Despite Kanye West’s abysmal rapping, Jesus is King is still richly produced and somewhat enjoyable
Amidst a long-spanning controversy over his support of Donald Trump, bold wrongful claims about slavery being a choice, and simply releasing sub-par music (I’m looking at you “I Love It”), Kanye West is back with Jesus is King, an album born from West’s embrace of Christianity.
The album was originally intended to be released on Sept. 27, but was delayed indefinitely after it failed to show up on streaming services that day. No one was surprised, really; it is Kanye West we’re talking about here.
The project is another tonal shift for West. The Life of Pablo and Ye were his only albums to not sound like he was trying to change the soundscape of hip hop and music in general. He has definitely embraced Christianity before, like on “Jesus Walks” and “Ultralight Beam,” but West has never gone so far as to dedicate an entire album to it.
Through and through, Jesus is King is a gospel album. Beginning with the Sunday Service Choir-assisted “Every Hour,” West assures the listener that this was going to be a project dedicated to Christ.
Across the album, the instrumentals are what you’d expect from West. Heavy on the sampling, gorgeous melodies, and peculiar arrangements. This is especially true on standout “Selah” that features a powerful choir harmony singing “Hallelujah” at the instrumental peak of the track. This song also contains West’s best verses on the album. That being said, the verse isn’t exactly strong.
The track bleeds hypocrisy as he raps: “Love God and our neighbour, as written by Luke.” If West really wanted to love his neighbour, he should maybe consider not supporting Trump in favour of the Democratic nominees with actual good ideas (hey, Bernie).
“Follow God” is another strongly produced track that features a Pablo type beat and cadence, but is once again burdened by horrible lines— “I was looking at the gram and I don’t even like likes.”
Despite the continuous flaws in West’s lyricism, the album still remains somewhat gripping due to the powerful production and great guest performances, most notably Ty Dolla $ign on “Everything We Need.” The track was recycled from West’s unreleased Yandhi but they chose to remove XXXTentacion’s verse.
West is clearly inspired and he’s trying, but the album is hollow beyond its production. West’s rapping is as lazy as it’s ever been, and his plight of Christianity feels half-baked as if he created this album weeks before it was even announced.
Content aside, the mixing is another point in which the album falters. “Selah,” “Follow God,” and “Water,” among others, are noticeably poorly mixed. Whether or not this is by design is moot; the album doesn’t reach its potential because of this. It seems rushed.
Even with the attempt to pair it with a short film, aptly titled Jesus is King, his message only becomes more muddled. The movie doesn’t add anything to the narrative. Its empty, albeit well-shot visuals, make for a pleasant viewing experience, but nothing actually happens. There are a few close-ups of the choir, one continuous shot of West holding his newborn son, Psalm, and a few other unmemorable moments.
The film only becomes somewhat interesting towards the end as West sings a softer, modified version of his 808s & Heartbreak stunner, “Street Lights.”
Simply put, Jesus is King is too uninteresting to merit multiple listens. It sounds nice, but the ideas aren’t fleshed out enough. Sure, we know West is a born-again Christian now, but what of it?
Following Ye, he needed something more substantive to truly paint a clearer portrait of a man affected by bipolar disorder. Instead of explaining to us where he is mentally, he resorts to underwhelming bars about Christianity that make Donald Trump Jr. happy.
Still, the album has enjoyable moments, if you can tune out whatever the hell West is saying. There are some high points on it that are unfortunately too few and far between to make this project a contender for the year’s best.
Jesus is King is at its strongest when West barely even appears. “Use This Gospel” is masterfully produced, featuring rich keys and melodies from West as he sings the short but sweet hook. Also assisted by a Clipse reunion, Pusha T and No Malice return with killer verses that outshine anything West had done on any of the previous tracks.
“Closed on Sunday” has a gorgeous string leading into it that’s unfortunately marred by a horrid bar about Chick-Fil-A. “Hands On” features a lovely refrain by Fred Hammond backed by a skeletal, chilling instrumental.
Jesus is King is, unfortunately, the weakest entry in West’s discography, but it still isn’t a failure.
It’s simply insubstantial and it would’ve benefited from a few extra tracks and fleshing out the shorter tracks. It would have also been more entertaining if West wasn’t so obnoxious in his rapping. How does someone go from claiming he is a god to following God? If only West rapped more insightfully about his transition to Christianity.
Trial Track: “Use This Gospel”
Star Bar: “A lot of damaged souls, I done damaged those
And in my arrogance, took a camera pose
Caught with a trunk of Barry Manilows
They sing a different tune when the slammer close”
- (No Malice on “Use This Gospel”)