Yeezus Turns to Jesus: Kanye West Preaches the Gospel on ‘Jesus Is King’ Album
Kanye West never ceases to surprise with his antics, and considering all the years of eccentricity, his latest development somehow comes as little of a shock: He’s found Jesus. The same rapper who once proudly declared, “I am a God,” has now given himself entirely to God. On yet another longform interview with Zane Lowe, West claimed it was his “purpose and mission to spread the gospel.” He explained that the transformation began when he copied Bible passages while hospitalized for mental illness. He also had a moment of revelation shortly after Coachella, suddenly finding himself disillusioned with the largely materialistic, grandiose posturing that he had embraced for most of his career. He has since disavowed porn, and even gone so far as to request that no one involved on this album engage in premarital sex during its recording. He now rejects the term “entertainer,” opting instead for “Christian innovator,” although his level of modesty is still rather removed from Christianity, as he described himself in the same interview as, “undoubtedly the greatest artist in human existence,” and remains convinced that he will eventually be president. He plans, however, to use his newfound faith in Christ to do great things, having recently purchased a $14 million dollar ranch in Cody, Wyoming, where he plans to occasion a resurgence in farming and manufacturing, giving second chance occupational opportunities to reformed criminals. This latest album, “Jesus Is King,” announced and delayed several times in typical Kanye fashion, is finally here, accompanied by a 35-minute film of the same name, playing in the only theaters big enough for Ye’s ego — IMAX. In the midst of its final delay, Ye rung in the album and film release with a listening and viewing event Wednesday night at L.A.’s the Forum along with a surprise Thursday-night appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Kimmel, where he plans to return on Friday for a musical performance. The album is a departure from the bold experimentation of his recent seven-song record series, but not as odd as one might expect from the nature of the project. It essentially sounds exactly like what it is — Kanye as a born-again Christian.
West recruits the Sunday Service choir, from his own church that he started this January, for the opening number “Every Hour,” and it sounds just as you might expect from West finding Jesus during one of his manic episodes. It’s the most animated, spirited strain of gospel, and it begins the album with plenty of flair and passion. West’s own voice first appears on “Selah,” named after a Hebrew term that appears throughout the Book of Psalms. While its meaning is disputed, West himself has defined it as, “to look back and reflect upon.” We can hear traces of his bipolarity when he describes reaching heaven’s gates, and, “Keepin’ perfect composure / When I scream at the chauffeur.” In typical egotistical style, he calls out his haters by mentioning that Noah had haters too, and addresses his change in direction, acknowledging, “Everybody wanted ‘Yandhi,’” his scrapped ninth album, but explaining, “Then Jesus Christ did the laundry.” The song begins with ominous organ, and thunderclap bangs punctuate Ye’s rapping as it grows steadily more intense. For the chorus, the choir enters again, repeating “Hallelujah,” first gently, than with full evangelical abandon, and by the end, Ye has become so excited that he’s just screaming, “Wah, woo, wah, woo.”
“Follow Good” is inspired by an argument between West and his father about how to be Christlike. It sounds more like a classic Kanye cut, with Ye at his most masterful flow, although still brimming with spiritual inspiration. There’s prominent sampling of Whole Truth’s 1969 song, “Can You Lose by Following God.” West went so far on his Zane Lowe interview as to claim we feel a little of Jesus’ suffering in our addiction to social media, and that makes it into this song with the line, “I was looking at the ‘Gram and I don’t even like likes” — characteristic Kanye phrasing at its best. “Closed on Sundays” is an awkward moment, with the key line “Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-fil-A.” Surely, Ye fancies himself very clever to make the connection between the franchise restaurant still keeping the Christian Sabbath — but what about the “you’re” part? Considering that he goes on to say, “Raise our sons, train them in the faith,” he appears to be describing Kim Kardashian as “closed on Sundays.” He must have truly been powerfully affected by his spiritual awakening, as it seems to have left him with a slowed, slurred speech. He rattles through platitudes about Christian living, until a monotonous pulsating tone enters midway, as if indicating the attainment of a new balance, and West bellows over it with passion.
West flows over a swirling, hypnotic beat for “On God,” delivering a litany of uplifting statements, inspiring the likes of single mothers and prisoners doing time. When West claims, “Before the Grammys ever gave a nod / I wore my heart on my sleeve,” you have to give him credit, considering that as a winner of twenty-one Grammys so far, he reached out to former President of the Recording Academy Neil Portnow, tweeting that he considered the institution, “completely off and out of touch.” And then there are priceless lines like, “When I thought the Book of Job was a job.” Ty Dolla $ign & Ant Clemons both join Ye for “Everything We Need,” adopting gospel stylings for a refrain of “We have everything we need (Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh, oh)” and Ye alludes to Biblical narratives in ways only he could, for example, asking, “What if Eve made apple juice? / You gon’ do what Adam do?”
“Water” is a light, funky cut, again featuring Clemons. The central motif is water as a symbol of purity, and the song features some of the most direct prayer-like language on the album, with West rapping, “Jesus, heal the bruises / Jesus, clean the music / Jesus, please use us.” The use of water in baptism recalls themes from last year’s “Reborn” from West’s Kid Cudi collaborative album “Kids See Ghosts.” Then comes “God Is,” essentially a pure gospel track, lifted from a Sunday service session in Salt Lake City, Utah. “Hands On” is one of West’s more abstract, minimal, deconstructed productions. He finds somewhat clever ways to describe his change in philosophy, dropping lines like “Told the devil that I’m going on a strike.” West has received some backlash from the Christian community, some members of which wish to distance themselves from figures as eccentric and controversial as him. He addresses this here, asking, “What have you been hearin’ from the Christians?” and acknowledging, “They’ll be the first one to judge me.” Gospel singer Fred Hammond makes an appearance, offering an especially inventive take on gospel stylings, and making for one of the album’s most sonically adventurous tracks.
“Use This Gospel” is a reimagination of scrapped “Yandhi” track, “Chakras (Law of Attraction),” featuring the recently reunited duo of Pusha T and No Malice, Clipse. West originally didn’t even plan to rap on this album, having explained, “ I didn’t know how to rap for God,” at which point No Malice led the way, proming, “‘I’ma write you a rap for this.” West sticks to relatively tradition prayer language like “We call on your blessings / In the Father, we put our faith,” and No Malice adds some more poetic lines like “From the concrete grew a rose / They give you Wraith talk, I give you faith talk.” Perhaps the single oddest detail about this already peculiar album is this song’s other featured artist — ‘90s smooth jazz sensation Kenny G. He sounds, well, exactly like Kenny G, and plays with a passion that fits the spiritual focus of the track. At any rate, his inclusion makes the track highly original. Finally, West brings the album to an end with a forty-nine second closer, on which he repeatedly affirms, “Jesus is Lord” over triumphant instrumentation.
Where we go from here, there’s no telling. Will West go on to perform miracles, conduct seances, walk over water in shoes he designed himself? Only time will tell. One thing for sure, however, is that he is in a positive place, and as creatively inspired as ever. “Jesus Is King” runs a bit like a confluence of the styles in which West has dabbled in over the years. There are the soul-sampling beats that became his signature in the early days. There’s a bit of the madcap eccentricity that characterized last year’s releases. There’s the same big mouth and brash personality, just flipped, with West now focusing his energy on proclaiming the gospel — full blast. And then, there’s the sheer absurdity of the project at large, making it quintessentially a Kanye West album.
“Jesus Is King” is available Oct. 25 on Apple Music.