Following multiple delays, a religious rebirth, and weekly Sunday Service performances, Kanye West released “JESUS IS KING” – a departure from secular music and ninth addition to his critically acclaimed catalog.
The profanity free, 11-track album includes guest appearances from Clipse, Kenny G, and Ty Dolla $ign, as well as stellar production from Timbaland, Ronny J, Pi’erre Bourne, Benny Blanco, and Kanye himself.
Although the album is gospel-influenced, the music doesn’t entirely mesh with conventional gospel sounds. Kanye infused pristine production with a plethora of jumbled, repetitive thoughts, and just like that – a Christian-rap album was born.
Songs like “Every Hour” and “Selah” are the closest we get to seeing him channel traditional gospel music.
“Every Hour” serves as the opener for the album and features no vocals from Kanye. Instead, the track is supported by Sunday Service, his gospel-rap group formed in January of this year.
The high-pitched crooning of Kanye’s choir quickly gives way to a church organ, and we finally get to hear from our protagonist. “God is King, we the soldiers / Ultrabeam out the solar / When I get to Heaven’s gates / I ain’t gotta peak over,” Yeezy raps, on what seems to be a promising introduction. The song’s production intensifies as his choir comes in at the halfway mark, bellowing more “hallelujahs” than you could recite without passing out.
Three tracks in, Kanye delivers one of the album’s standout tracks – the sample-heavy “Follow God.” Over soulful, head-nodding production, Mr. West spits a mesmerizing flow that almost seems impossible to dislike. “Life like, this is what your life like / Try to live your life right / People really know you / Push your button’s like typewrite,” Kanye aggressively spits.
“Closed on Sunday” finds a more mellow Kanye dropping unimpressive, Jesus-laced bars about Chick-fil-A over Timbaland production. Lyrics such as: “I bow down to the King upon the throne / My life is His, I’m no longer my own,” may have resonated better if half the song wasn’t spent rapping about a fast-food chain.
Just when I thought the Jesus references couldn’t be any more abundant, Kanye somehow managed to name-drop Jesus an astonishing 16 times over the course of his 25-second long verse on “Water.”
Ditching a rhyme scheme, musical genius Kanye West mumbles, “Jesus, clean the music / Jesus, please use us / Jesus, please help / Jesus please heal.” Moments such as these are so perplexing, they make the album feel like a satire.
Yes, Yeezus is able to stay on topic – but eventually, his proclamations become forced and monotonous.
One of the only good things this album has to offer is the reunification of Clipse.
For the first time in six years, Pusha T and No Malice find themselves rapping together on “Use This Gospel.” The song, which is easily the pinnacle of the project, features angelic humming, accompanied by a ridiculously catchy melody and simplistic production. “How could He not be the greatest? / In my bed, under covers when under-covers had raided,” Pusha T menacingly raps before Kenny G closes the song with a minute-long saxophone solo.
I think Kanye is at a point in his career at which this album doesn’t really matter – it will neither help nor hurt him as an artist. As he preaches the word of God and searches for validation throughout 11 songs, he takes a creative risk only someone of his stature could.
Songs such as “On God” seem to portray Kanye in a good head space, as he bursts into a raw, unpolished ballad that is far from perfect. He’s been critical of his singing in the past, and often tried to smooth it over using Auto-Tune, but here he sounds comfortable.
Kanye isn’t saying anything earth-shattering, but when has he ever? He’s always been hyper-focused on the sonics of his music.
That seemed to be the case on “JESUS IS KING,” as the instrumentation saved the project and maybe even gave it some replay value. However, Kanye relies too heavily on others to create a sound when he should be the one innovating.
Aside from content, the album’s biggest fault is the mixing. A project set back months by multiple delays, stunts, and “finishing touches” should not contain vocals that sound as if they were recorded on a flip phone. With perfectionists such as Kanye and Mike Dean overseeing the mixing, I’m baffled at how God-awful it sounded.
Kanye requiring his production team to fast and abstain from premarital sex evidently kept them focused, as the production is the only enticing element of an album that otherwise lacks creativity and seems incomplete.
We don’t want the “old Kanye” back – we just want one of the most influential artists in music to stop sounding like a college student struggling to meet his essay’s word count – especially on a project that’s only 27 minutes long.
With pristine production but soulless lyrics, Kanye fails to make an impact.