Review | Kanye West - Jesus is King
From “I am a God” to “Jesus saved me”, Kanye West blesses us with his long-awaited and heavily-delayed ninth album, Jesus is King.
What hasn’t Kanye been in his career at this point? Politician, egotist, mental health advocate, minimalist, decadent, influencer, and now in 2019, a fully-fledged Christian. In terms of change, the most recent two years or so will go down as having some of Kanye’s most monumental character shifts. From the narrative of releasing his collaborative KIDS SEE GHOSTS project with Kid Cudi and his eighth studio album, ye, Kanye’s mental health was propelled into the limelight. Publicly at his most vulnerable, evident in his Netflix interview with David Letterman, Kanye found himself in heavy controversy due to a political allegiance with Donald Trump. Despite this, Kanye continued to find success with his Yeezy brand and his Sunday Services that began in January 2019. The relationship between Kanye West and Christianity is not a new one but, with Jesus is King, the Chicago rapper dedicates himself to the cause. Even though Kanye is arguably the only man on the planet that can top the charts with a Gospel album, many fans and music enthusiasts alike had their reservations heading into this record. How far would he go with this Christian stuff? Would this be Kanye’s The Big Day equivalent, but instead of directing praise towards his wife he would direct it to Jesus? Would the album even arrive? Happily for us, the answer to the last question has been "yes". But is this album everything we expect from a Kanye West record?
The theme of the album is introduced explicitly on “Every Hour” that features vocals from Kanye’s Sunday Service choir before abruptly transitioning to “Selah”, accentuating its short run time. “Saleh” would’ve served as a better introduction with “Every Hour” fitting in between “On God” and “Everything We Need”. However, “Every Hour” is the only track that does not feature any vocals from Kanye, setting the tone for his religious journey as he allows God to have the opening moment with the subtle vocal harmonies that expose themselves pleasantly. “Selah” follows with an even more triumphant sound and can be argued to be one of Kanye’s best minimalist works. A subdued synth organ backs Ye’s opening ramble, but it's the booming drum triplet and choral hallelujah that really cement this song as a true aural experience. In the first verse, he addresses the state of Yandhi, the scrapped album scheduled for release over a year ago, by saying “Everybody wanted Yandhi, then Jesus Christ did the laundry.” Though leaks from Yandhi have surfaced and evolved into some of the songs on Jesus is King, it’s clear that Kanye reworked a lot of the material for a cleaner, gospel-driven project.
“Follow God” picks up the tempo, incorporating more hip-hop qualities with the sample flip of “Can You Lose By Following God” by Whole Truth, and holding the use of these boppy drums until now definitely lets them hit harder. Almost a successor to “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1” from his 2016 album, The Life of Pablo (TLOP), another Kanye or feature verse could have done this track more justice, as it tends to get repetitive. “Closed on Sunday” speaks about some of the leading topics in Kanye’s recent interviews such as social media and culture. Despite the dominance that he and his wife Kim Kardashian have had on both, he expresses the freedom he feels, saying “No more living for the culture, we nobody’s slave.” It would be rude not to mention the Chick-Fil-A line that’s undoubtedly going to be the captions of many Instagram posts. It wouldn’t be a Kanye album without wacky quotable lyrics and even on a very professional, religious album Kanye still keeps that familiarity by preaching about chicken alongside Jesus. Musically, the minimalist style serves the track well as the vocal melody employed in the last minute of the song builds so beautifully and dominates the track as he submits himself to God by “bow(ing) down to the King upon the throne.”
The Pi’erre Bourne instrumental on “On God” sounds like it was ripped straight off Graduation, but it’s rarely a bad thing to see Ye at his decadent and futuristic best. While the religious references and spiritual themes continue, “On God” still doesn’t exactly hit the thematic mark. Originally titled “The Storm”, “Everything We Need” features frequent collaborators Ty Dolla $ign and Ant Clemons. The leaked version included a posthumous verse from XXXTentacion that was likely removed due to the lyrical content being unsuitable for the Christian approach of the album. A good hook from Ty Dolla $ign and Ant Clemons supports Kanye at his egotistical best, proving not everything about his personality has changed. Instances like this are where Kanye’s minimalist approach leaves plenty to be desired, as it seems his perfectionism still couldn’t help the beat match the energy that Ye brings to his verses. That being said, the production across the album still feels polished and impressive. Where on previous records like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or TLOP, a choir would’ve been used to support a maximalist instrumental, on “Water” the choral strains are the highlight of the track, another escapade into the world of minimalism. Ant Clemons and the Sunday Service choir continue to deliver beautiful vocals supported by the Sunday Service choir where it feels as though the reborn Kanye West has finally arrived. In every track before this, there’s a sense of Kanye explaining why he wants to and exploring how to dedicate himself to God, but “Water” expresses a strong sense of peace and purity.
A slower, more traditional styled gospel tune, with piano and orchestral choruses galore, “God Is” has a glorious melody from Ye. However, it is without a doubt the most preachy track, with every bar on the track forming some representation of Jesus’ greatness in Ye’s eyes. After “God Is”, “Hands On” comes through menacingly with an atmospheric refrain from Fred Hammond. Kanye’s choice of vocalists for this album is up to par with his previous ones but as the track is reminiscent of KIDS SEE GHOSTS, Kid Cudi’s presence is definitely missed. The track does become quite boring quickly with the instrumental providing simply a background to Ye’s repetitive venting. “Use This Gospel”, being one of the best tracks on the album, produces a long-awaited reunion between Pusha T and No Malice from rap duo, Clipse. The sampling of what sounds like a seatbelt alarm in your car somehow hits along with the modded humming vocals. Marking their first joint effort since “Shame the Devil” by No Malice in 2013, Pusha T and No Malice bring high energy to track before the highlight of the album. Kenny G’s saxophone builds the mood and strongly contrasts with the thick layers of the choir and the bass, to give an isolated and compelling solo before the instrumental re-enters stronger than ever. “Jesus Is Lord” is a missed opportunity and should have been incorporated into “Use This Gospel” which could have been an incredible closing track. The brass instruments would have matched perfectly but at only 50 seconds, “Jesus Is Lord” doesn’t say or do anything that hasn’t already been done.
The numerous delays that heightened the expectations of Jesus is King have led to its mixed reviews as, at moments, the production still shows signs of being rushed. The album can tend to lean on repetition, to which it’s short 27-minute run time serves its purpose. Like most of Kanye’s works, Jesus is King will hopefully continue to impress after every listen, as he reminds us that he is a consistent innovator and influencer in hip-hop.
Best song: Use This Gospel
Worst: Jesus Is Lord