one, to come and be a part of the afternoon. By the time they all got in there, looking out, and just seeing a sea of residents that were there to just, it was one of the most exciting experiences for them.
The team didn’t realize that this never happens — they underestimated the value of being there. So, that was one thing. The other thing is just hearing story after story of how impacted these guys have been through the music that they have access to via the Panda app on their devices in prison… all the stories they have about how they’ve been completely impacted by the songs that Maverick City Music sings and put on their app.
What do they want to accomplish?
TONY: We want people who don’t know that mass incarceration is a humanitarian crisis globally — and raise awareness that we are the leading country that is host to these atrocities. We want awareness around the topics that affect the community that we represent — as black and brown people, primarily. This is an issue that is deeply embedded into our societal conscious. We want to be able to not just share our songs, but the heart and the lives that these songs are coming out of, and that’s our real experience, a real hard experience. Most all of us, in some way, have been impacted by these issues, and we want to bring it forward. As we mature as artists, as we get more influence, the things that matter to us the most need to take precedence over all the other narratives that are running around out there. This has to be front and center.
JJ: I think it’s for every fan that loves the music and tracks with us, that they will be aware of the challenges that people face every day that are forgotten. I think for me, the most impactful moment, but was the prisoners’ reaction to not being forgotten about… or the reaction to being remembered. I think that’s a better way to say it. Like, every single day that we showed up, it was like, ‘wow, I’m so happy you’re here. I’m so happy you remember. I’m so happy that you guys even think about us.’ It was like Christmas for them. That sentiment carried through all the
that we were there, and it was unbelievable. I think that people would just be aware that there are people out there who aren’t remembered, and that they would maybe dig in, do a little research, and figure out a way for them to be a part of helping fix the issues that come with incarceration.
What do you want listeners to take away from this record?
TONY: Besides awareness, I want it to motivate people to do something about these issues. But, if it’s not just awareness, it’s being proactive. It’s giving to foundations that help figure out how to stop this thing called mass incarceration, it’s volunteering in communities that are grossly affected by it. It’s acknowledging that it’s a real thing. If we can get a small amount of people to just simply acknowledge the fact that modern day slavery exists, then that’s a huge win for us. So awareness is massive because we like to think that the transatlantic slave trade stopped when they let all the prisoners free, but a few months later they just picked them up for J-walking, so they were right back in jail, and some of those guys never saw the light of day again. The history repeats itself over and over and over again, and a lot of times, it’s in subtle ways that we’ve all realize it, and we’re watching it in our everyday lives.
Maverick City Music recently received their first BET Awards nomination – the Dr. Bobby Jones Gospel/Inspiration Award for their song “Jireh.” Five-time BET Award winner Franklin is also nominated for his song “We Win” in this same category. The group and Franklin are set to perform on the upcoming BET Awards show, as well as part of NPR Tiny Desk’s Black Music Month (6.24), and they’ll appear on The View on Monday, June 20 (check local listings).
The Kingdom Tour continues this weekend with shows at Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena (6.18) and Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena (6.19), with stops in Nashville, Los Angeles and more on the horizon. The final four performances on the tour – Kansas City, Cleveland, St. Paul, and Chicago – will be called “Kingdom Nights” and feature GRAMMY-winning artist Tamela Mann. Fans can purchase tickets to the nearly sold-out tour HERE.