From worshipping ‘Yeezus’ to saying ‘Jesus Is King’

Kanye West brings the black church experience to a new audience — and does a phenomenal job

kanye

Kanye West, performing here at the Verizon Center in 2013, released his long-awaited gospel album "Jesus Is King."

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The self-proclaimed “unquestionably, undoubtedly greatest human artist of all time” Kanye West, has released his long-awaited gospel album, “Jesus is King.” But what he brings to “Jesus Is King” is a different Kanye and it’s a great one at that. “Jesus Is King” is easily one of the best albums of the year.

The album begins with the song “Every Hour,” which is probably the best intro to a Kanye album he’s ever had, right up there with “Good Morning” from “Graduation” and “Ultralight Beam” off “The Life of Pablo.” At its core,  it’s a simple song about embracing God at all times in life, sung by the Sunday Service choir. But Kanye has put his own spin on it by uniquely layering the vocals in a weird staccato fashion that works. The song is powerful and immense, an amazing way to start the album.

The next song, “Selah,” “references “Ultralight Beam” and “Yahndi.” Through these references, Kanye speaks on his past mistakes, and how he has been reformed by God and now wants to be fully committed to spreading this message to others. The production is great, from the vocals to the instrumentation, and excellently builds to the rousing Sunday Service choir singing “hallelujah” in unison.

“Follow God” is a stand-out from the whole album, making phenomenal use of a sample from an older gospel song titled “Can You Lose By Following God?” by Whole Truth. Kanye begins this song by referencing another one of his songs –– “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”–– this song focuses on how God may push people to act in certain ways, even though it may not be easy or may conflict with what they want.

The same can’t be said for the third song on the tracklist, “Closed on Sunday.” Featuring the now infamous line “Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-fil-A”. Pretty much any Ye fan can admit that this is a pretty corny song, and not one of the strongest on the album. Still, the background vocals, the slowly strumming acoustic guitar, and the beat do sound nice, and there is one line that really sticks out. “I bow down to the King upon the throne / My life is His I’m no longer my own.” Perhaps, this is Kanye vocalizing how he has changed from seeing himself on the top in his own life and in society –– a.k.a.,“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” “Watch the Throne” and “Yesus” era Kanye –– to someone who believes that all people are under the guidance and influence of Jesus Christ.

If “On God” could be given an alternate title it should be called, “Good Life: The Christ Remix.” The song’s a banger, which makes sense because it has the same producer as Playboi Carti’s trap ballad of the decade “Magnolia.” Honestly, this song could be turned on in the club on a Saturday night and no one would even know that it’s a gospel song –– although it has to be played by 9 p.m. so that everyone can be up early for church. But seriously, Kanye does something really interesting here, flipping “on God,” a common phrase that uses the Lord’s name in vain, to speak about how he promises to help single mothers and fix the thirteenth amendment. OK Kanye?

Kanye layers his vocals extremely well on “Use This Gospel”, strangely similar to Ariana Grande on “God is a woman.” He is able to make it seem like a choir is doing background vocals for the track but it’s just him. One of the best performances on the whole album is from Kenny G. As always, he plays the alto sax wonderfully, matching with the beat of Kanye’s vocals from earlier in the track. It feels like Kenny G is in the same room as the listener.

The closer track “Jesus is Lord” is probably the most interesting track on the whole album, with wonderful brass instrumentals, particularly from the trumpet. Kanye keeps the track lyrically very simple “Every knee shall bow / Every tongue confess Jesus is Lord.” It’s sonically phenomenal, but short, similar to a cliffhanger of a movie, which makes sense because apparently Kanye is going to release an album on Christmas Day called “Jesus is Lord.” We’ll have to see about that.

Overall, this album is great. The features, the instrumentals and the vocals are all some of the best work Kanye has done during his 15 year career. The only problem is that the album is kind of repetitive. Track after track, Kanye is only looking at one aspect of Christianity and spirituality –– loving God and Jesus and devoting yourself to them. For as complex and interesting as religion is, it would have been nice if Kanye had spoken about a few different aspects. Still, whether you’re a hip-hop and R&B fan, a gospel fan, a Kanye fan or looking for something new, everyone can find something to enjoy on this album. 

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