Jesus Is King

Kanye West

G.O.O.D. Music, 2019

http://www.kanyewest.com

REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/06/2020

When Jesus Is King, Kanye West’s ninth studio album, was released in October 2019, it came with a sideshow: West announcing his conversion to evangelical Christianity and his subsequent decision to only create gospel music. In the wake of these announcements, people had plenty of questions. Was Kanye for real or was this all just a publicity stunt? Would a devout Kanye still perform his older, more hedonistic songs? Was this just another chapter in the performer’s tumultuous life and career, or was this a permanent change? The one question few seemed to be asking, at least without long detours into those other topics, was the one music fans tend to care most about: how’s the album?

So let’s let the music speak for itself (not a bad idea, since, in the words of comedian Pete Davidson, “We as a country need to agree that if it isn’t over a sick beat, we don’t want to listen to anything Kanye West has to say ever again.”

Jesus Is King announces its intentions and style with its opening track, “Every Hour,” two minutes of gospel choir music from the Sunday Service Choir praising the Lord without a peep from West. This track can be seen as an exit ramp for West’s longtime fans – if you hate this song, you’re probably not going to care for what’s to come; if you’re intrigued, then stick around.

“Selah” brings West into the picture and in many ways serves as the perfect introduction to the album’s themes after the prologue of “Every Hour.” With rapping that sounds tighter and more focused than on 2018’s ye, West proudly proclaims his new direction in the first line: “God is king, we the soldiers.” “Selah” is the closest thing to a mission statement and an explanation the album gives. Referencing his announced-but-never-released project from earlier in the year, West raps that “Everybody wanted Yandhi / then Jesus Christ did the laundry.” Kanye sounds energized and bold in this song, a combination that has always served him well.

“Follow God” sees West borrow from the themes of 2016’s “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” as he raps about the struggle and rewards of living like a disciple of Christ. Sampling Whole Truth’s 1974 gospel track “Can You Lose By Following God” ties things together well and gives the song a nice soulful tinge that ties it both thematically and musically to the rest of the album.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Closed On Sunday” is probably the album’s first misstep, built on the trying-too-hard metaphor equating West with Chick Fil A because he’s, you guessed it, “closed on Sunday” for rest, reflection, and worship. Slowing down after the more energetic preceding tracks, “Closed On Sunday” is a more reflective song than those preceding it, with verses which are sung instead of rapped. Kanye has proven over the years, especially on 808s & Heartbreak, that he doesn’t have to be rapping to make quality music, but this song winds up being corny instead of captivating.

“On God” is probably the track which has the most people questioning the validity, or at least the maturity, of West’s faith. Equal parts testimony and rationalization, the song sees West crediting God for his success and even folding some of his past controversies into an unexplained bigger plan God has for his life. Cynically, you can’t help but wonder if putting all Kanye’s baggage “on God” isn’t just blame-shifting. Furthermore, tying his success to his newfound faith smells like the heretical-but-popular prosperity gospel, which contends that God rewards the faithful with material good fortune – a strange thought when you consider that Christians worship a Savior who was crucified. The muddiness of its intentions and plodding musicality make this track another miss.

Things cool down in the second half of the album, when West starts bringing on featured friends like Ty Dolla Sign and Ant Clemons in “Water,” which alternates between a gospel chorus and rapped verses about finding satisfaction in what’s been given, and the heavily produced “Hands On,” with Fred Hammond’s chorus framing lyrics about West’s old life giving way to his new faith (“Told the devil when I see him on sight / I’ve been working for you my whole life / Told the devil that I’m going on a strike). “Use This Gospel” is the most interesting of these collaborative songs, with Kenny G – you read that right – stepping into a song about hypocrisy and judgment to lend a saxophone solo that, against all odds, fits pretty well.

The standout track on the album, tucked away in its second half, is “God Is,” the most personal and honest song on the album. Sung instead of rapped, and backed by the Sunday Service Choir, Kanye throatily praises God for saving him: “I know God is the force that picked me up / I know Christ is the fountain that filled my cup.” It all builds to the end, when Kanye promises “This is mission, not a show / this is my eternal soul.” Easily the most captivating song on Jesus Is King, both musically and lyrically, “God Is” also serves as a summary of the album’s themes.

It's impossible to listen to Jesus Is King without parsing Kanye’s motivations. For decades now, West has made his music and his celebrity parts of a whole; his new releases are snapped up by many for the same reason they read Us Weekly. But separated from West’s personal life, as much as that’s possible, Jesus Is King stands out as an album more focused than The Life of Pablo and more animated than ye. While it never soars to the heights of the albums which defined West’s career, Jesus Is King proves that, aided by a new musical and spiritual direction, Kanye is still worth listening to…over a sick beat, anyway.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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