After over a year of work, four missed release dates and an entire stylistic overhaul, Kanye West’s highly-anticipated ninth studio album, “Jesus is King,” has finally arrived. Complete with gospel choirs, no expletives and an emphasis on spirituality, it’s clear that this album is vastly different than the work we’re used to hearing from West. It is these exact changes, however, that have resulted in a refreshing album that skillfully executes gospel rap while combining the “old Kanye”’s flow and style with the “new Kanye”’s more spiritually-oriented lyrics and production.
Beginning with the lyricism, Kanye reveals a new dimension to his songwriting talents by combining his lyrical wordplay with Biblical references. Clever lines such as “If you woke, then wake up / With Judas, kiss and make up / Even with the bitter cup, forgave my brothers and drank up” off of “Selah,” and “Pressin' on the gas, supernova for a night light” off of “Follow God” contain witty biblical allusions and amusing metaphors, making the album a joy to listen to for anyone who appreciates the literary aspect of songs. The choruses off the album also manage to be lyrically sound while continuing the theme of Christianity, with lines like “Closed on Sunday, you're my Chick-fil-A” off of “Closed On Sundays” making the album much more memorable.
In typical Kanye fashion, “Jesus is King” also features amazing production. Boosted by the production talents of Ronny J and Xcelence, songs like “Everything We Need” and “Follow God” skillfully merge the organs and pianos of gospel music with the hard bass and hi-hats of hip-hop, making for a pleasantly uplifting and empowering sound profile. Meanwhile, tracks like “God Is” and “Water” work to inject a soulful spice to the album, making for a much more diverse and enjoyable listening experience. As the only track on the album that doesn’t feature Ye himself, opener “Every Hour” relies solely on the Sunday Service Choir to sing about the need of Jesus “every hour, every minute, every second,” and is immensely successful in setting the tone for the rest of the album. It is clear that Kanye hit the nail on the head when it comes to gospel-sounding rap, rivaling the production levels of renowned gospel-rapper, Chance the Rapper.
Where the album truly excels, however, is with the tangibly raw and honest vibe of the album. From the production to the lyrics, the album feels like a genuine expression of this new, more mature Kanye. Songs like “Hands On” — which contains particularly vulnerable verses about how Christians will “be the first to judge me,” and how this “make[s] it feel like nobody love me” — pack the album with raw emotions and give us an unfiltered look into Kanye’s transformation. Soulful choruses like the one off of “Everything we Need” come across so authentically that I can feel the satisfaction God has brought Kanye. In every aspect of the album, I feel as though I’m seeing a genuinely transformed Kanye.
While the overall lyricism, production and intrinsic vibe on the album is strong, where the album falls short is in the depth of its message. With tracks like “Jesus is Lord” and “Use this Gospel” that reiterate similar messages about spirituality, it feels as though the album is missing a greater variety of perspectives and discussion of more complex topics. Topics revolving around West’s battle with bipolar disorder or the spark that got him immersed with Christianity would have added greater meaning to the album and strengthened it as a result. To me, the mark of a truly phenomenal album is the impression it leaves on you. Does it make you think for hours after you’ve listened to it? Does it make you question aspects of your life? Unfortunately, without the discussion of deeper topics, the album doesn’t leave me asking these questions and thus comes across as somewhat undynamic and repetitive.
For the past couple of years, West has been an enigma to fans all across the world. With his controversial remarks and his battle with bipolar disorder, West has assumed so many identities and personas that no one really knows who he is anymore. And clearly, this identity confusion has affected his work. With recent albums sounding messy and moving without any coherent direction, it became obvious that West didn’t even know who he was anymore.
“Jesus is King” marks a departure from this “lost” Kanye. Each song on the album explores his crossover into Christianity and dives into his new-found relationship with God. The album, while short, never sounds rushed or hurried, and has a relatively clear and concise direction — something that his previous albums so desperately lacked. Strong standouts such as “Follow God” and “Hands On” provide the album with sonically unique variety and masterfully blend the “old Kanye”’s flow with the “new Kanye”’s content and message. Most important, the lyrics feel raw and sincere — fresh out the water of baptism. It seems as though Kanye has found out who he truly is, and it shows.
The album is not without its flaws, though. The messages communicated in each song are fairly similar for the most part, and while they are good messages, they aren’t complex, nor do they explore as many dimensions as a true standout album would. Whether West’s new dedication to Christianity and gospel rap is just another one of his many phases remains to be seen. Regardless, “Jesus is King” is still a relatively strong album and a step in the right direction. And if this is indeed the new West moving forward, we can rest assured that the music we’ll be getting from him will be better and, maybe one day, reach the legendary standard that the “old Kanye” set for himself so many years ago.