By Cato Usher
In 2018, Kanye West released a slew of albums over the course of five weeks, including a masterful collaborative project with Kid Cudi titled Kids See Ghosts, and his eighth solo album, ye. Since then, he’s jumped back and forth between the two extremes; from performing at the Pornhub Awards with Lil Pump in September, to starting the Sunday Service gospel choir in January — he is toeing the line between public acceptance and hatred more than ever before. Now, nearly a year after delaying and eventually abandoning his forthcoming album, Yandhi, the visionary artist is back with Jesus is King, a gospel-influenced ode to faith following his return to Christianity.
The album opens with “Every Hour”, a shimmering gospel tune sung by the Sunday Service Choir. It’s a perfect introduction to the latest addition to Kanye West’s discography, readying listeners for what’s to come. On “Selah”, Kanye professes his faith referencing Christianity in almost every line; he raps “Everybody wanted Yandhi / Then Jesus Christ did the laundry”, referencing fans’ anticipation for the scrapped—then leaked—album. The leaks in question, although unfinished, had Kanye rapping different lyrics over several of the album’s instrumentals, namely “Selah”, “Everything We Need”, “Water” and “Use This Gospel”.
The Yandhi leaks explain why many of the lyrics on Jesus is King feel so shallow and thrown together.
They paint a picture of a nearly finished album being stripped and repurposed with the use of christian lyrics with little thought behind them, following Kanye’s spiritual rebirth. However, this album isn’t the first time he’s discussed faith in his music. From the near-perfect 2004 single “Jesus Walks” to “Ultralight Beam”, the roaring opener to his 2016 album The Life of Pablo, and many more, Kanye has discussed his faith in unique ways, engaging religious and non-religious people alike. On most of Jesus is King, however, he fills songs with vapid references to Christianity with barely any conceptual depth, the worst offender being “Closed on Sunday”, on which he raps “Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A / You’re my number one, with the lemonade / Raise our sons, train them in the faith / Through temptations, make sure they’re wide awake”. The only real stand out verses are on “Follow God”, “God Is” and “Use This Gospel”, where Kanye reunites brothers Pusha-T and No Malice — once legendary rap duo Clipse — for the first time since 2013.
With that being said, it remains a Kanye West album, guaranteed to come with a wide range of fantastic production. The epic “Hallelujah” chorus on “Selah”, the neck-snapping sample flip on “Follow God”, the eerie mix of acoustic guitar, choir hums and electronic bass on “Closed on Sunday”, the manipulated vocal refrain sung by Fred Hammond on “Hands On”, and the otherworldly auto-tuned hums and Kenny G assisted saxophone solo on “Use This Gospel” are all among some of the best work Kanye has done since his 2010 magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Where the lyrics fail to present much substance, the production succeeds in bringing a unique atmosphere to each song that keeps them memorable for the most part.
Apart from the lyrics, Jesus is King is also held down by its length. It’s under a half-hour long, with a track-list of eleven songs, only three of which pass the 3-minute mark. This keeps many of what could’ve been the best songs from having any kind of lasting impact, like “Follow God”, and especially the album’s closer “Jesus is Lord”. The former, easily the most rap-centric song present, sees Kanye rapping over a sample of
soul/gospel group Whole Truth’s 1969 cut “Can You Lose by Following God”. It has all the makings of a great song, but by the time you get into it, it’s over, after a little under two minutes. The latter could have been a fulfilling finale to this chapter of Kanye’s career, filled with triumphant horns singing around Kanye’s soft preaching, but instead it is underwhelming, lasting under 50 seconds. There’s a version of the song at the end of the album’s accompanying IMAX film of the same name, where its length is doubled and leaves the listener satisfied. Still, on the album, we’re left thinking: “that’s it?”
Jesus is King is not a bad album, but it is a bad Kanye West album, arguably the first of his 15-year career. The lyrics are mostly directionless and feel like an afterthought, the songs are too short to convey concepts in any interesting way, and the admittedly fantastic production doesn’t do enough to save the album. Maybe my standards are too high after listening to Kanye’s music since the age of four, maybe his born-again Christian mindset has marked the end of him making lyrically compelling music, or maybe he just released a rushed album that could have been one of his best given some more time.