With his 11th album, Kanye West has raised some eyebrows with a drastic subject matter change and an overall new sound. Matthew Scates discusses the album and what to expect from it.
Kanye West released new album Jesus is King off the back of publically announcing his conversion to Christianity at a listening party in Washington DC last month. However, Christianity is hardly a new topic for Kanye; from ‘Jesus walks’ on his debut album The College Dropout to his Sunday Services, religion has seemingly always played a part in his music. Fans had great expectations for the album from the successful collaboration with Kid Cudi on Kids See Ghosts in 2018. The promise of a Gospel album was an exciting prospect given the success of the Christian projects previously mentioned, and the troubles within Kanye’s personal struggles with mental health which were touched on in his previous solo project Ye.
I think it is fair to say that the album is not exactly what fans hoped for and left them wanting more, primarily due to its short running time of just 27 minutes. Whilst there is no swearing on the album, it is not your typical Gospel album with Kanye projecting his own religious interpretations. This aspect had the chance to be interesting; possibly giving insight into how one goes from planning the PornHub awards to releasing a so-called ‘Gospel’ album within in a year. However, there is no light shone on this topic and it seems rather a mystery of how this all actually came about. It appears that Kanye is not the average Christian and the album is certainly not an attempt to fully integrate himself within the Christian community. In the song ‘Hands On’ he accuses the Christian community of not accepting his conversion and to some extent alienates himself from them.
In terms of the actual music itself, there are elements of greatness on this album, with the sampling of the Christian act Whole Truth on ‘Follow God’ being a clear highlight. The use of his Sunday Service Choir is also amazing across the whole album, especially in the introduction. Yet these impressive moments are undermined mostly by Kanye’s performance. For example, the feeling of the dramatic instrumentation on ‘Closed on Sunday’ is lost in his weak lyricism, such as the almost comical line: “Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-fil-A” (an American fast food restaurant) which is repeated throughout the song. Not only does this take away from the meaning of the song, but it also diminishes the seriousness of the overall album.
In addition to this, Kanye’s lyrics seem rather inconsistent and confusing at times. At some points the lyrics are overly religious, such as on ‘Selah’ in which he directly references the Gospel of John, alienating many non-Christian fans. Later in ‘Selah’ Kanye draws comparisons between himself and Jesus which just leaves me questioning who this album is really for. It diverts from what the standard Kanye fan was looking for in this album, and it does not necessarily appeal to the Christian community who might be lost by Kanye’s interpretation of Christianity.
The most likely answer is that Kanye does not particular care about who this album appeals to. The album is the complete opposite to his latest commercial hit ‘I Love It’ with Lil Pump. It would seem fitting that a heavily religious album would focus less on the commercial success, although Kanye is selling merchandise for the album that reaches up to $260. Despite moving away from his traditional commercial success, Jesus is King is far from a flop. The album has topped the US Top Gospel Albums chart as well as the Top Hip Hop Albums according to Billboard. Kanye’s fans are clearly willing to support his move to ‘Gospel’ music and the numbers reflect the huge following Kanye has. However, it is unlikely that Jesus Is King will reach legendary status alongside some of his previous albums. If Kanye was set on mass conversion to Christianity with this album, it seems that he may fall short of this goal too.
The moments where Kanye shows us his excellence in his producing are simultaneously undermined by his weak and puzzling lyricism. Overall, in its confusion, the album fails to meet the high expectations that the public expect from Kayne.