So let's get this out of the way: I didn't listen to Kanye West's Jesus is King album. Didn’t have a desire to — absolutely no need. Why? Because we already have a king of combining the secular and the religious when it comes to Gospel music, and his name is Kirk Franklin. Better still, we have an up and coming prince in one Durand Bernarr. Why would I listen to “slavery sounds like a choice” Kanye West?
Durand Bernarr has long been going viral on the Internet for his vocal stylings. At the tender age of 21 he made a “Holy Commentating” video. In it, he played a voguing beat and urged listeners to “Clap, christians clap!” He took the ballroom scene to Sunday Service.
“I was a fan of the ballroom scene which I had been introduced to a few years earlier, and being the sanctified civilian I was at the time, found comedic relief in adding Christ into the mix of the voguing,” Bernarr, who has worked with the likes of Erykah Badu as well as Earth, Wind & Fire, tells Out. That was a decade ago, and he’s had fans laughing ever since.
Let’s be clear: Durand Bernarr is a singer, and a talented one at that. While he wasn’t classically trained, he’s learned by trial and error over the years and developed an amazing sound that he frequently lets loose on his social media as well as in social media. It has helped him to be able to work with the aforementioned names, as well as Teedra Moses, singing backup. But on top of that, Bernarr is a lyricist.
Some of the most viral clips of the traveling, queer performer are of him taking well-known songs, many of them Gospel hits, and turning them profane. Take Maurette Brown Clark’s “Just Want to Praise You.” Giving the track the same modulation and vocal production that any true full Black choir might, Bernarr gave it an update.
“Fuck these fuck niggas,” he sang in an Instagram live video that’s been reposted to Twitter and gone viral multiple times. Sure, that wasn’t the point of the original song, but a point was made!!
In his appearance on Terrell Rice’s popular YouTube channel, he gives another song an update.
“I can’t explain it, it gets to blazing, nigga that weed is so, it’s so amazing” he sings in a rework of Kirk Franklin’s stomp. “It gets me fried, I can’t deny, and when I think about Sativa it makes me want to smoke! L is in my hand, pass it to your man and, smoke!”
“One thing an old friend reminded me was the church ain’t never gon’ leave me,” Bernarr says of his revamps. “It’s there, it’s ingrained … the culture that is. I still enjoy gospel music and church-y antics — it still entertains me and very much is still a part of who I am. So this is kind of me embracing my upbringing in church culture while also living my life as a heathen who only really has two main goals with my art: make people think and make people laugh.” As the performer points out, it adds him to a lineage of singers like Kirk Franklin, Ray Charles and Little Richard.
But that talent has gotten some recognition. Earlier this year he performed on BET’s music competition show Next Big Thing. He made quite the showing, eventually making it to the top three competitors on the show. The judges repeatedly commented on his showmanship as he oscillated between rapping and singing (the other performers all chose one style).
“You kind of set the bar for yourself, so we’re now expecting you to steal the show and anything else is disappointing,” Dame Dash told him in the fourth episode. A bittersweet critique.
Though he didn’t win the show, Bernarr says he did walk away from the experience with some amazing relationships with cast members as well as some iconic performers. One of the Marvelettes, who sang the hit “Please Mr. Postman,” reached out to “adopt” him as her grandson and share her experiences in the business.
“It’s definitely a warm [thing] to encounter because all of my grandparents are deceased,” he said.