Kanye West boldly declared “I am a God / Hurry up with my damn message” on his 2013 album Yeezus, a project where West indulged his egoistic tendencies and proclaimed not only his music’s divine inspiration but his own divinity. On his latest album Jesus Is King, released last Friday after numerous delays along with an accompanying IMAX film, West sings and raps on gospel tracks praising his savior, Jesus Christ, and chronicling his reinvigorated commitment to Christianity.
That said, his new attitude reflects more of a revision to his brazen declaration on Yeezus rather than a complete change of heart. He still retains his trademark egoism and seems to believe that, if Jesus is King, then he is a prophet—a chosen one who will bring God’s word and salvation to Earth.
The concept for Jesus is King was most likely formed after West began holding Sunday Services. These events combined music and worship through the lens of West’s eccentric personality as a gospel choir and West performed renditions of classic songs and covers of West’s previous work. Originally, the album was titled Yandhi, of which some tracks were leaked. However, after undergoing numerous iterations, the album eventually arrived as Jesus is King, the vinyl record album cover harkening back to the minimalistic CD cover of Yeezus. This comparison is apt, as although West’s faith in God may have developed, this album’s sound pays homage to much of his previous work.
The second track of the album, “Selah,” starts with ominous, cinematic organs and West boldly stating “Before the flood people judge / They did the same thing to Noah / Everybody wanted Yandhi / Then Jesus Christ did the laundry.” West seems to be comparing his own public relations’ woes to Noah’s troubles, yet another example of West’s distorted worldview. He thinks his life is a biblical epic unfolding before us and anyone who criticizes him is simply unenlightened or unwilling to acknowledge his brilliance. A chorus of “hallelujah’s” swells until it bursts toward the end of the track where West says “If you woke then wake up,” criticizing what he perceives as our society’s intellectual laziness and conformist thinking.
As with every one of West’s projects, the production is always energetic and melodic, with the three tracks following “Selah” making up the bulk of the album’s substance. On “Follow God,” an old soul sample that would fit perfectly on The College Dropout is quickly joined by a pulsing drum beat along with West’s most aggressive delivery and bars on the album. The next track, “Closed on Sunday,” features moody guitar fingerpicking similar to that of “Cudi Montage” from Kids See Ghosts before seamlessly transitioning into “On God.” This track is a highlight of the project due to its synthesizer loop that is both catchy yet jarring. It has the melodic appeal of his electronic instrumentals off Graduation yet the raw frenetic energy of Yeezus.
Other highlights include “God Is” and “Use This Gospel.” The former reminds us of West’s tact in weaving in soul samples as it opens with lush, passionate singing before effortless flowing into West at the most intimate and emotionally vulnerable point of the record. He proudly tells us “I know Christ is the fountain that filled my cup” and goes on to credit God for his numerous blessings saying “This my kids, this the crib / This my wife, this my life / This my God-given right / Thank you, Jesus won the fight.” It is an intensely honest song that depicts the flawed superstar at least trying, if not succeeding, to change his ways.
The latter “Use This Gospel” features a reunion of iconic rap duo Clipse, composed of brothers Pusha T and No Malice. Pusha T delivers bars about his crime-ridden path to the top as guided by a higher power, smartly commenting “How could He not be the greatest? / In my bed, under covers when undercovers had raided.” No Malice reflects West’s move from explicit, hedonistic lyrics to spiritual, wholesome material. He proudly raps, “They give you Wraith talk, I give you faith talk / Blindfolded on this road, watch me faith walk.”
The chorus of “Use This Gospel” remains firmly entrenched in the listener’s mind after forgettable outro “Jesus is Lord” and functions as a last impression of the project. West sings “Use this Gospel for protection / It’s a hard road to Heaven / We call on your blessings / In the father we put our faith.” West is prone to controversial statements and will no doubt face more in the future. What’s worrying is that he will use Christianity, or rather “use the Gospel,” to try to legitimize his outlandish, misinformed, and regressive statements.
West’s relentless egoism and moral shortcomings only hinder his work on this project. If he truly wants to ascend to a higher level of musical innovation, he will have to learn to temper his self-pride without losing his ambition.
Featured Image by Universal Music Group