A nod to a Christian re-awakening or a cry for help? It’s never easy to tell what truly goes on inside the mind of mercurial superstar Kanye West, but one thing that is certain is that he’s found his next obsession; and luckily he could’ve picked a worse one than devotion to faith.
No artist in the modern pop culture landscape has seen scandal, controversy, greatness, acclaim, highs, lows and everything in between quite like Kanye West. He is the most prominent name in rap music this century, a 21 time Grammy winner, one half of the biggest power couple on Earth, the list could go on. Sadly there’s another list that could go on and on; he’s also the man who has openly endorsed Donald Trump, tweeted that slavery was a choice, stormed the stage to deny Taylor Swift an award winning moment, need I continue? Love him or loathe him, we all know and talk about Kanye West.
2018 felt like a rebirth moment for Kanye, he revealed an openness and honesty with his battles against addiction and mental health struggles on the kaleidoscopic Kids See Ghosts and ye albums. He also went back to his beat-chopping backstage best with work on Pusha T’s DAYTONA, Nas’ NASIR and Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E.; so his next move was always going to be bold.
Over the last 12 months we have seen Kanye in a new light, and clearly he has too. He’s always been a man of faith, we knew that with the groundbreaking Jesus Walks way back in 2004; but 2019 Kanye hasn’t just left the door ajar for God, he’s kicked the door clean off the hinges. His Sunday Services have dominated the internet and gained mass attention, so much so that he delivered a rousing performance of it at this year’s Coachella Festival. These services have become a spectacle, a gateway into Christianity for people who are otherwise uninspired; either that or just a damn good time and an excuse to see Kanye perform.
Now I suppose I better talk about this album right? I’ll get it out the way now; this is his worst album. There’s songs on here I wish Kanye had never made, that sound rushed and blown out; characteristics I would never ever want to tag Kanye West songs with. There are cringe lyrics (yes I’m talking about the Closed On Sunday hook) and there is the occasional poor mix. With all that being said, the good outweighs the bad, as is pretty much always going to be the case on a Kanye project.
I’ve seen a lot of people trash this record, say it’s too preachy and indulgent. To that I say, fair enough, but also isn’t that kind of the point of an album which was designed to honour a man’s love for his faith? Imagine if he said he was gonna make a gospel album and mentioned God once a song? There’s no pleasing people sadly, and so often people allow opinion of Kanye West the person to cloud their judgement on Kanye West the artist.
The Sunday Service Choir on opener Every Hour is unsurprisingly gorgeous and rich in delivery, paving the way for Kanye to speak his truth on the glory of God on Selah. The gospel atmosphere is prominent from the earliest moments and never once loses sight throughout the entire project.
The album’s undisputed highlight is Follow God, a somewhat throwback Kanye sound with the chopped up sample and the killer flow he delivers; it is one of the best songs he has created in a very very long time. I’ve not heard him rap that impressively in years. He mentions anecdotes of arguing with his dad about “Christ like” behaviour and how his past has damaged his reputation among Christian community, repenting for his sins and pleading for forgiveness; a common theme within JESUS IS KING.
Ty Dolla $ign is his typical soulful best on Everything We Need, a catchy hit that intertwined gospel with trap drums. The autotuned vocal harmonies are a thing of beauty on this, much like they are on Water and Hands On; it’s a tool that Kanye has used brilliantly for over a decade now and it’s no different here.
Use This Gospel is the obvious ‘moment’ in this album, bringing legendary hip-hop duo Clipse back together for a one time only feature. If that wasn’t enough, just stick a solo from the one and only Kenny G on there afterwards. Every Kanye album has a larger than life song (Runaway, Ghost Town, Saint Pablo), and Use This Gospel is exactly that. Pusha T and No Malice ditch their usual styles for a more reflective sound in their verses, with No Malice in particular accepting fault for the way negative behaviour is glamorised in hip-hop (“a lot of damaged souls I done damaged those, and in my arrogance took a camera pose”).
I suppose the ultimate question to end this review is the levels of sincerity JESUS IS KING has. Is it a genuine homage to Christianity and the blessing he feels to have seen the light and have his life saved? Or is it just Kanye’s next venture, much like his Donald Trump affiliation last year, or maybe his fashion exploits. There’s an overwhelming feeling with this album that it is Kanye placing all his eggs into the basket of faith to help shift his internal problems, a cycle of a full blown mental breakdown; but I don’t see it that way. I’ve not heard Kanye sound this healthy, happy and genuinely at peace for a long time; so for once can we just let him have this moment. The spotlight shines so bright on a megastar, so when they put their heart and soul into a cause as wonderful as faith, it should be a moral obligation to leave judgements at the door.
Best Tracks: Every Hour, Selah, Follow God, On God, Everything We Need, Water, Hands On, Use This Gospel
Worst Tracks: Closed On Sunday, God Is