You often hear from Hip-Hop fans in conversation “I miss the old Kanye,” a sentiment that may attribute to the period that connects Kanye West’s work from The College Dropout to Graduation. But even though a common motif, Teddy Bear Kanye, was present in the packaging and design of each rollout, the stages of Kanye’s life were actuality still different.
Fast forward through the next decade and a half and we received Dark Ye, WTT Ye, Mental Health Ye, “I Am a God” Ye and this current edition, “I love God” Ye.
Kanye West’s ninth studio album, JESUS IS KING, is what he refers to as a full Gospel Hip-Hop album. While the music holds the intent, the appeal as such to the listener is to be discussed. In the last few months, the Hip-Hop community has been prepped for this album by Ye’s trek across the country with Sunday Service performances, which brings a choir to crowds in major hubs, performing some of West’s gospel adjacent singles and flipping popular secular selections into Jesus dedications.
On August 29, Kanye’s wife, Kim Kardashian-West, dropped the announcement of JESUS IS KING, an album originally slated for late September. A month after the original release date, we have the album with an adjusted tracklist and paired with an IMAX feature film.
To my fans
Thank you for being loyal & patient
We are specifically fixing mixes on “Everything We Need” “Follow God” & “Water”
We not going to sleep until this album is out!
— ye (@kanyewest) October 25, 2019
In the road leading to the album, we have learned more about Kanye’s journey to Christianity. He now refers to himself as a “recent convert.” For those who witnessed the adjustment, there were mixed thoughts. Some embraced the thought of gospel-infused Hip-Hop and performances, while others questioned was it a transition to recover the Black community after aligning with President Trump in the past. Speaking with Zane Lowe, Kanye showed love to Jesus and Trump, as contradictory as that may be to the people of the culture, and in the end, it just leaves the music.
Arriving 12 hours after the adjusted release date, fans received 11 tracks spanning 27 minutes. Listeners are instantly met by the Sunday Service choir on “Every Hour,” a blitz of vocal testimony over piano keys, which will bring familiarity to those who have sat in a Black church while introducing audiences who are foreign to the sound. It’s not until “Selah” that we get to hear Kanye in a personal testimony of being delivered from his past, while also detailing what happened to his past efforts that never saw the light of day (Yandhi). The second track sounds more of a Yeezus offering, with the simplicity of the production and bookended with “Hallelujah” chants.
“Everybody wanted Yandhi
Then Jesus Christ did the laundry”
Old Ye enthusiasts will be thrilled to hear “Follow God,” a track produced by the trio of Kanye West, BoogzDaBeast, and Xcelence, but the footprint of the Yeezy is present in the “Can You Lose” by Whole Truth sample. Immediately, Kanye’s Yeezus appeal returns on “Closed on Sunday,” which instantly became the most memable song on the album when the comparison of Chick-Fil-A and God is uttered.
“Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-fil-A
Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A”
While the song’s lyrics are low hanging fruit for jokes, it actually shows the evidence that Kanye may have legit become a student of Christianity. As many knew before the bar, Chick-fil-A is closed on Sunday, in alignment with the Lord resting on the seventh day, the sabbath.
Moving into the middle of the album, “On God” and “Everything We Need,” take the title of the lackluster offerings of the album. While Ty Dolla $ign features often don’t go wasted, “Everything We Need” is not one of the stellar uses of one of the best features artists in music. A voice that would be perfect for a deep and harmonic offering was utilized for a record that could be fed to the radio if Kanye sought out a single and met with mediocre bars that could have been penned during ye sessions.
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NEWS: Kanye West: Jesus Is King Sunday Service experience at The Forum in LA will take place on October 27. Presale tickets are available now on Ticketmaster and general public tickets go on sale October 26 at 10 AM PDT. Tickets are $10 and proceeds go to charity. @richfury
“Water” recovers the two-track misstep with a stand-out opening from Ant Clemons. The verse is followed by Kanye, which is simple enough to read as a Thanksgiving prayer, but for this song, it’s an impactful piece that allows Clemons and the beat to shine. Another splash of traditional southern gospel follows on “God Is” and finds Kanye reminding us that since “Hey Mama” Kanye has no fear in singing. If there is a single that would resonate with your mother or a devout Christian, this is the one, as long as she can accept it for a message and now the best vocal experience ever. Kanye says it best in his verse:
King of Kings, Lord of Lords, all the things He has in store
From the rich to the poor, all are welcome through the door
You won’t ever be the same when you call on Jesus’ name
Listen to the words I’m sayin’, Jesus saved me, now I’m sane
And I know, I know God is the force that picked me up
I know Christ is the fountain that filled my cup
It also doubles down on Kanye West’s new direction for his life, “All my idols, let ‘em go, All the demons, let ‘em know.” What is interesting about that choice of words is the range of idols that Kanye has. He still openly gushes over his affection for big brother JAY-Z as the greatest rapper, shows the ambition to want to replicate Walt Disney, and then rubs a large number of people wrong by championing Trump and MAGA. So, which is it that he is letting go? All of them? If we were to ask Kanye, it’s likely to be said that all of them can go because God is the only absolute these days.
Pairing with Fred Hammond, Kanye stands flat foot in the booth to deliver another personal testimony on “Hands On” making his voice the focal point. Then we have “Use This Gospel,” possibly the most interesting offering JESUS IS KING provides. Recalling another era in his bag of Ye’s, the opening is reminiscent of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Kanye controls the hook and opens the door for Pusha T to once again showing that he is one of the best rappers in the game. How does King Push blend into a gospel-infused offering? By using his street history and crooked past as a source of how the Lord has kept him and delivered him to this point. Delighting Hip-Hop fans across the world, Clipse is reunited as No Malice followed his brother and was able to match his spirit with blow tales of “Barry Manilows” along with a walk in faith. All of this is accented by a solo from Kenny G. Yes, Kenny G and Clipse is the match none of us knew we needed.
No Malice near the close of this album provides an interesting thought: would he whose life has taken a stark change from “Grindin’” to Gospel work on this album if Kanye was not true to this life change? If you enter this album as a skeptic, there may be enough for you to believe in Kanye’s transition to indeed better himself.
Listening to this album, Kanye does not only detail to you to his growth in religion, but he reminds you that he is a damn good producer and composer. If you were not a fan of how ye replayed in your speakers, you will be pleased to hear that this is a much better effort. “Follow God” shows how great he is behind the board, “On God” demonstrates he can still make a great Hip-Hop record and overall JESUS IS KING shows that you can bridge Hip-Hop and Gospel without it coming off as a preachy, effort that limits creativity.
With that said, JESUS IS KING does have its flaws. Kanye will receive more criticism for lazy verses and bars. Those that will look directly toward slamming this project will have material to do so as Kanye does still get his self boasts off such as “The greatest artist restin’ or alive.” A belief which he states he has stood by since 2005 and that’s not on L.A. Reid, but “On God.” There will also be the gripes of lengths in the song or overall project, but in the streaming era, replay is everything.
Bible enthusiasts will also point to how some of the messaging is flawed, while less strict followers of religion will point signal a start of a new foundation. Defenders will say no one is perfect and that he is learning, detractors will say all of this is bullshit. But as much as those debates will be had, isn’t that what has always circled Kanye West since “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people?”
JESUS IS KING is ambitious, it has its highs and lows, but more than anything it shows he is as creative as ever, he still has something to say and his Christmas album will be worth a listen. Hopefully, it will arrive on time and not New Year’s Eve.
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