Photo Credit: Kevin Winter
Cynics will rejoice! Devout loyalists will waiver with indifference through brand ambassador Kanye West’s latest and most talked about effort of his career; Jesus Is King. “I am the greatest artist God has ever created,” boasts the brash veteran rap star at a recent gathering of his popular Sunday Service events. To be fair, if anyone could possibly spearhead a Christian hip-hop phenomenon with magical prowess and success, it is none other than the ever so bold and polarizing persona that is Kanye West. Undoubtedly, this signature egotism and arrogance that has defined West’s career at times is still there, nine albums later.
The 11-track collective is the follow up to West’s June 2018 effort Ye. Coming in at a brief twenty-seven minutes in total, the LP fairs decently but doesn’t quite live up to the hype. On previous works like The Life of Pablo, Ye and even the magnificent My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye made the angel and the devil on his shoulders work as a cohesive cohort to some intangible degree. However, Jesus Is King doesn’t seem to strike that same balance of harmonious transparency and relevant content. In some extraordinary moments on the LP, West bears down on you like a torrential downpour, daring anyone to top his creative competence. On the other hand, there are times on Jesus Is King that you wonder, “where exactly is he going with this?”
The album kicks off well enough with the uplifting and inspiring “Every Hour”. Which admittedly will make even the non-believers want to show praise. “Every hour, every minute, every second, each and every millisecond,” goes the choir sounding hook. Next up is “Selah”, which also embodies a very church sounding influence. The repeated chants of “Hallelujah” in the background become a bit exaggerated, but the overall impact of the track makes it worthwhile.
Fans will appreciate “Follow God” which features a sample from the renowned gospel group ‘Whole Truth’. West touches on the rocky relationship he’s had with his father and he expands on the peaceful place they have finally come to. With no real hook he spews fire lines like: “Arguing at my dad, he told me it ain’t Christ like.” The best all-around track comes on the deep and soul bearing “God Is” which has an old-style conventional gospel vibe to it. Most notably it feels like this is West trying to bare himself. To put aside ego and perfection in the face of something greater, and for just a moment, you might believe him.
Then, “On God” is by far the most awoke you see will see West! This is hands down the best produced track as he rhymes over a vintage west coast type 808 beat singing: “The devil had my soul, I can’t lie // Life gon’ have some lows and some highs.” Projecting the passionate remnants of tracks like “Jesus Walks” on College Dropout. When you could feel his desire and wanted to walk with him.
But ever the extremist! He inexplicably goes ghost on the sounds of “Use This Gospel” but is saved by one of hip-hop’s finest duos, Pusha T and Malice of ‘The Clipse’ who make a surprise return with blistering verses as Pusha T spits: “Blindfolded on this road, watch me faith walk. // Just hold onto ya brother, when his faith lost.” Albeit, seemingly thrown together, the track is also rescued by a beautiful saxophone melody by Kenny G on the bridge.
Then as if on cue, like pouring water on a campfire, things burn out on the ladder half of the album in a heartbeat and West’s creativity seemingly disappears. For example, the narcissistic Kanye returns on “Hands On” rehearsing self-righteous lines like: “What have you been hearing from the Christians? // They be the first ones to judge me. // Make it feel like nobody love me. // Somebody pray for me.” Elsewhere, the track “Water” sounds distant and disconnected. As if he’s trying to make something forced out of this perceived mission he’s on.
“Everything We Need” is unmemorable. Then on “Closed On Sunday” he passive aggressively speaks on how he wants to raise his sons and daughters but in the next breath, compares his companion Kim Kardashian-West to a chic filet sandwich. This is the same self-absorbed attitude he’s used in the past. Making one misogynist reference after another in his music regarding the women in his life. The LP ends with the scattered and unfinished sounding “Jesus Is Lord”. West sounds muffled and hard to understand on this closer. Befittingly.
In conclusion, while we understand he has found spirituality, at times it is still hard to take the mercurial West seriously on Jesus Is King. Respectively, it is a good thing that Kanye has found at least a source of peace with his newfound journey to Christ. The problem is, faith is all about belief and as he is yelling and screaming to God over good beats, unfortunately we still can’t really hear what he’s saying. Why? Because it’s hard to feel someone as influential as him, if he doesn’t even truly believe all of it himself.