After several delays, Grammy-winning rapper Kanye West drops his clean, Christian-themed rap-gospel album, JESUS IS KING. It has its moments.
Controversy and Kanye West should be synonymous. West, a highly decorated musician by all means, often overshadows his musical prowess with his polarizing personality, particularly, his MOUTH. The number of controversies that have surrounded him over the years, including his support of Trump, have certainly caused his popularity to wane. Even with his controversies aside, his best music seems to be behind him, with his last ‘masterpiece’ coming by way of 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (some might argue Yeezus in 2013, of course). After the disappointing, forgettable Ye in 2018, and several delays, West finally releases his latest album, JESUS IS KING. In a stark contrast, West focuses his eyes on a different prize other than clout, egomania, fame, and sex – GOD.
“Sing every hour / Every minute / Every second / Sing each and every millisecond / We need you…” JESUS IS KING commences spiritedly with “Every Hour” featuring Sunday Service Choir. Sunday Service Choir is the choral group assembled by Kanye West for his Sunday services. They certainly sound marvelous in this capacity, as is the expectation of a gospel choir. West doesn’t perform on this opener, which feels like a prelude or processional of sorts – opening praise time of a church service. The one rub musically is the abruptness of the record. Honestly, a brief instrumental introduction wouldn’t have hurt, better shaping the moment.
“Everything old shall now become new / The leaves’ll be green, bearing fruit / Love God and our neighbor, as written in Luke / The army of God and we are the truth.” Following the triumphant “Every Hour,” ✓ “Selah” is darker, set in a minor key. This darkness is conveyed particularly effective via a prominent organ part within the production. Kanye West makes his first appearance, playing the role of, um, preacher? Sure. On the first verse, he sets the tone, rapping, “God is king, we the soldiers / Ultrabeam out the solar / When I get to Heaven’s gates / I ain’t gotta peak over.” On both his verses, West makes a number of Biblical references, including Judas, Noah, John 8, and Luke. Besides the energy he brings to the table, once again, Sunday Service Choir ratchets up the intensity, on the chorus between the first and second verses (“Hallelujah, hallelujah… / Hallelujah, He is wonderful”).
✓ “Follow God” seems to recall a previous Kanye West record, “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1”, from The Life of Pablo (2016). The intro is the first indication of this (“Father, I stretch / Stretch my hands to you”). Whole Truth is sampled, with the song, “Can You Lose by Following God” fueling the fire of “Follow God.” Brief (sub two minutes in duration), West only serves up one verse of song, plus and outro. His flow is a selling point here, riding the sample respectably. Throughout the course of the record, he revisits arguments with his dad, where he seemed to be tussling with sin and faith itself (“Screamin’ at my dad and he told me, ‘It ain’t Christ-like’”).
“Closed on Sunday” has a longer runtime compared to “Follow God,” but still maintains brevity by all means (it just runs past two-and-a-half-minutes). Once more, Kanye West works with a minor key, and there’s a sense of enigma regarding the production work. Besides his own production skills, West co-produces with Brian ‘AllDay’, Frederico Vindver, Angel Lopez, and perhaps most notably, Timbaland. Even with that many co-producers, “Closed on Sunday” is subdued, almost signaling that sense of the Sabbath Day – a day to praise, reflect, and refrain from work.
Of course, the lyric that most stand out appear right at the onset, via the chorus: “Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-fil-A”. At a most basic level, Chick-fil-A is a Christian fast food restaurant that is closed on Sunday, like many places were back in the day. Of course, this is a controversial lyric, given the organization’s controversies, specifically regarding the LGBTQ+ community. Beyond the Chick-fil-A talk, West tones things down singing, “Hold the selfies, put the ‘Gram away / Get your family, y’all hold hands and pray / … No more livin’ for the culture, we nobody’s slave.” If nothing else, “Closed on Sunday” is an intriguing discussion piece, and as the linked Genius article suggests, shows Kanye West in a totally different mindset compared to the past.
“On God” has more of a contemporary hip-hop sound compared to the rest of JESUS IS KING. The synths are bright, bursting with exuberance, while West himself is indebted to ‘The Most High.’ What makes “On God” possible? Samples and interpolations of course, which is expected of the music of Mr. West. There is no chorus, just one big verse, where West reminisces on the past, including his transgressions, and focuses on the prize – you guessed it – G-O-D. He makes his point, if the record is so-so in my opinion.
“Everything We Need” has its moments, most notably the smooth, distinct vocals by Ty Dolla $ign, always a lift. Ty actually infuses a contemporary gospel vibe, along with sleek production by West, Ronny J, FNZ, Federico Vindver, BoogzDaBeast, and Mike Dean. Also appearing on the sub-two-minute number is Ant Clemons, who adds some unique ad libs (“ooh-ooh”) and falsetto (“We have everything we need”). Kanye West delivers two brief verses, referencing an attitude switch. His most potent lyrics appear at the conclusion of verse two:
“What if Eve made apple juice? You gon’ do what Adam do? Or say, ‘Baby, let’s put this back on the tree’ ‘cause.”
Ant Clemons remains aboard for “Water,” a record that still falls short of the three-minute mark. He has a bigger role here compared to “Everything We Need,” singing the chorus as well as the first verse. That’s following an odd intro by Kanye West where the listener is scratching his or her head. Ultimately, the song is about being cleansed by God and of course leaning on Jesus. Throughout his verse, Kanye says Jesus a total of 16 times. Safe to say, he’s so serious about him. Also, the intro by West returns as the outro.
✓ “God Is” is a song that stuck out to me listening to JESUS IS KING the first time I heard it. Perhaps it’s because of the sample of the uplifting gospel standard of the same title. The production is particularly beautiful here, giving Kanye West the perfect fuel for the fire to spit over. The rub regarding the song, perhaps, is the singing by West. Still, his energy is felt on the verse, even if it’s somewhat sketchy.
Decorated ‘Radical for Christ’ Fred Hammond appears on the minimal “Hands On,” one of the lengthier songs from the album. Hammond appears on the chorus, with heavy vocals effects, while also performing the second verse. To West’s credit, he has a nice flow that goes down. His first verse runs a bit long, losing some steam due to its length, but the Hammond dominated second verse offers some ‘saving grace’ you might say.
Penultimate number ✓ 🤩“Use This Gospel” is among the best of JESUS IS KING, hands down. Like most of the records, the production shines thanks to repurposing – sampling and interpolation. Here, Kanye West notably samples Two Door Cinema Club (“Costume Party”). Singing the chorus, West sounds respectable, striking gold with one of the more memorable hooks:
“Use this gospel for protection It’s a hard road to Heaven We call on your blessings In the Father, we put our faith King of the kingdom Our demons are tremblin’ Holy angels defendin’ In the father, we put our faith.”
West is joined by Clipse, with Pusha T rapping the first verse, while No Malice takes the second. Maybe most surprising is a saxophone solo by the one and only Kenny G, which follows No Malice’s verse. Go figure! Following G’s solo, the groove kicks back in – pretty sick. The proclamatory “Jesus is Lord” concludes, finding West singing atop a brassy, major-key production that perfectly captures the goodness of God.
So, ultimately, how does JESUS IS KING stack up? Kanye West does indeed drop his promised gospel album in only a way that West could. JESUS IS KING is quite short, clocking in at a mere 27 minutes. For those keeping track, that only four minutes longer than Ye (2018). Length aside, the album has its moments, even though it never achieves the same level of excellence and master craft that characterized his best work. West never goes into depth regarding his faith – it’s mostly surface level – which doesn’t take JESUS IS KING to the next level. That said, he makes his point, and he is much less offensive on this project as he tries to live holy.
✓ Gems: “Selah,” “Follow God,” “God Is” & 🤩“Use This Gospel”
Kanye West • JESUS IS KING • Getting Out Our Dreams, II • Release: 10.25.19
Photo Credits: Getting Out Our Dreams, II
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