Kanye West is back and holier than ever. His highly-anticipated ninth studio album, “Jesus Is King,” was finally released on Oct. 25 after being delayed for more than a year.
Unfortunately, Kanye could have used even more time in the studio.
That’s not to say “Jesus Is King” is a bad album; for a born-again Bible-thumper, Kanye’s Bible thumps pretty hard. However, the album is plagued with awkward song structures, unfinished ideas, and weak writing that left me wondering what could have been had Kanye taken more time to work on the record or steered the project in a different sonic and/or thematic direction, or both.
That’s not to say “Jesus Is King”is a bad album; for a born-again Bible-thumper, Kanye’s Bible thumps pretty hard.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with making a Christian rap album, but “Jesus Is King” is like if you took Kanye’s 2016 album, “The Life of Pablo,” made it go to church against its will every Sunday for a couple of years, and then stripped it back to its most basic, reductive elements. It’s not the premise of Kanye’s newest album which is flawed, but rather its execution.
Prior to its release, there were theories that “Jesus Is King” would be a tried-and-true gospel album, which gained steam as Kanye began holding his “Sunday Service” live performances across the country this past year. Sunday Service — a series of concerts anchored by a mammoth gospel choir flipping Kanye’s hits into worship anthems — set Kanye along an odd sort of redemptive arc in the public eye, as he held a service to aid hurricane relief in the Bahamas as well as a show honoring the victims of the recent mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio.
Kanye’s hard pivot toward Christianity is a significant moment in his career, as it suggests he could be turning toward more traditional styles of Christian music, but to call “Jesus Is King” a bonafide gospel album would be disingenuous. Kanye plays with the sounds of gospel on his new record, but this is a rap album through-and-through.
The gospel influence is most obvious on the opening and closing tracks, “Every Hour” and “Jesus Is Lord,” respectively. These are two actual gospel songs (with “Every Hour” featuring the Sunday Service choir) which, though beautiful, add nothing to the lyrical and sonic themes of the album.
“Selah” is the album’s de facto opener, and a killer one at that. Warm, round gospel organs, thunderous drums, and an epic choral breakdown meticulously collide in exhilarating fashion, nicely smoothing over the track’s atypical structure. Lyrically, Kanye gives genuine insight as to why he’s turned to religion, as well as his own personal understanding of Christianity. The song’s manic outro is reminiscent of the frenetic energy of “Freestyle 4” off of “Life of Pablo.”
“Follow God” is a particularly frustrating track. Aesthetically, it works, sounding like a dustier, dirtier version of “Life of Pablo” with “College Dropout”-esque beat production in the way Kanye chops the sample. However, the song is stagnant and rigid in its structure, refusing to evolve or change in any captivating way, capping its potential.
The span of tracks including “Closed On Sunday,” “On God,” “Water,” and “God Is” incorporate interesting ideas here and there but ultimately feel like unfinished concepts for what should be bigger and better songs. At 27 minutes in runtime, “Jesus Is King” is Kanye’s second-shortest album to date — only slightly longer than his last album, “ye.” Unlike “ye,” though, “Jesus Is King” finds no power in its brevity, merely feeling rushed and incomplete.
“Closed On Sunday” features painfully uninspired Chick-fil-A bars (which seem built for meme potential), yet also boasts a mighty, icy outro that feels like if the grandiosity of “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” met some of the colder moments on “808s & Heartbreak.” The other songs in this unfocused, transitional middle section of the album go in one ear and dribble, disappointedly, out the other.
The other songs in this unfocused, transitional middle section of the album go in one ear and dribble, disappointedly, out the other.
“Everything We Need” and “Hands On” are two of the more interesting spots on “Jesus Is King,” the former showcasing some pretty gorgeous vocals from Ty Dolla $ign and a tight Kanye flow; the latter sounds ripped straight from “ye,” with cacophonous, chilling, depressive production.
The album’s true closer, “Use This Gospel,” is the most stunning moment on the album. Kanye has reunited legendary rap duo Clipse and also brought on saxophonist Kenny G in a monumental, warped, subversive take on what a rap song can be — especially a Christian rap song.
That said, “Jesus Is King” ultimately feels mostly empty and lifeless, stringing together no compelling narrative or cohesive inventive sound which would justify Kanye diverging into religious music. For a record that is so heavy on the soulful sounds, frankly, it’s soulless.
For a record that is so heavy on the soulful sounds, frankly, it’s soulless.
If there’s anything that can be counted upon when Kanye releases an album, it’s controversial and divisive opinions. I want — and Kanye certainly wants — a strong reaction to his music, but “Jesus Is King” leaves me merely uninterested and indifferent, which is the most disappointing thing of all.