If one word could describe Christon Gray’s career it would be consistency. The Columbus, Ohio native has made a name for himself through his authentic transparency. The same honest storytelling that appeared on his 2012 mixtape Body Art was carried through the critically-acclaimed School of Roses and continues through his latest output, The Glory Album, which was released in March.
“You’re going to be able to listen to my music if anyone wants to go through the discography when my life is over and you’ll hear that I was always trying to figure something out,” he says in an exclusive interview with HipHopDX. “I was always trying to figure something out. I was always trying to do better and be better, be a better man, be a better husband, be a better father.”
After signing with Kirk Franklin’s Fo Yo Soul Recordings, an imprint of RCA Records, last year, Gray is ready for a fresh start. The 30-year-old was on the independent Christian label Collision Records where he was a member of the group We Live As Kings (W.L.A.K. for short) and released School of Roses. The LP, although it reached the 44th spot on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart, garnered much criticism from the religious community. The album was Gray’s own journey through lust, pride and greed as he sought true love.
On The Glory Album cut “50 Shades,” Gray includes a voicemail from the legendary Gospel artist telling him “You are free.” Gray met with Franklin in Dallas, Fo Yo Soul’s home base, to detail the album. After the trip, Franklin sent his protege the message as an affirmation that Gray’s creative direction was on the right path. Gray says that this proclamation rang true for many different reasons.
“It was hard transitioning from the last label I was with,” he says. “Going from independent to major label system was hard. Honestly, to be a little extra vulnerable, there was some people who were trying to ruin my career during that transition for real, just taking a lot of the content from my last album, which was based on real life. It’s not like I was just being hypothetical. You hear the music and it’s like, ’Something’s going on.’ And it was, but there was a lot of people I feel like tried to take it and make a spectacle of me within the industry, not so much fans and that was hard going through that. So you’re hearing kinda like Kirk telling me, ‘Yo, you can be yourself here, bro. I can be a sounding board for you. I’ve been through anything that you’re probably telling me about already in some way, shape or form.’”
Franklin himself has faced many battles through his career whether it was dealing with his porn addiction, receiving criticism for his apology to the LGBT community or his recent work with Kanye West on The Life of Pablo.
Christon Gray Defends Kirk Franklin’s Work With Kanye West
Even though he considers himself the mentee, Gray says that Franklin reached out to him for prayer as he went to work with Yeezy. He says that Franklin knew there would be backlash, but he wanted to live according to his higher purpose.
“Kirk stands for something,” Gray says. “He’s not trying to just be associated with any and everything, but he loves Kanye and he loves everybody. He loves people. But you know, people are gonna look at Kirk Franklin. I feel like he knew he was gonna get heat for it, so he just wanted to make sure that this motives was right.”
Gray admits to being a little starstruck at the heavyweights that Franklin got to work with and admires Franklin for checking his intentions before going to the studio.
“He just hit me up and just asked for prayer that if it was an environment that did not really fit what he’s trying to do, that he would have the strength to say no,” he says, “‘cause it is Kanye and they had legends in the room. I wanted to be in the room. Andre 3000 was in there and I was like, ‘Bruh, can we meet?'”
When the criticism came, Franklin seemed ready. Gray says that both he and his mentor see West as a person and appreciate his music and persona.
“He seemed like he was a bit somber about it,” Gray says of Franklin, “but he knew it was the right decision. I really respect him for being so close with Kanye and being so close with Kanye and sticking up for him, man. I really do. Ye’s like, is one of my biggest musical inspirations, but just beyond that, I’ve listened to him and I’ve just heard just a dude, just a regular dude. He’s passionate about what he believes and he speaks about it. I think more people should do that and Kirk recognizes that, too. So I don’t think he has a problem rocking with him.”
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