Release Date: Oct 25, 2019
Record label: Def Jam / GOOD
Like many great rock stars before him, Kanye West has cranked up God's jukebox. 'Jesus Is King' lacks his trademark goofball sense of humour, but that's partly compensated for with warmth and hope for the future We've seen two Kanye Wests in the past year alone. The greatest rock star of the 21st century gives interviews only rarely, offering litmus tests as to where he - and by extension the culture around him - is at.
In 1964, in the small, rural community of Longdale, Mississippi, a group of black worshippers at the Mount Zion Methodist Church were ambushed by the Ku Klux Klan. The attackers, some of whom were allegedly dressed in police uniform, broke one man's jaw, viciously beat others, and ultimately burned the building to the ground. In the midst of the chaos, a woman named Beatrice Cole launched into a spoken prayer of despair: "Father, I stretch my hand to Thee, no other help I know.
For the better part of a decade, a cavalcade of headlines and controversy accompanied each fresh Kanye West release, causing as much of a stir as the rabid anticipation from diehard fans. His game-changing ninth album, Jesus Is King, was no different. Between 2018's complicated Ye and this 2019 gospel rebirth, West's position as a cultural firebrand and his own worst enemy was further amplified by inflammatory interviews and controversial political stances.
Considering the maelstrom that has characterised Kanye West's creative output and public persona for the past 10 years, an album of fully-fledged evangelism is actually one of the less radical moves he could have made at this point. He had already dabbled in this gospel-tinged sound on The Life Of Pablo's more coherent tracks, and has been rapping about his relationship with God since Jesus Walks, so why not make a whole record out of it? Another short release, Jesus Is King is not quite as short as his gauntlet of 2018 releases but close, and only one song breaches the 3:30 mark, with transitions mimicking the channel-hopping feel of classic Stones Throw releases. Jesus Is King begins, like last year's Ye, with a surprising amount of timewasting for such a brief album: a sped-up loop of the Sunday Service Choir which would be interesting if it went somewhere, but doesn't.
Kanye West has been down with religion on wax ever since he asked for God to show him the way on "Jesus Walks" back in '04. He's peppered his lyrics with Christianity since then but is now going full bore with his faith on Jesus Is King. While the album is admirable for its conviction and consistency, Mr. West's musical sermon is lacking in high-impact spirituality à la The College Dropout.
If you managed to sit through the entire two-hour conversation between Kanye West and Zane Lowe that was released at some point in the last twenty-four hours, well done. Because there are only so many glaring falsehoods, mind-numbing non sequiturs and pointlessly mundane tangents about Christianity that any one person should be expected to take in any two-hour period - unless you're backed up to the eyeballs on cocaine, experiencing a manic episode or elk-fuelled living blood vessel Joe Rogan. We found out that Kanye West is the greatest human artist of all time; we found out that his sex addiction began at age five when he first caught sight of one of his father's Playboy magazines; we learned what 'seed to sew' is...
Kanye, Kanye, Kanye. Where do we even begin? While being a Kanye West fan has never been particularly easy - I can recall attempting to defend his absurd egotism and self-seriousness all the way back in 2008 - the past couple of years have been particularly, desperately... desolate. His bizarre, inexplicable pivot to Trumpism was jarring and depressing; Kanye suddenly the grinning idiot in a MAGA cap.
It'd be tempting to begin this review with a recap of controversies surrounding Kanye West. However, not only is it largely irrelevant but we all already know it. The good and the bad, the highs and lows, the artist and the ego. He is undeniably the most resilient musician of his generation, recovering time and time again from controversies that would sink other artists.
I n the beginning, Christianity rippled through the music of Kanye West. He was the star who made his name by envisioning a world where clubs would go wild in the name of Jesus and testified that before he left his planet he would touch the sky. West was happy to present as a natural-born sinner who believed in scripture; a heathen with God in his heart.