Kanye West has finally released his long awaited album, Jesus is King.
A new Kanye album is always big news, but this time things are different. See, Kanye is a new man, a born again Christian who is done with secular music. There is not a curse word to be heard across this album. Oh, and he asked everyone working on the album to refrain from premarital sex. Yeah.
But for all it’s God talk, this is not an album about God – it’s about Kanye. Despite claiming that “Jesus saved me, now I’m sane” on ‘God Is’, it’s clear that we are still dealing with the aftermath of a very public breakdown. Some would say that this has been going on since he snatched a VMA out of Taylor Swift’s hands, but others would say it began sometime during the Saint Pablo tour in 2016.
A particularly bad 2018 saw Kanye hospitalized, ranting in TMZ about slavery and wearing a lopsided MAGA hat tweeting about “dragon energy”. The year culminated in Kanye releasing his first lackluster solo album, Ye. Shortly thereafter, he promised a new album, Yandhi, and began his quasi-religious gospel sessions with his Sunday Service Choir. It’s clear that Jesus Is King is a “Frankenstein” creation of leaked songs from the scrapped Yandhi album, glossed over with the religious zealousness of a recent convert. Whilst the album does have intriguing moments, it cannot mask the fact that it is inherently vapid and, as a follow up to Ye, it confirms that the once great album maker has put music on the backburner.
Kanye’s immersion in Christianity is both a long time coming and seemingly out of the blue. ‘Jesus Walks’ was the breakout single of his debut album The College Dropout. In 2013 Kanye became one with the Messiah, crowning himself Yeezus. Religion runs throughout Kanye’s work, but Kanye himself is always at the center. ‘Jesus Walks’ wasn’t a song about Jesus, it was about Kanye defying radio stations: “But if I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh?”. Kanye’s conversation with Jesus on the Yeezus cut ‘I Am a God’ is not a particularly religious moment either: “I just talked to Jesus/ he said what up Yeezus?/ I said shit I’m chillin”. On the scrapped Yandhi, there was ‘New Body’, a song about plastic surgery: “new ass, new tits, new bitch, true this”, Kanye raps. Yet a few months later he is a devout Christian, a quick turnaround which has left everyone, including himself, little time to try and understand his new world view.
Unfortunately, Kanye’s take on new found faith is expressed solely in platitudes: “I bow down to the King upon the throne/My life is his, I’m no longer my own”, he wails on ‘God Is’. “Jesus, flow through us/ Jesus heal the bruises/ Jesus clean the music” he rambles on ‘Water’, a low point of the album. “King of Kings, Lords of Lords, all the things He has in store/ from the rich to the poor, all are welcome through the door”, he sings with the rhyming scheme of a tired Sunday school teacher.
Kanye exploring religion could be fascinating, but he has embraced religion with a zealousness that eliminates nuance or lets any of his signature charisma shine through.
However, this is still a Kanye album so it undeniably sounds great. Kanye wields the enormous choir at his disposal well and it is filled with expensive and intricate instrumentals. The Pierre Bourne assisted ‘On God’ is fascinating and sounds like a church organ racing down Rainbow Road. Bars like “that’s why I charge the prices that I charge/ I can’t be out here dancing with the stars/ no I cannot let my family starve”, are frustrating, however. Kanye, you’re a billionaire, selling £50 Jesus socks isn’t exactly virtuous.
‘Follow God’ is a banger though, showing he’s still got the magic touch when it comes to chopping up a sample. ‘Selah’ is another high point. Whilst it sounds like a Yeezus instrumental diluted in Holy water, it’s still powerful. But on Jesus Is King, the sum of its parts are greater than the whole, and these songs feel like sketches. ‘Everything We Need’ has a slick Ty Dolla Sign intro but amounts to very little. Similarly, ‘Water’ and ‘Hands On’ meander aimlessly and only a few songs even pass the 3-minute mark.
It is said that Kanye spent 5000 hours mixing and mastering ‘POWER’ on his magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. That focus and perfectionism is nowhere to be heard on Jesus Is King. It is an undercooked, confused album, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that Kanye is lost. But hey, at least there wasn’t a 6ix9ine verse or a duet with Donald Trump on here.