In the mid-2000s, fans, critics and the Recording Academy couldn’t heap enough praise on Kanye West‘s brilliant, visionary fusion of rap/hip-hop with classic pop textures. But long before West was dominating the pop scene, Kirk Franklin was bringing this same type of cross-genre genius to the gospel world. While he was something of a breakout superstar of his genre in the ’90s, he also was creating amazing faith based projects well into the 2000s. Beginning with a boxing ring bell and running close to 80 minutes over 16 tracks, The Fight of My Life packs a multi-faceted emotional punch that might challenge fans of only feel-good, happy expressions of “God is Great, all the time” type songs. Exulting in shouts, interjections, and his trademark talk-rap style over an exuberant female choir, bright orchestrations, and edgy scratches, Franklin uses a brilliant reworking of the Kenny Loggins–Michael McDonald lite pop classic “This Is It” to fashion his upfront statement of faith “Declaration (This Is It).” Through this track, he attributes his ability to come through all his trials to the Almighty’s grace, but later, he (or rather, his female entourage) reflects refreshingly on his doubts on the gorgeous, heartfelt ballad “Help Me Believe.” Then comes “Hide Me,” in which he feels lost in life; while not understanding God’s ways, he seeks shelter to help his faith grow. More than simply, wonderfully honest, ultra-hip gospel, this is modern-day Psalming at its best. Blending grooves, horn textures, choir textures and in your face rap, the fight constantly balances trust (“He Will Supply,” “Jesus”) with the darker issues confronting the idea of maintaining faith in a difficult world. The angry, blistering rock guitar driving “I Am God” underscores the tension of wanting to break free while God keeps pursuing and asking for our trust; this track breaks the typical Franklin mold and sounds more like crackling, anthemic Christian rock. The message is always the artist’s focus, but with so many tracks, the stylistic diversity (from buoyant, atmospheric ’70s disco on “Still in Love” to the tribal African vibe of “I Like Me” and the torchy ballad “Chains”) makes the disc a soul-stirring blast from start to finish. This is one fight that will leave the listener smiling through the bruises. All contemporary gospel should be this musically joyful and lyrically raw and honest.