Who is the most famous man on Earth? Maybe Jesus, and also maybe Kanye West—and that’s the point. Kanye fans would like to think that the rappers antics over the last couple years are part of an elaborate performance art scheme. The rapper, known for making harsh but poignant criticisms on pop culture and current issues through his music, released the highly anticipated “follow up” to his critically acclaimed 2013 album, Yeezus on Friday afternoon. Kanye released two albums in between then and now, but claims that Jesus Is King continues where Yeezus left off after scrapping the original second installment, titled Yandhi (more on that later). But where Yeezus served as one of Kanye’s greatest works, Jesus Is King may very well be one of his more forgettable projects.
“Jesus Is King” Requires Context
Kanye announced recently that he would be switching from hip hop to create only gospel music from now on. This came as less of surprise to fans, as the rapper has been traveling the country to promote his new “Sunday Service,” a church-like gospel project that he began back in January for just his family and friends. By this time, West had all but abandoned Yandhi completely after missing the release date the previous November without announcing when the new album would be coming—which signaled that West had scrapped the project completely to go a different direction.
By the spring, Sunday Service quickly grew into somewhat of a phenomenon, seeing Kanye and the Sunday Service choir travel to events like Coachella and throughout the United States to do performances (none of which were ticketed, presumably because West is attempting to market the event as an actual, functional, legal church—though it does sell merchandise). There is something oddly ironic about an artist like Kanye West suddenly making worship cool again, which is precisely why fans seem so divided over whether or not they like his new artistic direction.
During this time as well, West began preaching newfound realizations for things like Donald Trump and a misguided notion that slavery was a choice. Fans hoped for some clarity or a major “got you” moment with the arrival of Ye, a forgotten release that came in June 2018 after West started sharing his new beliefs on social media. The album, unfortunately, seemed to only perpetuate these new beliefs. In the meantime, though, West’s Adidas line, Yeezy, remained one of the hottest streetwear lines available on the market.
West’s Music Is A Reflection Of His Current Self
If 2016’s The Life of Pablo was representative of West’s foray into the fashion industry, then Jesus Is King is representative of West’s latest phase—religion. Pablo was released alongside the New York Fashion Week show for his f/w ’16 Yeezy line at Madison Square Garden in New York and came filled of analogies and criticisms of Hollywood life and culture from West’s perspective as an outsider coming from Chicago. “Thinking back to how I got here in the first place
Second class b***hes wouldn’t let me on first base
A backpack n***a with luxury taste buds
And the Louis Vuitton store, got all of my pay stubs
Got pussy from beats I did for n***s more famous
When did I become A list? I wasn’t even on a list,” raps west on “No More Parties In LA, one of Pablo’s bigger hits. “I Love Kanye,” one of the lesser talked about tracks on that album, touched on the idea that West’s public personal is a constant stream of experimental performance art—sometimes you love it, sometimes you hate it, but West is an artist that can acclimate his abilities to reflect his growth as he ages (which some critics throughout history would argue is the mark of a true artist).
It’s almost as if West woke up one day and asked what career path he could do next after checking “rapper” and “fashion designer” off of his to do list. West has long been hailed as one of the greatest rappers of all time, and the seemingly overnight success of Yeezy for Adidas brought West the notoriety he wanted as a sensational fashion designer. What’s an even bigger hill that West can crest to become more famous and successful? Acting would be too out of character—West is a performance art piece on his own. President? Sure, he could try (and has claimed he will) but along that way West apparently wanted to check “Prophet” off of that list as well.
The Strongest Parts Of “Jesus Is King” Are Its Production
There is no denying that Kanye delivered 100% of his ability in Jesus Is King. The album opens with a performance from the Sunday Service choir with “Every Hour,” incorporating West’s claim that the album would be a gospel to go alongside West’s new persona. Next comes Selah, a manifesto that, more or less, explains how West got to his wild conclusions about slavery and politics in recent months (time to dust off your Bible, as many of the lyrics simply refer to verses). All content aside, West goes into this project with the same fervor that he went into each of his previous works with.
The content of the album, though, is precisely what creates a disconnect between West’s words and his audience. West seems confident enough in his message to deliver a mess of esoteric lyrics put together in an album that serves little purpose other than demonstrating that Kanye is physically capable of merging gospel with hip-hop. It may be executed well, with production value that sits well in comparison to the previous works that helped him make a name for himself in the first place, but it’s lyrical value leaves more questions than it provides answers.
We all sort of understand where West is coming from with his political views, but the answers become convoluted in lyrics that—in true Kanye fashion—attempt to draw together themes of promiscuity, pop culture, and worship all into one. Such is the case with “Closed on Sunday,” which uses Chick-Fil-A as a metaphor for love toward his family and their newfound dedication to Christianity—or at least I think that’s what he’s saying.
My biggest questions as we [hopefully] are cresting the hill of Kanye’s prophet phase are thus: What will all of the hype beasts do with their Yeezy Boosts now? How long will Kim blindly follow Kanye’s new religious antics? Will we ever get another good Kanye album?