Review by Lucas Coriaty ’20
The ninth studio solo album from twenty-time Grammy Award winning artist Kanye West was released this weekend after a long and strenuous process, ending a more than year-long wait by fans. After a year of controversy, West had announced his new album “Yhandi” to be released September 29th, 2018. However, the record would not drop on the intended date. After an initial delay, West tweeted that he felt the album was not yet finished, and “would announce the release date once it’s done,” delaying the album indefinitely.
“Yhandi” would ultimately never materialize– not as a result of the mixing and mastering process, but due to West’s newfound Christian faith. Save for a few vocals and beats, “Jesus Is King” was created from scratch in the interim since the scrapped original record, and the evidence is scattered throughout the album. Beats range from predominantly hip-hop influenced to largely gospel, using his Sunday Service Choir to back up his singing and rhymes.
West’s message is easily his most religious yet, following in the footsteps of earlier hits “Jesus Walks” and “Ultralight Beam,” however his purported godliness is once again diluted by his signature brashness. “The greatest artist restin’ or alive,” he declares himself in “On God”, reminding us that we are still listening to Kanye West, not a selfless preacher. He laments criticism from detractors of faith in the media, predicting “they’ll be the first ones to judge me, make me feel like nobody love.” Not as vulnerable as the family man he portrays on 2018’s “Ye” and not as radically narcissistic as he is on 2013’s “Yeezus,” West has found a peace in between.
The stripped-down production on tracks like “Closed on Sunday,” “Water,” and “Use This Gospel” set a serene, laid-back tone but are sandwiched between trap-infused bangers like “Follow God” and “On God,” setting an inconsistent mood throughout. The production is masterful and beautiful (as expected), but some songs simply would have been better suited for a different record.
West has claimed that he will never make secular music again, and taking him at face value, West’s career is entering a new era of making music for the sole purpose of praising God. If so, “Jesus Is King” is a shaky venture into the centuries old art of gospel music that West would be wise to take a look at before claiming it as his own. Kanye West has climbed to the top of pop and rap charts over the course of his 15-year-long career, but climbing and peering over the biblical mountaintop may prove to be his greatest challenge yet.