Jesus is King and Kanye West’s Rebirth

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As I’m sure many of you already know, Kanye West just dropped his ninth studio album late last month, titled Jesus is King. The short 27-minute album marks a new era for Kanye, one that’s been a long time coming: his rebirth as a devout, born-again Christian, and more specifically a self-titled “Christian innovator”. Christianity has been present in Ye’s music ever since the very beginning, as demonstrated by the track Jesus Walks from his debut album, The College Dropout, and his more recent ventures have hinted at Kanye becoming ever more religious. These include the gospel-ish The Life of Pablo (2016), the collaborative Kids See Ghosts (2018), in which Kanye and Kid Cudi reflect on how religion helped them move on from their past struggles, and of course Kanye’s Sunday Services, which begun in early 2019. Although these incorporate some religious themes, Jesus is King takes it to the next extreme, creating an album that does a good job of consolidating two very different genres, hip hop and gospel.  

One highlight of the album is easily the Sunday Service choir. The opening track, Every Hour, consists entirely of a performance from the choir, but for me it’s not their standout track; Selah isThe choir bridges Kanye’s two verses in the song, singing “Hallelujah” repeatedly while increasing in pitch and volume until reaching an epic crescendo marked by the return of the drums, and it’s easily one of the most memorable moments of the album. Beyond these first two tracks however, I feel like the choir was a bit underused. Sure, they provide some pretty great backing vocals on a few other songs like Water and God Is, but I wish they were used in a similar vein to the first two tracks more often, where they showed off the extent of their talent with loud, triumphant vocals.  

Having said this, the many features of the album were overall used brilliantly to add to the album, as we’ve come to expect from Kanye. I particularly liked the appearance of Clipse, the hip hop duo consisting of brothers Pusha T and No Malice on Use This Gospel because of not only their verses but also the parallels between Kanye’s spiritual awakening and No Malice’s similar conversion from his previous handle “Malice” to his current and outspoken faithful self. Other collaborators of note include Ty Dolla $ign, Kenny G, who delivers an incredibly satisfying saxophone solo on Use This Gospel, and Pi’erre Bourne, the co-producer of On God who again manages to do what he’s come to be known for, elevating the song with a distinct instrumental that wrenches the spotlight from the vocals themselves.  

I’ve seen quite a bit of criticism of the lyricism on this album, and while I admit some of it isn’t great, for the most part I really enjoyed it. There’s an abundance of references to other influential artists, to Kanye’s own discography, and of course to the Bible. There are also some memorable lines sprinkled throughout, especially in Hands OnUse This Gospel, and of course Selah (I particularly like “They say the week start on Monday, but the strong start on Sunday), but some of the lines on Closed on Sunday are pretty bad, and Water is just uninteresting. I still feel like Kanye makes up for most of the bad lines with his great delivery, however. 

I also think Kanye does a good job of expressing his newfound faith, especially his regrets and problems he’s had in the past with accepting the gospel and acting accordingly. Yes, I know the album was supposed to be a hundred percent gospel and zero percent secular, but I really liked how Kanye mixes themes of his personal problems with all the constant praise, it’s as if he’s saying that he managed to put all those problems behind him because of his faith. 

Although the record has its highs and lows, and I definitely have my favourites, I still do enjoy every song on the album, which isn’t something I can say for a lot of LPs. I also appreciate the fact that it’s completely clean and even promotes a positive message; it means I can recommend it to literally anyone without fear, including my parents. 

 To step back from the music for a second, I’d also like to talk about Ye’s conversion to Christianity. 

 First off, let me get something out of the way. There seems to be a lot of people who don’t think Kanye is sincere about this, but I disagree. As I said earlier, there’s always been Christianity in Kanye’s music and he’s also always considered himself Christian in interviews. In the past he’s even gone on record saying “eventually, ten years from now I just want to create for the church”.  

As for Mr. West himself, I think a lot of the things he’s saying are really interesting. I think his idea of not being stuck on tradition and instead innovating within Christianity has potential, and even though I’m not Christian myself, I’m interested to see if he actually inspires anything new. Recently, he has also talked about a lot of other significant topics, like his relationship with social media, his past addictions and visions for the future in interviews with BigBoyTV and Zane Lowe from Beats 1, which I highly recommend checking out. 

Aside from all the critical analysis that comes with a review like this, I think Jesus is King stands out in just how enjoyable it is to listen to. The message, the delivery, the beats, and everything else about the album combines to make an experience that’s greater than the sum of its parts. The fact that songs from the album have been stuck in my head ever since it dropped must count for something, right?