Kanye West’s massive amount of unique contributions to the hip-hop genre might as well earn his own genre of music. This genre would be defined by taboo lyricism, post-modern beats, constantly creative sampling and surprising yet beautiful collaborations with other artists.
Each album that Kanye releases pushes the boundaries of both the rap-music industry and genre. Kanye’s albums are reflective of his own personal thoughts, emotions and personal life experiences during each of their individual production. Kanye pours his soul into the lyrics, sounds and beats of each and every song. If he isn’t satisfied with an album, he re-releases it after editing it over again, as we saw him do with his previous album, “The Life of Pablo.”
Kanye West is an example of living history. In fifty years, we will look back on him as a pertinent figure in the development of the hip-hop industry. Recently, Kanye made headlines during the initial production of “Yandhi,” production later switched gears to “Jesus is King,” when he flew to Uganda to record choir vocals in an outdoor studio. Feeling the need to do more, Kanye also released a 38-minute film under the same title as his album, “Jesus is King.” The short movie earning a box-office revenue of $862,000.
To answer the question of why Kanye decided on a Gospel album, it becomes necessary to give a brief overview of his last few releases along with his personal life.
In late 2016, Kanye was hospitalized for stress and exhaustion-induced paranoia following his abrupt storming off stage and subsequent cancellation of the remaining dates from his “Life of Pablo” tour. Prior to his on-stage breakdown, Kanye’s superstar wife Kim Kardashian was mugged at gunpoint while in her hotel room. Kanye also underwent liposuction surgery before his hospitalization, and admitted during an interview with TMZ that he “was drugged the f— out,” and became addicted to prescription opioids.
Kanye remained hospitalized for an undeclared amount of time, but upon his release, he decided to refrain from using social media until his announcement of “Ye,” his eighth album, which was released on June 1, 2018. While the topic of the album still focuses on Kanye himself, Ye diverges from past releases by tackling serious, introspective topics such as suffering from bipolar disorder in “Today I Thought About Killing You,” his daughter’s development in “Violent Crimes” and a newfound freedom in “Ghost Town,”
Post break-down, his rapid-fire release of both “Ye” and “Kids See Ghosts” served as an indication that Kanye was mentally prepared to sink his teeth back into the music industry, but in a method that allows himself to align his music with his new outlook on life. For Kanye, this being, turning to God and religion to answer his questions, hence his new gospel release “Jesus is King.” The release of “Yeezus” and “The Life of Pablo” may have been the last we hear from the self-indulgent, larger-than-life and overly hubristic Kanye.
Kanye isn’t a stranger to implementing theological themes in his music, as we have seen as early as 2004 in “Jesus Walks.” In the more recent album from 2013, “Yeezus,” Kanye claims that he himself is a god in the song, “I am a God,” and continues to spout Christianity periodically in the album “The Life of Pablo,” with songs such as “Ultralight Beam” and “Saint Pablo.”
Although it may be hard to comprehend, “Jesus is King” is a reassurance to Kanye fans. With the release of his new album, it seems that Kanye has found a topic to explore other than himself. This is a good thing. Other than his music, Kanye has been open to many interviews in which he appears calmer and more collected than in the past. He is no longer making controversial claims such as “slavery was a choice,” as he did in an interview in early May 2018. Kanye later apologized for this bizarre claim.
Regardless of all this information, Is “Jesus is King” a good or bad album? Here is a song-by-song analysis for each song on the album and an ultimate verdict.
“Every Hour ft. Sunday Service Choir”
“Sing ‘til the power of the Lord comes down”
In “Every Hour ft. Sunday Service Choir,” Kanye is quick to hit us with themes of Christianity and religion. Similar to “Ultralight Beam,” this song does a fantastic job of introducing the listener to the focus of the album — Christianity. Kanye doesn’t have a single verse on this track, with all vocals coming from a Sunday service choir. The production is incredible, with many different voices from the choir combining together to ride the background piano very well. While sounding like a gospel choir, which is phenomenal , it does become very repetitive and a bit overbearing. Considering that this is the first track on the album, the lack of a verse from Kanye is disappointing. Yes, it is a gospel album, as made clear by its name, but it leaves eager listeners wondering when the coveted Kanye will arrive. Rating: 6.2/10
“God is King, we are the soldiers”
Kanye emerges in this track, arriving strong and incredibly vocal. Kanye has an urgent tone in his verses, mainly calling for a mobilization of Christianity; the purpose of this mobilization remaining unclear. Overall, it sounds as though Kanye is displaying his newfound love for Christianity. He mentions how he no longer indulges in vices with lines such as, “pour the lean out slower, got us clean out of soda,” and referring to quotes in the bible a few times. He also discusses starting anew with the line, “everything old shall now become new, the leaves’ll be green, bearing the fruit.”
Kanye’s short verses are delivered with a vocal tenacity, aided by the sound of a sharp drum in the background serving as a beat. Listeners are also treated to snippets of a primal Kanye, when he freaks out, making monkey noises at the end of the song.
The song also contains a plethora of references to Christianity, something that acts as a surprising, but compelling accompaniment to the rest of the song. The beat begins with Kanye rapping over an organ. The mood change occurring around halfway through the song, after The Sunday Service Choir begin repeating “Hallelujah” 41 times, creating a euphoric sense of sound.
In “Selah,” listeners are treated to a taste of the Kanye-fueled-grandeur that hasn’t been present since “The Life of Pablo”; one might claim that the urgency and raw emotion behind “Selah” is reminiscent of the song “Black Skinhead” from his 2013 album “Yeezus.” “Selah” becomes an almost reemergence of the old vintage Kanye. Rating: 6.4/10
“Screamin’ at my dad and he told me, ‘It ain’t Christ-like’, but nobody never tell you when you’re being like Christ”
At one minute and forty-five seconds, “Follow God” is one of the shorter songs on the album; a disappointing length due to it being one of the more enjoyable songs. Kanye raps over a fast-paced and old-school beat with a sample from the 1974 track, “Can You Lose by Following God,” by “Whole Truth.” Kanye’s creative lyricism blends immaculately with the song’s simple beat and sample, enabling him to become creative with his flow.
The only gospel element in this song being the religious sample from “Whole Truth,” with allusions to Christ and Jacob from the book of Genesis. Kanye heavily alludes to the idea that he is following the footsteps of Jesus Christ with his verse, “but nobody tell you when you’re being like Christ.” It’s a breath of fresh air to hear Kanye be boastful. He introduces the idea of himself representing a Christ-like figure in this song, later reinforcing the idea in “Hands On”; a brag only Kanye west is capable of making.
Kanye appears angry in “Follow God,” often putting forth a wide range of ideas. In the form of fast-paced and flow-riding verses, Kanye opens up about his grandeur life, public backlash in reaction to his infamous 2018 Twitter rants, his deletion of social media and his ultimate impact on the world.; packing a lot of ideas and concepts into just under two minutes.
Above all, the song sounds good, but presents an array of disconnected struggles that fail to form a cohesive theme centralized around a clear message. Despite choosing to stray away from big theological themes, a nice break from the two Christian-heavy themes in the two songs prior, there are some passing glances to Christianity. Rating: 7.8/10
“Closed on Sunday”
“Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-fil-A”
“Closed on Sunday” reads like a response to the problems Kanye presents in “Follow God.” The same topics Kanye raps about in “Follow God” – public image, social media, and his legacy on the world – are also discussed in “Closed on Sunday.”
Addressing his public image, Kanye decides, “no more livin’ for the culture, we nobody’s slave.”
It’s important to note that the whole song is centered around a chorus which, for a reason only Kanye understands, decides to use Chick-fil-A as an allegory for Christianity. It is hard to heed the preaching’s of Kanye seriously when he is proclaiming God as his number one meal, adorned with a lemonade.
It has a beat similar to the tracks on “808s” and “Heartbreak”; marked by eerie background vocals, a simplistic synth beat and lyrics that aim at addressing serious issues, yet it fails to effectively communicate them to the audience.
The first half of the song is basic, lacks purpose and is essentially Kanye preaching at us. However, the transition to Kanye’s second verse marks the most emotionally raw point in the album so far. Although corny, it is a great expression of emotion to serve as a testament to his dedication to Christianity. Rating: 6.7 / 10
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor, not divide, I’ma ride, that’s on God, His light shine the brightest in the dark”
“On God” presents the second real flow Kanye grants the listeners, other than “Follow God.” “On God” is similar to the previous song on the album, “Follow God,” because of the upbeat beat produced by P’ierre Bourne and the combination of introspective and theological themes in his lyrics.
The beat produced by P’ierre Bourne is the highlight of the track. P’ierre Bourne, known for his collaborations with Playboi Carti, 21 Savage, 6ix9ine, Trippie Redd and many other relatively new rappers. If arcade machines could take drugs, P’ierre Bourne’s beat sounds like an arcade machine on MDMA and it is awesome.
Despite this, Kanye fails to deliver a theological message in any form other than inconsequential lines consisting of quotes from the bible or passing references to Christianity in general. Kanye does, however, manage to spend the last fifth of the song to explain why he sells Yeezy products at such a high price. It appears as though Kanye is picking and choosing which parts of Christianity he chooses to preach about. Rating: 6.6/10
“Everything We Need” ft. Ty Dolla $ign & Ant Clemmons
“We have everything we need (Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh, oh), We have everything we need (Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh, oh, oh)”
If Kanye decided to re-release the album without this song on it, he would be doing his listeners a favor. “Everything We Need” lacks purpose, a catchy tune present in his other songs and offers simplistic lyricism that lacks depth. The song is focused on the idea of wealth, but Kanye fails to deliver any meaningful idea to his listeners.
Featured on the track, Ty Dolla $ign has made previous appearances on Kanye’s past three albums, with “Jesus is King” being the fourth. Kanye is no stranger to enlisting the help of up-and-coming artists for his own music, so it is strange that he repeatedly defers to Ty Dolla $ign’s basic and bland vocals.
Kanye’s first verse consists of six lines dedicated to painting a picture of an indulgent lifestyle, with the last two lines stating, “life too short, go spoil yourself, feel that feel, enjoy yourself,” delivering the message home. Following the chorus, Kanye’s pulls a 180 in his next six-line verse, pondering what would happen if Adam and Eve had the option to take apple juice off a tree in the Garden of Eden but decided against it because they both have, “everything [they] need.”
If Kanye plans on making gospel music for the rest of his life, he needs to figure out how to implement Christian themes in his verses other than through the form of passing bible references and juvenile theocraticals. Rating: 4 / 10
“Water” ft. Ant Clemmons
“Jesus, please help, Jesus, please heal, Jesus, please forgive, Jesus, please reveal”
Kanye appears to be preaching at his listeners for no discernable reason. Kanye continues to push the comparison of himself to Jesus in this album, as seen on “Follow God” and later “Hands On,” and this song reads as him clearing his bases by constantly praising Jesus.
This is the most gospel-sounding track on the album so far and it sounds great. The tranquil synthesizer, ominous vocals from Ant Clemmons and heartful Jesus-oriented lines from Kanye blend well with the theme of the track, that being, purity.
Kanye’s lyrics on “Water” are weak and meaningless. If the purpose of the song was to praise Jesus, Kanye accomplishes that on a surface level, with essentially the same lines being repeated consistently. Kanye expresses little creativity with his flow, possibly limited by the track’s relaxed tempo. Ultimately, “Water” follows in “Everything We Need’s” footsteps as a filler track with no real purpose. Rating: 6.0 / 10
“All the demons, let ’em know, This a mission, not a show, This is my eternal soul, This my kids, this the crib, This my wife, this my life, This my God-given right, Thank you, Jesus, won the fight”
In this song, Kanye finally forfeits the information that he has been withholding form the audience for so long; why he turned to Jesus. Jesus is credited with saving him from his mental instability after his 2016 breakdown.
It is refreshing for Kanye to embrace Christianity fully within his lyrics, building on the heavy gospel sounds from the past song “Water.” Listeners are finally enlightened to Kanye’s intentions, and in this song, he presents tangible ways in which Christianity has changed his life, leading to his mental stability.
Kanye expresses that “Jesus is King: isn’t just an album, but a reflection of his soul. The lackluster and ultimately shallow references to Christianity prior to “God Is” are annoying, pointless and more importantly, enables the audience to doubt the authenticity of Kanye’s new newfound love for Jesus. Luckily, “God Is” assuages those fears, as Kanye defines what Christianity means to him and how it has saved him, giving his preaching more credibility.
The sample on this track is from Reverend James Clevelend’s 1979 release, “God Is’. Kanye picks an incredible sample to rap over, with the choir adding a religious fervor to his verses.
Anyone can preach about Jesus, and Kanye fails to realize that his listeners want to know how Christianity has changed his life. Kanye waits until the eighth song on the album to explain to the audience how Christianity has saved him from his mental illness. Due to this, one could claim that the preaching’s of Kanye prior to “God Is” on songs such as “On God,” “Sellah” and “Everything We Need,” are not as effective as they could be if they followed “God Is.”
Kanye addresses the combined effort of his and his wife, Kim Kardashian, for prison reform. It is a wholesome change that Kanye is utilizing Christian values to push for something that will change society for the better. There is yet again, an allusion to Kanye’s similarity with Jesus through the idea of revolution via prison reform, “Jesus brought a revolution, all the captives are forgiven.” Rating: 8.1 / 10
“Hands On ft. Fred Hammond”
“Told the devil that I’m going on a strike, Told the devil when I see him, on sight, I’ve been working for you my whole life, Told the devil that I’m going on a strike, I’ve been working for you my whole life”
Undoubtedly one of the best tracks on the album, “Hands On” follows through with the elucidation of Kanye’s motives as listeners heard on “God Is.” The spiritual lyrics’ no longer feel forced and passive as they have on prior tracks.
Kanye switches his flow up many times and rides the “Yeezus” beat well. Kanye shines when the passion in his music is apparent. Fred Hammond, the featured artist on the track, produces heavenly vocals, that when juxtaposed with Kanye’s urgent tone, creates a tormented-spirit sound.
Kanye brings up prison reform again with the verse, “Got pulled over, see the brights, What you doin’ on the street at night? Wonder if they’re gonna read your rights, Thirteenth Amendment, three strikes, Made a left when I should’ve made a right.”
In “Hands On,” Kanye expresses his frustration with the current state of Christianity, claiming that Christians “will be the first to judge me.” He also cites a reason for producing a gospel album, being the lack of Christian teachings being produced in popular culture. Kanye establishes a complex thought and expresses it clearly to his listeners. Unlike past songs on the album, this is the first time that listeners hear Kanye’s displeasure with the church, and it reads as if he wishes to distance himself from mainstream Christianity due to their hostility towards his image. Rating: 8.3 / 10
“Use This Gospel” ft. Clipse & Kenny G
“We call on Your blessings, In the Father, we put our faith, King of the kingdom, Our demons are tremblin’, Holy angels defendin’, In the Father, we put our faith”
This song is unequivocally awesome.
The song utilizes a unique beat, this being, the noise a car emits when a door is ajar. That is the sound that Kanye, Pusha T and No Malice rap over. The constant dinging noise serves as an enhancement to the emotional value of the sentiments produced by Pusha T and No Malice, and when combined with trance-like humming from Kanye, creates a serene sound. Kenny G also makes an appearance on the track.
Listeners are given a taste of the cut-throat Pusha T and No Malice, with hard lines such as “They all say they real ’til it’s time to appraise it, I seen them come and go, you only the latest, But who am I to judge? I’m crooked as Vegas,” and, “A lot of damaged souls, I done damaged those, And in my arrogance, took a camera pose,” respectively.
“Use This Gospel” is Kanye expressing that there is salvation in Christianity available for all. Pusha T and No Malice personify the struggles of life, with Kanye’s chorus and humming offering an alternative to this suffering. Kanye presents the idea that salvation from struggle is found through faith.
The song concludes with a return to the car-alarm beat following Kenny G’s beautiful saxophone solo, the song concluding in an astounding cacophony of sounds. Rating: 8.6 / 10
“Jesus Is Lord”
“Every knee shall bow, Every tongue confess, Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Lord”
Kanye finishes the album with a 50 second song comprised of preaching and heavenly instrumentals. Although Kanye has been referencing the bible for the entirety of the album, the track, “Jesus is Lord,” drives the message home. The conclusion’s call for action is well-aligned with the underlying Christian themes of the album. Despite this, Kanye leaves many aspects of Christianity unexplored and a plethora of questions unanswered. Rating: 6.4 / 10
Final Score: 7 / 10
Evidently in this album, Kanye is an artist with many ideas. Christianity has saved Kanye from mental illness and he is hoping to inspire faith in his listeners by using the religion as a medium to convey the issues that he has found within society. However, he fails to effectively combine his thoughts with Christianity other than through the form of inconsequential bible quotes and references.
After pushing back the album many times, Kanye’s first gospel album is a disappointment. It shines in the last few songs, when Kanye eases up on his explicit references to Christendom but is plagued with pointless tracks which seem to be included only for their Christian themes.
Jeffery Epro can be reached at [email protected]