By Jackson Stein, Contributor
[Def Jam / GOOD; 2019]
Key Tracks: “Selah”, “God Is”, “Use This Gospel”
2018 was perhaps the most turbulent year in Kanye West’s career. Although never afraid to challenge his audience’s loyalty, his recent outlandish tweets, unhinged interviews and an inexplicable embrace of Donald Trump have made the past few years particularly difficult to be a Kanye West fan.
Despite the public mayhem, Kanye’s latest releases have miraculously upheld his talents as both a songwriter and a producer, deflecting the damage done to his reputation. Whether it be the watertight production on Pusha T’s DAYTONA, the fantastically inventive collaboration with Kid Cudi on KIDS SEE GHOSTS or his own beautifully chaotic and personal album, ye, Kanye continued to assert himself as one of modern music’s most creative minds.
Even though it’s much less musically saturated than last year, 2019 has been equally noisy for Kanye. Spending nearly the entire year hyping up the release of the originally promised Yandhi, Kanye swiftly scrapped the project and announced that his next album would be gospel in style and avoid swearing. Now, Jesus Is King has (finally) arrived in Yandhi’s place. As joyously as he seems to declare his born-again heart, Kanye West sounds more creatively lost than ever on the unfulfilling Jesus Is King.
Jesus Is King is a gospel album in name and advertisement only. The 27-minute project offers a shallow blitz of insight into Kanye’s spiritual reawakening and instead reveals more about his mental health and egotism than anything else. For instance, on the minimal track “Hands On”, Kanye showcases a parody-like display of narcissism with lyrics that suggest Christians will criticize him for utilizing gospel sonics and failing to acknowledge any of his recent sordid statements. Such reductive lyrics drive him further from his relatable genius on albums like The College Dropout and Late Registration.
Similarly, Kanye ridiculously compares what the media says about him to the treatment and betrayal of Jesus Christ on the track “Selah”. While true that the public can be a little hard on Kanye, the song’s analogy is unreasonably excessive. Musically speaking, however, the song is a fantastic highlight. The gospel choir perfectly complements the icy organ chords and thunderous shots of percussion. In its final moments, the song unleashes a wonderful tempest of wild, untamed energy.
Another high point of Jesus Is King comes with the penultimate track “Use This Gospel”, which features the reunion of Clipse as well as jazz saxophonist Kenny G. As shocking as that may sound, Kanye amazingly manages to create a brilliant blend that showcases each artist’s respective talents.
Unfortunately, most of the tracks on Jesus Is King are disappointingly unsatisfying and will leave the listener wanting more. With its offensively weak rhyme scheme and skeletal instrumental, “On God” is representative of the album’s shortcomings. The bright shots of the keyboard sound nice, but Kanye’s self-absorbed lyrics completely ruin the track. He annoyingly attempts to justify how expensive his merch is and claims that he’s just trying to keep his family from living in poverty. I think it’s safe to say that Kanye West, a billionaire musician married to a Kardashian, is not at risk of going hungry.
Still, nowhere on the album are lyrics as painfully corny as those on “Closed On Sunday”, where Kanye spouts “Closed on Sunday / You my Chick-Fil-A / You’re my #1 with the lemonade.” No, that is not a joke. Kanye actually wants you to take this song seriously.
From start to finish, Jesus Is King sounds utterly incomplete. What hurts more than anything on the album are the tracks that contain elements of Kanye’s genius but go undeveloped. Even though its gospel vocals sound amazing, the song “Water” headlines the worst instrumentals on the album and one of Kanye’s worst vocal deliveries to date. “Everything We Need”, meanwhile, features great vocal harmonies from Ty Dolla $ign but is painfully underdeveloped. Similarly, “Follow God” has a good groove and flow but fails to support the album’s false gospel image.
The album opens with “Every Hour”, which is a snippet from one of Kanye’s famous Sunday Services. The track has a good vibe but ends up becoming a pointless intro that doesn’t creatively flow into the album and fails as a tone-setter. The closing track, “Jesus Is Lord”, with its tremendous, blaring horns, sounds much more like the grand intro that the album needed. However, the track ends abruptly just when it’s just getting started.
Kanye West recording his first true gospel album could have been a deeply rewarding experience. Unfortunately, on Jesus Is King, Kanye’s ego gets in his way, as he uses his faith as a means to indulge his persecution complex. If future albums can genuinely showcase his religious principles like on “Selah” or “God Is”, then we may be looking at the start of a new chapter in Kanye’s career. Or maybe we’re witnessing its end.