Alex talks us through the highly anticipated latest record from Kayne West, which sees the industry heavyweight turn in a different direction better aligned with his recently found religion.
The past three years has been the holy trinity (see what I did there) of delayed albums. Lil Uzi Vert's Eternal Atake has been in a never-ending cycle of delays, Playboi Carti’s Whole Lotta Red has been beset with leaks and BROCKHAMPTON’s Puppy has seemingly been pushed into nonexistence following the departure of Ameer Vann. None of these delays have seen intense media focus more than one Kanye West, however. First it was Yandhi, which Ye himself said was supposed to drop on September 28th, 2018 and was never released. In the following months, it was revealed that Kanye had become a newborn Christian, holding his highly publicized Sunday Services with notable guests such as Travis Scott and the Jenners. It also became apparent that his new album would be a gospel project going by the name JESUS IS KING. I’ve got to say I was skeptical – after all, this was the man who only months ago made the chart-topping hit I Love It with such Christ-loving lyrics as ‘I’m a sick fuck I like a quick fuck (woo)’.
JESUS IS KING quickly experienced the classic Kanye treatment of promotion. Controversial statement after controversial statement was made and the album was delayed twice due to “mixing issues”. However, JESUS IS KING is finally here; and much like its creator, it is a highly flawed but also very interesting project.
I have to be honest, JESUS IS KING is a disappointment. However, only because of the exceptionally high standards that Ye has set over the years. This is no KIDS SEE GHOSTS, it’s no The College Dropout and it’s certainly no My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. What it is though, is a reasonably solid rap/gospel fusion project with its share of fantastic production and questionable lyrics. Opening track Every Hour is a gospel song through and through, featuring his pitch perfect Sunday Service Choir singing over minimalist piano production. What we get is beautiful, but unfortunately the track sits at only 1 minute and 52 seconds and feels more like a tease at everything. The old Kanye would have taken these vocals and sampled them into an explosive beat, and that’s all I can think about when I’m listening to it. Sure, the song’s nice and all, but it could have been something so much more. Just look at Ultralight Beam.
'It was revealed that Kanye had become a newborn Christian, holding his highly publicized Sunday Services with notable guests such as Travis Scott and the Jenners'.
The following track Selah starts a trend of all-star production, courtesy of Kanye himself, Francis and the Lights and Benny Blanco. Rising organs, beating drums and the Sunday Services chants of ‘Hallelujah’ lend themselves to an atmosphere reminiscent of the best of musical theatre. As for the lyrics, well, they’re very Christian. The best advice I can give on listening to this album – coming from someone who isn’t religious – is to largely ignore the lyrics; they don’t take away from the songs, but I also can’t really see them as adding to them unless you’re as devout a Christian as Ye is these days.
Kanye’s flow is as good as ever, as shown on Follow God – one of the only two out and out rap songs on the project. Over a smooth soul sample Kanye effortlessly delivers one of his best verses since 2018’s fantastic Violent Crimes. Sadly, this track also falls victim of ‘sub 2-minute syndrome’. Songs can be short and sweet; most of the songs on Earl Sweatshirt’s phenomenal LP Some Rap Songs barely make it over 1 minute. The problem here is that a lot of the songs on JESUS IS KING feel half-baked.
'I have to be honest, JESUS IS KING is a disappointment. However, only because of the exceptionally high standards that Ye has set over the years'.
The main example of this is the track Everything We Need, featuring Ty Dolla $ign and Ant Clemons. This song was one of the Yandhi leaks which came out a while ago and originally featured an XXXTENTACION verse, along with notably better production. My guess for this sudden change is that X’s verse was explicit – something Ye is fundamentally against due to his newfound Christianity. The reports that Kanye asked collaborators to refrain from pre-marital sex whilst working on the album supports this suggestion (a pretty laughable notion, seeing as Pi’erre Bourne and Pusha T make appearances). Ty’s vocals are nice and West’s ‘we have everything we need’ refrain is catchy, but it ultimately seems unfinished.
The best moments on JESUS IS KING come when Ye knuckles down and actually finishes a song with his trademark production. Use This Gospel reunites legendary rap duo Clipse (Pusha T and No Malice) over MBDTF-esque, almost synth like vocals. No Malice (who is also a newborn Christian rapper) has the best verse on the album. ‘A lot of damaged souls, I done damaged those, and I my arrogance took a camera pose’, raps Malice, showing Kanye that an expression of regret and faith can be written without straying into the clichés of Christian rap which the latter unfortunately falls into so often. Closed on Sunday and On God are also highlights. The dark and brooding guitar instrumental mixed with another great performance from the Sunday Service choir leads to one of the best instrumentals on the project. Kanye may deliver some cringe-worthy lines, most notably ‘closed on Sunday, you’re my chick filet, you’re my number one, with the lemonade’, but his talent for production saves the track.
'The dark and brooding guitar instrumental mixed with another great performance from the Sunday Service choir leads to one of the best instrumentals on the project'.
On God also boasts fantastic production via Pi’erre Bourne, with the ever-popular trap 808s booming over a sea of rising and falling synths. The ‘Yo Pi’erre, you wanna come out here?’ producer tag at the end feels a bit out of place on a Christian rap project and ultimately reminds us of Kanye’s legendary rap accolades, which take a backseat.
JESUS IS KING is not without its highlights, but compared to the masterpiece which was KIDS SEE GHOSTS and Kanye’s previous work, it is ultimately an unfinished disappointment which has fallen victim to its creator’s lack of focus. The production is top notch as always, only let down by a lack of song structure and underdeveloped ideas. It is not a bad album by any means – just mediocre. By Kanye West’s standards, “mediocre” is simply not good enough, and I hope his next project is a more focused effort which goes back to the hip hop roots which made him famous in the first place.